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Comment: In the age of the sugar tax, we are abandoning kids to drug dealers

IF you were an outsider with a reasonable sense of perspective and you heard about the introduction of the sugar tax, you’d think Ireland cared about its young people far more than it actually does.

On May 1, cans of fizzy drinks went up by 10 cents and two-litre bottles by 60 cents, with the thinking being that this new charge –debated in the press and at political level for months – was a wonderful move to combat obesity.

Yes, this caring, health-conscious society was taking concrete action to make sure its young people were going to grow up as close to the peak of health and fitness as possible. But on May 1, as the new charge came into operation and our policymakers lauded themselves, teenagers all over Clare (and undoubtedly everywhere else), were out buying cannabis, cocaine, benzos and heroin.

The ability to ignore this inconvenient truth is absolutely staggering, with no coherent strategy to tackle the parasites that distribute drugs to children.

Ireland allows these ruthless dealers the freedom to torture addicts, to intimidate and attack their families in reprisal for unpaid debts and actively stop their best customers from getting clean.

A number of the stories told in The Clare Champion over the past three weeks illustrate how serious the county’s drugs crisis is and just how hopeless the State response to it is. One mother of a 14-year-old girl in Shannon told me she recently discovered her daughter has an issue with drugs. Identifying the problem is obviously a big step in the right direction, but she feels it is going to be extremely difficult to get and keep her daughter clean, for different reasons.

Firstly, she has found it practically impossible to get treatment for addiction for anyone under 15. Secondly, she says the town is awashwith drugs and her daughter will be offered them everywhere she goes.

The Boreen, a lush walkway, is around the corner from her house and she says drugs are sold there all the time, with no moves to disrupt the dealers, who have been operating for years.

This is Clare in 2018. Drugs are freely available to children. People hope it never comes to their door, but there is no strategy in place to crush the problem.

It is quietly tolerated, seen as fairly acceptable, especially when it is confined to poor areas, and the media gets on with debating the sugar tax and whether drivers should be banned after half a pint instead of a full pint.

In this week’s paper, Chief Supt John Kerin explains how months of work can go into a drug bust, and sometimes that work won’t produce a result. He also says the European Working Time Directive cut Garda manpower by an incredible 20%, on top of the attrition seen in the public sector during the recession.

Frankly, it is an incredible reality that policing has been allowed to be so hard hit by this regulation, and it is inevitable that drug dealers have more freedom than ever. Tackling them and crippling their operations is just not a priority for the State.

Society’s ability to look the other way is so complete that many will have been quite unaware of the issues that our series examined over the last three weeks.

Worryingly, many of the people we have spoken to believe the problem is now much more serious than it was 15 years ago and things are still getting worse.

It may seem hard to believe, but drugs really only arrived in Ireland
in the 1960s. True, before that we had addicts aplenty, mostly to alcohol, but cocaine, heroin and ruthless dealers were all alien concepts.

Surely it is not beyond the bounds of possibility that a societal response, involving education, treatment, policing and political institutions, can deliver a country where children aren’t risking
their lives every day of the week with street drugs, and dealers aren’t allowed to torture addicts and terrify their families.

While it often seems problems are intractable, just because things are one way doesn’t mean they have to stay that way. The country is taking steps to discourage people from buying fizzy drinks, a few really
strong measures that will stop children buying drugs on the streets are badly wanted too.

Owen Ryan