4 February 1999 Edition

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Kerry anti-drugs campaign will continue

Following media stories about Kerry Sinn Féin's anti-drug campaign, Ard Comhairle member Donal Cusack puts the record straight

Situated on the outskirts of the town, Shanakill is just one of many working class estates in the Tralee urban area. In common with other areas, it has its share of social and economic problems, and as with similar communities throughout the length and breadth of Ireland, it has been neglected by various authorities for many years.

Shanakill and its counterparts in Dublin, Cork, Limerick and elsewhere, does not possess the political or financial clout of middle class Ireland. Many residents of these areas have expressed concern that their communities are being used as dumping grounds for social problems which the state is either unwilling or unable to deal with.

A continually urgent and pressing problem faced by these communities throughout Ireland is, of course, the problem of drug dealing.

Unlike the authorities and their political establishment in this state, Sinn Fein has long recognised the devastating consequences of this problem for communities throughout Ireland. Inspired by the example of our comrades in Dublin who have done so much to assist communities in their struggle to prevent drug dealers from operating. Kerry Sinn Fein responded to the remorseless and frightening increase in drug dealing by launching a sustained and highly popular anti-drug campaign in 1996, intially centred on Tralee and later, expanded to take in all of Kerry.

The immediate response from the authorities was entirely predictable. In seeking to raise public awareness of the problem and confront the drug pushers, Sinn Fein activists were subjected to constant harassment from the Gardai, and demonisation from political and media elements who were content to cry crocodile tears as the drug problem reached crises proportions, particularly in Tralee and Killarney. Despite constant allegations of vigilantism, Sinn Fein always insisted that our campaign would be conducted within the law. Known drug pushers were informed that if they did not desist from their activities, they would be publicly named or their houses picketed.

In June of last year, the residents of Shanakill finally decided that enough was enough. A self confessed drug dealer living in their estate, Michael Bentley, despite repeated requests to cease his activities, and despite a public undertaking to the community that he would so, continually allowed drugs to be sold from his house.

The constant drug-related traffic to and from this house was driving his neighbours to despair; on one occasion, a four year old child was given a cannabis joint outside the house and had to be taken to hospital in a delirious state.

With support from Sinn Fein, the residents organised a picket on Mr Bentley's house. Unfortunately Mr Bentley's partner and children who also live in the house were portrayed as the only victims in this case - Sinn Fein accepted that the children were and are as much victims as those who obtained drugs from the house, and the residents of Shanakill who have had to live with the conseqences.

Despite a further public undertaking to residents that dealing from the house would stop, it was not long before the heavy traffic to and from the premises resumed, including, on one night, seventeen callers in the space of an hour.

On New Year's night, Shanakill became the focus of both local and national media attention when Michael Bentley claimed that he had been abducted from his house by men dressed as Gardai, and threatened about his involvement in the drug trade.

Inevitably, the usual suspects in the media cried ``vigilantes'' and attempted to link Sinn Fein with the alleged abduction. Sinn Fein immediately issued a statement denying any involvement in this alleged incident, and criticising spurious allegations made by individuals who have consistently attempted to undermine and discredit our anti-drugs campaign. We have placed our opposition to such activities on public record, we stand by our work with communities in attempting to put moral pressure on drug dealers to end their death dealing activities, and our belief that actions such as this alleged abduction undermined that work.

Yet more publicity was generated by the burning of Michael Bentley's home which, according to residents, was carried out by the occupants themselves.

Occurences such as the above make an absolute mockery of local authority tenancy agreements, and the residents of Shanakill are holding their collective breath to see what happens next. Tralee UDC has been lobbied by residents demanding action to tackle a number of issues, including the enforcement of tenancy agreements. Urgent action is needed now.

While the Tralee area has been the focus for much of Kerry Sinn Fein's anti-drug campaign, Killarney too has experienced more than its fair share of drug-related problems.

Killarney has gained a certain amount of notoriety as an area with a particularly acute Ecstasy problem, and Sinn Fein has learned that a particular individual is currently bringing large amounts of cocaine, ecstasy and amphetimines into the town on a regular basis. This individual is well known to the authorites as well as local people. The newly formed Killarney Sinn Fein cumann has urged people to be vigilant.

Commenting on the continuing drug problem in Kerry and elsewhere, Sinn Fein's European election candidate for the Munster area, Martin Ferris, said, ``Sinn Fein's involvement in the continuing anti-drugs campaign has greatly intensified the level of public awareness of the problem - this can be seen in the response of the Gardai in the Kerry area. In the year prior to the commencement of our campaign, 1996, three people were brought to court on drug-related charges. In 1997, this had risen to eighteen. Of course, this is only a start. We wish to again put on record our belief that a co-ordinated response involving education, community groups, and state authorities is needed to deal with our growing drug problem. Unfortunately, it took the murder of Veronica Guerin to galvanise the state authorities into taking action against the drug barons who have plyed their lethal trade, almost with impunity, for many years. The lives of their victims, mainly young lives, are equally as important as the life of Veronica Guerin. We wish to reiterate the message we have sent to these people repeatedly - for as long as their destructive activities continue, Sinn Fein will be there to confront them.''

An Phoblacht
44 Parnell Sq.
Dublin 1

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