Wednesday, 11 December 2019
Misuse of Drugs (Amendment) Bill 2019: Second Stage [Private Members]
I welcome the opportunity to discuss Ireland's approach to drugs both publicly and politically and how that it is reflected in policy. I have worked in addiction centres across Dublin for many years, including in my area of Clondalkin, where I worked for the Clondalkin Addiction Support Programme. I have years of real-life experience working with people across the spectrum of addiction, from those living chaotic lives to those who have abstained for years and everyone in between. One of my most challenging but rewarding roles was working with a group of under-18s in the Inchicore area who had fallen through the cracks of society. These young men had been excluded from schools and youth clubs and were very vulnerable. Anyone who has worked with under-18s knows that a person would be rebuked - that is the polite term - for calling them vulnerable but that is exactly what they are. They are very vulnerable.
Drug use and drug selling by young people from disadvantaged areas is not a new phenomenon. However, speaking as a director of the Clondalkin drug and alcohol task force, there has been a spike in such activity over the last 18 months. Young people are being targeted by older, experienced drug dealers to sell and deliver drugs. Children are being groomed by unscrupulous drug dealers and are attracted by the flashy cars, the new runners, the few bob in their pockets and the status of being considered a so-called somebody. We need to examine the underlying issues to know what makes this lifestyle attractive to them. Poverty and lack of opportunities are always top of the list in my conversations, not only with the young people in question, but also with the services needed to support them. As legislators, we need to look at the causes and effects. We need to be proactive rather than reactive and target these young people before they end up in the hands of drug dealers.
Years of underinvestment in our communities by successive Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil Governments, including in the local drug task forces, has left many areas bankrupt of the resources needed to tackle these issues. For example, Clondalkin and Lucan do not have a specific programme for drug users who are under 18, although such a service will be provided this year as part of the Clondalkin drug and alcohol task force's strategic plan. This is not due to new moneys or funding but because the current task force budget, which has been cut year on year, has been restructured. In order to introduce a new service, a previously funded service will have to lose out. These are the kind of arduous decisions task forces across this country have to make. The failure to properly fund the local drug and alcohol task forces demonstrates the Government's indifference to the damage and devastation drugs cause to families and communities. The crisis facing communities across Ireland because of the illicit drug trade manifests itself in many parts of Dublin Mid-West. There is open drug dealing, children are being used as drug mules and couriers and there has been an increase in intimidation due to alleged drug debts or increased personal debts. Enormous pressure is being put, yet again, on our under-resourced community organisations.
This legislation may have unintended consequences. For example, what would happen to a child who sold drugs to another child? While children are vulnerable, so too are drug users. It would more productive to direct drug users into treatment and rehabilitation programmes rather than the judicial services. I welcome this Bill and will be interested to see how it can be improved on Committee Stage. In this trio of child, drug user and drug dealer, only one group is not vulnerable, and that is the dealer who puts drugs into the child's hands. Those who engage in grooming vulnerable children to sell and deliver drugs must be prosecuted to the highest degree.