Belfast is awash with drugs, says DUP MLA Christopher Stalford
A DUP MLA has called for a greater police presence on the streets of Belfast after witnessing drug use in public during a New Year's Day stroll with his young children.
Writing in the Belfast Telegraph today, Christopher Stalford MLA told how he was walking along the Connswater Greenway in mid-morning when he passed two men - one "casually" smoking a cannabis joint.
"The nonchalance and matter-of-fact way in which he was breaking the law and in front of kids made me stop to think; how did this come to be acceptable? How is this now normal?" the South Belfast MLA said.
Documenting further incidents around Shaftesbury Square and around Botanic Avenue he added: "In vast swathes of Belfast, especially in the inner city, the unmistakable smell of cannabis hangs thick in the air.
"My office has been contacted dozens of times about drug paraphernalia being dumped in entries and playgrounds. Frankly, I have the impression that Belfast is awash with drugs. Something has happened that both dealers and users feel empowered to behave so brazenly.
"I strongly believe that it is time for a step change in the battle against drug dealing in our society. Some will say it is a fight that cannot be won. I don't agree. We have an obligation to start pushing back against this rising tide."
The PSNI said tackling the supply of drugs and drug use remains a main priority in Belfast and across Northern Ireland.
Superintendent Muir Clark said: "Drugs destroy lives and there should be no place in society for those who grow or supply it. The reality however is that as long as there is demand there will be drugs on our streets.
"I can assure the community that where we have information that drug dealing is taking place, we will deploy extra police resources to combat this destructive behaviour.
"In the 12 months leading up to September 2018, there were 2,107 drugs seizures and 1,190 drugs arrests in Belfast - an increase of 199 and 217 respectively for the same period in 2017.
"We remain committed to restricting the availability of illegal drugs in our community.
"Community support to addressing the issue of drugs is vital and I would encourage everyone to contact police about suspected drug dealing."