Home > Melting the iceberg of fear – drug-related intimidation in Blanchardstown.

Connolly, Johnny (2014) Melting the iceberg of fear – drug-related intimidation in Blanchardstown. Drugnet Ireland, Issue 48, Winter 2013, p. 13.

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The issue of drug-related intimidation, much of it related to drug debt, has emerged as a major concern for many communities in Ireland recent years.1  It is an issue that has been highlighted by community-based advocacy groups such as the Family Support Network and the CityWide Drugs Crisis Campaign at a number of recent conferences.2 It has also been identified as a key issue in the National Drugs Strategy 2009–2016 (NDS). Action 5 of the NDS aims ‘To develop a framework to provide an appropriate response to the issue of drug related intimidation in the community’.3

A study of the issue in Blanchardstown, West Dublin, undertaken by the co-ordinator of Safer Blanchardstown (the local community policing forum), sought to identify those most likely to engage in local intimidation and those most likely to be victimised by it.4 The research also investigated the causal factors underlying intimidation with a view to informing possible interventions and responses by partner agencies and the wider community. Primary research involved a series of interviews with senior outreach staff from a number of local agencies, including youth projects, community drug teams, family support services, social workers, health workers and the local Garda drugs unit. These interviews, conducted in late 2011, were supplemented by minutes of local resident meetings on community safety and a broader literature review.
The resulting report highlights the complex and multi-layered nature of the phenomenon and recommends that responses to it must be systematic, co-ordinated and directed along a continuum of different ‘orders’ of intimidation: lower, middle and higher. The report uses the metaphor of an iceberg to link these different levels of intimidation, as illustrated below.

Lower order intimidation, according to the report, involves

young children [aged 8–16] bullying, assaulting, stealing, vandalising and spreading fear within the community, often directed to do so by older siblings and friends. Children may be directed to intimidate those who are thought to be talking to the Gardaí/Local Authority. This intimidation can take the form of breaking of windows, property damage, name calling, racial slurs and harassment of [other] children in the street. (p.11)
Young people at this level, the study finds, are sometimes supported in such behaviour by older siblings, family and friends and experience a ‘lack of parental control, boundaries or direction in their lives’ (p.11).
In relation to lower-order intimidation the report highlights the importance of early interventions for young people who may be likely to become involved in such behaviour. One local initiative currently being piloted is the Interagency Working Agreement Group (IWA) for Mulhuddart/Corduff. This group has developed protocols for the sharing of confidential information between all agencies working with young children and their families in order to provide them with appropriate supports. The report recommends that:
The principal aim of the IWA should be, through the provision of appropriate supports, an increase in educational attainment, the reduction in the number of young people with a low school attendance, at risk of suspension/exclusion from school or who have come to the attention of Fingal County Council/Gardaí in relation to anti-social behaviour harassment or intimidation. (p.14)
The report also notes the potential of problem-oriented policing methods, with ‘Garda problem solving’ training currently being rolled out across Blanchardstown targeting agency staff and residents. This is a model of problem solving referred to as SARA (Scanning, Analysis, Response, Assessment) to inform multi-agency interventions.5
Middle-order intimidation, involving those aged between 13 and 20, some of whom are dependent drug users and dealers, is reported as the level at which ‘most of the drug related intimidation takes place and from which stems the criminal activity that financially supports those caught up in addiction’ (p.16). The report recommends the development of a Prolific and Priority Offender (PPO) approach, defined as ‘an approach that effectively manages offenders who are identified as committing a disproportionate amount of crime and harm in their communities’ (p.17). This approach involves a ‘catch and convict’ strand which ‘requires that the criminal justice agencies work together to ensure effective investigation, charging and prosecution’ of PPOs in as short a timescale as possible. It also incorporates a ‘rehabilitate and resettle’ strand, whereby PPOs are provided with a ‘simple choice – the opportunity to reform or face a very swift return to court should they re-offend or fail to comply with the conditions of court orders’ (p.18). This latter strand, the report states, must be supported through ‘locally agreed and implemented rehabilitation plans’ (p.18).
The higher order is described as ‘where the serious players reside’, that is, ‘those gang members and leaders who actively defend and try to expand their share of the drugs market’ (p.20). In describing the demand side of the illicit drugs market, the author provides an interesting analogy with the local pub:
People who go to the pub daily or on a regular basis enable the landlord to pay the rent, heat, light and staff wage bills. It’s at the weekend however; when the casual drinkers come out that the publican makes the real money. Likewise with the drug suppliers, it’s at the weekend when the casual recreational users order their small bit of hash/cocaine etc. that the real money is made and it is this real money that attracts the serious violence. (p.20)
The report also employs the iceberg metaphor to illustrate the local impact of so-called gangland murders. When such a murder is committed, ‘as a consequence of the interrelated nature of intimidation residents will attribute a relationship between those at the lower orders and those at the higher order even where this is not warranted. This fear will be picked up by those in the lower order whose swagger and power to intimidate will increase’ (p.20), thereby leading to further fear and community submission and silence. The report stresses the need to expose the link between casual recreational drug use and such violence in communities.
One of the major consequences of drug-related intimidation is that its victims (both direct and indirect) refuse to engage with state authorities because of fear of reprisal from those involved in the drug trade. This report advocates the establishment of a community information network to gather information on intimidation whereby people could provide information to the gardaí and local authorities without committing to going to court. This would enable the authorities to build a profile of those involved and, by encouraging people to talk about the issues, it could enhance initiatives such as the support service provided by the National Family Support Network and the Garda National Drugs Unit to individuals and families facing intimidation.6
This report is an important local contribution to an issue that is not only increasingly of national significance but also extremely under-researched. The final recommendation highlights the need for further research ‘in order to better inform workers, local communities and wider Irish society on how best to tackle this devastating behaviour’ (p.25).7  
1. O'Leary M (2009) Intimidation of families. Dublin: Family Support Network. www.drugsandalcohol.ie/12898
2.Connolly J (2011) Citywide conference discusses drug-related intimidation. Drugnet Ireland, (36): 24–25.
3.Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs (2009) National Drugs Strategy (interim) 2009–2016. Dublin: Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs. www.drugsandalcohol.ie/12388
4. Jennings P (2013) Melting the iceberg of fear: a collective response. Blanchardstown: Safer Blanchardstown. www.drugsandalcohol.ie/20566
5. For further information on such techniques see the Centre for Problem Oriented Policing at www.popcenter.org
6. For further information about the drug-related intimidation reporting programme see the National Family Support Network at www.fsn.ie
7. The Citywide Drugs Crisis Campaign, in association with the Health Research Board, is currently conducting a national survey of drug-related intimidation and community violence in task force areas throughout the state. For further information contact the author.

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