Concerns have emerged over a resurgence in drug dealing in some disadvantaged Dublin suburbs following a reduction in the population of users in the city centre.
Garda sources said dealers and users could no longer “blend into the background” on the city streets following the restrictions on movement introduced as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.
Sinn Féin TD Dessie Ellis said there had been a marked increase in dealing in Finglas and Ballymun.
“From talking to the drugs’ squad there has been a huge influx of people dealing coming into suburbs where they wouldn’t have been seen for many years,” Mr Ellis said. “Because town is deserted, there aren’t people in town for them to sell to, and anyone who is in town is more likely to get stopped by the gardaí.”
Dealing was “becoming more concentrated in working class areas like Finglas and Ballymun, and as the weeks go on it is becoming more worrying,” he said.
Drug dealing had shifted away from these suburbs into the city centre over the last decade or more, Mr Ellis said, and this had particularly become the case in recent years as the homeless crisis meant more vulnerable people were living in city centre hostels.
“Most accommodation dealing with homelessness is in the city centre, but one of the repercussions of the coronavirus is that many of these people are coming back to live in the family home.”
For those with substance abuse issues, their presence in the family home was particularly dangerous at this time, he said.
“People coming back home, rather than being in hostels or B&Bs, if they have drug and alcohol problems they are bringing those problems with them. Domestic violence can be one of the repercussions, and people who are cocooning or isolating are very vulnerable to that.”
Following the change from weekly to fortnightly unemployment payments, dealers were preying on drug users who were now in receipt of larger sums of money, Mr Ellis said.
“The double week payment has resulted in a spike in the amount of drug dealing at certain times. Then in the week where people don’t get paid you can see that very little dealing is happening,” he said.
“Another problem with this is that people are getting into big debt, and they have to borrow more because all their money has just gone to the dealer.”
Independent city councillor Vincent Jackson, who chairs the Ballyfermot drug and alcohol taskforce believes the high visibility of gardaí in the suburbs has deterred dealers from migrating into Ballyfermot and Cherry Orchard.
“There are huge amounts of Garda checkpoints, and that high visibility is causing mayhem for drug dealers.”
However, he said that visibility needs to be maintained to keep drugs at bay.
“The breaks have been put on some of the most unsavoury characters. The huge amount of Garda resources has thwarted their activities and it has created a confidence in the minds of local people. But the drugs problem hasn’t gone away, that’s why it’s so important to keep that high-profile presence.”
Garda sources who spoke to The Irish Times confirmed a noticeable decrease in street drug dealing in the city centre, adding there was anecdotal evidence some of the trade had moved to suburban Dublin.
“There’s far fewer people in town at the moment and there’s a much bigger Garda presence so that’s not good news for people trying to sell drugs on the street,” said one source.
He added while areas around the north and south quays, including the boardwalk, were regular “dealing spots”, there were no longer the crowds in the city centre to enable street dealers and the drug users they sell to “to blend into the background”.
Another source familiar with policing in the south inner city said because much of the street dealing in the city centre was fuelled by chronic heroin users they “will always need to get their drugs somewhere else”.
In that context, he said it was no surprise some of that trade had transferred to other locations in the suburbs.
“We have seen these patterns before,” he said, citing the significant policing operation put in place in parts of Dublin’s north inner city to protect members of the Hutch family from being attacked as part of the Kinahan-Hutch feud.
“When [gardaí ]saturated these areas, drug dealing there plummeted because nobody wanted to sell or buy drugs on streets with guards all over the place,” he said.
Another source believed the closure, or reduction in opening hours, of some drug treatment centres in the city centre reduced the number of clients from those centres “hanging around” in the city centre.
“There is a certain amount of drug dealing that takes place among that clientele and they have definitely not been as noticeable around the place in the last couple of weeks,” he said.