Newspaper for Crossmaglen, South Armagh, Newry and Down.

Community united to tackle drugs problem

A public meeting planned for this weekend in Crossmaglen is being seen as a very positive step forward in tackling the growing issue of drug abuse in the local community. The Drugs Community Awareness and Information meeting, to be held this Friday 27th January in Rangers Hall, has garnered the support of local GAA clubs, community groups and local political representatives throughout the area.  The event, which has been organised by Crossmaglen Rangers, has prompted much interest and people from the entire community and surrounding areas are being urged to attend what is being mooted as an extremely worthwhile exercise to increase awareness of a worrying epidemic of illegal drug use in the area.

GAA All-Star and former Crossmaglen Rangers Manager, Oisin McConville, will introduce the evening and the two guest speakers at the event –  a drugs task force official with extensive experience in dealing with the plight of individuals embroiled in drug misuse, and a former addict who will share his personal experience with drug addiction, its devastating effects and the journey into recovery.

Speaking to The Examiner ahead of Friday’s important meeting, Oisin said the main reason the event had been organised was to talk about the prevalence of drug abuse in the local community – a problem which is blighting so many communities throughout Ireland.

“For our region and the country as a whole, statistics concerning drug use are sparse and scattered but some of the key points when discussing the problem are that cannabis – as the main drug for misuse in this country – is believed to be a gateway drug, one that can lead to the use and misuse of other more harmful drugs.”

Oisn also highlighted that Ireland has one of the highest rates of cocaine use in Europe.and the frightening statistic of two deaths per day both directly and indirectly related to drug abuse.

“As part of dealing with any social issue it is important to gauge the magnitude of the problem being faced. This is tricky when statistics are pretty much non existent so whilst the evidence can be somewhat anecdotal – the effects of drug misuse are obvious for all to see,” he said.

“This idea to educate members of the club in particular has snowballed and issues within GAA clubs throughout the country reflect what is going on in society as a whole – hence the reason to open the drugs information meeting up to the whole community of south Armagh.

“Should anyone need an example of the seriousness of even experimenting with drugs, then they need look no further than the death of 16 year old Michael Cornacchia in Cork this week,” added Oisin,

“This young man thought he was taking cocaine when in fact it was a new drug known as U-4, which sadly ended up costing him his life.

“We can’t bury our head in the sands about this issue which is rife in our community and this meeting is the first step to addressing the problem.”

Local Sinn Fein Councillor Terry Hearty has voiced his unequivocal support for the event and says he is “delighted that Crossmaglen Rangers have taken the lead on this issue.”

“We do have a growing drugs problem in the town and surrounding areas and I believe this will, over time, lead to an increase in antisocial behaviour and criminal activity.  This is a great initiative taken by the much loved football club to kickstart the process of dealing with this problem  and it is especially heartening to be coming from a club like Crossmaglen Rangers which has such a prestigious record and is so revered throughout the area,” said the Slieve Gullion Councillor.

“This meeting will give all an insight into the problem of drug and substance misuse and will highlight the plight of our young people who are drawn into it.  They should not be demonised because of their addiction but rather seen as victims who need encouragement, support and help.

“I am on record as saying I would have no hesitation about going to the police if I had any information on who is supplying and taking drugs into the area. We as a community can only tackle this issue together and, as friends and neighbours, we must ensure that we become aware of the challenges of drug and substance misuse, understand the issues involved and the route to recovery  and be supportive and sympathetic to those who find themselves in such difficulties”.

“I would urge young people, all of the football and youth clubs, community groups and concerned parents to attend this meeting as we have a growing problem which we need to tackle together.

“The suppliers and dealers who are coming into this town should be dealt with through the collaboration of the PSNI and the Gardai working together.  This meeting is a great initiative which is coming at the right time and I hope as many people as possible will attend.

SDLP representative, Pete Byrne welcomed the first steps taken by Crossmaglen Rangers to address what he said is increasingly becoming a major concern in the area.

“The first step to tackling this problem is to inform the community that it exists and secondly, to educate our community on the devastating effects of drug use,” said Mr Byrne.

“A public meeting will achieve both steps and I will be encouraging everyone across our area to attend.

“As chair of Slieve Gullion DEA, I discussed this issue with my fellow councillors at a recent meeting and we agreed that immediate steps needed to be taken. Those steps included organising a public meeting on drug abuse through the DEA forum and also allocating a part of our budget to a programme which educates our young people on the dangers of drugs. On the latter, we have decided to fund the upcoming ‘Bounce’ programme in the Ti Chulainn Centre, Mullaghbawn, which addresses this exact issue.

“I hope that alongside this programme and with Crossmaglen Rangers taking the initiative with the Public Meeting, that together we can tackle what is a worrying problem in the area.”

The Drugs Community Awareness and Information meeting will take place at 7.30pm on Friday 27th January in the Rangers Hall.