Home > Debts, threats, distress, and hope: drug-related intimidation in Dublin’s north east inner city.

Guiney, Ciara (2021) Debts, threats, distress, and hope: drug-related intimidation in Dublin’s north east inner city. Drugnet Ireland, Issue 77, Spring 2021, pp. 26-29.

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It has been known that drug-related intimidation (DRI) impacts on many Irish communities. The Drug-Related Intimidation Initiative (DRII) project was established in 2019 to examine this issue in Dublin’s north east inner city (NEIC). The main objectives of the initiative were twofold: first to provide support to individuals experiencing DRI and second to conduct research into these experiences to increase knowledge and understanding from the perspective of the victim, perpetrator, or both, with the final aim of developing good practice guidelines to respond to DRI (p. 6).1 In January 2021, Ana Liffey Drug Project (ALDP) published the final report of the DRII.1 The research was carried out by ALDP under the supervision of Dr Matt Bowden, School of Languages, Law and Social Sciences at Technological University Dublin.

Literature review

The report contained a detailed literature review examining a range of related topics, such as victims of DRI; illicit drug markets and violence; and drug-related crime. Several Irish studies were identified which either examined DRI as an issue or found that DRI was an issue within the sample examined. Within these studies several themes emerged:

  • Low-level intimidation was evident in communities where drug hierarchies retained control.
  • Low-level intimation resulted in a breakdown of community trust and spirit, leading to an exacerbation of fear and a sense of helplessness.
  • There was unwillingness to report incidents of DRI to An Garda Síochána (AGS).
  • There was an increased likelihood of parents experiencing DRI, more so mothers of those who use drugs, because of drug debts.
  • Drug activity hotspots were viewed as ‘no-go areas’ by residents (p. 15).
  • Low-debt thresholds, such as €50, could result in someone becoming a target of DRI.

In Ireland, one intervention that has been applied is the National Drug-Related Intimidation Reporting Programme (NDRIRP). The NDRIRP, which consists of a high-ranking AGS member from each Garda division across Ireland, aims to respond to intimidation experienced by people who use drugs, their friends or family, or others that are affected within the community because of drug debts. A recent review of this programme found that while NDRIRP was shown to be a useful tool in supporting employees’ responses to unpredictable challenges, awareness of the programme was limited. The need to enhance communication between NDRIRP members and key stakeholders was highlighted.


The study utilised a mixed-methods approach consisting of desk and field research. Initially, a literature review identified academic and policy research related to DRI. Next, a mapping exercise identified community services that targeted or were related to DRI problems in the NEIC. Finally, the field research was carried out and included three approaches:

  • Online surveys were carried out via SurveyMonkey between June 2020 and early August 2020 (n=471).
  • Participants (n=18) from 12 organisations participated in three focus groups in July 2020.
  • Semi-structured interviews were carried out with individuals who had direct experience of DRI in the NEIC (n=4).


Table 1 shows a summary of the main findings of the study, incorporating the online survey, focus groups, and interviews grouped together by theme.

Table 1: Findings of study by theme

Study limitations

As acknowledged by the authors, the sample self-selected and hence may not be representative of the NEIC population. As only adults took part in the survey, the views of children under 18 are unknown. Participants in focus groups and interviews self-selected or were put forward by their organisation. Qualitative interviews involved only male participants. The survey was carried out online, hence access to the internet and being able to work online would have been necessary to participate.


When dealing with DRI, five guidelines were put forward for consideration:

  • 1 DRI is multifaceted. Hence, interventions need to consider what aspect of the issues is being targeted.
  • 2 There is recognition that interventions are not neutral. Hence, the impact of the interventions must be considered to ensure that they do not unintentionally result in increased risk.
  • 3 For an intervention to be successful, the community must be invested in its success and therefore needs to be placed at the centre of it.
  • 4 Interventions need to be local and tailored to that specific location to increase buy-in from that community.
  • 5 It is important to manage not solve, as there is no ‘quick fix’ solution to DRI. As long as illicit drug markets exist, violence and intimidation will be associated with resolving problems.


Recommendations by the authors focused on interventions, which were categorised into two areas:

  • Community-level interventions: These interventions need to be implemented within the NEIC community. For example, training on DRI; information packs on responding to DRI; increased awareness of NDRIRP; empowering local residents to address DRI; and support policing in the local community. The DRII can action some of these without additional resourcing. However, other interventions will need more resourcing and commitment to implement.
  • Policy-level interventions: These interventions are beyond the remit of community operations and policies will need to be progressed at a national level. For example, areas to be explored include:

- The current regulatory framework controlling drugs needs to be examined to assess whether it is fit for purpose or whether more regulation is needed to control supply.

- Interventions are needed to target young people at risk, with the aim of preventing or delaying entry into the drug market.

- DRI affects marginalised communities the most. Policymakers therefore need to determine whether existing systems support those that experience challenges such as poverty, stigma, or lack of opportunity.


The work that went into the report was commended by Minister for Finance, Pascal Donohue TD. While Minister Donohoe acknowledged the importance of involving leadership and interagency partnership, he emphasised that the voices of the local community who are facing intimidation were needed to inform how to tackle the problem.
In agreement, Tom Duffin, CEO of ALDP, reiterated how DRI impacted on communities along with the complexity of the problem:

It’s easy to think of drug-related intimidation as a purely transactional issue – people get into debt from drug use and then experience intimidation as suppliers seek to recover their money. However, what this work shows is that drug-related intimidation is more complex than this; and that in reality, even living in a location where dealing takes place can be sufficient for a person to become a target of intimidation. The sad truth is that many people do not feel safe in their communities, and this is something that we should all have an interest in addressing.2


1 McCreery S, Keane M and Bowden M (2021) Debts, threats, distress and hope: towards understanding drug-related intimidation in Dublin’s north east inner city. Dublin: Ana Liffey Drug Project.  https://www.drugsandalcohol.ie/33682/  

2 Ana Liffey Drug Project (2021) Report highlights need to work together to address drug-related intimidation [Press release]. Dublin: Ana Liffey Drug Project. Available online at:

Item Type
Publication Type
Irish-related, Open Access, Article
Drug Type
Substances (not alcohol/tobacco)
Intervention Type
Harm reduction, Crime prevention
Issue Title
Issue 77, Spring 2021
June 2021
Page Range
pp. 26-29
Health Research Board
Issue 77, Spring 2021

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