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?