Pubdate: Sun, 13 Feb 2000
Source: The Sunday Times (UK)
Copyright: 2000 Times Newspapers Ltd.
Pubdate: February 13 2000
Author: Tommy Conlon


Kilkenny is no different from other towns, say locals. But if that's
true, writes Tommy Conlon, then rural Ireland must be falling victim
to a drug culture

Last night in Kilkenny, it was business as usual down the bog-bars:
kids with their plastic bags full of cans, their flagons of cider and
their stash of hash, ecstasy or speed .

They call them bog-bars but really its just a field, a patch of green
squeezed between the houses of some struggling estate where they
congregate to drink and smoke and get stoned.

Kilkenny is no different from any other provincial town, say the
locals, but if that's true then the national drug culture is fast
becoming a case of any time, any place and anywhere.

And if Limerick is known as stab city, and Galway as liquid city, it
is no surprise that Kilkenny is quickly becoming known as tablet city.

One local dealer describes the scene: "You can go in there [Kilkenny]
tonight and you can buy everything from a pounds 20 spot of hash to a
pounds 20 bag of heroin."

A community worker paints an equally bleak picture: "Taking speed is
like breathing air here, you can get as much as you want on the
streets." The mother of an addict completes the picture: "The drugs
issue has been around here for years."

Concern about the escalating drugs problem prompted the South Eastern
Health Board to establish the Kilkenny Drugs Initiative last year.

Their findings, based on six months of research, startled many people
when they were released last week. They found that drugs were widely
available and commonly used, even in schools.

"Every young person who participated highlighted the level of usage in
schools and said the level of dealing of all drugs in schools was much
greater than people realised," said the report.

When participants were asked what drugs were available in Kilkenny, a
typical reply was: "Everything, anything you want". Those on offer
include cannabis, ecstasy, speed, solvents, cocaine, LSD, magic
mushrooms and prescribed pills such as Valium, Librium and Rohypnol.
Heroin, arguably the most dangerous of them all, is not widely used
but as one respondent puts it: "If you want it you can get it. It is
coming in big time."

The general consensus was many young people aged 10 and over were
experimenting with drugs while older teens were using on a regular
basis. One participant in the survey said: "[In Kilkenny] you make
your first communion, you make your confirmation and then you start

Substances were being traded and used everywhere, the report found.
"In public places where young people gather, in soccer fields, in car
parks, by the railway track up the Dublin road, in public toilets, by
the canal, in handball alleys, on the street corners in estates, at
the bread factory, on the quay, in cars and hay-barns, at the backs of
shops and churches, in the castle park and in bogs; ie

Bog-bars, explains Rosemary Finane, the researcher and writer of the
report, is slang for "young kids going down to a field with a bag of
cans or a few bottles of cider, and in the bag they have other
substances such as cannabis and ecstasy". Another name for it,
according to the report, was "knacker-drinking".

Eileen O'Carroll, the mother of a long-term drug addict knows the
problem well: "If you go down to St John's Quay, you'll see them
heading off with their cans of beer, going off to a secluded little
area. They'll light their fires and they'll have their drinks and
their drugs. They (bog-bars) are alive and well in Kilkenny. And they
drink in the schools as well at night when they're deserted."

O'Carroll's 26-year-old son is in Portlaoise prison. A user for more
than 10 years, and a repeat offender, his addiction began with Valium.
Like Finane, the gardai, teachers and other locals, she is adamant
that Kilkenny is no different from any other medium-sized town in
rural Ireland. Where it may differ slightly, she says, is not the
extent of the drug problem, just its nature.

"I'm not being sensationalist when I call it tablet city. It's widely
known for that reason. Most people would have said that cannabis is
the drug that leads them onto other drugs but in Kilkenny, I would
definitely say that Valium has been the drug that has led them onto
others. It wouldn't just have been my son's experience. There would
have been quite a few I know that got started that way. And it's
highly addictive. My son and some of his friends are totally addicted."

Finane agrees. "You're talking about a group of drugs such as Valium
and Librium. The market varies - what's here today may not be here
next week," she explains. "At the moment we have an influx of
Rohypnol, which people have labelled the date-rape drug. But Rohypnol
is a sedative and it's used as a relaxant, I've known people to use
three or four at a time. Some people mix them with speed and other
drugs - crazy poly-drug use - and I met a couple of people who are
actually crushing them and intravenously banging them up for a quicker

Amphetamines such as speed were available "in every hole and corner
throughout this county".

"It would be sold here in a wrap at about a tenner a time. I spoke to
one young man who told me he's taken eight wraps at a time and most
people would be lucky to survive one wrap. He's been in hospital a
good few times," says Finane.

