Donna Smith projected a mixture of anger, puzzlement and grief as she sat in the parlour of her small terraced house yesterday and spoke about the self-appointed vigilantes who earlier this year killed her son.
Does she know them? "Of course I do," the Londonderry housewife answered. "I know who they are. I've seen a few of them since they shot Andrew, seen them around the town.
"It's very, very hard for me – I just turn the other way because I'm so angry that I'm afraid of my own self."
Andrew, who was 24 and unemployed, was living across the border in Donegal with his partner when his mother got two phone calls in quick succession. The first was to say he'd been shot, the other to say he was dead.
The people who gunned Andrew down were not from the dissident republican groups who seek, through sporadic bombings, to revive the old campaign of violence. Instead they belong to RAAD – Republican Action Against Drugs – a number of former IRA members in Londonderry who have been attacking or threatening what they claim are drug dealers.
So far this year they have "kneecapped" five young men, ordered several more out of the city, and carried out one murder, that of Andrew, who they claimed was a major drug dealer.
Her son's fate baffles his mother. "He never had no contact with RAAD," she told i. "They're saying he was a drug dealer. He was was no angel but no way was he the big dealer that they're saying." RAAD, as she points out, "come from republican areas and there's a lot of people who won't go to the police because of that. At the same time I think they're afraid."
It is obvious that for nearly everyone in Derry, once a stronghold of the mainstream IRA, the war is now long over. But what is evident is a subterranean tolerance in some quarters for what is viewed as vigilante activity against drug pushers.
"There have been rallies against RAAD, but they haven't been well attended," said one republican ex-prisoner. "To be honest, there isn't a great public revulsion against them. Very often when somebody get shot you'll hear people saying, 'Well, he didn't get that for saying his prayers'."
This level of tolerance seems partly because Londonderry experienced decades of violence, and partly because a drug culture is a major feature of the lives of many of the city's young people.
Hugh Brady, a respected community worker, said yesterday: "Basically what you have here is a hangover from the troubles. And the community are more afraid of drugs than they are of any armed group – they're terrified of drugs taking a hold."
He argued that if the community were entirely against the violence of RAAD then more information would reach the police. Yet the clear-up rate for their crimes is just 4 per cent.
According to him and others, including the police, RAAD are separate from the dissident groups who have launched major bomb attacks in Londonderry and elsewhere in recent years. Instead, their primary purpose seems to be drugs-related. Faced with the reality that the police have had limited success in combating RAAD, Brady and a few others have developed a system of what they term "interventions" with RAAD.
In more than 100 cases, according to Brady, they have approached RAAD on behalf of young people who have been threatened with being shot. "Some of the discussions are hot and heavy, The police are aware of exactly what we do and at every stage we keep them informed," he said
He claimed that in most cases RAAD backed off when reassured, by the young men and their families, that they will stay away from drugs.Reuse content