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Dealing with the nightmare: how inner city communities organised in the 90's to stop drug dealing

category national | history and heritage | feature author Thursday November 03, 2005 18:32author by sovietpopauthor email sovietpop at hotmail dot com Report this post to the editors

Pushers Out book cover Walk five minutes from O’Connell St, Dublin’s main thoroughfare, or five minutes from Christ Church Cathedral, an important tourist attraction, and you will find yourself in a very different world from that depicted in the tourist brochures.

Pushers Out tells the story of how people living in the North Inner City and the South Inner City (and later the suburbs, and some small towns) organised to save their communities from heroin. Not relying on the state to solve their problems, they started to organise themselves. One such working class organisation is Coalition of Communities Against Drugs (COCAD).

The campaigns began with meetings in local area called by residents concerned about the open dealing of heroin and all that came with that - hallways and greens were littered with dirty syringes, and those who overdosed lay where they fell.

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A review of "Pushers Out: The inside story of Dublin’s anti-drugs movement" by Andre Lyder.

Andree Lyder, the author, lived in the south of the city. A member of a small socialist party and interested in community politics, he joined the anti-drug group COCAD in 1992, and soon became a committee member. His account of the Dublin anti-drug movement doesn’t pretend to be objective and is all the better for it. He describes the complexity and tensions within both of the campaigns, and while I would not agree with all his conclusions he has done a great service in dealing with many difficult issues in a clear and frank manner.

There were two campaigns against drug use in Dublin. The first known as the ‘Concerned Parents against Drugs’ began in1983. It was superseded in many parts of Dublin in 1996 by COCAD.

The Irish ruling class showed utter contempt for the poor inner city areas of Dublin. Charles Haughey, the corrupt Taoiseach (prime-mister) famously bought shirts worth five grand each and stole cobblestones from Dublin streets to pave the drive at his home, Meanwhile areas of the city were suffering over 80% unemployment. An epidemic was ravaging certain parts of the city, destroying lives, families and communities and the ruling elite were happy to ignore it. Lyder argues these areas always had a tradition of using alcohol as an escape from grinding poverty, such that the way was paved for heroin. He quotes one local:
"I used to drink cider on the streets with the gangs I grew up with. We would buy a few flagons, sit down and have cider. At that stage they were called cider parties by the newspapers. Now that would have been around ’77. And then hash became what people started smoking. And all of a sudden hash turned to heroin you know…. it happened overnight but no one noticed it happen… I remember it being given out for free.. but at that stage I was lucky enough to go into pubs so it didn’t bother us….but the generation that came directly after me … drugs took over from cider. So drugs was the big out. (p30)"

The campaigns began with meetings in local area called by residents concerned about the open dealing of heroin and all that came with that – hallways and greens were littered with dirty syringes, and those who overdosed lay where they fell.

A spectrum of strategies were adopted by the Concerned Parents and COCAD to deal with the problem; mass meetings would march to a suspected dealers house and tell him or her to get out of the area. Meetings would forcefully evict suspected dealers, making a line of people to remove the furniture so that no one person could be charged with any offence. Smaller groups of people (often from other areas to limit the possibility of revenge attacks) would call to the houses of suspected dealers and tell them they would have to leave. Posters with the photographs and addresses of dealers would be posted around the area locally. The communities would mount permanent vigil at the entry to their estates, preventing any suspected dealer or addict from outside the area from entry. These pickets were manned day and night and became a permanent fixture of inner city street life.

Lyder also addresses two of the most contentious features of the anti-drug campaigns, namely the extent to which the IRA was involved and the extent to which physical violence was an aspect of the campaigns.

Heroin is big business, and those standing in the way of that business can be putting themselves in considerable danger. Des Whelan, an anti drug activist was stabbed to death as was the fourteen year old son of another activist, others were shot at but survived. Lyder argued that while there were Sinn Fein members in the campaign, sometimes in prominent positions, they did not (as the media argued) control it or use it as a front. Their presence did, however, allow the anti-drugs activists to imply that they were under the protection of the IRA, and it seems, in the very early days they were:

‘Throughout the ‘80s and to a lesser degree for the COCAD campaign [a deterrent had] been provided by the notion that the IRA and the anti-drugs campaign were intrinsically connected and if one attacked the anti-drugs campaign one was effectively attacking the IRA. Within COCAD we referred to this as the ‘big bluff’. It was a bluff in the sense that no such intrinsic relationship existed, we had no guarantees from the IRA about anything and no reason the IRA would necessarily to feel obliged to respond to any particular threat to the anti-drugs campaign. Some sort of commitment was made in the early ‘80s to the emerging Concerned Parents and the IRA did respond to the shootings in St Teresas’s Gardens in 1983. This did not however, assure future response"(290)

