Friday 26 December 2014

The simple appeal made on pulpit: Deliver us from evil

FIGHTING BACK: After a series of tragic funerals, 50 people were expected to attend a town's anti-drugs meeting. Instead, 714 turned up in a show of unity

Published 26/07/2014 | 02:30

Roscrea Parish Priest Fr Tom Corbett. Photograph : Fergal Shanahan
Roscrea Parish Priest Fr Tom Corbett. Photograph: Fergal Shanahan
Derek Russell at his home in Roscrea, Co. Tipperary. Photograph : Fergal Shanahan
Roscrea Main Street during the protest march against drugs

FATHER Tom Corbett's flock might have been taken aback when he pondered aloud a phrase that is said during Mass.

Reciting the line, "Deliver us Lord from every evil" after the Our Father, Fr Tom paused before asking his congregation if there was an evil in their midst, why were they so distressed and was there anything they could do about it.

Though his question might have been unexpected, no one was in any doubt what he meant.

The parish priest of Roscrea in Co Tipperary said he was compelled to do this, following a series of recent events in the town that has exposed its drug culture. There were particular concerns about the vulnerability of some of its young people following a number of suicides that have been linked to drugs. Local people say it's very easy to access heroin and cocaine.

The situation has come to a head lately, prompting a group of locals to protest outside the local garda station.

On Monday night a public meeting will be reconvened at Colaiste Phobail that will be attended by senior gardai, representatives from the Health Service Executive (HSE), concerned parents, sports clubs, the clergy and other interest groups.

Organisers of a previous meeting last Monday night, expected around 50 people.

Instead, 714 turned up. "Some of the sadnesses of our community are related to drugs," Fr Corbett said. "That isn't to say there aren't other reasons also. One thing that is clear in Roscrea, sadly, is people feel they have no future to look forward to. Jobs are hard to come by and the economy isn't great. But there is equally a strong feeling here in Roscrea that the drug problem is quite significant and bigger than in other towns and that anyone can get them quite easily."

Although he doesn't know the names himself, he says the dealers' names seem to be widely known and there was a perception they were putting pressure on people to pay money they owed that they couldn't afford.

"We've had a number of very sad funerals of young men who died by their own hand and it's very hard on the community.

"There's a feeling of downness and a perception in the town that some of our sadnesses are related to the availability of drugs."

When Fr Corbett came to Roscrea nine years ago, a new leisure centre was just being completed and there was more going on.

The closure of a number of businesses, he says, has added to the low and the lack of energy he can feel in people.

There also has been a worrying development of vigilantism in the town where the names of those thought to be dealing were exposed by graffiti last Sunday.

Father-of-one Derek Russell who organised the public meeting wanted to distance himself from this development and said it was not related to the meetings.

"That's not the way forward. We want to go through the proper channels and get all the organisations working together," he said.

"Everyone just needs to pull together and see if we can we find a way forward.

"It's easy to blame the gardai but it's up to us to help them.

"We're not going to eradicate the problem of drink and drugs but it's to stop them getting at 12-year-olds, maybe through education through the schools."

Suicide prevention agency Pieta House opened a branch in Roscrea a year ago, following a local fundraising campaign to bring it to the town.

Its founder Joan Freeman said she had nothing but admiration for the people in the area and what they were trying to achieve.

When it came, public psychiatric services for the area had been cut to half a day per week and there was a waiting list of over 60 people seeking services. Pieta House now offers its counselling services six days a week.

"Roscrea seemed to be a town where all services were being withdrawn and it was a town that was very much overlooked.

"In fairness to the community, they took it upon themselves to do something about it and they approached us.

"It seems to me now the same thing is happening and they're taking ownership of it and responsibility for it," she said.

Pieta House, Roscrea 0505-22568; The Samaritans 116123

Irish Independent

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