We’re sitting in the living room of his home in Mahon where he says scores of parents have sat before me, frantic with worry about heroin use on their road, about known dealers’ cars flying into the estate, dropping bags and about the house parties that, they dread their kids will end up at.
“Dereliction has certainly created a problem as there are all these empty facilities around the place and they’re being used as squats for parties.”
Mr O’Leary has been warning about heroin’s steady encroachment into Cork city for at least five years. He points out, as do many, that heroin is being sold all over the southside, not just Mahon or any of the more disadvantaged parts of Cork city.
“We have buried our heads for so long and the authorities are only admitting now that there is a growing problem. The excuse all along was that it wasn’t that bad as they weren’t injecting.”
Chris O’Leary’s fellow city councillor, Mick Finn, is based in nearby Ballyphehane, but his ward covers much of the south inner city as well, an area where Cork City Council developed a series of colour-coded tourist walks. South Parish includes some of the most historic sites in Cork city, but landmarks such as Red Abbey are now being blighted with used syringes. Needles have also been found at South Parish Church and in the grounds of the South Presentation Convent. Some time back, a 21-year-old man overdosed on a green at Ballyphehane.
Public toilets on the Grand Parade have also had to install a secure needle disposal box as the most responsible response to the dirty needles being found there.
“Emergency departments won’t be able to cope with the way heroin is rising. The numbers aren’t anywhere near as big as Dublin in the eighties, but it is rising fast. They thought they could contain it, but they did not. Just walking down here today, I could see so many people that I would have known from my work with schools, they are just like the living dead. These were good young fellas and this just escalated their demise,” he says.
Cllrs Finn and O’Leary both welcomed a decision by Chief Superintendent Mick Finn to call a special joint policing committee (JPC) meeting on heroin today, but Cllr Finn said he hoped “it isn’t just a talking shop”.
“There are vulnerable kids who are watching these guys openly dealing and shooting up, these are the kids that will think this is acceptable. We have to root it out. I’d like to see all the players coming together to enforce a zero tolerance approach.”
Cork City Council will be in attendance at that meeting as they are part of a cross-sectoral group, including the Garda and the HSE, that has been meeting in Cork in recent years to address the growing issue of heroin abuse. In recent years, the Drugs Task Force has also secured an extra 1.5 million in funding for drug management and treatment supports.
Both Mr Finn and Mr O’Leary have questioned how some of the city’s best-known drug dealers continue to be re-housed by Cork City Council. “The spread hasn’t been helped by city council. I keep asking, but I still haven’t got an answer as to why people are moved to different places, they have previous records and yet can be moved from one part of the city to another. Why move them into a new area when they don’t meet the criteria for a house? I just can’t get to the bottom of that with them,” said Mr Finn.
A spokesman for Cork City Council last night said that Garda reports are carried out on all prospective tenants as part of the social housing application process. “But without specific policy breach details, we cannot comment further.”
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