The use of cocaine has become normalised and socially acceptable in pubs across the country according to a Clare County Councillor.
Councillor Alan O’Callaghan said the use of the drug is open, publicly visible and becoming as acceptable as smoking a cigarette.
The Fianna Fáil East Clare councillor raised the issue before the Joint Policing Committee in the county on Monday.
Speaking to Newstalk Breakfast this morning, Mr O’Callaghan - who owns a pub in Sixmilebridge near the Limerick border - said the issue has been highlighted to him a number of times in the weeks since the holiday season.
“There are drugs everywhere you go; rural, urban, no matter where you go there are drugs and drugs are easily got,” he said. “But my point here is that this is being done openly.”
“I have no problem with anyone taking drugs; if that is what they want to do and that is the life they want to go down that is fine but a lot of people I have been talking to don’t want it being done in their face.
Mr O’Callaghan mentioned one incident in a local pub where a man was seen snorting cocaine off the bar.
“People pulling out drugs like that, what kind if a precedent are you setting? Are you going to turn it into a kind of a fashionable thing to do? If that is the way these kinds of drugs are going it is going to be fairly serious.”
Pauline McKeown, chief executive of the Coolmine drug and alcohol treatment centre in Dublin said a “significant proportion” of people who avail of the centre’s services cite problematic cocaine as part and parcel of their drug use.
She said there is often a connection between alcohol abuse and the problematic use of cocaine and benzodiazepines.
She said of the approximately 400 people admitted to the centre in 2016, a third were experiencing difficulties with cocaine and benzodiazepine use linked to alcohol abuse.
“Certainly from our perspective cocaine would be a significant problematic drug of choice for people when it comes to addiction,” she said.
“Where it can lead to is very detrimental, in terms of mental health issues, in terms of family relationships, in terms of loss of employment and in terms of housing issues as well.”
She said staff at Coolmine work right at the coalface of Ireland’s drug addiction problem and would often see people who began using cocaine recreationally before the habit developed and became highly problematic.
She said the centre often cares for patients who have found themselves caught up in criminal activity in order to fund a drug habit – including users of cocaine.
Mr O'Callaghan said the normalisation of cocaine use in pubs and bars "has to be bad for business."
"There are regular customers coming in and they don’t want to see that kind of stuff in their face.”
He said any customer caught using drugs on his own premises would find themselves removed and barred - but admitted he would stop short of informing the gardaí.
“We will just have to try and monitor it as best we can and watch what is going on,” he said.