SPECIAL REPORT, DAY 2: Need to develop sense of self and interests beyond drugs

As far as Eleanor O’Sullivan is concerned, it is a waste of time lecturing young people to say no to drugs.

“People will experiment,” she says. “Here we practice harm reduction, which is giving them information so they can make informed choices when the time comes. The idea of the project is to put so many supports in place that young people develop a sense of self and interests beyond drugs. We don’t ram an anti-drugs message down their throats; we work instead on giving young people confidence.”

In their modern building on Gurranabraher Rd, the project works with up to 300 young locals.

“In an area like this, people can’t afford theatre, drama, or the School of Music,” says Eleanor. “We allow them to build their confidence through art classes, keyboard lessons.”

They also hold teen drop-in nights at their Friday night youth cafe where people hang out, play pool or table tennis.

“There’s a good relationship with the community here,” she says. “If you have young people in here on a Friday night ’til 9.30pm, having a laugh with each other, with the youth worker, playing games, chatting, when they leave here they’re feeling good and so less likely to take something to feel good.

“The groups even do savings projects where they save up to do an activity they want, like go-karting.”

Youngsters found sniffing glue are often referred to the centre by community gardaí. “They will attend the youth cafe and then slowly you’ll see they join another activity here like rapping,” says Eleanor. “The rap night actually has a waiting list.

“The cafe wasn’t operating for part of the summer and we kept on hearing ‘when are ye back, when are ye back’. That’s what we want.

“Drugs, bullying, smoking are all discussed through art and music at the centre. The classes are a fantastic means of self-expression for children.”

Eleanor says drugs and heroin are a big issue for the service, but alcohol is still the number one risk.

“Drink really is the gateway to everything, even smoking,” she says. “It lowers inhibitions and makes people take risks, like smoking heroin, unsafe sex, that they wouldn’t normally take. The way young people drink now is so different, not a few beers: They are all fuelled up on alcopops.”


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