6 March 1997 Edition

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Will the real criminals please stand up?

Rita O'Reilly reports from Crumlin in Dublin, where she alleges that the response from the authorities to the drugs crisis has been criminal.

Lower Crumlin is an area lying on the brink of a concentrated culture of drug abuse. It begins just beyond Dolphin's Barn Bridge and spreads out to Sundrive Park and the Crumlin Road. It's as much open to the drug traffic stopping and flowing from the bridge as it is to the traffic of fumes there.

Last summer, remnants of the old residents and tenants associations in the area formed themselves into the Lower Crumlin Combined Communities Group. Their aim? To prevent a culture of drug abuse from taking a grip of their area.
  The anti-drugs committee were unconvinced by Garda figures showing an increase in drug-related arrests. It was no wonder: the detention of their own members the previous week had been carried out under Section 3 of the Misuse of Drugs Act.  

The drug movement which spread city-wide in 1996 disturbed many a hornets' nest, and many drug dealers and addict-dealers were dispersed. Lower Crumlin, with its proximity to the south inner city's high drug-using population and to the Barn where drugs continued to be supplied, was clearly `at risk' from this dispersal.

In the aftermath of the killing of addict-dealer Josie Dwyer on the Barn in May, Gardai swamped the area, arresting and harassing several women who had been turning the growing local anti-drugs sentiment into a visible active presence. Weeks later, when the Gardai moved on, they left the Barn to the dealers and the problem to the people. An occasional token uniform presence on the Bridge came to be seen more as an insult than as a contribution to addressing the problem.

For the residents of Lower Crumlin nearby, the Garda attitude was just as unappealing. The local Superintendent went on public record to say there wasn't a drug problem in the area. But addicts were already beginning to approach the Combined Communities Group looking for treatment. When it carried out its own survey of addicts it found up to 500 were likely to come to the Barn every day. The figure merely confirmed what many already thought: the shock was that it was probably what the authorities already knew too, but they were ignoring it.

The group decided to hold a public meeting in the biggest local venue, the Transport Club. Hundreds of people duly turned up, but on a cold November night, as Justice Minister Nora Owen won a no-confidence motion in Leinster House, a community group was denied access to a club run in its name, in grounds owned by the state's biggest trade union.

The reason? Local politicians went behind the scenes to object to the involvement of Sinn Féin members in the drug campaign. The focus of their attention was Martina Kenna, Sinn Féin's representative in Dublin South Central, and Brian Kenna, a former republican prisoner and experienced drug activist of the `80s.

After the Transport Club refusal, the Combined Communities Group PRO issued a letter to the community asking ``Do these people care?'' That question became even more pertinent in Crumlin when the local drug task force was being formed.

At the meeting of the local area partnership in January to elect the task force for the Crumlin district, there are allegations that an attempt was made to keep the communities out of a deciding role in who represented them on the Task Force. Lower Crumlin Combined Communities Group Chair Geoff Flynn has written to the Minister, Democratic Left TD Pat Rabbitte, complaining that no notification or invitation to the meeting was received. Terry Martin, Chair of Crumlin Road and District Residents Association, representing 750 households, has also complained of no invite. Locals who attended the meeting say there was an attempt to screen people out of the task force and to pack others in. The communities were told they should elect 12 people but then the area partnership board would select six out of these themselves. Only solid opposition from those community representatives who did get to attend the meeting prevented a development alien to the idea of local democracy. To date, the Combined Group has not received a reply from the Minister nor an invite to another meeting.

Local politicians including Democratic Left TD Eric Byrne were given a cool reception at a public meeting following this debacle. Along with Ballymun, Crumlin remains the only area where a task force has yet to be brought into operation. Party political machinations are being blamed in both districts - particularly the Democratic Left in Crumlin and the Workers Party in Ballymun.

It is not as if Crumlin does not need a show of genuine political support. Aside from the issues thrown up by the ready supply of dangerous drugs in the area, the state's response on the demand side has been equally appalling. Crumlin falls within the Eastern Health Board's Area 4, covering all the districts from there to Tallaght. Only two drugs counsellors exist for the whole area, and both have been allocated to Tallaght. The Community Drugs Team based in nearby Rialto cannot take on addicts from outside its own area because of the sheer volume it is forced to cope with.

At present 70 addicts are looking for treatment through the Combined Communities Group. Committee members believe many more would come forward if they thought there was any hope of getting what they were looking for.

Crumlin is set to join whole sections of the south inner city as another area in which Health Board action lags far behind policy, where party political interests dominate the political landscape and where Gardai have walked away from fighting the drugs trade. At a drugs educational in a local school in Crumlin on Wednesday 26 February the Garda Drugs Unit was represented by two officers. One had stopped and searched several anti-drug committee members the previous week as they left the school after a meeting. Despite the south inner city being an area where the amount of Drugs Squad officers operating has been recently halved, the officers gave the meeting figures showing a significant increase in the number of drug-related arrests since the start of the year. The anti-drugs committee were unconvinced. It was no wonder: the detention of their own members the previous week had been carried out under Section 3 of the Misuse of Drugs Act. If some sections of the Garda are genuinely fighting the drugs trade, others are fighting anti-drugs activists. If a section of the Garda is devoted to entrapping drug criminals, a larger section is devoted to entrapping republicans.

In the face of the huge levels of drug-related deaths which have affected the south inner city of Dublin, the reaction by the authorities to the efforts of Crumlin residents to prevent the same culture gripping their area is nothing short of criminal.

An Phoblacht
44 Parnell Sq.
Dublin 1

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