Pubdate: 4 February 1999
Source: An Phoblacht/Republican News (Ireland)
Contact:  1999 Phoblacht/Republican News
Author: Donal Cusack


Following media stories about Kerry Sinn Fein's anti-drug campaign,
Ard Comhairle member DONAL CUSACK puts the record straight

Situated on the outskirts of the town, Shanakill is just one of many
working class estates in the Tralee urban area. In common with other
areas, it has its share of social and economic problems, and as with
similar communities throughout the length and breadth of Ireland, it
has been neglected by various authorities for many years.

Shanakill and its counterparts in Dublin, Cork, Limerick and
elsewhere, does not possess the political or financial clout of middle
class Ireland. Many residents of these areas have expressed concern
that their communities are being used as dumping grounds for social
problems which the state is either unwilling or unable to deal with.

A continually urgent and pressing problem faced by these communities
throughout Ireland is, of course, the problem of drug dealing.

Unlike the authorities and their political establishment in this
state, Sinn Fein has long recognised the devastating consequences of
this problem for communities throughout Ireland. Inspired by the
example of our comrades in Dublin who have done so much to assist
communities in their struggle to prevent drug dealers from operating.

Kerry Sinn Fein responded to the remorseless and frightening increase
in drug dealing by launching a sustained and highly popular anti-drug
campaign in 1996, intially centred on Tralee and later, expanded to
take in all of Kerry.

The immediate response from the authorities was entirely predictable.
In seeking to raise public awareness of the problem and confront the
drug pushers, Sinn Fein activists were subjected to constant
harassment from the Gardai, and demonisation from political and media
elements who were content to cry crocodile tears as the drug problem
reached crises proportions, particularly in Tralee and Killarney.

Despite constant allegations of vigilantism, Sinn Fein always insisted
that our campaign would be conducted within the law. Known drug
pushers were informed that if they did not desist from their
activities, they would be publicly named or their houses picketed.

In June of last year, the residents of Shanakill finally decided that
enough was enough. A self confessed drug dealer living in their
estate, Michael Bentley, despite repeated requests to cease his
activities, and despite a public undertaking to the community that he
would so, continually allowed drugs to be sold from his house. The
constant drug-related traffic to and from this house was driving his
neighbours to despair; on one occasion, a four year old child was
given a cannabis joint outside the house and had to be taken to
hospital in a delirious state.

With support from Sinn Fein, the residents organised a picket on Mr
Bentley's house. Unfortunately Mr Bentley's partner and children who
also live in the house were portrayed as the only victims in this case
- - Sinn Fein accepted that the children were and are as much victims as
those who obtained drugs from the house, and the residents of
Shanakill who have had to live with the conseqences.

Despite a further public undertaking to residents that dealing from
the house would stop, it was not long before the heavy traffic to and
from the premises resumed, including, on one night, seventeen callers
in the space of an hour.

On New Year's night, Shanakill became the focus of both local and
national media attention when Michael Bentley claimed that he had been
abducted from his house by men dressed as Gardai, and threatened about
his involvement in the drug trade. Inevitably, the usual suspects in
the media cried `"vigilantes'' and attempted to link Sinn Fein with
the alleged abduction.

Sinn Fein immediately issued a statement denying any involvement in
this alleged incident, and criticising spurious allegations made by
individuals who have consistently attempted to undermine and discredit
our anti-drugs campaign. We have placed our opposition to such
activities on public record, we stand by our work with communities in
attempting to put moral pressure on drug dealers to end their death
dealing activities, and our belief that actions such as this alleged
abduction undermined that work.

Yet more publicity was generated by the burning of Michael Bentley's
home which, according to residents, was carried out by the occupants

Occurences such as the above make an absolute mockery of local
authority tenancy agreements, and the residents of Shanakill are
holding their collective breath to see what happens next. Tralee UDC
has been lobbied by residents demanding action to tackle a number of
issues, including the enforcement of tenancy agreements. Urgent action
is needed now.

While the Tralee area has been the focus for much of Kerry Sinn Fein's
anti-drug campaign, Killarney too has experienced more than its fair
share of drug-related problems. Killarney has gained a certain amount
of notoriety as an area with a particularly acute Ecstasy problem, and
Sinn Fein has learned that a particular individual is currently
bringing large amounts of cocaine, ecstasy and amphetimines into the
town on a regular basis.

This individual is well known to the authorites as well as local
people. The newly formed Killarney Sinn Fein cumann has urged people
to be vigilant.

Commenting on the continuing drug problem in Kerry and elsewhere, Sinn
Fein's European election candidate for the Munster area, Martin
Ferris, said, "Sinn Fein's involvement in the continuing anti-drugs
campaign has greatly intensified the level of public awareness of the
problem - this can be seen in the response of the Gardai in the Kerry
area. In the year prior to the commencement of our campaign, 1996,
three people were brought to court on drug-related charges. In 1997,
this had risen to eighteen.

Of course, this is only a start. We wish to again put on record our
belief that a co-ordinated response involving education, community
groups, and state authorities is needed to deal with our growing drug

Unfortunately, it took the murder of Veronica Guerin to galvanise the
state authorities into taking action against the drug barons who have
plyed their lethal trade, almost with impunity, for many years. The
lives of their victims, mainly young lives, are equally as important
as the life of Veronica Guerin.

We wish to reiterate the message we have sent to these people
repeatedly - for as long as their destructive activities continue,
Sinn Fein will be there to confront them.'' 
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