Northern Ireland was late in joining in the orgy of drug abuse which has blighted society in the UK and the Irish Republic.
The reason was simple, the level of security during the Troubles meant it was difficult for drug dealers to either bring their evil goods into the province or to distribute them. Not only had they to contend with the RUC and Army, but also the paramilitaries who either wanted to muscle in on the action or to vent their anger on the dealers. But as the security situation eased, the prevalence of drug abuse and supply mushroomed. Paramilitaries joined forces with criminals to obtain and deal in drugs, one of the highest-earning criminal pursuits.
There is well-documented evidence of drug barons in the Republic and in the UK extending their empires into the province. Relatively speaking it is a small marketplace, but business is business, even in crime. Just as the province was late in joining the drugs trade, the development of that trade has also suffered a time lag. However, the signs are that
Northern Ireland is catching up, and catching up fast.
News that cocaine use has tripled in the last four years is a worrying indication that abusers are turning to stronger and stronger drugs in order to get their kicks. One of the most distressing facts to emerge from an all-Ireland survey of drug use is that five times as many women are now using cocaine as in 2003. That shows the cocaine is now becoming an acceptable drug in certain circles. It is more fashionable than other, drugs such as cannabis or ecstasy, but also vastly more expensive and dangerous.
Those who treat addicts report that some of their
clients are spending £500 to £1,000 a week on their cocaine habit. That level of abuse can only be funded through crime. So what is one person’s addiction becomes the affliction of those who are robbed or mugged to fund it. The Garda and armed forces in the Republic are to be commended for their action last week in intercepting a £400m shipment of cocaine bound, it is believed, for the UK market. Doubtless some of that shipment would have found its way back to Ireland, north and south, leading to more crime and more misery throughout all levels of society.
In Northern Ireland more than half of cocaine
users reported that they found it either fairly easy or very easy to obtain the drug. That is borne out by the number of drug seizures reported by the PSNI which rose from 278 to 405. That shows that, notwithstanding good intelligence work by the police, there is no shortage of the drug in circulation. Experience also shows that when the number of seizures increases, so also does the amount of drug abuse which goes on undetected.
The police are fighting an unequal battle. There obviously is a sophisticated drug dealing network in the province supplied by powerful drug barons in Britain and the Republic. At a time when the PSNI is facing difficulties because of inadequate funding, it is imperative that the force is given the resources required to fight this new evil in our midst. We need only look across the border to see the general level of lawlessness associated with drug dealing. Having recently emerged from the horrors of political conflict, we do not need to be plunged back into a society where ruthless criminals hold sway.