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(en) Pushers Out! - The inside story of Dublin's anti-drugs movement - Review by Andre Lyder

Date Tue, 06 Dec 2005 08:08:51 +0200


Pushers Out tells the story of how people living in the North Inner City and the
South Inner City organised to save their communities from heroin. Not relying on
the state to solve their problems, they started to organise themselves. One such
working class organisation is Coalition of Communities Against Drugs (COCAD)
>> Walk five minutes from O'Connell St, Dublin's main thoroughfare,
or five minutes from Christ Church Cathedral, an important tourist
attraction, and you will find yourself in a very different world from
that depicted in the tourist brochures. Pushers Out tells the story of
how people living in the North Inner City and the South Inner City
(and later the suburbs, and some small towns) organised to save
their communities from heroin. Not relying on the state to solve their
problems, they started to organise themselves. One such working
class organisation is Coalition of Communities Against Drugs
(COCAD).

Andree Lyder, the author, lived in the south of the city. A member of
a small socialist party and interested in community politics, he joined
the anti-drug group COCAD in 1992, and soon became a committee
member. His account of the Dublin anti-drug movement doesn't
pretend to be objective and is all the better for it. He describes the
complexity and tensions within both of the campaigns, and while I
would not agree with all his conclusions he has done a great service
in dealing with many difficult issues in a clear and frank manner.
Concerned parents

There were two campaigns against drug use in Dublin. The first
known as the 'Concerned Parents against Drugs' began in 1983. It
was superseded in many parts of Dublin in 1996 by COCAD.

The Irish ruling class showed utter contempt for the poor inner city
areas of Dublin. Charles Haughey, the corrupt Taoiseach famously
bought shirts worth five grand each and stole cobblestones from
Dublin streets to pave the drive at his home, Meanwhile areas of the
city were suffering over 80% unemployment. An epidemic was
ravaging certain parts of the city, destroying lives, families and
communities and the ruling elite were happy to ignore it. Lyder
argues these areas always had a tradition of using alcohol as an
escape from grinding poverty, such that the way was paved for
heroin.

The campaigns began with meetings in local area called by residents
concerned about the open dealing of heroin and all that came with
that &endash; hallways and greens were littered with dirty syringes,
and those who overdosed lay where they fell.

People power.

A spectrum of strategies were adopted by the Concerned Parents and
COCAD to deal with the problem; mass meetings would march to a
suspected dealers house and tell him or her to get out of the area.
Meetings would forcefully evict suspected dealers, making a line of
people to remove the furniture so that no one person could be
charged with any offence. Smaller groups of people (often from other
areas to limit the possibility of revenge attacks) would call to the
houses of suspected dealers and tell them they would have to leave.
Posters with the photographs and addresses of dealers would be
posted around the area locally. The communities would mount
permanent vigil at the entry to their estates, preventing any
suspected dealer or addict from outside the area from entry. These
pickets were manned day and night and became a permanent fixture
of inner city street life.
Violence

Lyder also addresses two of the most contentious features of the
anti-drug campaigns, namely the extent to which the IRA was
involved and the extent to which physical violence was an aspect of
the campaigns.

Heroin is big business, and those standing in the way of that
business can be putting themselves in considerable danger. Des
Whelan, an anti drug activist was stabbed to death as was the
fourteen year old son of another activist, others were shot at but
survived. Lyder argued that while there were Sinn Fein members in
the campaign, sometimes in prominent positions, they did not (as
the media argued) control it or use it as a front. Their presence did,
however, allow the anti-drugs activists to imply that they were under
the protection of the IRA, and it seems, in the very early days they
were.

However he also suggests that while officially the IRA were not
involved, IRA volunteers on the ground, unofficially and at times
against the command of the IRA, were involved in killings and
attempted killings of drug dealers. In addition he describes a
campaign that operated in parallel to COCAD (and was never
discussed at COCAD meetings). Known as the 'military campaign'
this was made up of groups of men who had access to weapons and
were willing to respond, like with like, to attacks made by drug
dealers. If a drug dealer parked a fancy car in an estate, it would
more than likely be burnt out.

Few people would have problems with this, however Lyder also
outlines the complications that arise when you have small groups
acting independently of a mass campaign. In one instance a local
man cynically used his association with the campaign to pressurise a
businessman from involvement in a local taxi company. The
businessman lost his money and once he departed the local man
took over control of the company himself. Lyder argues that such out
and out corruption was exceptional. A much more difficult case to
deal with is the death in May 1996, at the hands of anti-drugs
activists, of heroin user and small time dealer Josie Dwyer.

