Fergus McCabe is a veteran community and drugs campaigner in the north inner city, his work stretching back 30 years or so. He has sat through numerous state-appointed task forces and high-level strategy groups and has even stepped down from one due to the lack of action.
“This can’t be the attitude of ‘let’s set up a body, go through the motions, publish a report and that’s the end of it’,” said Mr McCabe, who is chairman of Young People at Risk in the north inner city.
“The bane of these bodies is that they are set up, they assemble all the key players, they agree on recommendations and the report just gathers dust on a shelf, or good things happen for a number of years and then it all evaporates.”
He remembers the deal struck between the late Tony Gregory and Charlie Haughey in 1982: “The Gregory Deal began with hope, there was an attempt to implement things around jobs and housing, but it was never implemented.”
As a leading figure in the Inner City Organisations Network and the Citywide Drugs Crisis Campaign in the mid-1990s, he was there for the various ministerial task force reports led by Labour TD Pat Rabbitte.
“The early years of that were good, in the late 1990s and 2000. There was a genuine attempt to deal with issues, like treatment.”
But he said the political impetus behind it faded away as people thought the issue had died down.
Mr McCabe was a community representative on the national drugs strategy team, which sat between the Government departments and the local drugs task forces.
In 2009, he said he had no option but to step down: “It was originally committed to implement recommendations from local and regional drug task forces, but it was undermined. Successive governments wound it down. It was a travesty.”
The body was subsequently disbanded and was part of what community groups saw was the wholesale dismantling of the partnership structures between the community and the State to deal with the drugs crisis.
On top of that, areas hardest hit by the drugs crisis were hammered under austerity with massive cuts to local community, drug and youth groups and staffing levels of health and social services.
During all this time, organisations such as Citywide, ICON, the National Family Support Network, and the Community Policing Forum highlighted interlinked problems of open drug dealing, drug debts, intimidation, and violence.
Mr McCabe also sat on the national substance misuse strategy, but saw much of the previous government distance itself from many of its findings in relation to alcohol — particularly sponsorship and an industry levy. “We have been highlighting the same sort of issues for 30 years, but no one has really listened,” said Mr McCabe.
“If Enda Kenny is serious, we need a comprehensive task force that will look at socio-economic issues, social services, health, housing, education, young people, and prioritising the issues of drug dealing, intimidation and obviously the murders.
“What’s going on is threat to the stability of the State. We cannot have a situation where a community lives in fear, where people are being killed, where people are witnessing it. That is a failure of the State.
“Murderers are thumbing their noses at the State. This is a fundamental crisis we are facing.”
Mr McCabe and many other activists have lived through previous crises, the most obvious being in 1996, with the shooting dead of Veronica Guerin and Detective Garda Jerry McCabe, the second heroin epidemic, mass street marches, and evictions of local dealers. “The situation now is much worse than then,” said Mr McCabe. “It’s too dangerous for people to march now, because of the intimidation and the fear.”
He said the community needs visible policing, and for it to be extended. Not a hawk by any means, Mr McCabe said it was even time to put soldiers on the street: “Bring in the army, show people you are treating this seriously. It will send out a signal to the community and the gangs. And get CAB more proactive, set up mechanisms to deal with open dealing and intimidation.”
He said a focus on young people is crucial: “Young people are more involved now in the drug trade and they, in turn, are attracting other young people and we, as a society, haven’t been able to get a handle on it.”
Above all, he said, the community needs politicians. “Political leadership is absolutely essential,” he said. “It can’t be just rhetoric. It has to be real and it has to be long term. The issue is not what can be done, the issue is what can be implemented.”