Cllr Tony Flaherty has told the Leader he stands by comments attributed to him in a Sunday newspaper article on the issue of heroin in Longford, but stated the article was overtly negative and over-the-top.
The four-page article by Longford-native Peter Geoghegan in the Sunday Business Post’s magazine entitled, “The Dark Heart of Ireland” has angered local representatives because of its bleak portrayal of heroin usage in the town. Longford, it reads, is “struggling to deal with an epidemic that has brought crime and addiction to the streets.”
Cllr Flaherty is one of the most revealing of interviewees in the piece, divulging that after highlighting the influx of drugs to Longford in 1997 he was led to a house where he was threatened at knife-point by drug dealers.
The paper quotes Flaherty as saying: “The ringleader had a knife in his hand. He told me what he’d do to me if I didn’t shut up about drugs in Longford.” When pushed on the matter by the Leader, he said he did not want to elaborate on the situation, saying he believed he was talking off the record.
“It may be 15 years down the road but it’s still very close to the bone. That matter was reported to the Gardaí and there was an investigation at the time. It’s something I don’t like talking about as some of those people are still around the town,” the Fianna Fail councillor said.
Another statement attributed to Cllr Flaherty in the piece states that heroin and cocaine can be bought as easy on the street as cigarettes in a shop. However, Flaherty told the Leader he was relaying information told to him by others, and was not a direct quote.
“We know there is a drug problem in Longford but there is work ongoing on that with limited resources. When I went for the interview I was there to talk about the Drug Awareness Forum we were staging and other things that were being done to help address the situation but none of that made the article,” Cllr Flaherty said.
The mayors of both Longford Town and County Council have expressed their disappointment at the tone of the article. “I’m not naïve, Longford has a problem with drugs like many other towns but reading this article you would imagine Longford was the worst in the country,” County Mayor Cllr Sean Farrell told the Leader on Monday.
Cllr Farrell said the sum of the individual points in the article was a terrible indictment of the town. “I think it was a self-serving article that has done damage; I just hope it’s not permanent. At one point the author makes reference to a burned out house in an estate and in the next he’s talking about the burned out Cathedral as if you could get some sort of inference between the two.”
Town Mayor Cllr Peggy Nolan described the article as a “devastating blow” to the hard work being carried out to improve the town’s image. “I do not think that article reflects reality. We hold regular meetings with the Gardaí and they are working on the situation with limited resources.
“The Sunday Business Post is read by entrepreneurs and business people and anyone reading that article would be put off investing in Longford, and that is worrying because it does not reflect the real situation,” she said.