Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 17 April 2014

DebateNI home of Northern Ireland politics

Anger, fear and desperation over a problem endemic in our society

You just have to scan a Twitter account or two, or make a couple of phone calls, and you pick up both the mood and the fear.

There is deep anger in the loyalist community over the news of this latest sudden death; this time, a young woman of just 19 years.

"Loyalists need to unite against these drug-dealing scumbags," you read on Twitter, and then the question is asked: "When do we react to these murdering drug dealers?"

In those few words, you read the wider danger in these situations – the knee-jerk reaction that someone or some group will decide they are the law.

It is the type of thinking that solves nothing and that only makes things worse.

Speaking to this newspaper, PUP councillor and local GP John Kyle described the fears of parents – and the huge challenge of trying to change a culture.

"I think that parents are very worried about their children because they know that drug-taking seems to be endemic in our communities, and also in the club culture as well," he said.

"This causes grave anxiety for parents. The big challenge is to change the culture so that drug-taking becomes like drink-driving, socially unacceptable.

"But whether we can achieve this or not is uncertain."

A tweet from peace-building project in the east of the city read: "Yet another young life lost ... all down to drugs."

With the anger there is also talk about who is involved – not in this specific case – but in the drugs trade, some hiding behind loyalist and republican cloaks. There is even the suggestion of co-operation between the two.

It is what people are hearing, street and community talk that is being repeated.

People say it in the hope that something will happen, that something will be done, that something will change.

But making this go away is easier said than done. Some speak much more specifically about names and organisational labels, but they do so off-the-record.

People are afraid to talk out loud, and in that silence the dealers feel free to trade, often at arm's-length, using others to supply and collect the money.

That distance creates space for deniability.

"It's rife," a senior loyalist said of the drugs problem. "Rife in all our communities." There are young people going across the divide to get drugs from one another.

"The problem in the loyalist communities is that there are people still involved in the paramilitary organisations who are involved, and others are turning a blind eye," he said.

None of this is new – it has all been said before.

The figures suggest an average of around nine such deaths a month.

People are being rushed to hospital and, in panic, others are going there themselves.

But in trying to put an investigative jigsaw together, there are always missing pieces.