The Dole

Part of this chapter originally appeared as a blog post on Expat Chronicles. See The Mick on Being a Paddy in 1980s London.

Christopher and Anne Marie befriended an Englishman, Mop, who told them about his scheme. He was committing welfare fraud against the British government. After explaining the operation, he told them he would be leaving for London the next day, a Thursday, and he would be back in Dublin with plenty of money on Monday. As Mop predicted, he was back in Dublin with over a thousand pounds. Christopher and Anne Marie were interested. Mop coached them on how to get on “the dole” in England.

A birth certificate and personal info were needed to register with the British welfare office, the Department of Work and Pensions. Christopher had been using the “John Quinn” alias for over 20 years by this time, since the Wembley Ball incident. He had also obtained the information of another quiet, childhood classmate. Christopher requested and obtained birth certificates for himself. Then went to different government branches to request legal documents for John Quinn and the second false identity. So Christopher had three birth certificates, and Anne Marie acquired three birth certificates in similar fashion.

After getting the birth certificates, Christopher and Anne Marie had to live in a London hotel for a few months. They needed to produce receipts to demonstrate that they were residing in the United Kingdom and seeking employment. They fed their addiction while awaiting the dole with the same petty stealing they did in Ireland. They stole whatever they could from London stores and shops, to be sold immediately.

Once they had submitted the required documentation and established their various identities at different branches of the Department of Work and Pensions, they were paid. Christopher estimates the allowance was 400 British pounds per identity per month.

400 pounds sterling in 1985 would be worth $1150 today. With three of those checks per month, Christopher and Anne Marie were making the 2014 equivalent of $3450 per month, or $41,400 per year. This was enough for a comfortable lifestyle in London. However both were heroin addicts, so there still was never enough money. They did not have to steal as much. Christopher landed into short-term lockup in London once or twice for petty theft.

By 1985, the Northern Ireland conflict between the various factions of the IRA, the loyalist paramilitaries, and the British security forces had been increasingly violent. Since the 1970s there had been bombings on British soil. Many killed civilians. The Guildford bombings, which killed four soldiers and a civilian, were one of the more high-profile bombings ultimately popularized in the film In the Name of the Father. Daniel Day-Lewis stars as Gerard Conlon who, along with three other Irishmen, were wrongly convicted and imprisoned for over a decade.

Christopher says there was a palpable anti-Irish sentiment in the streets of London at that time. Irish were suspected — hated even — everywhere. So he and Anne Marie chose to take their dole money abroad as often as possible. They visited Paris and Amsterdam, where they stayed in hotels and ate in restaurants at the expense of the British taxpayer.

In Christopher’s words:

I went over there to fuckin start doin the dole. I was strung out and had three doles goin at the same time. Lots of old money. Lots of those fuckin, the Good Queen, those pound notes with her boat race on em. It was so easy to do, I couldn’t believe it. You’d be there 20 minutes and you’d have 400 quid.

A paddy was not a good position to be in fuckin London with the IRA bombin everywhere, and the Irish have a bad fuckin name. And I’m robbin the fuckin British government. I had to be in London. We had to stay for a few months first and that was not very fuckin pleasant. Nobody was nice to a paddy in fuckin London.

The store I went to every day, they wouldn’t say hello. Never once said “Good morning” or “Good afternoon” or “Kiss my ass” or nothing. And I don’t even think they were English. I think maybe Pakis, which is worse again, Pakis givin me stick. Fuckin loads of Pakis in one of those little Paki shops and they’d never say hello to ye, never say good morning because of the bombings.

Ye could not rob anything from one of those Paki shops. You’d go into a Paki shop and there’d be 20 of em workin, servin ye. Fuckin kids. Ye fuckin go to take something and BOOM, there’s some kid lookin at ye. All over the shop, millions of em.

At least they were workers. But to be Irish was maybe worse than bein a Paki at that time in London. So London was not the place to be, but it was the place to get the money. Get loads of money and move out. We used to fly to Paris or to Amsterdam, and just stay away as long as we could. Just hit London to get the dole and go somewhere else. Just not to be there because you’re just a paddy in London.

The Irish community in London was just workers, laborers, fuckin building workers. Big, stupid paddies workin on the building sites in London and bein abused by the fuckin Brits. I wasn’t into that at all. I was into robbin em, to see how much I could get out of em. Not to see what they would pay me.

I couldn’t say anything nice about London. I didn’t even like the beer or the pubs. Nothing about it. Full of shit. Wet shit too. And bein a paddy in London is like bein a fuckin nigger, somewhere not very pleasant where ye can do what ye want but you’re still a nigger. Just Irish ye know.

And then with In the Name of the Father and the bombings and the false accusations and the Brits bein fuckin liars. And they wouldn’t say hello to ye!

Finally we lost the dole business. To get started on the dole ye have to stay at some cheap hotel. And ye bring in a couple weeks of receipts from stayin at the hotel. And as soon as ye got cleared for the dole, you’d leave the hotel. But after a few months, if they came and checked on ye and found that you’re not livin in the hotel, they’d cut off the dole. Ye couldn’t really go back and try to restart a false dole. Ye just had to leave it. But we had three each, myself and Anne Marie and Mop. We made good money at that. There was plenty of old Rich Queen money to go around for over a year.

We were bangin up smack every day. Maybe 15 months or two years, something like that. I wouldn’t have been stayin in London if I didn’t have the dole. No culture, nobody says hello to ye, fuckin shithole. I didn’t like anything about it. It had nothing to offer me except the dole money.

During their trips to Amsterdam, Christopher and Anne Marie met a Uruguayan cocaine dealer named Arturo.

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