Gardai join forces with communities in heroin battle

Clonmel meeting briefed on fight against drugs

Clonmel meeting briefed on fight against drugs

Heroin was a significant problem facing communities in Clonmel but its use has declined through the enforcement of the law by Gardai and the work of voluntary agencies, Detective Sergeant Seamus Maher of the Divisional Drugs Unit stated this week.

He said that in the last two years heroin has become the second most seized drug in Tipperary after cannabis. A lot of heroin suppliers had been sent to jail but that wasn't to say that heroin suppliers don't "pop up every day of the week". There was a steady market for suppliers and if people became hooked on heroin then the supply would meet demand.

This was a problem that the Gardai were taking very seriously. They had put a number of operations in place and thankfully seemed to be hitting those areas that needed most attention.

Det. Sgt. Maher, who heads up the county's Divisional Drugs Unit, was speaking at a meeting organised by the Clonmel Community Based Drug Initiative, in conjunction with the Community Policing Unit, at the Elm Tree community building in Elm Park, Clonmel on Monday night.

The meeting was also told of the importance of both community policing and the various agencies working together to combat drug abuse.

Det. Sgt. Maher said the Gardai were working hard to reduce the supply of controlled drugs and they depended on support from the community. Anyone with any information on drugs could contact them on a completely confidential and anonymous basis on a special phone number, 1800 22 22 00.

The Gardai had been working very hard on the heroin problem in the past year and the co-operation of all the agencies, including the HSE and community-based drugs workers, had slowed heroin use in Clonmel in the past six months.

He said that certain criminal organisations were growing herbal cannabis and Ecstasy had also made a comeback in recent months.

He warned that anyone caught in possession of a controlled drug, even the smallest amount of cannabis, would be brought before the courts.

Det. Sgt. Maher said the Gardai treated everyone with humanity and respect and didn't break down doors, storm houses and race up the stairs "willy-nilly". They would rather sit down with someone and talk to them.

He said that many users and suppliers had asked for help for their drug use and the Gardai were only too willing to steer them in the right direction. The majority of drug users were aged between 14 and 35 but some were as young as 11 and others were in their late 50s.

Audra Cotter, Community Drugs worker said there was a big return to solvent abuse and the misuse of prescription drugs "because there was less money out there" and users were resorting to the cheaper options.

However in her view the biggest drug abuse in Clonmel presenting for treatment was still alcohol.

"Sometimes we lose sight of the fact that alcohol and cannabis are drugs because they've become normalised and acceptable in society", she stated.

Everyone panicked when they heard of heroin but there were probably more homes affected by alcohol and cannabis than any other drug. Parents didn't realise that a bottle of Fat Frog or Bacardi Breezer might become the gateway to harder drugs.

Ms Cotter said that Clonmel was extremely fortunate with the amount of resources it had to deal with the misuse of drugs. The inter-agency approach was the way forward. All the organisations in contact with young people on a daily basis needed to work together to ensure that every single approach was available to the drug user and their families.

Supports were available so that families could be dealt with as a unit.

Audra Cotter also praised the work of the community police, who she said did valuable work behind the scenes and served outside of normal working hours to deal with issues arising with families. "Their commitment to people on the ground and in the communities could never be questioned", she said.

She said community police broke down barriers and made it easier for people to contact the Gardai.

Sgt. Kieran O'Regan of the Community Policing Unit said that their aim was to ensure peaceful communities and to work effectively with them. Their role wasn't passive but proactive and they had built very strong relationships with key members of the community.As well as dealing with drug abuse they also offered support to families whose children drank too much.

Garda Andy Neill, the Community Garda in Elm Park, said that communities had come out and met them halfway. They had been welcomed into houses and schools and without that co-operation it would have been impossible to move forward.

Darren Ryan, the chairman of the RAPID area team, said that the establishment of the community policing unit was the best thing to ever happen in the town. They were always available and if someone came to him with a drug-related issue they were the first people he turned to. He also stressed the importance of all the agencies working together.

Cllr. Richie Molloy described the community Gardai as an important point of contact.