Northern Ireland is the most studied, most dissected spot on the planet. As an object of fascination, as a place where there remains a problem to every solution, the six county state demands fresh perspectives and analytical ingenuity. John Lindsay provides just that. With his recent book No Dope Here? Anti-Drugs Vigilantism in Northern Ireland, Lindsay explores the history of illegal drugs and their control from onset of The Troubles to the present day. Such a perspective shines a new light on paramilitarism. It also reveals the shifting values of a traditionally conservative place, a small place that lies at the fringes of a much more liberal, less reactionary Europe.
The Troubles have lowered a dark cloak over the illegal substances debate. At the outset of his book, Lindsay points out the difficulty of finding and settling upon the proper terminology for the victims of drugs-related violence. Whether casualties of internal feuds, falsely accused targets of vendettas, or hoods beyond someone's pale, these victims, Lindsay suggests, receive the rough justice of a stressed state where an incredible amount of hypocrisy obfuscates issues of economic control and addiction. On the latter front, Lindsay notes in passing that alcohol and nicotine are addictive drugs. And they are definitely the drugs of choice in Northern Ireland. Exotic substances like cannabis, or the more infamous products of Colombia and Afghanistan, do not have nearly the same degree of sway over the people of the province.
Attempts to cleanse communities of drugs, to purge both dealers and users with punishment shootings and beatings, are the book often reminds us cruel and unjust. These non-transparent forms of "justice" are mere covers for the control of cash and the maintenance of authority with vigilantes practicing barbaric abuse in the guise of community service. And of course the vigilantes, republican and loyalist alike, are engaged in yet another crusade against supply, one that ignores the persistence of demand and its underlying causes. In all this, the traditional and socially acceptable mood altering substances get a complete pass.
No Dope Here? Anti-Drugs Vigilantism in Northern Ireland documents republican and loyalist responses to drugs. Lindsay covers the whole period from the late sixties to the current Post-Good Friday Agreement era. Because the book tries to throw its arms around such a big chunk of history, some tales seem thin, the people in them only sketched in pencil. Lindsay's exhaustive research, however, yielded opinion from a wide range of players. The voices we do hear, the voices of gunmen, apologists, police, victims and their families emerge from the dark and then quickly disappear like the disembodied faces in a Becket play. A few individuals seem more fully drawn. They leave an impression.
|Funeral of Jimmy Brown|
Much of Lindsay's book describes the Byzantine world of loyalist paramilitaries. Not surprisingly, he shows us a UVF and UDA awash in drugs, its members dealing and using with almost shameless zeal. Inevitably, there is the story of Johnny "Mad Dog" Adair and his establishment as a drugs-funded UDA boss based in the Lower Shankill. When Adair and his remaining supporters are forced to flee Northern Ireland, we read a policeman's wry comment that, "It's like the end of The Godfather, but in reverse - it's the victory of the five other Mafia families over the Corleones."
The intriguing story of Raymond McCord's battle with loyalist paramilitaries also receives considerable attention. McCord, his son murdered by the UVF in 1997, wrote Justice for Raymond, a personal account from which Lindsay quotes liberally. "The fact was that I was telling the truth and the UVF couldn't handle that," McCord writes, "Their leadership may have been opposed to drugs at one time, but people put in charge of certain areas were knee deep in drug dealing and they did nothing to stop them." Even prior to his son's murder, McCord was the target of threats and sought help from Nancy Gracey and her fledgling organisation Families Against Intimidation and Terror (FAIT). The author describes the brave efforts of FAIT. He also documents how the organisation was compromised by unscrupulous figures, accusations of state sponsorship, and shoddy accounting.
While Lindsay maintains a distant, objective tone in most of his study, at times his editorial voice does appear. In the book's early parts, the personal is almost completely sacrificed to the greater goal of providing a comprehensive look at the history of drugs and drug-related violence in Northern Ireland. When Lindsay does enter the fray, he is a father, a father in Derry protecting his young daughters. "In March 2000 I witnessed something that looked very much like a punishment beating," Lindsay writes.
|Target of a punishment shooting|
Such is the effect of several decades of violence. Lindsay recognizes a jostled moral compass, not only his but Northern Ireland's as a whole. In dealing with drugs and so-called anti-social behaviour, the vigilantes effectively established a whole new sliding scales of justice. Whole new levels of violence became acceptable, common, invisible.
As Lindsay notes:
A suspected drug dealer, car thief or burglar who has been shot has not been shot because he is suspected of drug dealing, car theft or burglary. He has been shot because the person who shot him believes that it is acceptable to fire a bullet into the body of an unarmed human being.
- John Lindsay, 2012, No Dope Here? Anti-drugs Vigilantism in Northern Ireland. Derry: Yes Publications. ISBN 1873832524