Veronica: But the Heroin Problem
The ‘war on drugs' prompted by the murder of Veronica Guerin has had little effect on the availability of heroin. Despite enormous drug seizures and the biggest crackdown on organised crime in the history of the state, a Magill investigation has found that heroin continues to be widely available in most areas of Dublin. This is also despite the considerable successes of the the Criminal Assets Bureau (CAB) and the Veronica Guerin investigation.
The availability of heroin is reflected in the fact that the price of a standard bag of heroin has remained constant at around £10 over recent years.
“I haven't seen any reduction in the availability of heroin. There's still a steady supply of it,” according to Tony Geoghegan, director of the Merchants Quay Drugs Project. Users have confirmed this impression: “There's plenty of gear around,” says one user. “All you have to do is go to Fatima Mansions or Michael's Estate and you'll score no bother. There's fella's lining up to give you stuff.”
Fatima Mansions and St Michael's Estate, both in Dublin's south inner city, are among the biggest sources of heroin. “The situation here is desperate. You come here any time of the day, morning and night, and it's crazy. There's people selling all over the place,” according to one Fatima local.
Tony MacCairtaigh of the Rialto Community Drug Team says that a year and a half ago, dealing was pushed out of Dolphins House and the Dolphins Barn crossroads and that much of it moved to Fatima Mansions. MacCairtaigh thinks that in Rialto, “overall, the situation is dire”.
Community worker Pat White thinks dealing has not changed in quantity, but in nature: “Because Gardai have been active in Dolphins Barn, harassing pushers, the dealing is a lot more transient, a lot more mobile.”
Despite successes in a number of flat complexes in pushing dealers out, heroin is thought to be as available as ever in the south inner city. Dealing is now taking place in parks, along Meath Street and Chamber Street as well as Fatima Mansions.
“The age of heroin users is getting younger,” says Maria McCully of the Clondalkin Addiction Support Programme. In Ballyfermot, some sources say heroin is back in full strength with open dealing again taking place in many areas. Clondalkin and Ballyfermot also suffer from having an under-resourced local drug unit.
Tallaght is one of the few areas that has experienced a significant reduction in the availability of heroin and associated crime. Maurice Farnan, co-ordinator of the local task force attributes Tallaght's success to the strength of local anti-drugs groups, garda activity and the community's positive response to treatment.
Heroin also remains a problem in Drimnagh, parts of Kimmage and there are signs that it is creeping into Walkinstown.
Loughlinstown and parts of Ballybrack and Sallynoggin are thought to have improved, but prominent pushers are still active there. The situation in Fitzgerald Park, Monkstown is described by one source as “dreadful”.
A recent report on Finglas found that “the number of heroin smokers is increasing”. In neighbouring Cabra, the situation is said to have improved following marches on dealers' homes.
In Ballymun, the situation in some of the tower blocks has improved considerably, but the same is not the case in other blocks. Dealing is also taking place outside the blocks and around the shopping centre, despite the work of local Gardai.
The heroin situation in Darndale, Coolock is said to be worsening according to Angela McGloughlin of the Darndale Belcamp Youth Service. In the north inner city, where once notorious flat complexes and crossroads were cleared following community action, open dealing is again taking place. “There's loads of heroin out there. The price is still the same - £10,” says Joe Dowling of the Inner City Organisations Network. Dealing has shifted to the Parnell monument end of O'Connell St, side streets, Sean McDermott St, Mountjoy Square, Dorset St and continues to some extent in the flat complexes.
“Seizures are not put into any context. They seize £2m of heroin but when you count the number of heroin addicts in Dublin not on treatment and multiply that by what they're spending every day, what they're seizing is probably one or two per cent,” says André Lyder of St Catherines Combined Community Group.
“There's never really any shortage, and when there is, it's a day or two, or a week at most,” says one long time user. The last major heroin shortage was during last summer, partly due to a £60m seizure in England, much of it bound for Dublin.
A major reason why drug seizures have failed to affect the availability of heroin is that very few of such seizures involve heroin. While over £14m of drugs have been seized already this year, there have been no major seizures of heroin.
The massive cannabis seizures, however, have created some shortages recently and activists worry that some cannabis users in disadvantaged areas may try heroin in its absence.
Observers are also noticing that the dealing network is getting bigger and more complex with new gangs at the top and middle level, more people dealing at a smaller level and more addicts dealing on the street.
Because of this, many warn against over-exaggerating the significance of catching a major dealer. “We have had major successes, dismantling and disrupting gangs that once considered themselves untouchable. But when we get rid of one dealer, he's replaced by someone else or several people and we have to start all over again,” said one Garda source.