For this past couple of years, rural Republican areas of Tyrone have experienced a rise in the recreational consumption of drugs particularly cocaine and prescription drugs, there has been a growing social acceptance of drug use among the youth in these rural communities.
Kildress is a small rural community located in the foothills of the Sperrins of Co Tyrone between Cookstown and Omagh, it is a vibrant community which has at its heart the local parish and GAA club. Historically Kildress has played its roll in the struggle for Irish freedom, and as such has suffered as other areas have from state violence, repression and the various British counterinsurgency strategies such as the running of drugs into the Republican base.
With the recent rise in drug use, locals and groups lobbied Saoradh for help. On Friday evening (9/2/18) Saoradh organised a public event in Kildress under the banner Communities Against Drugs, it was a panel discussion which included Saoradh members and several people from a background in drug awareness and addiction support. The local community came out in force for the event with close to 200 people packed into the local hall.
Chaired by Saoradh activist Kevin Murphy, a native of Kildress, with Saoradh National chairperson Davy Jordan from nearby Pomeroy representing the views of the Party Davy spoke of how traditionally Republicans have been opposed to drugs in the community and how Loyalist death squads have traditionally been the suppliers, but went on to say that the traditional Republican responses have failed and that only a collective community response could begin to tackle the issue.
Liam ‘Billy’ Duggan a Saoradh activist from Dublin who is prominent in the campaign against homelessness, Billy is a recovered drug addict who now counsels and works with drug addiction in Ballymun. Billy’s life story which he recounted for everyone was a harrowing story of the depths someone can plunge to when in the grips of drug addiction, from the point of suicide Billy managed over years to claw his way out of addiction, it was a gripping tale of addiction and redemption, Billy also outlined how unscrupulous drug dealers are mixing heroin with cannabis to increase cannabis sales leading to youths becoming addicted to heroin without realising they are consuming it.
Shauna Deery, a community worker with from Creggan Neighbourhood Partnership, spoke of having to start from scratch when drugs first became a problem in Derry, Shauna gave a personal account of the uphill battle to educate people and secure funding to deal with the emerging drug addiction.
Liam Stewart a recovered addict and Psychotherapist at Heal the Hurt based in Derry spoke next, Liam like Billy spoke at length of the horrors of addiction, of losing family to addiction, he spoke of how his religious faith had helped him greatly in overcoming addiction, Liam also spoke of the practicalities of how young people secure drugs, how the internet has become as he called it the biggest drug dealer, he spoke of prescription drugs that are being bought and abused many of which we had never before knew existed, Liam alsio outlined how regarless of the public perception being that the problem was drug dealers, that while people wanted drugs to abuse they would find ways to get them, Liam enphasied the need for education the importance of educating people of the dangers of drug abuse and addiction before people became dependent on drugs. Liam brought with him a drug testing kit, and called on parents to buy them and test their kids for drugs, it is a small mouth swab that can identify several varieties of drugs being used.
Sharon Pickering, a drugs awareness professional based in west Belfast, gave a power-point presentation covering drugs culture, popular drugs, what signs to look for if parents believed their children were taking drugs, Sharon outlined the ladder process of moving from one drug to another and challenged assertions that some drugs are alright while others were bad. Sharon exhibited drug props and explained various nicknames and slang used, Sharon also distributed a range of literature for those in attendance.
A robust and highly engaging question and answer session took place after the panellists had finished speaking, with one member of the audience a father who had recently lost his daughter to drugs engaging with the panel in what was a highly poignant exchange
After a highly successful event, Saoradh will now work with the local community on the drugs issue