Mayor of Drogheda Paul Bell says it feels like the eyes of the world will be on Drogheda tomorrow as the Standing Together rally takes place in wake of the recent escalation of violence in the town, culminating in the brutal murder of local teenager Keane Mulready-Woods.
Mayor Bell, who organised the rally, says that the stance the people of Drogheda take tomorrow is one not only for the town or the county but for the country as a whole. Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has confirmed his attendance, while Sinn Fein leader Mary Lou McDonald and Labour’s Brendan Howlin will also take part. Fianna Fail will be represented by Justice spokesperson Jim O’Callaghan.
While the Taoiseach has said he wants to ensure his presence does not politicise the event with the general election just two weeks away, Mayor Bell said it is imperative that the various party leaders attend in the role as legislators.
Speaking to LouthNow.ie on Friday, he said; “The citizens of Drogheda cannot rectify this ongoing issue of criminality by themselves. The leaders of the various parties and the Taoiseach have been invited to Drogheda to hear first hand how, as legislators, what the people need going forward.
“They are not invited as political entities, they are invited here as legislators and as leaders of their respective parties.” Mayor Bell said the Department of An Taoiseach were still ironing out details of his participation on Friday.
At this point, it is difficult to say how many people will take to the streets in Drogheda on Saturday. Participants are asked to gather on the Bridge of Peace at 1.30pm for a 2pm march to St Peter’s Church on West Street where speakers, including Jackie McKenna from the Family Addiction Support Network, will address the rally. When asked about what kind of attendance he was expecting Mayor Bell said, “I don’t know – it could be 200 or 20,000.”
He says communities around Drogheda are under siege and are experiencing a ‘terror fatigue’, a breaking point where they themselves will make a forceful statement against the violence that seems to have permanently darkened the winter skies above Drogheda.
“There’s a lot of communities here that feel they are under siege with criminal activity,” the Labour councillor said. “Also, the violence has escalated, levels of intimidation have escalated. The feud itself, as we know it, the groups involved in that have gone beyond the threshold of decency as far as I’m concerned.
“People feel there is a need for some kind of change. They are very clear they want change. They believe the way to express that is through this standing together event. It’s as simple as that.
“Tomorrow, we feel the eyes of the world will be on us because it’s not just about Drogheda, it’s not just about county Louth but the country. This issue we’re facing is ongoing in other parts of the country. Today it is us, tomorrow it could be somebody else. Before it was Limerick and north inner city Dublin.
Mayor Bell says he has received lots of support from people in Drogheda town and outside of it – as well as in neighbouring counties Meath, Cavan and Monaghan and from abroad, via social media.
He says that the march isn’t so much about appealing to the perpetrators of the violence in Drogheda but to those in power, and out of it, who can make a difference – namely legislators and recreational drug users who Bell believes are fuelling the drugs trade.
“Trying to appeal to the people involved seems to be very difficult. Before both myself and the Archbishop Michael Router made clear we were available to help mediate between the groups if that is what they wanted. That was never responded to”, he told LouthNow.ie.
“The message to the people involved in this is – there is a terror fatigue now, for what of a better term. We have two choices – we either put up with this or we confront this as a community. It’s not just a Gardai matter, it’s a community matter.
“There is a communication to two other groups too. One is the legislators. I think it is unfair to single out the government. People who are elected to the Dail after 2020 will be legislators, no matter whether they are government or opposition.
“The other group we want to communicate to is the so-called recreational drug user. We want to communicate that there is no such thing. There are people who take drugs and there are people who don’t take drugs. Those who are are drugs and buying drugs on the market are fuelling the illegal drug industry but they are also fuelling the misery of communities where this is a problem.”
The Mayor said he wants the term recreational drug user removed from the vocabulary of the country and he called for stricter penalties for people who are dabbling in recreational drugs. “At the end of the day if drugs are not purchased, there is no market.”
“People who take recreational drugs seem to think there is no knock on effect to other communities – normally poor communities or working class communities,” he continued.
Garda Chief Superintendent for Louth Christy Mangan spoke earlier in the week about the pervading sense of fear in Drogheda amongst people trying to live their everyday lives. When asked about whether safety can be guaranteed for those attending the rally on Saturday, Mangan assured the event would pass off peacefully and urged people to attend.
Mayor Bell echoed those sentiments.
“I understand there could be some degree of nervousness but An Garda Siochana have assured me this morning that they will have the appropriate resources in place to ensure a safe event from a personal security perspective and a traffic management perspective. I have every confidence that the Gardai will deliver on that.
“I do understand some people may be nervous, not even just for coming to the demonstration but they may live in some of the areas where the drug activity is ongoing. This criminality can only be defeated by a multi-agency approach which includes the Gardai but also the community.
Mayor Bell believes part of that solution will be providing better supports for poorer communities and young people. “We have to invest in young people, not just in Drogheda but right around the country.”
The rally begins at 1.30pm on the Bridge of Peace, where members of the peace movement north and south of the border met at the height of the troubles, and where Mayor Bell hopes people from across Drogheda can come to together and once again call for meaningful action.
“The people of Drogheda are demanding change on behalf of the people of Ireland.”
Don’t miss out. Subscribe to the Wee County Weekly today.
Fianna Fail councillor and general election candidate James Byrne says tomorrow’s rally is an opportunity for people in Drogheda to say “this is not our town, this is not who we are, and we will not put up with it.”
“We will not allow criminals to create a culture of fear for the ordinary people of Drogheda who deserve to go about their daily lives in peace and safety,” Cllr Byrne said.
“Too many communities in Louth, Meath, Dublin and across the North East are genuinely fearful of the escalation in crime, vandalism, burglaries, blatant drug dealing and open drug use.
“We have seen a casualisation of drug use seeping into society, while at the same time as supports and resources are pulled from the gardaí. Two weeks in to 2020, we saw an innocent taxi man shot in Drogheda while doing his job, and the appalling murder of Keane Mulready-Woods.
“People are worried for their children. They are thinking twice about their safety when heading out to work or to the shops or to walk their dog.
Cllr Byrne said an increase in Garda resources was a must if there was to be meaningful results in fighting the violent crime in the town, as well as dealing with day-to-day policing. He said that Chief Superintendents should be given autonomy to use as evidence a belief that someone is involved in gangland crime – rather than use vital resources in an attempt to reach the high evidential bar.
“As a start, we need to increase garda numbers and supports for specialised garda units. We also need extraordinary new laws to deal with what has become an extraordinary situation,” he said. “We need laws similar those that were brought in to deal with the Provisional IRA, so that when a Chief Superintendent believes someone is involved in gangland crime, this belief can be used as evidence in court.
“We also need new laws that will severely punish those who buy drugs from children and those who use minors as cogs in their drug distribution network. We need drug education programmes, increased finding for drugs taskforces and extra garda resources for key areas at risk, like Drogheda.”
Major traffic restrictions will be in place in Drogheda tomorrow for the Standing Together rally. Read about it here.