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Column: Those caught up in drugs trade deserve what they get? Tell that to Geraldine Noonan

This week,’s regular columnist Lisa McInerney wonders why so many young people are naive enough to deal drugs – and why we presume that they are ‘up’ for the penalties…

Lisa McInerney

ONCE UPON A hazy memory, I was at the after party of a gig organised by a young club promoter. We ended up sitting together, chatting about the local late night scene (not as healthy as it could have been), the direction clubbing was going in (back underground), and the lively punters who’d followed the after party.

There was one young man sitting just out of earshot. He took out a wrap of cocaine, opened it up, and set to work carving himself out a little treat.

This was new to me. Not the exposure to drugs – most of my contemporaries have come into contact with Class As through their social shenanigans – but the lackadaisical attitude this guy was taking towards his privacy.

“Well, he’s not worried about being gasped at, or sponged from,” I said to the promoter, and he replied, in a hushed tone, that the lad was acting out, on the nihilistic end of devil-may-care. The gardaí had just caught him with a substantial quantity of drugs.

“A last party before prison?” I asked.

But it wasn’t the threat of the custodial sentence that was making this lad so careless. It was the threat of retribution from the people who owned the drugs he’d been caught with. He figured he couldn’t possibly get into any more trouble, so caution was cast to the wind. “He’ll probably have to go abroad for a while, lie low,” said the promoter, “or this’ll be his last party.”

Mandatory exile sounds like a walk in the park in comparison to a prison sentence, or a short trip up the mountains with a hitman. Having to take an extended leave of absence from your loved ones is not really comparable to the fate of Ciarán Noonan, who was recently abducted from East Wall after accruing drug debts (despite his mother Geraldine’s heartbreaking plea for his safe return, Noonan’s body was formally identified yesterday).

Still, it’s a miserable state to be stuck in. The obvious retort is “Live by the sword, die by the sword”, but that’s a mantra only appropriate to chances grabbed by a foolhardy warrior, not some apathetic eejit who thinks he can do a few errands for illicit merchants without repercussion.

The ones who really make money in the drugs trade are the ones who never get their hands dirty

The majority of young Irish who get involved in the drug trade aren’t calculating psychos with high pain thresholds and a hankering for the champagne lifestyle. They’re men and women clever enough to spot an opportunity for easy money, but too stupid to realise that the ones really making the money are the ones who never get their hands dirty. They’re feckless nobodies with nothing else to do. They’re easily seduced, easily cowed, easy targets. The technical term would be “gobshites”. And they’re the locals who suffer most for the first world’s love affair with illegal drugs.

You’d wonder how anyone could be so naive as to get involved in the trade to begin with. The money’s handy, yes, but the risks are enormous. A young professional who is caught with a small amount of cocaine or MDMA or cannabis will face certain consequences, of course, but nothing in comparison to what their supplier will face. And in so many cases, that supplier will be some foolish youngster who, through general lack of opportunity or the need to fund his own habit, thought he had nothing to lose.

The Irish justice system is not understanding of dealers’ personal addictions or entrepreneurial ambitions. The judge won’t care how many mortgage payments you’d missed before taking the job, how many sick mothers you’ve got. And that’s the tempered end of the side effects; however stern the law may be, the wrath of the criminal hierarchy is a hell of a lot worse. If you mess up a collection, or a deal, or any errand at all, you better have a clean passport and a unremarkable face.

There’s too much at stake in the drugs trade for making excuses and allowances. For a mere sliver of the real profits, it’s just not worth it.

We tell each other that Ireland is better off without them

It would be ludicrous to suggest that those who get involved on the lower end of the scale are helpless innocents, of course. But we still must ask, if the risks of getting involved in organised crime are so great, why are people still choosing to take that chance? Are whole chunks of our communities so lacking in respect for themselves that they’ll sacrifice personal peace to buy a cheap gun and pretend they’re in The Wire? Have we raised a generation of mercenaries?

Ignoring the fact that we have a section of the population marginalised enough to think dealing’s a viable option, or who will look for status in the stupidest of places, is probably the easiest option. But the reality is that where there is a demand for drugs, there’ll be a demand for drug dealers, and where there are people spun loose from society, there’ll be a criminal “underclass”. There’s a certain glamorisation of crime in Ireland, helped along by tabloids giving impressive nicknames to petty thugs and our folksy rebelliousness in choosing our heroes. The problem with this carry-on isn’t that it’s tricking vulnerable young lads into a life of insalubrious risk-taking; it’s that the rest of us now think that anyone who’s mired themselves in that lifestyle is ready for the penalties.

So we scoff, those of us who don’t take stupid risks, at heartbroken mothers like Geraldine Noonan, who plead for the lives of their missing sons.

We tell each other that Ireland is better off without them.

Ireland’s crime-related challenges cannot be resolved through encouraging peer-to-peer vigilantism. And anyone who thinks it does is either in no danger of getting caught in the crossfire, or has never seen a young man, lost as to what he’s supposed to do next, cutting a grim figure at someone else’s after-party.

Read previous Lisa McInerney columns>

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About the author:

Lisa McInerney

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