A New & Realistic Approach Needed to Tackle the Irish Drug Problem

From these realities perhaps we can begin to discuss a positive way forward as a united community or at the very least change the tone of past and failed debate. 

…”I make no apologies for calling out the parasites who make their money destroying the beauty of you, our young people.

“I have watched these same people hypocritically and unashamedly attend funerals such as this crying their crocodile tears. Be under no illusion, they are responsible for bringing the mayhem and horror to our homes and to our communities, profiting from the misery of the vulnerable.” (Fr. Gary Donegan)

Fr Gary Donegan

Fr. Gary Donegan’s homily at a recent funeral in Ardoyne was widely reported in the media. The priest courageously challenged an ethos that has gripped North Belfast and provided the entire community with an opportunity to commence a vital new dialogue on the issues of substance abuse/ addiction suicide and drug-dealing. 

Naturally, Local mental health, sports and youth providers, elected representatives, political activists and community workers welcomed a well worded appeal that was succinctly delivered at a time of great trauma for a beleaguered community. We are obligated to participate in this dialogue  and we hope that it can develop and grow.

Post-conflict society often presents with a reluctance to accept and discuss reality in fear that it might provide ‘the other’ with grounds for attack.  People abuse drugs and people sell drugs. Recreational substance abuse and addiction are common place. High demand equals ready supply. 

Drug-dealing is as common around us as drug taking is.  Substance abuse and drug-dealing create the mayhem and horror Fr. Gary recently discussed. We must find a way to remedy these issues and; as more and more of our young people die as a direct or indirect consequence of substance abuse and drug-dealing, we do not have the luxury of time to do so.

We haven’t the time to argue amongst each other. There simply is no question that those who deal drugs in an area that is both terrorised by suicide and denied adequate mental health facilities are parasites. Those who defend these parasites are complicit in a terrible crime that is being perpetrated against our community and our children’s futures. 

Those who have rallied to the defence of these parasites in the past, perhaps because of current relationships, family or otherwise, urgently need to examine their consciences. Space to do so must be provided to them and it will not be provided by making accusations, biased condemnation or cat-calling. How we approach substance abuse and how we discuss it publicly will determine whether we can succeed or fail as a community in this modern age.

Our communities need to be at the core of any meaningful response, but we cannot do it alone. A serious lack and commitment to community funding have left our areas exposed and defenceless.

We need to stop talking, and begin acting to establish more crisis intervention centres, rehabilitation provision and outreach services. 

We haven’t the time to pretend there is a role for the PSNI in our community. The PSNI are led and directed by British military intelligence. The priority for the PSNI in any working-class Nationalist area is intelligence gathering. 

The recruiting of informants is more important to the British government in Ireland than bringing drug-dealers to justice is or ever will be. The PSNI (like their RUC predecessors) have always and will always prioritise intelligence gathering over upholding the law and safeguarding the people. Claiming otherwise is a nonsense that causes confusion and risks lives.

We haven’t the time to pretend that a war on drugs can be won. It hasn’t worked anywhere else in the world and it will not work here. Nobody ever has and nobody ever will shoot the drugs problem away. Violence will not reduce demand for drugs, it can only increase it. Very often those who abuse substances are ill. Advocating punitive measures against the ill is obviously inhumane.

From these realities perhaps we can begin to discuss a positive way forward as a united community or at the very least change the tone of past and failed debate. 

Fr. Gary has given us all an example of how the right type of voice can commence a massive, meaningful debate. 

We can as Republican socialists support ongoing efforts to roll out and widen that debate until maximum inclusion is attained without compromising any of our own deeply held values.

Tarlach MacDhónail, IRSP Activist and North Belfast youth worker

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