RAAD is no moral crusade, it's terrorism in a new guise
Republican Action Against Drugs (RAAD) is on a high. It has been able to interpret actions and statements in Derry over the past week from the PSNI, community workers and others as implicit - if obviously unintended - endorsement of its role.
A week ago today, armed officers seized £15,000 worth of, they claimed, "dangerous" substances in the city. At least, £15,000 was the police estimate. The correct figure may have been a lot lower.
A PSNI spokesman referred to the "potentially dangerous psychological side-effects" of the confiscated goods and advised anyone who had been in contact with the items "to seek medical advice immediately." The sinister nature of the haul was additionally signalled by a decision not to reveal the location of the seizure.
In fact, the raid took place at Trash, 12 Waterloo Street, near the city centre, a shop specialising in rock memorabilia.
The police spokesman described the substances as "legal highs" - in which Trash does a small sideline. This raises a question: if the merchandise was legal, on what basis were armed police dispatched to seize it? And why so coy about the address of the premises?
Given that the goods Trash was dealing in were legal, shouldn't the PSNI have been giving the business the same protection as others, rather than inviting the public to see it as a criminal enterprise?
If the workers in the shop weren't previously in peril, they are certainly in need of protection now. The claim that the seized stash was worth £15,000 will have suggested, too, that Trash wasn't running a small-time operation.
Every police estimate of the 'street value' of confiscated drugs (or supposed drugs) seems to exaggerate, sometimes wildly, the going rate for the substances concerned.
Perhaps the particular dealers whose prices police base their estimates on are extortionists. Or maybe, more simply, the PSNI feels a need to boost the significance of any achievement in the drugs field.
The force is involved, in particular areas, in a battle with RAAD for credibility as the best agency for dealing with the drugs problem. Maybe £15,000 seemed a more impressive figure to cite than - and there is reason to believe this would have been nearer the mark - £5,000.
The most relevant result of the episode is that the PSNI has ratcheted up the fear of drugs on which RAAD is entirely dependent
RAAD will have been buoyed, too, by a story published six days ago, telling that the IRSP had "recovered" 500 tablets said to be worth £3,000 and handed them to a local community centre. The community worker involved described the find as "deeply worrying ... The impression we have is that it's an Ecstasy-type drug.
"If [it is] similar to 'Blues'", he continued, "then we are talking of something with the potential to kill. Apart from being directly responsible for ... deaths in Belfast, they also caused serious mental health problems which, in a number of cases, resulted in young people taking their own lives."
The man praised the IRSP for ensuring that, on this occasion, "the death-dealers don't have the opportunity to poison our young people."
It was clear from his statement that the community worker didn't know what the tablets were, or what they contained, and had no basis for the suggestion that they'd been involved in the deaths of young people. RAAD will have greeted the story as gold-dust.
It hugely enhanced the attraction, particularly to parents, of their standing offer to eliminate - by any means necessary - "death-dealers" seeking opportunities to "poison our young people".
The increased credibility thus conferred on RAAD has helped it elbow its way onto new political ground.
The point has been made here, more than once, that RAAD differed from 'dissidents' in that it wasn't out to wage armed struggle for a united Ireland and didn't target the security forces. Its self-proclaimed mission to save the community from drugs gave it a certain moralistic acceptance. But it lacked the underpinning of a political project.
It's possible that that has just changed. Just over a month ago, a qualification was entered: "Now, however, RAAD, having developed its own momentum and its sense of entitlement to enforce its will, has begun to challenge SF's own assumed authority ... The more this attitude hardens, the greater the area of common operational ground between RAAD and the Real ... [IRA]."
A RAAD blast-bomb attack on the PSNI in Creggan last Saturday confirmed this warning.
The 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.
But it serves RAAD very well.