Drugs seized yesterday by Gardaí in Ballymun, which resulted in five arrests Photo Garda Press Office
It was during last week’s Zoom Joint Policing Committee meeting that Supt Gerry Curley laid it out as plain as the nose on your face - the hemorrhaging drugs problem in the Dundalk district is the single “biggest challenge facing” gardai, he explained succinctly.
For the moment, forget anything else law-related. Drugs, drug intimidation, drug addiction, drug dealing - the whole dreadful smorgasbord of the illegal drug trade - is an almost crippling burden on local gardai. Granted, it is a greater socio-economic problem too, but it is one that we simply cannot afford to bury our heads in the sand about any more.
Oftentimes the whole illegal drugs problem is seen as “their” problem. In other words, ‘it’s not in our area of town, so it’s not a problem we need to concern ourselves with’.
And indeed, that might have been true, about 25 years ago. But it’s all changed now. We are not detached islands co-existing in alternative landscapes, and the drugs problem is a web which clings and stretches in some way, shape or form across all parts of our society today.
‘A little bit of cannabis here, or a quick snort of cocaine there on a night out; sure where’s the harm? I can get up in the morning, go to my job and get on with life’. And most do. But they are contributing to the misery. Their demand is creating the conditions for the trade to prosper further and for lives to be ruined now, and ultimately well into the future.
Then there’s those people stuck in the verygrim heart of it all. Those that are being leaned on and pushed to do the unsavoury tasks and distributions for a select few, who remain, by and large, untouched.
Now, no one is saying that there’s not a certain amount of personal responsibility which needs to be factored into all of this, but the reality is that alternative options for so many people in disadvantaged areas of Dundalk and further afield, are limited to the point of being non-existent.
When the immediate society and culture around a person is drugs-related, and there’s little else to cling to, what else is there to do? Where else is there to go?
For some stuck in this rising quicksand, it may just be a case of ‘minding’ something for someone else for a day or two. They’ll get a little bit of money for it and that’s that. But, as invariably happens, it’ll then escalate. The pressure will mount, and that person is now an integral part of the operation, in deep and struggling to find an escape.
As for their family? Unwittingly drawn into it all too. Then there’s the violent side. The effects of retaliation, retribution and revenge has already been seen in Dundalk.
The latest JPC stats, highlighted at last week’s meeting, showed that despite most criminal offences declining during the past six months (due in no small part to the Covid-19 lockdown, of course), arson attacks have increased by 35 percent compared to the same period last year.
Meanwhile, threats to kill decreased only marginally by 15 percent. To give a comparison, the report showed that aggravated burglaries in the Dundalk area had plummeted by 55 percent, while muggings dropped by a huge 93 percent.
The numbers concerning those caught with drugs with intent for sale or supply jumped by 52 percent and possession was up by 69 percent.
These are the stark figures which show the scale of the problem.
Then there’s the fallout from addiction and the knock-on impact on whole families. In these communities there are, of course, beacons of light, those community leaders that are trying to turn things around, trying to give much-needed alternative options to young people. But they are outliers. They are under-resourced and fighting a desperate rearguard action.
FASN (Family Addiction Support Network) tries to help families facing intimidation and threats from drug dealers, but, as was reported in June, the number of local families they have supported during the lockdown has tripled. State funding for FASN has been limited and is nowhere near enough. They offer an outlet for those individuals sinking into the mire of drug intimidation and drug debt and looking for a way out. Looking for hope. FASN can and is a light at the end of a very dark tunnel. Yet still the drugs problem continues. It’s rare that a day goes by without the Democrat reporting on a garda drugs unit seizure in Dundalk or the county at large.
The small team in the Dundalk Drugs Unit are doing sterling work in this regard, but they are vastly under-resourced. We need to act now or risk losing further generations to this virus.