A number of years ago I had the privilege to attend an event in Dublin which was in memory of people who had lost their lives to substance misuse.
I was the guest of HURT, which works with individuals and their families who are deeply affected by such abuse. HURT’s founder Sadie O’Reilly, carries out her work in a determined way and one characterised by her integrity. She does this, steeled by the experience of personal and devastating loss. Her son, Tony, was a victim of this tragedy. At the event there was a display of quilts draped on the walls of the church where the memorial service was held. The quilts carried the names of those lost to drugs and substance misuse. Each patch a person’s life.
At the time I was drawn to one in particular, that of Rialto. Rialto is a small district in Dublin and yet it had over twenty patches. Twenty patches, twenty lives lost.
In a conversation with a community activist from Rialto I inquired how things were now in the area. He told me that things were better and that no lives were lost in over two years. How was this achieved I asked? He related a story of hard work, often painstaking and painful. He spoke of a time when residents had absolutely no contact with the Gardai, and little or no contact with government agencies. A distinct absence of trust and with it a sense of abandonment and isolation.
Yet the community realised and accepted that if the problem was to be tackled in a meaningful way, if hope was to replace misery, then mistrust would have to replaced with something positive. Positive to underwrite efforts to save people’s lives.The community accepted its responsibility, it came together and produced a way forward, a way out of the misery. It would involve community activism, action from the Gardai and action from the government agencies and other support agencies. Importantly, working collectively and collaboratively.
Whereas, ensuring that those who peddled drugs were part of the problem, due emphasis was placed on assisting those who fell foul to drug misuse. Drugs he told me were a fact of life, the Gardai had its role in curtailing supply, educating young people to the downside of drug use was absolutely crucial.
Rialto is not free from drugs or those addicted to them, nor those who peddle them. It has an alternative, a way forward, a way through it. It brings together a community working with those they once mistrusted and perhaps despised. So I pose the question, who has done the most to rid us of the scourge of drugs; organisations like HURT, DIVERT or those who shoot at people’s homes?
Those who carry these attacks tell us that they exist because of the absence of policing and to rid Derry of drug dealers. Can anyone living in Derry honestly state that trying to shoot the problem has seen the reduction of drug supply?
The PSNI with the support of the community have had a number of successes in recent times. No-one will argue that this has resulted in stopping the drug supply.
However what we do know is that community activists, health fora and other agencies are on a daily basis removing people from the vicious circle that drug use and addiction is.
That demands hard and often challenging work. No room for self indulgence, no room for ego and elitism and no room for self gain and profiting from other’s misfortune. No place to use it to win arguments lost a long time before.
Out-dated and worn out rhetoric cannot and will not replace the effort required to tackle drug addiction in a meaningful and long lasting way.
No room to hide from the need to make decisions, this requires real courage, to be undeterred and unafraid if that means working and testing the abilities of the PSNI. One aim in mind, to prevent people from suffering the misery of drug use.
No false promises of ridding ourselves of the scourge of drugs, only the commitment to do all that we are empowered to do.
That is what they did in Rialto.
If there are to be no more patches on remembering quilts then it will come from communal endeavour not from the barrels of fly-by night headline seekers.