The Anti-Drug Movement in Dublin

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This article was originally published in Concept, The Journal of Contemporary Community Education Practice Theory, Vol. 5 No. 1 Spring 2014

This article is based on a qualitative research study which I undertook in 2013 with activists, involved in the initial community response to the drug problems in Dublin. In the late 1970s and early 1980s particular working class areas of Dublin’s inner city developed a community drugs problem. A community drugs problem is characterised by a large number of people using drugs in a small area (Cullen, 1991). When the drug problem first presented itself in Dublin, it was concentrated in two main areas of the city, the Hardwick St flats on the North side, and St Theresa’s Gardens on the South side of the city. Initially, the problem began with heroin, which was killing working class children, as young as fourteen and fifteen. Families and whole communities were devastated by what later became known as ‘the heroin epidemic’. Over time the problem has become much worse and now involves poly drug use.

Initially, the people in the areas most affected by drug misuse tried to access help from the state, but soon realised they were not a high priority with state agencies. This realisation led to the formation of one of the most remarkable social movements in Ireland in recent history. The Concerned Parents Against Drugs (CPAD) in the 1980s and the Concerned Communities Against Drugs (COCAD) in the 1990s – essentially these were two phases of the same movement – set out to tackle a problem that nobody else was addressing. This mobilisation was a major achievement by a group of working class activists with limited education and almost no resources. It has been largely ignored in academic literature, and I think this is mainly because it was a working class movement, and class and social inequality have been lost sight of in mainstream social movement studies. This point is argued in depth by contributors in Barker et al. (2013).

I have lived in communities that are seriously affected by drugs problems. My interest in education as an adult grew from trying to understand and deal with a family drugs problem. I was interested in researching the beginning of the drugs problem, and finding out how long-term activists first got involved with the CPAD and COCAD and how they viewed the drug problem from their present perspective, and how their activism had changed over time. For all of my interviewees their involvement was ‘a massive learning process,’ as one of them put it. But did structured community education contribute anything to this? Could it have contributed more? And what lessons can be drawn for today?

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Consumerism and Equality

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The consumerism generated by capitalism throughout the  ‘Developed‘ or ‘Western’ World is a major obstacle to tackling climate change, the biggest problem facing mankind.  So the next question must be: why is capitalism still so widely accepted?   Why do workers in the ‘West’ vote overwhelmingly for pro-capitalist parties?

One of the less obvious features of capitalism is that by exponentially expanding its ‘free’ market into every corner of  life it puts a price on everything, and it thereby becomes a great social leveller: kings and lords, upper-class birthrights and privileges decline as possession of money, which by chance can be acquired by anyone, comes to measure everything.  As a result, other than the massive inequalities of money, we now live in a society with a level of personal equality that was unimaginable throughout  human history up to perhaps 40 years ago for gender, race, single mothers, LBGT, etc.  But crucially this equality drive of capitalism has always encouraged constantly growing agitation by workers for a just and equal economic share of their social production. They now see themselves as the social equals of their bosses, which causes desperate problems for capitalists.  Capitalism thereby lacks the acceptance of difference which earlier civilizations did, and which could last thousands of years in spite of vast degrees of inequality, class divisions, emperors, slavery, etc.

England’s history demonstrates this capitalist dilemma. In response to the rapidly growing agitation the capital-owning class must react, like any ruling class, in two ways: some groups are violently repressed and exploited; some are bribed to keep them loyal. Thus colonies were plundered by Imperialism to deliver ‘bribes’ to English workers (noted in England by Engels1 ) finally resulting in the compromise of social democracy.    For example while the famine was devastating Ireland massive amounts of food were exported under British army guard to Liverpool. Violence was used in the 1819  Peterloo massacre of protesters.  But when Chartist agitation for equality  grew towards 1850, this time instead of violence the Corn Laws were ended to allow imports of cheap food to quieten the agitation. It is clear that most wars fought during Hobsbawm‘s Age of Empire2  and continuing today were concerned with access to cheap labour,  food, raw materials, and later oil.  The home working class was comfortable enough to forgo  dangerous agitation, even gaining the vote over the years. But after 2 diverting world wars, which were much caused by imperial rivalry, in the 1970’s there arose further demands for economic equality by English workers (e.g. the miners strike) and also agitation by the colonies for their own liberty, for the equality of nations.  As there were no new colonies to invade Thatcher and others in the West had to find another source of wealth to answer this new agitation.

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Obstruct Reality, Consciously Manipulate, and Deny the Denial: Propaganda, Irish Style

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The conscious and intelligent manipulation of the organized habits and opinions of the masses is an important element in democratic society. Those who manipulate this unseen mechanism of society constitute an invisible government which is the true ruling power of our country.”

Ask the vast majority of people who said that and it is a fair bet they will probably reply something like: Josef Goebbels, or maybe Stalin perhaps, Saddam Hussein might even come up, maybe even Henry Kissinger, or maybe even, in a lucid moment, they might reply Rupert Murdoch, or for that matter Denis O Brien.  The truth is they would be wrong on all accounts. Although they would at least be relatively close with the last two or three.

But no, none of them said it, but it is a sure bet that all of the above names would understand the sentiment.

The quote is the first sentence from a 1928 book called Propaganda. The writer was Edward Bernays who many regard as the founder of modern public relations.  As a bold and declarative sentence it leaves you in no doubt what so ever as to the logic underlying the words.

That is, the masses can be first organised and manipulated and secondly, even more important, they must be if “democracy” as it is largely understood today is to fulfil its function in maintaining market-driven politics. The logic therefore is that “the people”, the great mainstay of democratic theory and thought or so we are told, cannot and should not be trusted.

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Long endowed with a potent resonance for French people, the year 1968 has, at this point, 40 years on, morphed into a brand. In spite of the tumultuous occurrences elsewhere in the world that year,…

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