A national Garda system to help families intimidated by dealers over drug debts is due to be launched in the coming months.
The National Family Support Network, which is the driving force behind the programme, said the decision to roll the project out was a “great development”.
Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan gave the green light following an exhaustive internal process, including a review of the pilot programme in Dublin.
Sadie Grace, co-ordinator of NFSN, said intimidation had spread outside Dublin “like a plague” to the entire country and that the problem was “getting worse”.
She said it was a “life and death issue” for many families and that the fundamental intention of the intimidation reporting programme was to provide support to these families.
The NFSN has compiled a document and an explanatory leaflet on the programme and how it works. It is about to embark on a nationwide tour of local family support groups.
“We will be travelling to the south east and southern region in February to deliver two training days on the responding to intimidation policy that was developed last year,” said Ms Grace.
“We will be visiting further regions within the first half of this year.”
The project is the culmination of many years’ work by the network following the publication of its landmark research in 2009[/url].
This found families of drug users were subjected to threats, beatings, and shootings as well as pipebomb and arson attacks over debts owed by their children. Families were also borrowing heavily — with some remortgaging their homes — to pay debts as high as €60,000.
It also documented attacks on drug users as well as a number of murders.
Ms Grace said the problem of intimidation was “getting worse”. She said families were finding it more difficult to pay off debts as, for example, banks would no longer remortgage houses. She said drug users were increasingly being forced to “hold or move drugs” to pay off debts and that these were the people who were getting caught by gardaí, not gang members.
She also said those in debt were being used to carry out shootings.
Ms Grace said dealers did not do the intimidating themselves and “didn’t care” about anything.
“It’s great this project is going nationwide,” she said. “It will be a support to families who are in a very, very difficult situation.”
She said the programme would not tell families whether or not to pay dealers or whether or not to report intimidation to gardaí.
Ms Grace stressed the project was “not going to be the answer” to the problem, but was a step in the right direction.
Speaking at the annual service of Commemoration and Hope, in memory of those who have died from drugs, at Our Lady of Lourdes Church in Dublin, Ms Grace said the network was struggling under a combined cut of 28% in funding in the last two years and could not take further cuts.
*For help contact NFSN at 01 8365168, or see www.fsn.ie
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