Source: Sunday Times (UK)
Pubdate: Sun, 16 Aug 1998


HEROIN has made inroads into the Northern Ireland drug culture for the first
time, according to the head of the RUC drug squad. Superintendent David
Thompson said heroin first appeared in the province in significant amounts
after the first IRA ceasefire but peaked in the last six months of 1997,
writes Phelim McAleer.

Although there are believed to be several hundred users, the heroin problem
is still minor compared with cities and towns in Britain or Dublin. None the
less, the RUC is concerned about escalation. "We have linked crimes such as
shoplifting, burglaries and robberies with drug users," said Thompson.

Many of the robberies were unsophisticated acts of desperation. "We would
have individuals going into shops unmasked where they're known and producing
knives demanding money," he said.

Heroin usage is concentrated in Ballymena, the buckle of the province's
Bible belt where Ian Paisley, the DUP leader, has most support.

Thompson said the heroin network emanates from people from Ballymena who
left Northern Ireland in the early 1990s to work in England, where they
picked up the habit. "They came back after the first ceasefire and had to
maintain their supply," he said. "There are now several hundred heroin users
in Northern Ireland."

The situation in Ballymena has followed a similar pattern to the expansion
of heroin in Dublin in the 1980s. Residents in deprived estates have started
a backlash against suspected dealers and have picketed their houses.

RUC sources are concerned about the protests, fearing that they may spread
and be infiltrated by paramilitaries.

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Checked-by: "Don Beck"