Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees
Thursday, 9 July 2015
Joint Oireachtas Committee on Health and Children
National Drugs Strategy: Minister of State at the Department of Health
I strongly support the joint sitting of the Joint Committee on Health and Children and the Joint Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality. I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Ó Ríordáin and I have always supported the principle of having a Minister directly responsible for the drugs issue. I feel strongly that we need somebody in politics, a political director, to pull all the different agencies together. I also firmly believe we need somebody outside the political sphere that will pull everybody together and deal with the day-to-day issues. The Minister of State who is focused on the drugs issues has responsibility for asylum and other issues. We need to ensure we have a strong national director who will push the Departments and the services every single day of the week.
We have been discussing the drugs crisis but we have not put enough emphasis on the reasons young people take drugs. When one sits down with young people to observe and talk to them - in a previous day job I worked with young people - about the reason they took drugs, they will say it is for the buzz, to deal with anxiety, low self esteem, lack of love and affection in their personal and family life. Many of them come from very dysfunctional families where there was a lot of violence and aggression. The constant theme of these young people is the constant pain in their lives. As part of any strategy, we have to deal with theses issues to prevent those people going down the drugs route. One needs to get in early.
The Minister of State mentioned that we have 9,800 people on the methadone treatment programme. It is great that these people are in a programme and I welcome that, but do we have numbers for those outside the system? To deal with a major national problem we need accurate information on the numbers.
We need to address the impact of drugs on communities. At present the Joint Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality is doing a report on gangland crime and the widespread intimidation that goes on in some communities. We have dealt with horrific stories. We need to focus on the completely innocent victims of these drug gangs who live in the community and make life a living hell and total nightmare for others. We need to look at the impact of drug gangs as part of the overall response.
I was a member of the delegation that accompanied the Chairman of the Joint Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality, Deputy David Stanton to Portugal to learn about their approach to drugs. We got a very good insight into the problem. We saw at first hand the alternative approach to the aftercare and social integration of drug addicts. I think we should examine their model seriously as an option. From the political perspective I was also fascinated that Portugal has decriminalised drug use. The Minister of State referred to the forthcoming debate on decriminalisation and legalisation of drugs because it will frighten the bunnies and will be open to public opinion.
In Portugal there was all party agreement to do this and it was totally under the radar of public opinion.