Dublin community with the power to take on an international drug cartel

People in North inner city Dublin are afraid and but work against the odds to tackle issues, writes Joyce Fegan

Flowers at the scene of the shooting of Gareth Hutch at Avondale House. Pictures: Colin Keegan, Collins Dublin; Moya Nolan; Conor Ó Mearáin

THERE are some things bullets cannot penetrate. There are some people who criminals, living in mansions in far away lands, cannot buy. And there are some places where community spirit has the power to take on an international drug cartel. Dublin’s north inner city is one of those places.

We hear about areas like North Cumberland St, Buckingham St, and Sheriff St. They’re somewhere in the north inner city, an imagined no-go zone just off O’Connell St, between Croke Park and Busáras.

Drugs get dealt there, it’s a place where people are shot and killed but sure why care? After all, it’s not in your back yard. But spend some time there, talking to its Joe Soaps and Jane Does and you will discover one of the strongest communities this country has.

Yes, you can taste the fear in the air, due to the unpredictability and sloppiness of some of the most recent shootings, but there’s also a strong whiff of courage in this supposed no-go zone. And there is not just courage to be found, but concrete, well thought-out ideas about how to turn the north inner city around.

A cross tied to railings at the scene of the shooting dead of Gareth Hutch at Avondale House flats complex on North Cumberland Street on Tuesday morning. Picture: Colin Keegan/Collins Dublin

“People ask us how can we solve this and they expect us to say: ‘oh we need police on the street’. That’s a huge frustration for people who want to change the community,” says Gary Gannon, a Social Democrat councillor who grew up in the area.

“This isn’t about getting more police on the street, it’s about proper structural change, more investment in community projects. All we’ve ever done in this area is to try to contain the problem rather than actually investing in people who are trying to eradicate the problems.

“That would be a fundamental change. When I keep getting asked what do we do, there’s an expectation on me to say: ‘short-term solution, we’ll go after the drug dealers’. Why don’t we go after the people who are affected by the drug dealers? That’s an actual winnable battle.”

Irene Crawley and Joe Dowling live and work in the heartland of Dublin’s north inner city. For almost 30 years, they have run HOPE, a very small community centre helping people get free from drug and alcohol addictions. Irene and Joe aren’t afraid, but they do want change.

“We’ve helped hundreds of people over the last number of years get completely drug-free. Those people are no longer looking for drugs, they’re no longer the clients of the drug dealers. For every person who gets drug-free, they often in turn go on to further education and work in the community,” says Irene.

“There are resources allocated to stabilisation and methadone but very little allocated to making real changes,” she adds.

Joe Dowling and Irene Crawley, HOPE community centre, in front of the addiction monument on Sean McDermott St, Dublin. They have helped hundreds of people get drug free in recent years.

She is not focusing on the current feud, nor is she concerned about criminals in those far away places. Instead, Irene is looking at solutions to tackle the area’s problems.

“We’re more interested in looking at the root causes. For me there are three main ones. There are the poor Garda relations with people in this community, they’re not developing relationships with the young people, the guards are often seen as the enemy.

“The other thing is about recovery. There is no supply without demand. The reason drugs gangs take effect is because there is demand. We feel the only way to get rid of supply is to get rid of demand.

“The third one is opportunities for young people, youth clubs are very under-resourced. There needs to be counselling for kids, proper drug and alcohol prevention, youth clubs that offer training for kids and better access to third-level education,” she says.

Fergus McCabe, chairman of YPAR (Young People At Risk North Inner City), is a veteran community and drugs campaigner who has worked with state-appointed task forces but says task force reports cannot be left to gather dust on a shelf. Rather, wider socio-economic issues need to be dealt with.

Joe explains that the demand for their services is huge and maintains that people travel from all over the east coast of Ireland to buy drugs here.

“Drug dealing goes on everywhere, it’s huge in this community. I’m only after walking around and looking at them. They’re dealing everywhere. They’re coming in from Bray, Wicklow, Enniscorthy in Wexford, up from the train. You see them walking up every morning getting their tablets.

“We need beds, we need treatment centres. We need a whole structure of stuff. People come in this door and say ‘I need help, I need to go into treatment’. I need to get them somewhere and I can’t. Beds are very important,” he says.

When you step away from the community workers, and talk to people on the streets the fear of “what’s next?” is there.

There was the shopkeeper who didn’t want to have her picture taken, or talk.

However, she admitted that her shop has suffered badly as a result of the on-going feud. “People are staying in, business has been affected, just look,” she said and pointed around her empty shop.

A local hairdresser is invited to talk. “No, sorry I don’t want to get involved,” she said.

Face of Gareth Hutch who was shot dead in Dublin’s latest gangland killing on Tuesday. He is said to have known his life was under threat.

However, the older residents in the area aren’t as afraid of talking.

Jimmy Higgins, 72, has lived in Killarney Court for 14 years. “I’m not afraid but I do notice a difference with the suspicion, the fear, you don’t know who you’re talking to. It’s tough on the young people, that’s what I feel. It’s not the same as it used to be, not as relaxed,” he says.

Then there’s Mary Byrne, 89, who is fearful but still willing to talk.

“If you walk down that street, you’ll see all the papers, all the tablets, and all they’re using. God help them, I pity them, it’s not them [drug users], it’s who’s selling it. My daughter gets my pension for me. I’d be afraid of my life going into shops that a gun would be at your back, it’s the truth,” says Mary.

Joe states that it is older people that are the ones being forgotten.

Every year he takes about 200 elderly people from the area out on a day-trip with the North Inner City Old Folks group.

“We’ve to go around with a begging bowl, begging letters to get six or seven thousand for a day out for these people away from this mayhem,” he says.

Councillor Nial Ring: Gareth Hutch, who was shot dead this week, had told the councillor he was in danger.

For councillor Gary — who is seen as the change in the area, he’s young and educated — this is not a feud, what’s going on is an extermination.

“This is not a feud, it’s an extermination. It’s one international drug cartel who are targeting people in the North inner city who had the audacity to stand up to them.

“So they became the target but the target audience is anybody whoever dares to confront them. It’s propaganda by deed, so to speak,” says Gary.

But the people continue to stand and confront.

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