The report found that Kilkenny's six secondary schools played a big
role as trading centres and points of contact. "It was made clear that
hash is widely used in schools and that many other drugs are being
dealt in school toilets, on the corridors and outside the front gates,
among other places. One youth group said it is happening 'everywhere
in schools'."

Another group of secondary school students told the survey that young
people were pooling money and buying blocks of hash together.

Finane said: "One parent was very concerned because her son or
daughter came home and said they were looking for extra lunch money.
But it turns out the lunch money was going into substance use in
school. Whether they were smoking it or not in the school, they were
definitely bringing the money into the school and putting it together
because it's cheaper, like a little co-operative. It was a very
organised activity. This wasn't just a once-off thing. This is what's
going on in schools."

School authorities are reluctant to let the survey findings go
unchallenged. Cathy McSorley, principal of Kilkenny City Vocational
School, said she did not think wide-scale drug taking was going on in
her establishment, which has 430 pupils.

"I would have no experience of that whatsoever, and we would have a
good drugs programme. Everything is monitored and you'd hear about it
if it was going on. They are certainly exposed to these drugs and we
can't bury our heads in the sand and pretend it's not going on."

Sergeant Michael Quinlan in Kilkenny garda station is also sceptical
about the schools dimension. The local force have a system whereby
every school is allocated a garda who liaises with an appointed
teacher. "They would tell the garda and it would get back to us that
way. If there was a problem in schools I think we'd know about it," he

A drugs unit was set up in the town four years ago, Quinlan said, and
the number of drug-related arrests had gone up each year. But it was
not a major problem and there were no big "drug barons" operating in
Kilkenny, he said.

"We know 95% of the people who are dealing, and where they're dealing
and what is the price, and nobody is buying big houses or driving big
cars because they're dealing down in Kilkenny."

Most of the dealers, he explained, were small-time. "A lot of them
might buy 10 Es for pounds 7 and sell them for pounds 10. That's
pounds 30 in a night - are we talking big money here?

" It depends what you call a dealer. If a fellow going to a club has
five Es, he's not going to use them all, he's going to sell a few to
his pals. Or you might have a young fellow who has two deals of hash,
one for himself for a few smokes, and he sells the other one to his
mates. I don't class him as a dealer, although the law does."

The amount of young people using drugs had increased a lot, Quinlan
said, but he maintained that some reporting of the problem was
alarmist: "If you went up to certain estates they'd tell you, 'They're
all on drugs up here', but they're not all on drugs. One local bar has
a very bad name for drugs because it's a place where students meet at
the weekend, but I know that most of them aren't taking them."

One local dealer who spoke to The Sunday Times offered a different
perspective: "There's a serious drug problem in every small town in
Ireland, whether it's Kilkenny or Kinsale. There's as much available
in Kilkenny as there is in Ballymun. Tonight if you want to go into
Kilkenny and buy yourself a bag of heroin, it's there for you.
Everything, you name it: speed, E, coke, crack cocaine."

He estimated that up to 70% of young people in a club on any given
night would have taken ecstasy, speed or cannabis.

"There's different scenes for different drugs. In one nightclub, for
example, they're all farmers that are drinking there. There's no buzz
in there for Es, but that's where all the fighting goes on because
everyone gets drunk. You go 500 yards down the road and you walk into
another club and it's a totally different buzz, everyone's loving one
another and hugging and kissing one another because they're all out of
their heads on speed and Es."

Finane will be attending a national conference at Dublin castle this
week. Organised by the Eastern Health Board, it is one of the first
major conferences to focus on drugs and young people. Subjects will
include research, prevention, education, treatment and rehabilitation.
In the report, she advocates a five-point action plan ranging from a
support service for families of substance abusers to community-based
training and education, and full-time community policing.

Quinlan believes education for parents is particularly important.
"They tend to panic. If they find a reefer in their kid's room, they
think he's a drug addict. They need to be educated."

Eileen O'Carroll said her son and his contemporaries knew very little
about drugs when they began experimenting more than 10 years ago: "I
do think if they knew more they might have been a little better armed
going out into the world - they were down that road before they knew

On Friday morning she was on her way to visit him in Portlaoise when a
local radio rang to get her views on the report. "Sometimes it hits
you harder than others. He was away for Christmas and that was very
hard. I wrote him a card. I said 'I feel I have lost a son and I can't
find him'. He rang me back, asked me was I giving up on him. I wasn't
of course. But it's a vicious, vile state. If kids only knew what they
were getting into."

This week, in the gilded rooms of Dublin castle, they will talk about
drugs and young people for two days. Last night, in the windswept
fields around Kilkenny, in the heaving clubs and on the streets, they
didn't talk drugs, they took them.
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MAP posted-by: Allan  Wilkinson