Derry and the War on Drugs: An Anarchist View


News that the Red Cross, an international humanitarian organisation, have been directly assisting local community workers in the Rosemount area of Derryhas again heightened concerns of a potential “drugs epidemic” developing in the city.

The story first broke over the last few weeks prior to a BBC Spotlight programme investigating the vigilante group Republican Action Against Drugs or RAAD.  It revealed that the Red Cross has been working with the Rosemount Resource Centre over the past eight months, believed to be the first time ever the humanitarian group has worked with another organisation in the north.   

It’s been well documented over the last number of years that community workers within the Rosemount Resource Centre liaise with several armed republican groups and a growing number of young people said to be involved in anti-social behaviour or drugs. 

Workers at the centre stated that as mediators they help prevent young people falling victim to possible punishment beatings and shootings, being exiled from their families or worse, executed. Likewise it’s said that if it wasn’t for their direct intervention then the numbers killed or maimed locally would be excessively higher.  There’s on doubting that that’s true enough, recent figures show an estimated forty people have been shot in Derryalone as a result of paramilitary-style attacks over the past 5 years. Five in Strabane while another three were shot in Donegal, including a young 24 year old father of one, Andrew Allen, murdered by RAAD in Buncrana back in February. 

RAAD themselves have been in existence since 2008, and are said to have been created by members and recent ex-members of the Provisional IRA.  After a pipe-bomb attack outside a house in the city the following year they informed a local newspaper to explain that, “There is absolutely no political agenda within our organisation” stating also that they “rank-and-file members” of Sinn Fein were “fully supportive” of it activities.

Over the past number of months news coming out of Derry at times has resembled some type of Mexican border town rather than a host for the forth coming ‘UK City of Culture’, hence the pressure is on for someone to put a lid on things as the situation spirals out downwards.  The PSNI and RAAD, as well as a number of other republican groups have claimed they too are tackling the “drugs problem”. So in turn our children have been brutality assaulted or beaten, terrorised in house raids, drug finds here and there, people shot by appointment and expelled, blast bombs thrown, elderly people traumatised, even a raid on a rock memorabilia shop for selling ‘legal highs’ has been the order of the day.  So the propaganda war escalates as to who are the rightful ‘protectors of the community’.

Amidst all the hysteria no one has so much as considered even asking the young people themselves as to why some feel the need to be engaged in taking drugs in the first place. No one has considered cutting the drugs trade out from under the dealers, through legalisation or decriminalisation. Nor has anyone considered asking what help or assistance young people themselves could be given in order to tackle the issues surrounding drug taking or criminality?

In what look’s to be more and more like a battle for domination and control ordinary working class households, housing estates and communities have been left behind. 

There’s no doubt that Derry has a drugs problem, but so do most major towns and cities across these islands. However in saying that, Derry’s drug problem pales into insignificance when you consider other larger cities like Dublin, Manchester, Cardiffor Glasgow.

It’s true that lives have been lost in Derry as a result of young people taking a cocktail of ‘illegally manufactured’ drugs as well as the ‘legal’ ones. There are of course those who are seen as ‘career criminals’ who will offload what they can, when they can for a quick profit which is why the trade and availability in prescription drugs has increased. Alcohol and prescriptive medication, both ‘legal’ drugs are crippling the lives of thousands of ordinary working class people in Derry just as in the rest of Ireland, yet nohing is being done.

Despite all the talk, there are no ‘drug barons’ or ‘drugs cartels’ as such ‘lording it up’ it around town. In most cases there are those who will chance their arm from time to time, doing runs for ‘career criminals’ or bigger fish operating further afield. It is thought that majority drug dealing in the city happens among ‘low level’ dealers when they supply to friends or a ‘selected’ social circle.  More often than not this tends to be cannabis or cannabis resin, with some dabbling in ecstasy, speed and cocaine.  But does this constitute a drugs epidemic?

So what about those larger cities that actually do have major drug problems, why don’t they have armed vigilante groups ‘policing’ large sections of the community acting as judge, jury and executioner? Why don’t they have armed paramilitary police squads rampaging through their communities, ripping up homes and terrorising children?

First and foremost, despite what politicians and the media would like people to think, Derrylike the rest of the six counties is still far from ‘normal’.  Working class communities have been scared both mentally and physically by the brutality inflicted on them through decades of war. 

For some in our communities it’s perfectly normal, when looking for answers to issues such as drugs or anti social behaviour, what they feel is needed is the short, sharp, shock treatment, which is what groups such as RAAD feel they do best.  That doesn’t mean that it’s the correct way in which we deal with problems facing society here.  This is what happens when you have organisations, such as the various strands of republicanism, which have no class analysis on the society in which we live.

The barbarity of punishment shootings and beatings has been proven time and time again to be little more than a tool to aid power and control upon a community.  To say that ‘this is how we have always dealt’ with anti-social behaviour in the vacuum of not having an ‘acceptable’ police force simply doesn’t wash. Taken in an historical context, the act of ‘punishment beatings’ as we know it today, is an entirely new phenomenon when in comes to the north and has got to be rejected. Similarly in many working class communities the idea of having an ‘acceptable’ police force is an entirely alien concept, they too are viewed as nothing more than a tool used by the state to ‘keep us in line’.

With PSNI clearance rates for tackling punishment attacks currently at 4% it isn’t surprising then that they decided to launched a new ‘high profile’ campaign. A new Facebook initiative aimed at young people, openly encouraging them to ‘divulge information’ on those thought to be involved in ‘acts of paramilitary violence’. This is nothing short of yet another PR exercise which it’s said to be ‘designed to restore and enhance community confidence’ in the PSNI. Not surprising it comes at a time when support for them has hit an all-time low.

Of course it received the usual TV and radio fanfare, not to mention a ringing endorsement from the press and the politicians alike. However what it can’t disguise is the fact that this is yet another attempt to deflect attention from the wider issues facing working class communities. 

Former civil rights activist and columnist, Eamonn McCann, recently described the situation as a “competitive hyping of the drugs problem by the PSNI, community spokespersons, mainstream political groups and some local media serves no good purpose when it comes to dealing with drugs.”

A view also held by one of the most vocal opponents of the PSNI and RAAD, the late Brian McFadden, a long time community activist and former political prisoner. Brian himself was no stranger to the issues of Drugs and Alcohol in Derry. After loosing his son Emmet to drugs several years ago he called for a campaign to demand proper treatment facilities, highlighting the urgent need for a detox centre in the city, which he felt could have prevented his son’s death. He quite rightly called on the community to collectively take a stand against the vigilantes, to take to the streets arguing for groups like RAAD to stand-down and to go away. 

For anarchists locally, we have participated on the streets over the past number of months rejecting the activities of RAAD and that of the PSNI. We like many others continue to insist that only an organised community response can effectively deal with issues facing working class communities. A start to this has got to be an end to the punishment attacks, the shootings, the beatings and expulsions. In order to begin any type of sincere dialogue on the issues involved our communities demand the space, time and freedom to organise without any added pressures as witnessed these last several months, free from fear and attacks from all quarters.

Derry Anarchists:

Derry: fear and republican vigilantes stalk new city of culture

On Thursday 28th June there will be a panel discussion on ‘A progressive approach to the drugs issue’ made up of community activists and a number of families that have affected by ‘vigilantes’.  The meeting is seen as the start of a process of dialogue and debate around the issues around drugs in the city.  It will take place at 7pm in the City Hotel, Derry.