The Kinsale 7s rugby event has been in the news a lot lately – for all the wrong reasons. The festival, which has been linked to several recent cocaine court cases, is returning this May. Adrienne Acton spoke to some of those involved about keeping the popular weekend alive
SINCE 1988 the Kinsale 7s rugby festival has welcomed teams and visitors from all over Ireland – and indeed from all over the world.
Whether it was Mick Galwey, Peter Clohessy or Terry Kingston togging out for the local team, or a host of international rugby heroes, the pitch at Snugmore Kinsale has provided musical entertainment, great food and great craic, while the men and women battled it out on the pitches for our entertainment. Following on from Keith Floyd’s Vikings, the teams began to wear more colourful and daring kits, to everyone’s amusement. Watching one team scrum dressed as nuns had to be seen to be believed.
As with most large gatherings, there is always the inevitable amount of litter, messing and overindulgence, but unfortunately, as with most areas in West Cork, the use and supply of cocaine has begun to infiltrate what was once considered a great weekend of fairly innocent sporting entertainment.
In 2019 29 people were arrested during the event. A number of these arrests were for cocaine possession. These cases have been coming before Judge James McNulty in Bandon and Clonakilty courts over the last few months.
At one sitting, Judge McNulty reminded those buying cocaine that these ‘young professionals’ were funding a ‘murderous business’.
The cases were before the courts when the high-profile case of a young Louth man’s dismemberment over a drugs issue was in the media.
Judge McNulty ordered one business graduate to donate €1,000 to a drugs rehabilitation centre because he was contributing to a ‘grubby trade’.
And now he has asked the organisers to provide him with a very clear plan of how they are going to publicise a zero tolerance policy regarding drugs, at the upcoming event in May. Since these arrests the gardaí, local businesses in Kinsale and the rugby club have said that they have had honest and open conversations around this issue and are tackling the problem head-on.
In a statement, Kinsale Rugby Club said: ‘The club are constantly working on improving and fine-tuning this well-run sporting festival. We are acutely aware of the national and international rise in cocaine use. Unfortunately, this always occurs when the economy is performing well. We are aware of the large number of undercover gardaí at the event and this is why the detection of illegal substances was up [in 2019]. We work in tandem with the gardaí and meet them regularly to see how we can make the event better for everyone. We welcome the judge’s stance on possession and supply and look forward to an even better event this coming May.’
Local councillor and restauranteur Marie O’Sullivan said she welcomed the judge’s statement on zero tolerance. ‘It is vital for our hardworking gardaí to have this back-up during these annual events, as they work in conjunction with the local rugby club to ensure that the local community is not affected adversely by this competition.’
She said the event brings a welcome boost to the economy each year. ‘But, as we see everywhere, our society is constantly evolving and organisations need to evolve with the times and change the goalposts accordingly, to suit both the needs of the locals and the visitors, thus enabling these events to continue.’
The councillor said that she also feels strongly that the local community must work together ‘to clean up our streets so we all have to report anything suspicious we see in our localities and take responsibility ourselves for the area we live in’.
This sentiment was echoed by Michael Frawley of The White House, Hal McElroy of The Trident Hotel and Cllr Kevin Murphy who each agreed that cocaine is not welcome in their town.
One publican admitted that the old trick of putting WD40 or white pepper on the cisterns to discourage cocaine use is no longer working, as users now have smart phones off which they can snort the drug. Most of the buyers of cocaine at the event are first-time users or ‘experimenters’, another publican suggested, so can be sold ‘anything’ and are putting their health at even greater risk. This is why plainclothes gardaí are so important at the event, he added.
Fianna Fáil TD Christopher O’Sullivan noted that the event is one of the key events in the region. ‘It benefits the local economy and it should promote a healthy lifestyle,’ he said. ‘I’ve attended the Kinsale 7s event on several occasions. It’s a wonderful celebration of sevens rugby, attracting male and female teams from across the globe. The future of the event must be protected.’
But he also noted that the use of illegal drugs is an escalating problem in West Cork. ‘There are several approaches we need to take to tackle the problem. At present the gardaí don’t have the authority to search without suspicion. Perhaps this needs to change.’
In a statement, main sponsors Heineken said they were working with the event organisers and gardaí to ensure that the event is ‘safe, secure and well managed for the public and tournament participants’.
Insp Brian Murphy of Bandon gardaí praised the collaborate efforts of the Kinsale Business Association, Kinsale Rugby Club and the HSE for their assistance and co-operation in making sure that the event was safely run.
‘It is a very well run event,’ he said but reminded the public about Judge McNulty’s ‘ABC’ comment, referring to ‘accountability, boundaries and consequences’.
‘People need to have a full understanding of the social implications’ Insp Murphy said. ‘Anyone taking illegal substances is taking a huge risk with their health. There is no quality control, it is unknown what mixing agents are used, or how the product is produced or stored.’
He said there would also be a zero tolerance approach to any underage drinking in the town during the weekend.
This year’s Heineken Rugby 7s takes place on May 2nd and 3rd – the May bank holiday weekend.