Hundreds of people are expected to attend a public meeting in Roscrea tonight where locals, determined to rid their town of drug dealers, have rallied together to highlight the "cancer" that has hit their community.
The devastating effects of drugs and anti-social behaviour has prompted a major community response in the North Tipperary town, where its feared an emerging drugs culture has claimed many young lives.
Last week, anti-drugs graffiti was spray painted on to the main road signs leading into the town, an indication of the tension felt in the area.
Like many towns in rural Ireland, Roscrea, a designated Irish heritage town, has been hit by large scale unemployment in recent years.
Tragically, there has been a number of suicides in the town, some of which are believed to have been drug-related.
"What we call our cancer has hit the town. Drugs are our cancer and this has hit the town big time in the last two years and we are not prepared to put up with it," said local woman Marie Warren, who is passionate about her native town.
“We have great youth. We have a great, great community. There isn’t anything like the community here in Roscrea, but at the moment it’s not in a good place and we want to get it back to the town we had 10 years ago. We need to get the message out to the Government that we are not happy with how we are being treated.
“We are broken-hearted here at the moment. Everyone in Roscrea is broken-hearted. We can mend the anger but we cannot mend the broken hearts that are here at the moment. There are so many broken hearts, not only because of the deaths but because of the demise of our town,” she added.
A heated meeting held in Abbey Hall last Monday night escalated into an impromptu march to the local Garda station, which brought the town to a standstill for an hour.
Resident Derek Russell (41) organised the meeting, which only 50 people were expected to attend. "We had 714 people who signed into the book and we asked everyone present to bring one other person to the next meeting so we are expecting big numbers," he said.
Senior gardaí will attend tonight’s meeting, which is expected to draw a crowd as large as 1,500 and takes place at 8pm in Coláiste Phobal.
Representatives of the HSE and North Tipperary’s TDs have also been invited.
“We are proud people of the town. I have a three-year-old son and I want to see things in proper order for him, they should be in proper order now. I know the appetite is out there everybody is saying the same thing,” added Mr Russell.
Local businesswoman Jackie Dillon (41) has been living in Roscrea for the past 25 years
“I have seen things on the streets that are unreal. I heard there are kids picking up hash cookies in some housing estates,” she said.
Grandmother and mother of five Caroline Phelan (52) believes something must be done before the situation gets worse.
“So many of children have died as a result of suicide something needs to be done and we need to get rid of the drug dealers that are living in the town.”
Some locals claim children as young as 11 and 12 are being targeted to deal or take drugs.
"My kids are young and I have heard a lot of things in the last few weeks that I wasn't aware of and I think people need to take their head out of the sand and see what's going on," said mother of two Kathleen Delaney (50).
Locals claim some drug dealers are handing the drugs out freely to draw young people into the habit.
One woman of three young children, who did not wish to be named, said: “About three weeks ago I walked out my gate and they were selling them [drugs] outside my gate. Wednesday [when social welfare payments are made] is the best day in town. Your man pulls into the estate and people walk up and they give him money and they get their drugs.”
While tensions are running high, gardaí urged locals to refrain from any form of vigilantism. "We have a regional divisional unit in place to deal with this and I will supplement gardaí from Nenagh to Roscrea when the need arises," said Supt Bob Noonan, who will attend tonight's meeting.
“We would encourage anyone with information to speak to gardaí and they can be assured any information will be dealt with in a confidential manner,” he added.