Vigil held in east Belfast demanding that drugs dealers leave their area
Demonstration is staged following another suspected drugs death on Sunday
A man, who was in his late 20s, died on Sunday and police are waiting for forensic test results to determine how he died.
Members of more than 40 church and community groups gathered on the Lower Newtownards Road in east Belfast yesterday evening calling on drug dealers to leave the area.
The vigil was held in the wake of eight suspected drugs deaths in the North in recent weeks, five of which occurred in east Belfast. Police are now investigating a sixth suspected drugs death in east Belfast on Sunday.
Mark Houston, director of the East Belfast Mission, said the vigil was held to highlight the serious drugs problem in the predominantly loyalist community. He complained the issue was not being taken seriously enough.
“If that were a terrorist incident or some sort of act of God there would be a huge attention and a huge gathering of people wanting to know why and what is going on. We just felt the community needed the opportunity to express its frustration and its anger,” he said.
Mr Houston said they were sending the message out that they didn’t want drug dealers operating in east Belfast. On the question of suspected UVF and UDA involvement he added: “I think across the whole island including east Belfast there are paramilitaries dealing drugs but are they all involved in drug-dealing? That is a different thing.
“What we are saying very unambiguously and what the leadership of the UVF in the Shankill is saying is, ‘You cannot be a loyalist and a drug dealer’.”
Mr Houston said there must be “no cover” for people who sell drugs. “This community is already reeling from high levels of suicide, unemployment, low educational attainment and the violence after the flags protest. It’s a community that needs a break,” he added.
The eight deaths, seven in Belfast and one in Coleraine, Co Derry, led police to warn people of the dangers of taking green ecstasy-type tablets with a crown or castle logo. Last week, police said they did not believe drugs from a single contaminated batch were responsible for the deaths.
Meanwhile, the PSNI is investigating another suspected drugs death in east Belfast. The man, who was in his late 20s, died on Sunday and police are waiting for forensic test results to determine how he died.
Following his death two men were arrested on suspicion of possession of drugs with intent to supply.