An estimated 4,000 people came out onto the streets of Drogheda this afternoon for the town’s Standing Together rally, held in solidarity and protest against the ongoing gang feud that currently grips the town.
Among those present were Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin, Sinn Fein President Mary Lou McDonald and Labour Brendan Howlin as well as a number of local TDs and councillors from the Borough District of Drogheda and across the county.
An increased Garda presence was noticeable throughout the town for the rally which was lead by An Taosiseach and Mayor Bell and moved from the Bridge of Peace to St Peter’s Church on West Street where speakers addressed the crowd. These included Louise Mahony from Drogheda’s Red Door Project and Jackie McKenna of the Family Addiciton Support Network.
It also included a local mother, Mary, who having initially declined an invitation to speak at the rally earlier this week, spoke at the end after a lengthy speech by Mayor Bell. In her address, Mary, urged parents to open lines of communication with their children.
“We have to empower our kids. We can’t wait for government or politicians. We need to talk to them and listen to them,” she said.
“Instead of us all standing down on West Street we should invite all of the young people to come and talk and we’ll stand back and listen. To listen to all of our teenagers.”
Speaking to the media before the rally began, the Taoiseach – who did not address the crowd in attendance on West Street – said, “We want these people out. We want them behind bars. We want people to know this is a great town and a great place to live.”
When challenged as to how he intended to end the feud in Drogheda and other similar situations elsewhere, Mr Varadkar said, “Absolutely, I can promise the people of Drogheda and people all over the country that there will be additional Garda recruited every year and there will be additional resources for the Gardai in terms of ICT and vehicles and all the support they need.
“We will continue to strengthen out laws and reform our courts and that we will put more resources into areas of disadvantage to try and tackle some of those underlying causes that can give rise to crime.”
Speeches on the steps of St Peter’s Church were interrupted on occasion by some hecklers from the crowd, with one female heard shouting, “All talk and no action in this town.”
Louise Mahony of’s Red Door Project addressed the crowd with a short speech which was met with loud cheers as she said that “the chickens have come home to roost” and Drogheda has “been treated as a second class town.”
Jackie McKenna compared the rise in drug related deaths in Ireland compared to the steep reduction in road related fatalities in the last 20 years .
“We are here to make not noise but to make a difference and to make change. That’s what we want,” Mayor Paul Bell said, while also thanking An Taoiseach and other party leaders for attending the rally. “Your attendance in Drogheda is a massive gesture of solidarity and gives massive confidence that our legislators will act having listened to the citizens of our historic town.
“We have gathered here today. As citizens and as a community to say to those involved in this murderous and ongoing feud that we are about the business of taking back our town from where you and your criminal activities have brought us to.
Mayor Bell said serious legislative change must be enacted to so as to allow the Gardai and the criminal justice system to succeed in their battle against criminals operating in Drogheda elsewhere. He also called for tougher penalties against recreational drug users, who he said fuel the drug trade and subsequently criminal gangs.
“The so called recreational drug user contributes to the misery and the pain felt in communities impact by serious criminality which accompanies the drug trade. Our legislators, in recognising this obvious connection, must adopt legislation which makes possession of quantity and taking of drugs a criminal offence. It is a criminal offence.
“Fellow citizens, we owe it to our children and to the future of our country to confront those practising criminality which undermines our citizens, our state, our right to happiness.
“Today is a special moment and one I am convinced change will be borne from.”