There was a large turnout in Drogheda yesterday as inhabitants of the town took to the streets in support of ongoing efforts to disrupt and usurp the regime of fear local crime gangs seek to impose. An estimated five thousand marched through the town before assembling in West Street to listen to a number of speakers.
Although the drug dealers have been wreaking havoc on community harmony for a number of years, arson and murder being the tactics of choice, it was the savage slaying and dismemberment of 17 year old Keane Mulready-Woods a fortnight ago that brought matters to a head and stirred people into lancing the boil. The tender years of Mulready-Woods coupled with the savagery of his death, has horrified the town in a way that killing of older gang members rarely does. A friend rang to express the view that it was more Mexico than Ireland, echoing the sentiments of Mayor Paul Bell who described the killing of the teenager as "inhumane and demonic."
While there were proclamations of support at yesterday's rally from the speakers for An Garda Siochana they did come with a health warning: the Garda is seriously under-resourced and under-staffed for the task at hand. Not everybody is convinced that it is fit for purpose, although nobody is blaming the local guards on this. It is considered the inevitable outcome of austerity and government cutbacks implemented by the free marketeers of Fine Gael over the past decade, ably assisted for much of that by its obedient shill, the Labour Party.
The political parties were well represented, with the Taoiseach and leader of the opposition pushing to the front. Talking to a republican in the crowd, it was his view that the two main leaders had to turn up in case they, in their absence, were outmanoeuvred by the other. Not good tactics to stay away in an election campaign which has been infused with concerns about law and order.
The sound system packed in shortly into proceedings. The thought struck me that it symbolised the shoddiness of services on offer to the citizens of the town. Limited funding for the community groups and the state institutions whose task it is to halt the town's freefall into the abyss. Now we would not even be able to hear the range of woes.
I walked away rather than stand in a crowded street where nothing other than the grumbling of the people nearest to me could be heard. When I returned 10 minutes later proceedings had resumed but the crowd had decreased in size.
The notion raised by Mayor Paul Bell, which got much applause and a hum of approval from the crowd, that those who take drugs render themselves complicit with the drugs gangs, is fanciful. According to the mayor there is no such things as recreational drugs and people should be arrested for personal use possession. It is a bizarre recommendation, not one that bodes well for the future, failing to identify the source of the problem with a concomitant evasion of what needs done to tackle it. Use of drugs is as recreational as the use of alcohol. There is a demand for drugs which is being met by the gangs. Internationally, wars on drug are placatory not panacean. Their failure has fuelled numerous calls for drugs to be decriminalised. Drug use is a problem and it would be foolish to argue that drugs, like alcohol, do not ruin lives. However, usage is much less a problem than the drug gangs who currently provide the supply. A change of mindset to the problem of drug use, with an emphasis on a regime of health rather than a regime of fear, might be a long way off but then too is a cure.
As the crowd ebbed away, I sensed that the interest of the politicians not rooted in Drogheda would ebb just as quickly. Before leaving, no more sanguine than I had arrived, I shook hands with Senator Ged Nash and got hugged by a friend in Sinn Fein. On our feet, standing together with hands across the political divide, I feared the symbolism would not be matched by a solution.