The snow storm


Sir Ian Blair came to UCD to speak about the rampant cocaine trade, highlighting the hold it has of every facet of society. Peter Molloy examines the issue.

In the ominous words of Gerry Adams in reference to endurance of the IRA: “it hasn’t gone away, you know”. How apt this, now infamous, expression can apply to the lingering of cocaine in this country, which is increasingly emerging into the forefront of our society. When outgoing London Metropolitan Police Commissioner, Sir Ian Blair spoke at a recent Literary and Historical Society (L&H) debate, he emphasised that the problem of cocaine was not on the decline. In fact, the opposite is true.

In recent years, repeated objective scrutiny on the issue from external agencies such as the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA) has consistently granted Ireland a dubiously high position on the chart of EU countries with a predilection for the addictive stimulant. Seizures of the cocaine have risen by as much as 800 per cent in the past eight years.

The associated impact of the drug – above all an ever increasing and vicious crime cycle – continues to exercise an unwelcome and significant role in modern Irish society. Gangland activity, and in particular the uncompromising tactics utilised, remains at an unprecedented high in the Republic of Ireland, much of it fuelled by an evidently voracious public appetite for the drug.

Individual acts of brutality, which as recently as a decade or two ago remained almost solely the preserve of paramilitary groups, are now habitually occurring across the country in order to further lucrative commercial aims. Any denial of this fact should be silenced by the facts relating to cocaine-linked violence to date. So far in 2008, 14 people in Ireland have lost their lives in drug-related violence.

One of the most recent fatalities was a 24-year-old former driver for a Dublin crime figure, shot multiple times just inside the entrance of a bookies on a Saturday afternoon last month. In a particularly grim twist – even for a cycle of violent activity previously unsurpassed in this country – the mother of that victim is recorded as having suffered a near fatal heart attack upon hearing of her son’s murder.

International media attention connected with the issue is currently focused upon places like Mexico, where drug-fuelled violence has recently reached a pitch so intense that it may arguably be compared to a small-scale armed conflict. Frightening reports have emerged of outright massacres, and of severed human heads being rolled in warning across dance floors.

Although the scale of the violence is perhaps not comparable in Ireland, the similar intensity of violence is testament to the severity of our native cocaine trade. While not as lurid or attention grabbing, each occasion on which an Irish citizen loses their lives to an appalling act of violence marks a further yielding to an ever more powerful and sinister force in the shape of rampant drug activity.

Although exact statistics are difficult to obtain, it would be facetious in the extreme to assume that UCD remains aloof from all this. While not repeating that old chestnut about “looking at the man to the left of you, and to the right of you” – national statistics on the issue speak more than compellingly enough for themselves.

Last week, the large attendance of L&H’s debate of whether or not cocaine should be legalised emphasised student interest in this issue. Speaking at the debate, Sir Ian Blair, was scathing about what he viewed as inherent double standards amongst demographics, like students, in attitudes towards drug use, and towards the impact that drug use has.

Some of the people taking this drug wouldn’t buy anything other than Fairtrade coffee. They’re completely green, but they somehow accept that they can take this drug without taking any consequences

“Some of the people taking this drug wouldn’t buy anything other than Fairtrade coffee. They’re completely green, but they somehow accept that they can take this drug without taking any consequences. The generation that are currently in university, and coming out of university are going to have to tackle [the drug problem].”

The contradictory lifestyle of study and cocaine is known to club owners in the city centre, who are reacting against of the influx of drug use among student patrons. They hire students, including students from UCD, to act as quasi-spies for them in their clubs. The job description is as simple as it comes: wearing normal street-wear, the students blend in with crowds mingling around the dance floor while keeping a watch for signs of the ever-present factor of on the spot drug dealing.

Reports indicate business for these speed-dealers seems to be booming. It has been suggested that an average weekday night will invariably involve significant quantities of drugs seized by security, to be passed on to the Gardaí at closing time.

It appears that the response of club staff wasn’t to contact Gardaí directly whenever illegal drug related activity was observed because such activity was simply too widespread to call in the authorities on every occasion.

Naturally, club employees would have a strong sense of unease about adversely challenging drug dealers. Therefore, dealing with the matter in-house is deemed to be the more sensitive approach. Such concern would seem far from unwarranted. In 2002, Limerick bouncer, Brian Fitzgerald was shot dead outside his home after attempting to stop local drug dealers carrying out trade in the city nightclub where he worked.
Use of hard drugs like cocaine and ecstasy is widespread amongst students as much as any other group. No amount of naïve, ostrich-like head burying will disguise the basic fact that such prevalent usage invariably contributes directly to expanding criminal activity, both in this country and abroad.

Overall, perhaps the only effective way left of tackling that pattern is to attack attitudes towards drug use, rather than merely concentrating on drug commerce itself, an attitude urged by Ian Blair:
“I’ve had children who’ve passed through university – I know there are some drugs and so on – but there’s always a small group who are heavily in to it, and nobody seems to think this is anything they’ve got to do anything about. That seems most odd to me”.

Perhaps heed should be taken, not just to those hardened cocaine criminals, but to those students who give strength to the ugly underworld of hard drugs in Ireland.