Josie Dwyer died from a blow to his spleen following an encounter
with drugs activists on the evening of May the fourteenth. Lyder
attended an anti-drugs meeting on the night and describes the chaos
that ensued, as a proposed mass march on a drugs dealers home,
fractured into small groups of people confronting suspected dealers.
After his death, the media reported that Dwyer had been the victim
of a frenzied attack that included the use of iron bars and lump
hammers. Lyder argues that in court the coroner did not find this to
be the case. Josie Dwyer was a sick man his spleen was abnormally
enlarged, Lyder argues that the blow that killed Josie Dwyer would
not have been fatal to a healthy person.

Thus he describes Josie Dwyer's death as 'tragic, if unintentional'
but his sympathy remains squarely with the activists who were
subsequently tried and with those who were convicted. While I
understand his perspective, I have difficulty with this, and no doubt
for this he would consider me a liberal. However, to put it bluntly if
the strategy you adopt includes beating up junkies with aids, it
shouldn't be a surprise if one of them dies. It is inevitable. In addition
a criticism made frequently about the Concerned Parents (and less
so with COCAD) was that in reality there is little distinction between
being a junkie and a small time dealer and the Josie Dwyer case
seems to provide evidence of this. Nobody argues that Josie Dwyer
was a main player in Dublin Drugs cartels.

The police were always highly hostile to the anti-drugs campaigners,
many of whom faced serious intimidation; they were stopped in the
street, they were brought in for questioning, their houses were
raided, they were beaten. It was widely suspected that some police
were very close to major dealers. It is not mentioned in the book, but
there were rumours that heroin appeared on the streets in police
evidence bags. Lyder argues that with Josie Dwyer's death the police
went into overdrive. They were determined to break the anti-drugs
campaign by incarcerating as many activists as possible. Thirteen
were eventually arrested of which six were convicted and given
twenty-month sentences. It has often been said that the Josie
Dwyer's death caused the anti-drugs campaign to fracture; Lyder
argues that this was only true in the South Inner City.
Concerned communities

1996 was also to see an explosion of anti-drug campaigns though
out the city, this time mostly organised under the COCAD banner.
The vigil began with renewed vigour and there were a number of
large anti-drugs marches in the centre of Dublin. The political
climate, changed slightly, with the defeat of ruling party Fianna Fail
and the election of a coalition government that included the Labour
Party and Democratic Left. This was the era of social partnership
and Lyder is particularly scathing about the incorporation of
community resistance by 'professional' community workers. Neglect
now has a benign face.

The end of the book details the turn towards electoralism and the
winding down of the campaign. Strangely, to my anarchist eyes
anyway, no link is made between the two processes.
Conclusions

What was the end result? Lyder argues that the anti-drugs
campaigned stabilised the extent of heroin users in the city, they
moved drugs up the agenda, secured funding for treatment services,
youth facilities and led to a growth of local pride and sense of
community. The drug problem wasn't 'solved' but it was contained
(and in this respect,

Lyder is critical of government responses which rely on methadone
maintenance rather than support for detoxification and
rehabilitation).

There is an entire history of the city in this book, a history that
without it would remain mostly hidden. Indeed one of the most
interesting aspects of the campaigns is mentioned just as a brief
aside 'women were the backbone of the campaign, overwhelming
filling the meetings and marches'. Interestingly he also adds, that
despite this women were rarely members of the executive
committees.

He touches on many other issues in the book- the media attacks, the
farcical reality of the district courts and the various approaches to
rehabilitation. The story told here is far from simple, the dilemmas
faced difficult. This is a book that raises as many questions as it
answers, indeed it highlights that many of these questions that don't
have easy answers. Yet as these are questions that continue to be
important to those of us who hope to build a better world, Lyder has
done us a great service in documenting an important moment of in
working class history, a moment when the people of Dublin
organised themselves and took back control of their communities.

by Aoifer Fisher
For discussion on an earlier draft of this article see
http://www.indymedia.ie/newswire.php?story_id=72781

For related articles see

* Community organising and the Dublin drugs (heroin) crisis
http://struggle.ws/wsm/drugs.html
* Anarchists and community organising
http://struggle.ws/wsm/community.html

This page is from the print version of the Irish Anarchist paper
'Workers Solidarity'. We also provide PDF http://struggle.ws/wsm/pdf.html
files of all our publications for you to print out and distribute locally

Print out the PDF http://struggle.ws/wsm/pdf/ws/89.html file of this issue

You can find out when new issues of the paper come out by joining the
Ainriail list http://struggle.ws/other/ainriail.html

This edition is No89 http://struggle.ws/wsm/ws/2005/index.html
published in Nov 2005
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