Drug-hit areas feel ‘hopeless’ over fear of gangs

There is a sense of “utter hopelessness” in communities intimidated by gangs, local drug groups have told the Oireachtas.

And the problem has been compounded by government cutbacks, which have “devastated” community services.

Anna Quigley of Citywide Drugs Crisis Campaign told the Oireachtas Justice Committee that both long-term issues — such as tackling economic disadvantage — and immediate issues — such as diverting young people from gangs — needed to happen simultaneously.

“There is a sense of utter hopelessness and a feeling that people can do nothing about this and that we cannot stand up to these people,” she said.

Speaking at a special committee hearing on Gangland Intimidation, Ms Quigley said that 20 years ago communities did take to the streets and marched on the homes of drug dealers.

“That doesn’t happen any more —it doesn’t happen now because of the level of violence associated with the drug trade.”

She said that most people in the affected communities do not have direct experience of gangland intimidation.

“But the threat is implicit — you don’t cross people because you know what they can do. People describe it as a situation where you keep your eyes down, you don’t look around you, you mind your own business, you keep your mouth shut.”

She told the committee that it was almost impossible to describe the “corrosive and negative effect” intimidation has on communities, as it goes on every day.

She said this low level intimidation and fear “does not show up on garda statistics”.

Ms Quigley said the more serious violence, typically associated with drug debts, can have horrific effects, up to and including murder. She said the debts can sometimes be very small, as low as a couple of hundred euro, and that families of drug users are also targeted.

“There’s quite a number of suicides by young people who are in debt. You hear cases after the person has committed suicide, the debt lives on. The family is told they inherit the debt. Obviously that’s fairly horrific for families.”

She said young people were growing up in communities where the drug trade has become “normalised” and where they don’t see those involved being caught. She said these young people can make a couple of hundred euro in a number of hours. She said intervention at the “earliest possible level” was very important.

While she said Garda operations were very important, they had to be followed by community policing.

Ms Quigley said it was crucial to have local community organisations, supporting people: “They have a right to stand up in their own community, a right to say this is not acceptable, a right to say we don’t have to live like this.”

She said that with successive cutbacks in funding to local services “all these community supports have been devastated”.

Finian McGrath, TD for Dublin North Central and committee rapporteur, said this was a national issue: “There are many streets in Dublin, Limerick and Cork that have ceded control to gangs. It is heartbreaking for these families. It’s not acceptable and is not acceptable from a policing point of view.”

Ms Quigley said there was a “clear recognition” from the mid-1990s that this was a crisis at political level, but that this had “disappeared” by 2002.

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