A Co Armagh mum has spoken of her shock and disgust after her 11-year-old son was offered drugs on his way home from school last Thursday.
The mum, who did not want to be named, said her son – a Year 8 pupil – was stopped within minutes of leaving school in Keady, and offered cannabis.
The woman also claims she is in the process of moving her family out of the town because of behaviour like this.
“It was just before 3.30pm on Thursday,” the angry mother explained to Armagh I. “My son was on his way down Madden Row towards the monument after leaving school when he was approached.
“He was quizzed by a number of other older boys. He was asked who he was, where he was from and where he lived. Out of fear he answered the questions.
“One of them, who said he only lives around the corner from us, said he’d come up to the house and sell him the weed too, if he wanted.”
Her son politely refused the drugs and walked on, but all the while wasn’t entirely sure if he was being followed back or not.
She continued: “He wasn’t sure if the boys followed him or if they were headed in the same direction. He was shook up when he got back to the house and I completely understood why, once he told me what happened.
“My child has been bullied and intimidated by other local children and he is not alone on receiving this behaviour. After being told this I have decided to move my family out of the town, so hopefully we’ll be away from it all in a few weeks time.
“It’s not strangers doing this in the town, its local people,” she added.
The incident was reported to police.
“After speaking to a few other parents I have been told that this is not the first incident of this kind in the last few weeks, but the police have told me that no one else has reported it.
“I for one do not want my 11-year-old son being offered drugs by anyone, let alone people living on our doorstep.”
She stressed: “It’s not strangers doing this, it’s kids who have grown up from birth in Keady, whose parents grew up in Keady. It’s locals who are damaging their own community and people are so quick to blame outsiders.
“I do not want my son growing up in this environment. I am aware that drugs are everywhere but I will do my best to protect him for as long as I can and if that means leaving my home then that is the choice I have to make.”
Keady Sinn Fein councillor Darren McNally says the availability of drugs to the young people in the Keady area has been a “huge concern for residents for some time”.
He said: “This issue was a hot topic of conversation at the recent public meeting in the town and some people were shocked to realise just how freely available they were.
“This community is crying out for help to tackle the problem before something bad happens, young people need to be made aware of the dangers associated with taking drugs. We have seen how tragedy has visited other areas recently because of drug taking; we don’t want anything like that to happen in our area.”
He added: “I believe that it will take a number of agencies working together to tackle this issue. Police have a huge roll to play, but local people have very little confidence in reporting crime to the police at this present time following a number of incidents in the town.
“The onus is now on the PSNI to regain the confidence of this community; they are aware of the problems faced by the people of Keady and they have to take those concerns on board and deploy their resources appropriately to tackle the real issues that are affecting people’s everyday lives, like drug dealing, anti-social behaviour and criminality.”
Fellow Keady councillor Thomas O’Hanlon said whilst this news is deeply concerning, it is unfortunately not a new occurrence.
“This latest incident is very concerning must be nipped in bud very quickly,” said the SDLP representative.
“Young people are not stupid, and in the vast majority of cases they would tell those peddling drugs to get stuffed. They know the harm drugs cause to the individual, the family and our society.”
He added: “A number of parents have raised the issue of the availability of drugs in the town and I plan to meet with police this week to press for firm action. This cannot be ignored nor can it be palmed off as a once off. It is happening far too often and it must be tackled.’
“During the PCSP’s meeting recently these issues, including the fact that drugs were being sold in broad daylight to young people by young people was raised with senior police officers. They are aware of the problem.
“Now the time for talking is over. The police must act in partnership with the community.”