Pushers Out

Christopher Owens casts his eye over an inside account of Dublin's Anti-Drugs Movement.

Nearly forty years since heroin started appearing in Ireland thanks to the Dunne brothers (and with the amount of addicts in Belfast increasing over the last few years), it's time to reappraise the first book dedicated to documenting this part of recent Dublin life, which should be appraised and celebrated from the rooftops.

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

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Anthony McIntyre

Former IRA prisoner, spent 18 years in Long Kesh. Free Speech advocate, writer, historian, humanist, and researcher.

17 comments to ''Pushers Out"

  1. I'm a bit confused with this Christopher, are you saying the Provo's weren't involved in dealing? I can tell you at the very least they turned a blind eye. A former Shinner I knew who's Dad was a Belfast provo was very much a involved in the mid nineties.

    And another occasion (mid nineties) while trying to get access to a dodgy night club two doormen stopped my mate from entry unless he WAS dealing so they could get their cut. (Admittedly these two doormen were INLA apparently)

    Still, within the loyalist community they were rife and I still blame this on the suicide pandemic at present. Tragic for all across the divide.

  2. We in the North were well aware the authorities viewed the introduction of drugs upon the community as a weapon to undermine militant republicanism. Fundamentally it weakens a community and eventually turns the people in on themselves. Thus it weakens the hand of those within that community to agitate and foment dissent against the State. Tellingly, when the IRA 'left the stage' the drug pushers grew in areas they would never have dared. So much so that it is highly unlikely young generations will ever be roused to bother themselves with real politics in this land anytime in the near future. Just like the CIA took the sting out of the black communities in the States via introducing drugs, their counterparts in in britland did likewise in Ireland. Job done.

    For some however, it should be another case of 'be careful what you wish for'.

  3. wolfe tone,

    I have no problem with people using drugs. It's a personal choice and, if they know all the pros and cons, then let them go ahead. It is ironic, however, that two republican organisations were involved in the selling of drugs while proclaiming to be revolutionaries, and not in the Timothy Leary sense of revolution. Were they doing the same work to their own community that the CIA did to the Black Panthers? That's a very interesting question and perspective. I wonder if many former IPLO members have any thoughts on that.

    In regards to the growth in areas they'd never have dared, I suspect it was only a matter of time before that happened. Heroin could be gotten in Belfast in the 80's and 90's, but you had to look hard for it (and I believe it was mainly contained to the Holylands). Traditionally, it wasn't tolerated because junkies tend to do anything for fixes. Nowadays, with certain Eastern European gangs fighting loyalists over drugs, anything goes.

  4. I wonder how much Brexit will (if at all) stem the flow of drugs into Belfast

  5. Steve R,

    It's quite simple: I'm referring to a specific time in Dublin's recent history, and the persistent allegations that the PIRA controlled the movement (in the same way there are people out there who still believe NICRA was controlled by the IRA).

    Yes, the Provos started taxing dealers (after Martin Cahill's death, I believe), but that is not discussed here. Rather, Lyder is actually saying the Provo involvement was minimal.

  6. Christopher Owens, where I come from, in the 80's and 90's cannabis could've been got, but you had to go look for it. Nowadays anything and everything is available. And I have no doubt, the IRA, leaving the scene has led to that availability. I.e when the IRA was identifying drugs as a scourge on the community it sure did make some think twice about being blatant about it. That said I have no doubt that former and possibly at the time, IRA people, contributed to the conditions for drug acceptance in neighbourhoods. That being said, the groups that endeavoured to replace the IRA have wittingly or unwittingly overseen the proliferation of drugs and they sure do need to take a long hard look at themselves. In fact I would say that is one of the reasons why they've never been fully accepted by the community they claim allegiance to.
    I do recall, two decades ago or so, certain families in my town getting into fights with members of the republican movement over members of their clan involving themselves with drugs etc. No doubt the IRA leaving the stage cheered them some what, however, as I say, be careful what you wish for I.e numerous individuals within them families have went to their deaths due to consuming drugs.

    Steve R, I absolutely agree with you the upsurge in suicides reflects the upsurge in drugs. A blind man can see that. In fact it is disingenuous for some bodies to point the finger at the legacy of the troubles for the present day mental health of our young people.

  7. wolfe tone,

    the IRA has had an ambivalent relationship with drugs. While members got involved in CPAD, others were quite willing to tax drug dealers. Take a look at what happened after Martin Cahill died, if you care to believe Paul Williams.

    Also, remember the 'Hoods' book I reviewed? This is a direct quote from it:

    "Angela's offense was drug dealing...Two of her uncles ran sizeable drug dealing operations...She believed that her sentence was relatively lenient, however, because her estranged father had powerful 'connections' with the IRA and had protected her for as long as he could."

    And this is West Belfast sometime in the late 90's/early 00's.

    In regards to the suicide rate, I think both issues of legacy and drugs are intertwined. If you look at former mining towns, there are often bad drug problems with the youth in the town, as they see no hope for themselves and the memory of Thatcher destroying the mining industry has been passed on from father to son.