However he also suggests that while officially the IRA were not involved, IRA volunteers on the ground, un-officially and at times against the command of the IRA, were involved in killings and attempted killings of drug dealers. In addition he describes a campaign that operated in parallel to COCAD (and was never discussed at COCAD meetings). Known as the ‘military campaign’ this was made up of groups of men who had access to weapons and were willing to respond, like with like, to attacks made by drug dealers. If a drug dealer parked a fancy car in an estate, it would more than likely be burnt out.

Few people would have problems with this, however Lyder also outlines the complications that arise when you have small groups acting independently of a mass campaign. In one instance a local man cynically used his association with the campaign to pressurise a businessman from involvement in a local taxi company. The businessman lost his money and once he departed the local man took over control of the company himself. Lyder argues that such out and out corruption was exceptional. A much more difficult case to deal with is the death in May 1996, at the hands of anti-drugs activists, of heroin user and small time dealer Josie Dwyer.

Josie Dwyer died from a blow to his spleen following an encounter with drugs activists on the evening of May the fourteenth. Lyder attended an anti-drugs meeting on the night and describes the chaos that ensued, as a proposed mass march on a drugs dealers home, fractured into small groups of people confronting suspected dealers. After his death, the media reported that Dwyer had been the victim of a frenzied attack that included the use of Iron bars and lump hammers. Lyder argues that in court the coroner did not find this to be the case. Josie Dwyer was a sick man his spleen was abnormally enlarged, Lyder argues that the blow that killed Josie Dwyer would not have been fatal to a healthy person. Thus he describes Josie Dwyer’s death as ‘tragic, if unintentional’ but his sympathy remains squarely with the activists who were subsequently tried and with those who were convicted. While I understand his perspective, I have difficulty with this, and no doubt for this he would consider me a liberal. However, to put it bluntly if the strategy you adopt includes beating up junkies with aids, it shouldn’t be a surprise if one of them dies. It is inevitable. In addition a criticism made frequently about the Concerned Parents (and less so with COCAD) was that in reality there is little distinction between being a junkie and a small time dealer and the Josie Dwyer case seems to provide evidence of this. Nobody argues that Josie Dwyer was a main player in Dublin Drugs cartels.

The police were always highly hostile to the anti-drugs campaigners, many of whom faced serious intimidation; they were stopped in the street, they were brought in for questioning, their houses were raided, they were beaten. It was widely suspected that some police were very close to major dealers, it is not mentioned in the book, but there were rumours that heroin appeared on the streets in police evidence bags. Lyder argues that with Josie Dwyer’s death the police went into overdrive. They were determined to break the anti-drugs campaign by incarcerating as many activists as possible (p 138)’. Thirteen were eventually arrested of which six were convicted and given twenty-month sentences. It has often been said that the Josie Dwyer’s death caused the anti-drugs campaign to fracture; Lyder argues that this was only true in the South Inner City.

1996 was also to see an explosion of anti-drug campaigns though out the city, this time mostly organised under the COCAD banner. The vigil began with renewed vigour and there were a number of large anti-drugs marches in the centre of Dublin. The political climate, changed slightly, with the defeat of ruling party Fianna Fail and the election of a coalition government that included the labour party and the greens. This was the era of social partnership and Lyder is particularly scathing about the incorporation of community resistance by ‘professional’ community workers. Neglect now has a benign face.

The end of the book details the turn towards electoralism (Lyder stood unsuccessfully in one general election and Sinn Fein made significant gains in terms of electoral politics) and the winding down of the campaign. Strangely (to my anarchist eyes anyway) no link is made between the two processes .

What was the end result? Lyder argues that the anti-drugs campaigned stabilised the extent of heroin users in the city, they moved drugs up the agenda, secured funding for treatment services, youth facilities and lead to a growth of local pride and sense of community. The drug problem wasn’t ‘solved’ but it was contained (and in this respect, Lyder is critical of government responses which rely on methadone maintenance rather than support for detoxification and rehabilitation).

There is an entire history of the city in this book, a history that without it would remain mostly hidden. Indeed one of the most interesting aspects of the campaigns is mentioned just as a brief aside ‘women were the backbone of the campaign, overwhelming filling the meetings and marches’ (p. 234). Interestingly he also adds, that despite this women were rarely members of the executive committees.

