Wednesday, 11 December 2019
Misuse of Drugs (Amendment) Bill 2019: Second Stage [Private Members]
I also compliment my colleague, Deputy Curran, for bringing forward this legislation to tackle the use of children in the distribution of drugs. As my colleague said, we are open to working with the Government and other Members on any constructive amendments they might suggest.
The scourge of drugs in modern-day life and society and its far-reaching effects on families, communities and everyday life cannot be overestimated. Susan Collins, the managing director of Addiction Response Crumlin, has said the availability and accessibility of substances have changed with the advent of technology. The drugs issue is now more complicated. More drugs are available. They are on the Internet and on street corners. Drugs can be delivered to people's homes. There are so many different ways in which drugs can be purchased. Unfortunately, this is where young people, our children, come into this. The use of minors in drug distribution networks is appealing because, due to their age, there are fewer criminal consequences if they are caught. The Bill seeks to change this and in doing so make it less attractive for those higher up the distribution chain to use young people in this manner.
The Bill creates two new criminal offences. If it is passed, it will become a criminal offence to purchase drugs from a person under the age of 18. It is hoped this will make drug purchasers less inclined to purchase from minors and that those higher up the chain will in turn be less inclined to use young people in the distribution network. The Bill also creates a new offence of causing a child to be in possession of drugs for sale or supply. It is hoped the combined effect of these two new offences will be to protect young people from getting involved in the drug economy. The promise of a lucrative lifestyle tends to prove irresistible for these teenagers. Supplying and dealing drugs in return for quick cash is easy when in their minds there is little or no sanction for getting caught with quantities of class A drugs. Young generations may not necessarily be aware that a criminal conviction for drug offences can have a major impact on a person's future prospects, including when it comes to future employment or travel.
A study of drug dealing and organised crime in Dublin's south inner city has found that children as young as 12 years of age are being induced into gangs. I believe, however, that this is happening not only in Dublin but all over the country. As my colleague, Deputy Cahill, said, drug dealing is not just confined to cities; it is everywhere, in every town and village in the country. The report, entitled Building Community Resilience: Responding to Criminal and Anti-Social Behaviour Networks Across Dublin South Central, identified two large criminal organisations with approximately 100 members between them. It outlines responses to community-based organised crime, including increases in the number of outreach workers and community gardaí. The report was carried out by Dr. Johnny Connolly from the University of Limerick centre for crime, justice and victim studies. Speaking on "Morning Ireland" today, he said the vast majority of people in communities where gangs operate want to live safe and normal lives but are disengaging from the policing and criminal justice system due to fear and a belief that the system is not bringing solutions to their problems.
There is a growing sense that the Government is losing the battle against illegal drugs. People now regularly complain of a lack of gardaí on our streets, the easy tolerance of drug abuse, the open selling of drugs, including transactions on our streets and on public transport, and people injecting in plain sight. The use of cocaine is up 30%. Cocaine use in Ireland is now the third highest in Europe. The response to date of the State and the Government, notwithstanding the good work of gardaí, is not at a scale or comprehensive enough to deal with what we face.
As I said at the start of my contribution, the issue of drugs is getting more complicated all the time. Drugs are a reality. Because the crisis is so prevalent, nine former Ministers who have held responsibility for the national drugs strategy came together recently and called on the Taoiseach to intervene to restore confidence in the strategy. Figures published recently show that the most significant increases in recorded drug crime nationally are outside Dublin, leading to warnings that the country is undergoing a drugs boom, most of it centred on regional towns and cities. In Waterford, my constituency, possession and intent to supply offences have risen by one third in the past year, which is a very worrying trend. Recently, 30 publicans who have premises in Waterford gathered in a co-working space for a masterclass on drugs, such is the seriousness of the situation. Publicans are operating a zero-tolerance approach but, unfortunately, there is no typical drug user. That is what we have learned. An increased Garda presence on the streets and high levels of engagement between the force, the community and business owners are crucial in tackling the issue. Much good work is being done by the Garda but it is rowing against the tide as the problem continues to grow at an alarming rate.