  8. Christopher, no I wouldn't believe a word Paul Williams said.

    I can't speak for Belfast, I can only reflect upon what I know in my own town. And the fact is, most drug users/dealers were very aware it was frowned upon by genuine republicans. I say genuine as there were some, as with any organisation, that spoke out of both sides of their mouths regarding drugs. Twenty years later, it is still noticeable that those that participate in the drug scene, tend to avoid those republicans that were known to frown upon drugs but ironically are not shy with the new breed of 'republican' sort of speak. The 'new breed' should take a long hard look at themselves I.e after all it was they that were claiming to be the 'people's army' mk2. And it is they that have overseen the growth of drugs in communities.
    Fundamentally, I oppose the promotion of drugs as they do indeed damage our young people and as well as that they are counterproductive to anyone or body that dreams of real social change in our country. I simply couldn't imagine James Connolly, Padraig Pearse, Bobby Sands, Pete Ryan etc etc bothering the asses to lead the lives they led if their heads were turned by drugs. Just saying.

  9. Thanks Christopher, I get your point.

    Wolfe, I've noticed with some horror 'meth' becoming available in Belfast. It's called 'Ice' down here and it has completely destroyed some country towns and many city lives. In my opinion it's a far 'worse' substance than smack.

    I really fear for the kids back home these days.

  10. wolfe tone,

    while I respect your point of view re. drugs, I will have to quote Bill Hicks on this matter:
    "...I think drugs have done some good things for us. I really do. And if you don't believe drugs have done good things for us, do me a favor. Go home tonight. Take all your albums, all your tapes and all your CDs and burn them. 'Cause you know what, the musicians that made all that great music that's enhanced your lives throughout the years were rrrrrreal fucking high on drugs."

    Same goes for literature. Leaving aside genius works by William Burroughs, Ken Kesey and Bret Easton Ellis, Charles Dickens used opium and cocaine. Lewis Carroll loved laudanum, Jean Paul Satre was into his amphetamine. Would they have all produced the same works without the influence of drugs? I doubt it.

  11. Also, your comments about mk2 "people's army" are spot on. Unfortunately, the formerly monk like existence of Irish republicanism has been replaced with a kind of confused, almost misanthropic, hedonism which has little in the way of morals or history.

  12. Christopher, the claim that musicians under the influence of drugs, etc created great music is a matter for debate. These kind of stories tend to be the bread and butter yarns sold to the peasants. I.e the music industry knows well that the peasants love a good rags to riches story or indeed a story that resonates with their lives-a 'successful drug taking musician' is sure to encourage more drug use for the gullible that's for sure. Btw, you try and ring up a record producer off your nuts and tell them you have a good song and then come back and tell me how you got on lol. The music industry is probably as contrived as all the other showbiz celebs life stories are. In saying that I liked bill hicks humour.

    Steve R, I work with a few lads in their mid twenties and the tales they tell me concerning drugs is sadly sadly pitiful. Anybody who is carefree about drugs is ignoring a huge problem for present and future generations. My own daughter witnessed herself a young man in a club in Tenerife actually taking bites out of a soft seat and eating it! Nobody near him or with him. Just a young fella off his head eating a chair. Thankfully she and her mates turned on their heels and walked back out the door. Btw, I would also add that the so called sudden deaths of relatively young people has the fingerprints of dugs all over it too. Also take into account the upsurge in deaths by stabbing etc and you can bet your bottom dollar drugs played a part in the thinking of some of the killers. All in all the drugs are not good for some of our people.

  13. Wolfe tone,
    I would bet my life the main drug active in perpetrators of violent acts is alcohol. There's no doubt drugs have a negative impact on communities. The question is how to manage it. Prohibition doesn't work, cocaine is everywhere. The war on drugs is a pr exercise at best. The majority of people don't want paramilitary policing, so what you left with. The sensible way would be to treat it scientifically, try different policy measures, see what works best for the wider community and go with that. That won't happen though, people who have never taken drugs, who's community is rarely blighted by drugs will scream the loudest about implementing failed policies to make them feel superior.

  14. wolfe tone,

    I notice you've ignored my segment on literature!

  15. David Higgins, the 'war on drugs' was/is a farce. It is merely a cash cow for security agencies. Besides how can you tackle the drugs problem when the ones tasked with policing the problem are involved in promoting drugs? A newspaper has reported today, via a freedom of information request that over 300 prison wardens have been caught smuggling all sorts of contraband for prisoners in England and Wales last year. You can bet your last dollar that there are numerous cops doing similar stuff. Btw, we can debate the pros and cons of alcohol but there is no debating the fact that a teenager raises the odds of death higher if he/she horses a few pill etc in to themselves rather than horses a few cans of beer.

    Christopher, don't believe all you read. Fundamentally I repeat what I alluded to previously I.e the tolerance and normalising of drugs was no accident and I am sure some think tanks were/are advising govt decision makers of the benefits of introducing drugs into traditionally troublesome communities. Just like the black communities in the US. Although alcohol can dumb down and tame the troublesome peasants, drugs can accelerate that process somewhat. Job done.

  16. Wolfetone,
    Alcohol is the biggest killer, that's the way it is. Drugs are normal, man has always altered his conciousness, always will. We can complain about the policies until we're blue in the face but the demand is there and it's not dwindling so it has to be managed in an adult way


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