He touches on many other issues in the book- the media attacks, the farcical reality of the district courts and the various approaches to rehabilitation. The story told here is far from simple, the dilemmas faced difficult. This is a book that raises as many questions as it answers, indeed it highlights that many of these questions that don’t have easy answers. Yet as these are questions that continue to be important to those of us who hope to build a better world, Lyder has done us a great service in documenting an important moment of in working class history, a moment when the people of Dublin organised themselves and took back control of their communities.

author by R. Isiblepublication date Thu Nov 03, 2005 01:30author address author phone Report this post to the editors

Of an interesting piece of recent history. I got the impression that heroin addiction was booming outside of metropolitan Dublin now, e.g. Arklow is supposed to have hundreds of addicts who have to travel to get methadone in Dublin.

Is the impression of the "stabilised situation" false, or is it only true for Dublin?

author by Ma Bakerpublication date Thu Nov 03, 2005 01:54author address author phone Report this post to the editors

The situation with Heroin outside of Dublin has been around for many years. Six years ago, an garda inspector rightly stated that wherever you have a college, you will have "hard" drugs. He mentioned Carlow as being a major issue.
There were limited anti-drug campaigns in various cities around Ireland, but nothing like Dublin. This is one of the reason's that heroin use increased in these areas instead of stabilising. As for Arklow, the situation in Bray was always huge and it had extended to Arklow several years ago. Arklow saw many CoCaD marches and even elected 2 anti-drug councillors to its town council.

author by Paddy - Consistent life ethic(inc animals)publication date Thu Nov 03, 2005 04:40author email achorusline19 at hotmail dot comauthor address author phone Report this post to the editors

What sickens me is the fact that i lived in an impoverished block of flats,3 blocks of them,certain families and individuals were completely strung out on heroin,and as a result,their kids suffered,as it was a daily occurence to hear a knock at the door''wud ye put a sup of milk in dat forme'',''have ye got a bit of sugar,butter,you name it.As most families had very little money,it wasnt just the addicts knocking,but other impoverished families,even my own at the time,would need a bit of help,in those areas their was a strong sense of community and ppl were generally good ppl who wouuld help u out whenever they could,it was tightknit.But vigo groups against vigo groups fought,families fought physically bcoz of other families who were addicted were throwing their works(syringes/sterile water/spoons)out the window and their were many incidents of children being pricked.Which would lead to grown mothers of up to 3-5 kids tearing each others hair out and thrashing each others houses,while the kids were terrified out of their life.Eventually a well known family with a good few addicts in it,and two in the immediate family,were burned out of their furniture-less flat,leaving them for a short term to face homelessness.I only understood as i grew up,and walking past joesephs ''mansions'' from school everyday with my brothers and mam stepping over skagged out addicts with some times up to prob 75 all goofing and hanging around the gate of St Joesephs mansions(Now killarney Court)We fought against the wrong people,OURSELVES,the inner city community,when we should have fucking stormed the Dail.Many have died,many more will die,as will Monto,bcoz the same corrupt government are turning every derelict bit of land or building in2 private apartments and ''business centres'' for the rich.''We'll take them up to monto,monto,monto,well all go up to monto................................North East Inner City,R.I.P,always in my memory.

author by antopublication date Thu Nov 03, 2005 10:42author address author phone Report this post to the editors

your compassion and understanding of the heroin problem in the inner city astound me, w@nk*r...

author by sovietpoppublication date Thu Nov 03, 2005 10:50author address author phone Report this post to the editors

that the book is available in Red Ink Bookshop in Dublin.

author by pat cpublication date Thu Nov 03, 2005 12:37author address author phone Report this post to the editors

If "junkies with AIDs" deal smack in an area and then go on to provoke activists, it should not be surprising that they get a heavy response. I dont think you are a Liberal, I just think you are misreading the situation.

author by pat cpublication date Thu Nov 03, 2005 12:45author address author phone Report this post to the editors

To clarify the above: I'm not saying that the killing of Josie O Dwyer was a good thing, no it was terrible. But it was the unintended result of severe provocation carried out by Dwyer who a dealer, albeit a small time one.

author by agcspublication date Thu Nov 03, 2005 13:49author address author phone Report this post to the editors

The provo leadership was anxious to give the volunteers something militant to do while the armed campaign was being run down.

author by Humanistpublication date Thu Nov 03, 2005 13:58author address author phone Report this post to the editors

"If "junkies with AIDs" deal smack in an area and then go on to provoke activists, it should not be surprising that they get a heavy response. I dont think you are a Liberal, I just think you are misreading the situation."

