Involved with the Coalition of Communities Against Drugs (COCAD) from the early 90's, Andre Lyder is to be commended for shining a light on an area of history that most would prefer to forget.
Starting with the history of Concerned Parents Against Drugs. It's a fascinating tale of little communities who had been abandoned by an uncaring Dublin Corporation in rotting flats (insultingly named after Irish patriots) taking measures into their own hands and ridding their respective areas of heroin dealers.
With a hostile media alleging IRA involvement, and an even more hostile Gardai, the campaign is an enormous success, riling the likes of Martin Cahill (whose friendship with a well known heroin dealer seemed at odds with his "ordinary decent criminal" persona) and the courts into intimidation and jail sentences.
When the campaign begins again in the 90's, the dealers are better equipped and less likely to sit back and say nothing. This time, however, the focus is on better facilities for people to come off heroin. And this time, the Dail have no choice but to listen. But at a price, due to the inclusion of "professional" community workers.
However, Lyder doesn't seem willing to discuss two major problems of the campaign. Throwing dealers out of an area didn't necessarily stop the drug problem, rather it just moved it to another part of the city. And with the dealers making copious amounts of money, they could probably afford to take the hit.
Another issue, which ties in with the infamous death of Josie Dwyer, is that there was often little distinction made between addicts dealing to fend their habit, and big time dealers. While I'm sure the communities view anyone dealing heroin (regardless of amount) with the same contempt.
Two allegations are not mentioned, and both have a significant impact on the readings of this tale. One is the rumour (according to Workers Solidarity writer Aoife Fisher) that when heroin appeared on the streets, they were in police evidence bags. How true that is, I don't know (I suspect it to be untrue, as surely someone somewhere would have a photograph of such an item to discredit Gardai) but it's intriguing nonetheless.
The second contention (which was written about by Professor Jerome aan de Wiel) is that the Official IRA were themselves dealing heroin (with the inference being that it helped fund the Workers Party). Although there is no hard evidence, Professor aan de Wiel places the historical context in line with the rumours and seems to suggest there is truth there. If it is, then there is a story to be told about the Officials' grip on the South being similar to the Catholic Church (with similar devastating consequences).
Whether Lyder was aware of these allegations or not is unknown, but both rumours (if true) make for sinister subtext with the media (infamously, RTE contained a substantial amount of Workers Party sympathisers) and the Gardai seemingly intent on demonising the ordinary working class who stood up to heroin dealers while the state buried their collective heads in the sand.
The issue of Provisional IRA involvement is dismissed as a giant bluff by Lyder, who knew that the Provos wouldn't have wanted a two war front. Although IRA and Sinn Fein members (such as Christy Burke) made up the movement, Lyder argues that they did not control it. However, an IRA member called "Johnny" (a Northern man living in Dublin since the early 70's and a member of the southern command) is described as an encouraging presence in the anti drugs movement since 1983, and is the person who articulated the view that the republican movement would help the community in getting rid of the drug dealers. Lyder suggests that "Johnny" was acting without authorisation from the IRA, but one wonders.
Looking back, it would be interesting to see how Irish history would have turned out if the Provos had engaged in all out war with drug dealers. If they had started early (say 1983), would it have been enough to nip the heroin problem in the bud, or would it have been a case where it became contained to a certain degree?
With a recent documentary, and a few well balanced articles, this significant period of Irish history is only now getting the proper examination it deserves. Despite it's problems, Pushers Out is a necessary contribution to this tale of a corrupt, uncaring government ignoring the needs and wishes of the people, who then mobilised themselves to take their communities back.
And while the problem is still there (and certainly growing in Belfast), never underestimate the fact that people have the power.
Andre Lyder, 2006. Pushers Out: The Inside Story of Dublin's Anti-Drugs Movement.
Trafford Publishing ISBN-13: 978-1412050999
➽ Christopher Owens reviews for Metal Ireland and finds time to study the history and inherent contradictions of Ireland.
Follow Christopher Owens on Twitter @MrOwens212