Around 4000 people have walked from Drogheda’s Peace Bridge to the centre of the town, accompanied by the Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and several party leaders, to give the message to those involved in drugs: ‘There is no place for you to live among us’.
We want to take back control of our town from the criminals, Lord Mayor, Councillor Paul Bell of the Labour Party told the crowd.
The crowd of mostly local people, and some anti-drug and community activists, were spurred into action by the recent murder of 17-year-old Keane Mulready-Woods, who is believed to have been killed in the town but whose dismembered remains were then flung from a car in Coolock in Dublin. His severed head was later found in a burnt-out vehicle: all an apparent warning from one side to the other in Drogheda’s drugs feud. Not long after the grisly murder, a taxi driver was wounded during a gun attack on passengers in his taxi just yards from the town’s Garda station and courthouse. Gardaí suspect the murder attempt was in a bid to avenge Mulready-Woods death.
The biggest increases in recorded drug crime countrywide are occurring outside of Dublin.
“Today”, said the Mayor, “Drogheda speaks for all of us on this island: the issues we have are shared by citizens all over the country. . . “.
Communities severely affected by organised crime
Europol’s 2019 Drug Markets Report highlighted how violence and intimidation by drug gangs has severely affected communities in Ireland and had a major impact on individuals, their families and the functioning of local services. The huge amount of money spent on drugs each year in Ireland makes it a major source of income for organised crime groups.
Jackie McKenna of the Family Addiction Support Network (FASN), begged the politicians present on the march in Drogheda “for help to deal with the horrific effect drugs are having on our town”.
She said firm government action over 20 years had seen a sharp decline in road deaths. But over the same period, drug deaths had increased from 630 a year to 786. Meanwhile, her organisation of some 30 volunteers spread across four counties had seen no increase in their grant since 2008.
Ms McKenna estimates that FASN’s volunteers had saved the State €174,000 in the man hours they provided. In return, her organisation gets State aid of just €7508 a year.
“Although we are only in the first month of year,” she said, “there are days when we are swamped” by people and families seeking help over drug abuse.
Louise O’Mahony, manager of the Red Door Project, said her organisation had seen “no meaningful increase in funding in the last 10 years”. “Today, we march to say enough is enough,” she told the crowd. “Enough of Drogheda being treated as a second-class town.”
Speaking to reporters, Mr Varadkar said he was there to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the town. No one wanted to score political points on this issue, he added.
Mayor Bell thanked the politicians for coming and for making what he said was “a massive gesture of solidarity” with the town.
He urged the government to consider tackling gangland and its illegal drugs trade with the sort of determination, policing and legal tools used to combat illegal paramilitaries in the 1970s.
“We want the government to consider and change the laws that deal with drug activity”, he said, adding that there was no such thing as recreational drug use.