Illicit drug markets, systemic violence and victimisation


  • Johnny Connolly


illicit drug markets, systemic violence, intimidation, fear of reprisal, drug law enforcement, policing, ‘gangland’, hidden victimisation, drugs and crime, communities


A common theme that runs throughout much of the literature on drug markets, drug-related crime and also the impact of drug law enforcement is how limited our understanding of them is. In the absence of research and reliable evidence, certain ‘taken for granted’ assumptions or stereotypes have emerged to fill the gaps in knowledge. Journalistic and television exposés, present a Hobbesian spectacle of an inherently violent world populated by ‘evil drug dealers’. These representations have also influenced legislative responses, particularly since 1996. In the Republic of Ireland, following the murder of journalist Veronica Guerin, a plethora of new draconian laws were introduced. This led to a form of legislation by ‘moral panic’ particularly in response to drug-related crime. Prior to the mid-1990s, Northern Ireland had largely avoided the growth in heroin consumption of the type associated with Dublin since the 1980s. High levels of police and military security and the anti-drug stance of many paramilitary organisations had a suppression effect on the importation, distribution and consumption of serious drugs. The Good Friday Agreement of 1998 led to the dismantling of the state security apparatus and a reduction in police numbers. This period also marks the beginning of a period of increased drug consumption and the establishment of heroin hotspots in a number of urban areas.

Despite this increased policy attention, drug use in Ireland has been found to be associated with increased levels of systemic violence: fights over organisational and territorial issues; so-called ‘gangland’ murders; disputes over transactions or debt collection; and the intimidation of family members and the wider ‘host’ communities in which local drug markets tend to take hold. Much of this victimisation remains hidden as fear of reprisal from those involved with the drug trade and a lack of confidence in the criminal justice system discourages reporting. This article reviews recent research evidence in this area and examines the implications for future policy responses.