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Drug debt intimidation targeted

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A NEW campaign to highlight the role that recreational drug use plays in drug debt intimidation was launched last week by the Safer Blanchardstown organisation.

Backed by Gardai and the PSNI in Northern Ireland, the all-island ‘Think Before You Buy’ campaign was initially soft-launched in Dublin 15 last year.

However, it was felt a national launch would be a more effective way to spread the message.

Think Before You Buy has been lauded by community drug workers across the country and last September PSNI officers, local councillors and community activists from Northern Ireland were in Dublin 15 to learn first-hand about the initiative.

Research published in 2016 for the CityWide Drugs Crisis Campaign analysed 140 drug debt intimidation reports and found mothers of drugs users were the target for one-third of threats.

Over three quarters of those surveyed reported verbal intimidation, 46 per cent said incidents involved physical violence and 32 per cent reported damage to property or homes.

Think Before You Buy was launched at the Gresham Hotel on O’Connell Street by Senate spokesperson for Justice Senator Martin Conway representing Minister for Justice Charles Flanagan, who couldn’t attend due to a family bereavement.

Speaking at the launch, Safer Blanchardstown Coordinator, Philip Jennings, said that his research – ‘Melting the iceberg of fear: a collective response to anti-social behaviour, drugs misuse, criminal activity and drug debt intimidation’ – found a definite link between casual recreational drug use and devastating, serious violence.

“The drugs market is made up essentially of two distinct end user groups – regular users and what are referred to as ‘casual’, ‘occasional’ or ‘recreational’ drug users,” he said.

“Regular users are those people who use drugs every day and would be a dependable, steady source of income for the supplier that keeps the ‘business’ going.

“However, it’s at the weekends when the casual or recreational user orders their small bit of hash or cocaine that the real money is made by the drugs trade.

“And it is this ‘real money’ that attracts the serious violence and intimidation which is affecting communities right across the country.

Jennings said CityWide’s research had shown that in many cases the intimidation escalated from verbal threats to physical assault, and continued for many months.

“The vast majority of those who are subject to intimidation fear for their personal safety in their own homes and as a result many leave home temporarily and permanently,” he added.

A ‘Drug-Related Intimidation Programme’ has now been established by the National Family Support Network and the Garda National Drugs Unit to assist anybody experiencing drug debt intimidation.

But Jennings pointed out that there’s another group of people who are being targeted by the campaign.

“There is a clear need to raise awareness among recreational drug users – not just in Blanchardstown but right across the country – of the fact that their small bit of hash or cocaine is driving the intimidation of drug users and their families,” he said.

PSNI Chief Inspector David Henderson said the new campaign highlights the impact that recreational drug use has,

“Firstly, on generating money for organised crime and, secondly, the violence that it causes in communities and the destruction caused to communities,” he said.

Garda Inspector Tony Twomey said it was “a very good” campaign rare in its particular focus on recreational users.

“Often people who engage with recreational drug use do not see the link with organised crime and intimidation and its contribution to what’s happening on the bigger scene at the moment, with the major feuds,” he added.


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