Crossmaglen drug awareness meeting highlights residents’ concerns

March 16, 2010

By Brónagh Murphy

more than 100 people packed into Crossmaglen Community Centre on Tuesday evening to attend a public meeting on the issue of illegal drugs in the area.

The event was facilitated by Newry and Mourne District Council and was chaired by council Mayor, John Feehan.

Presentations were delivered from representatives of Newry and Mourne Drugs and Alcohol Partnership, Northern Ireland Housing Executive, Newry and Mourne Council’s Environmental Health department and the PSNI.

Following the individual presentations, there was lively and interesting debate surrounding issues specific to the area.  These included the suitability of tenants in relation to the allocation of Housing Executive housing, searches and drug seizures by the PSNI and the affect of a drug culture on residents and vulnerable youths.

Inspector Davy Beck said he shared the concerns of the community but added that the PSNI does not consider Crossmaglen to have a ‘major drugs culture’ at present.  He pointed out that there is a higher crime rate associated with alcohol than with illegal drugs and said people should ‘keep the scale of the problem in perspective’.  Stating that his team ‘is not complacent’ and is committed to working to keep the community safe, he added that there would be ‘no hiding place’ for drug dealers.

Councillor Terry Hearty revealed that he had been approached on a number of occasions by parents and residents concerned about the activities of a small number of people believed to be involved in the trade of illegal drugs.  He dismissed suggestions that the availability of drugs in the town is not a major issue and said he made no apology for publicly highlighting the problem.  Mr Hearty said the drug issue is ‘new to the area’ and pointed out that many residents, particularly the elderly, were living in intimidation and fear of the small number of drug dealers and users.  He called on the wider community, along with the relevant agencies, to work together to address the problem, adding that concerns regarding illegal activity should be reported to the PSNI.

Drawing attention to the allocation of Housing Executive housing, Mr Hearty described the areas of the process as ‘flawed’ and said housing young, active residents in OAP dwellings with elderly neighbours, is a ‘serious problem and a remedy for disaster’.

Mr Jim Bagnall from the Northern Ireland Housing Executive said he recognised the concerns raised and admitted there was often a ‘clash of lifestyle’ among residents.  He said NIHE has a strict policy in place regarding tenants who may be in breach of their agreements and urged anyone with concerns to contact NIHE or the police.  Tenants who flout the law and are found to be in breach of their tenancy agreements will face conviction and eviction from the property, he said.

Patrick McEvoy from Newry and Mourne Council’s Environmental Health reiterated this saying his department also deals with complaints of noise and public health issues and liaises directly with NIHE and the police to rectify matters.

Representing Culloville GFC and the South Armagh Community Safety Partnership, PJ Toale, commended the Newry and Mourne Drugs and Alcohol Partnership on its awareness project.  He and many of his colleagues have undertaken drug awareness courses which, he said, were excellent in increasing drug awareness and proved very informative on how people should react to specific incidences.

At the close of the meeting, the panel accepted a proposal from Councillor Terry Hearty for subsequent meetings to be arranged between representatives of residents from the town’s housing estates directly affected by the drug problem and relevant agencies.  The first of these meetings is expected to take place within three months.