In this exclusive interview with the 'Derry Journal', the leadership of Republican Action Against Drugs (RAAD) outlines its determination to "remove the scourge of drug dealing from within the local community."
CONTROVERSIAL as it may sound, but the membership of Republican Action Against Drugs (RAAD) has increased significantly following high profile action against alleged drug dealers in the Derry and Donegal areas.
RAAD says it's is concerned with one issue and one issue only – the removal of drug dealers from within the community it claims to represent.
It's widely publicised and controversial activities over the past 10 months - which include punishment shootings, arson and the banishment of individuals from Derry - has commanded no shortage of discussion within the local community.
According to the organisation's leadership, RAAD now boasts a wide-ranging intelligence operation, with members constantly monitoring drug dealing activities within the Derry area in particular.
Since its inception almost 12 months ago, the organisation is now – rightly or wrongly – considered by many to be at the cutting edge of eradicating drug dealing in the North West.
From its foundation, the group resolved to offer an "amnesty" to all drug dealers, asking them to make themselves known to the organisation – through community representatives or, indeed, other individuals who they trust – before giving an assurance that they have stopped dealing.
RAAD continues to stand by this decision and it is abundantly clear that its determination to succeed remains particularly strong.
"We would monitor the actions of those who have come forward and, given an adequate period of time, interest in those drug dealers would cease and they could start to lead normal lives," explained one of the RAAD leaders. "We will continue to take action against dealers and, as it stands at the moment, two members of the community (names supplied] have been told that, should they return to Derry, they will be shot on sight.
"Our objectives are very simple. We are determined to rid the local community of these individuals. We view them as career criminals whose activities have ruined the lives of so many young people in the past and we're not prepared to tolerate that any longer.
"We have been involved in several operations, with active service units punishing those we know are involved in dealing drugs to vulnerable members of the community in Derry. Other dealers have been told to leave the city and never return - or suffer the consequences.
"We have learned over the past year that the drug problem in this community has reached an all-time high. You can get anything you require including Crystal Meth and Heroin which concerns us greatly."
Another RAAD member added: "We're totally committed to the reasons for which the organisation had been founded. Our membership has increased significantly despite the fact that we're not yet one year old. We have intelligence units in position throughout the Derry area and we now believe we are involved in a battle against ruthless individuals who have no respect or loyalty to the very community in which they have been reared."
The RAAD leadership also confirmed that some of its members have, in the past, been involved in the Provisional IRA. "Some of our members had been members of the IRA, others have not," said a member of the leadership.
So, with the organisation emanating from a republican background, why has RAAD not echoed the call of, for example, Sinn Fein and, rather than resort to punishment shootings, simply get the alleged drug dealers to give themselves up to the PSNI and permit the law to take its course?
Indeed, now that it's clear former Provos are involved in the group, is there a politicial agenda behind RAAD?
"There is absolutely no political agenda within our organisation," replied a member of the leadership. "Our only aim is to eliminate drug dealers from our society and put an end to them destroying our community. Our only concern is to end the threat posed by the supply of both illegal and prescription drugs, a threat which has already claimed the lives of a number of young people, ruined other lives and torn many families apart. There is no political agenda whatsoever within our organisation."
Have RAAD no faith in the process of law? Why, for example, do they not instruct the drug dealers they have identified to give themselves up to the PSNI?
"We've tried that in the past but, unfortunately, that policy has failed to work. We believe the PSNI attempt to recruit those people who give themselves up to supply information to them at the expense of prosecution. Dealers have given themselves up to the PSNI. However, within hours they are released and we've discovered them back peddling their dangerous wares in the community."
SINN FEIN SUPPORT?
In relation to Sinn Fein, one of the RAAD leaders claimed that a number of "rank and file" members of the party are fully supportive of their activities, despite "holding the party line when interviewed by the media."
He said: "Sinn Fein personnel have approached us privately, claiming that they support what we are attempting to achieve. Like us, they believe there is only one way to deal with the problems that exist in the community they serve.
"Of course, those individuals would never come out and say that publicly but it's been made abundantly clear to us that the various organisations charged with dealing with this problem have consistently failed in their efforts to bring the scourge of drug dealing under control."
"You can get any type of drug in almost any public bar or nightclub in Derry - make no mistake about that," added another of the RAAD spokesmen. "This community is under threat. Working class areas in Derry are in turmoil due to drug abuse among our young people and, yet, no one seems to be tackling a problem that is so obviously getting out of control.
"We have interviewed so many people whose heads 'are fried' due to drugs. Their minds are so 'messed up' it is unbelievable and it all comes down to those career criminals who enter the community to sell their wares for which they receive vast sums of money.
"We can also state without fear of contradiction that Derry has two, possibly more, 20-year-old millionaires due to their involvement in selling drugs. These people actually own a range of properties, both in Europe and across the border, as a result of their drug dealing.
"There are also houses in a number of areas in Derry operating as unlicensed pharmacies – actually dispensing prescription drugs to those who are prepared to come and pay for them. Those hooked on drugs have now no shortage of outlets to turn to when seeking a fix.
"The drug situation has got totally out of control and unless action is taken – as we have done and will continue to do – then there's no hope for the next generation," RAAD claimed.
In light of claims from the families of people "punished" by RAAD - who insist their sons have not been involved in the dealing of drugs - the organisation rejected such suggestions.
"We would never act unless we hold undeniable evidence that the person punished has been dealing in drugs. Our intelligence is widespread in Derry. We regularly compile information on certain individuals – including CCTV footage, statements from those who have received drugs from these people etc,. – and then take action, not before.
"We are very careful to confirm that the information we hold is correct and up to date. For example, we have sent people - who came to us as a result of our amnesty - to the 'Derry Journal,' and they have admitted their involvement in drug dealing and have been given an opportunity to get on with their lives.
"Others, of course, make too much money to give up their deadly dealings and, as a result, we will take action once we've gathered all the necessary information. There have been warnings to some dealers who have taken heed, but some others do not receive warnings. Members of the Creggan community have approached us appealing for us to take action. Information has been supplied, our units have witnessed dealing taking place and we've acted accordingly.
"Our membership is totally committed to the removal of drug dealing in Derry. We have witnessed at first hand the destruction of individuals and the destruction of the family unit as a result of the part played by drugs. However, we do not have any issues with drug abusers. They are in a very sorry state and, in more cases than not, are members of the working class. It's pitiful to witness them destroy their own lives and the lives of their families.
"Therefore, the only way to alleviate this problem is to remove the dealers, those who peddle death within the community.
"Our amnesty remains in place, as it always has done. It's an avenue that has been taken by former dealers and that avenue remains open to those who genuinely wish to cease their activities. Our advice is to take that into consideration or, alternatively, suffer the consequences in the fullness of time."