You taking the word of the organisation that left Andrew Kearney and Robert McCartney to die in their own blood. Oh that's I right I forgot they must have provoked them.

author by Viggie1publication date Thu Nov 03, 2005 17:32author address author phone Report this post to the editors

by Sovietpop of a book well worth reading.

As someone involved in the campaign at the time I would, however, take issue with a couple of things.

With regard to the death of Josie Dwyer Sovietpop states that "if your strategy includes beating up junkies with Aids you should not be surprised if one dies." This, I think is fairly harsh. The only strategy of COCAD to ordinary addicts was to help them, either directly or through putting pressure on the government to provide better treatment and rehab. services. There are numerous addicts across the city who can attest to the support provided them by anti-drugs activists. At the same time activists felt it necessary to respond to treats or attacks as in the absence of this they might as well have just shut up shop. It really was a question at that point in time of who ran the streets in the affected communities. On the night Dwyer died activists were responding to treats from an individual (Not Dwyer by the way) that they had every reason to take seriously given his history. Dwyer, who was accompanying this individual, got involved in this. He died, according to the Coroner, from a single blow of no great force (or possibly a fall) which ruptured his enlarged spleen.

There are many people who have a horror of violence (and I've seen enough of it personally to have little taste for it) and would argue that the anti-drugs campaign should have avoided any sort of physical conflict with dealers. The world is not always as we would wish it, however, and (and if one was not just going to continue to leave things to the authorities) the reality of life of that time in the affected communities had to be faced up to.

Sovietpop appears to be critical of the fact that the author was sympathetic to the 13 men charged with Dwyer's manslaughter. This is quite understandable to me. Firstly they were fellow activists (comrades if you like). Secondly, there were major questions around the involvement of many of them ... indeed some were not even in the locality on the night in question ... and were being "fitted up". Thirdly, the author was of the view that if justice was really to be done it should have been the state "in the dock" for the way in which the people in the affected communities had been abandoned to lives of hell, and that the trials were not really about serving jusice but about establishing the authority of the state. I think that one can appreciate these points without negating the tragedy of Dwyers death.

Finally, sovietpop appears to reiterate the old criticism that the anti-drugs campaigns did not distinguish between the major players and street dealers who were often addicts themselves. There was a distinction made but at the same time street dealers were not simply allowed to continue in business. The primary concern in many communities was not "solving the drugs problem" but improving the quality of life of people living there. This meant that they did not have to walk past a drug dealer on every landing going up the stairwells (averting their eyes), did not have their children looking at people injecting themselves in every part of their anatomy, did not have to clean up the blood, urine, and vomit on their landings on a daily basis, did not have to live with the violence between rival dealers and between dealers and those who owed them money, were able to let their children out to play without fear of needle sticks and so forth, etc. etc. In short to have some dignity in their lives. The agenda of the anti-drugs movement was not determined by some provo or other person sitting somewhere but by the ordinary people who made it up - and it was the "quality of life" issues which frequently motivated them and which determined that all those dealing in any particular locality were addressed.

Apart from this, Sovietpop is to be congratulated for a well written and insightful review.

author by smpublication date Thu Nov 03, 2005 18:36author address author phone Report this post to the editors

John look up the word GENTRIFICATION in the dictionary, ye know (feck )all..

author by Mr. Easonpublication date Fri Nov 04, 2005 00:30author address author phone Report this post to the editors

Whether you agree or disagree with the anti drugs campaign this book is a must read for any political person. It documents an actual working class movement, warts and all.

The book is available in Red Ink Bookshop, Connolly Books and a number of other independent bookshops. It can also be got from PO Box 3355, Dublin 7. The price is €15 plus €2.50 postage and all cheques and postal orders should be made payable to Andre Lyder.

author by Badmanpublication date Fri Nov 04, 2005 18:46author address author phone Report this post to the editors

Paragraph breaks don't cost any money. Or do you think they are a dirty plebian punctuation thing? Because you have never once used one on indymedia and it gives your writing a particular 'stream of bonkerness" air to it. As if you didn't take time to catch your breath in between extolling the virtues of greed and selfishness.

I'll even donate a few line breaks of my own

If you'll have them

of course

author by Obedient Citizenpublication date Sat Nov 05, 2005 00:05author address author phone Report this post to the editors

"Andree Lyder, the author, lived in the south of the city. A member of a small socialist party and interested in community politics, he joined the anti-drug group COCAD in 1992, and soon became a committee member. "

Does anyone know which small socialist party Andree was a member of?

author by Viggie1publication date Mon Nov 07, 2005 18:22author address author phone Report this post to the editors

Communist as far as I know .....

author by Mao Maopublication date Mon Nov 07, 2005 18:52author address author phone Report this post to the editors

He was in the Communist Party of Ireland (Marxist Leninist). This group was originally Maoist but rejected Maos teachings around 1978. They then became fans of Enver Hoxha and the Socialist Paradise of Albania.

Andre was a normal person, you'd never believe that he could have hung out with such a bunch of fruitcakes.

author by paddy - consistent life ethic(inc animals)publication date Tue Nov 08, 2005 15:08author email achorusline19 at hotmail dot comauthor address author phone Report this post to the editors

In regards to the coment by Anto,he seems to think im using a fake name for some reason,i am not.Where are you from??You said in an unsavoury manner"your compassion to the heroin problem in the 90s astounds me ,Wa++er"also said in a severely sarcastic manner.I was born in 1984 in Liberty house flats and then moved to other flats around the summerhill parade area,im nearly 22,i was just telling it as i saw it,maybe i hadnt compassion as a kid?????I certainly do now,so why are you attacking me????Or is it some 1 else youre attacking,please differentiate,im confused.

author by antopublication date Tue Nov 08, 2005 15:26author address author phone Report this post to the editors

I wasn't having a go at you, but there was a comment from a bloke called John that must have been subsequently removed, that more or less just called everyone from the inner city, and all those who have been unfortunate enough to become addicts, scum. So, no, don't worry,you know the score. John, though, is still a w@~k£r. Glad I saw your post and could give a reply. As for where I'm from, well I'm not from the inner city, but I have great respect for those who grew up there without getting lost in the underworld. Respect

author by pat cpublication date Tue Nov 08, 2005 15:37author address author phone Report this post to the editors

I thought this oddity might be appropriate to this thread.

Drug Dealers See Mexico Folk Hero As Saint

BAKERSFIELD, California - A bandit out of Mexican folklore has become a patron saint to many drug dealers in this California city, and some even have altars to the Robin Hood-like character in their homes, authorities say. Jesus Malverde is known as the "narco saint" by many law enforcement officers and drug dealers.

Full story at the link.

Related Link: http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20051108/ap_on_fe_st/drug_dealers__saint;_ylt=Ar16Jp0FG2e3ErZDRCgU9ILtiBIF;_ylu=X3oDMTA5aHJvM
author by phil brelandpublication date Wed Apr 26, 2006 02:43author email philbreland at yahoo dot comauthor address author phone Report this post to the editors

This is a request for info regarding the name of a woman killed by drug dealers in the 90's (1996?) for opposing their activities. I was in Asia recently watching a program on Star TV and caught the last ten minutes of a program about this woman. I wrote her name down and promptly misplaced the slip of paper. It was quite a powerful segment, however short, and featured an incredible song seemingly sung by a young boy. The song played as the camera left the scene of her murder( her car at an intersection) and panned across the faces of a variety of citizens as they heard the news of her death. Does anyone have an idea what I'm talking about here? Any help would be greatrly appreciated.

author by blaisepublication date Wed Apr 26, 2006 04:34author address author phone Report this post to the editors

the police are bad, Charlie Haughey's bad, the ruling class is bad. Look in the mirror. Rail against the Dail? Why? Did the Dail get you hooked on drugs. No - you got yourself hooked on drugs. Get unhooked. Get a life. Excuse me, but I have little time for all this railing against the establishment for an illness which you brought upon yourself. I like to get high, too, but within reason, and without hurting anybody, without hurting my family. Learn to take a little and live a lot longer without inflicting injury. We have immigrants coming here from the poorer regions of the world who find work and get themselves a life. The inhabitants of this great city can do the same. It's all there for you - waiting for you to clean up your act. I'm from the inner city, from a mostly fatherless family of nine. According to plan, we should all be awash in poverty and drugs but we're not. There is no bogey man out there lashing against you. It's circumstances. You can create new circumstances for yourself. There are libraries to teach yourself how to overcome your limitations. Instead of getting another hit - buy a cheap radio and listen to the stories of people who brought themselves back from the abyss. Corruption will always be part of big city - even a small town. It's part of life. Rise above it.

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