Wednesday, 11 December 2019
Misuse of Drugs (Amendment) Bill 2019: Second Stage [Private Members]
I will start by commending Deputy John Curran on bringing forward this legislation. It is important legislation. I know Deputy Curran has extensive experience in this area and he speaks with authority on the matter. I also know how much work is involved in actually producing a Bill - well done to him.
I hope the Bill progresses swiftly. I note that the Government is supporting the Bill or at least not opposing it. I welcome that. The Bill will certainly be strongly be supported by all parties in the House. I hope it progresses quickly and that it will not simply be a case of the Government not opposing it but not really supporting it either. I also hope that priority is given within Fianna Fáil to the future Stages of this Bill and it will be facilitated through to its conclusion at an early stage. At this stage in the electoral cycle, the fear is that while things might get through Second Stage they may not be seen through to conclusion. Yet it is important that happens.
This issue has been growing over several years. It is something that many of us in the House have raised on several occasions. Unfortunately, from the Government perspective, the response has been quite inadequate despite what we were all seeing before our eyes in recent years. It was what can only be described as an explosion in drug use, especially use among minors, as well as recruiting runners and getting them to carry and sell stuff. The manner in which young people are recruited into the drugs trade is clear. It starts off with inviting young people to a party and providing drugs free of charge there. They are told where they can get further drugs without any charge and the suggestion of making extra money is made to them. The message is that it is easy. We see the attraction of this, especially in working-class areas where the ambitions of many young people may be quite limited for various reasons, including the impact of disadvantage and circumstances where they do not see much opportunity being provided to them either through school, training or employment. Involvement in the drugs trade is often held up as a rite of passage to adulthood and a route to developing a lucrative way of living. Of course we know it is anything but that. Yet, the early attractions are undeniable for young people. They see others around them who have the gear and spare money. They may go on to have a motorbike or car and may be influential in their local community. It all looks attractive for young people to get involved, especially where there may not be many other options open to them. That raises the whole issue of the social circumstances that predispose young people to getting involved in taking drugs and the trading of drugs.
Over recent times, we have heard the line that the response to drug misuse is health-led. That is fine and there is need for a strong health-led response. However, there is also need for criminal justice and policing responses. Sometimes I get the impression that the line about a health-led response is actually cover for inactivity in the other responses required. I am not saying as much for no reason but because the data back up the claim. We can see how when the Garda figures took a dramatic dip, there was a price to be paid. The price is that drug misuse, dealing and a host of other issues relating to anti-social activity, community crime, lawlessness and antisocial stuff increase, thus creating a seedbed for young people to get involved in drugs generally and in the dealing of drugs.
Successive Ministers, Garda Commissioners and politicians generally have been fond of saying that community policing is the centrepiece of policing. I am unsure how often I have heard that said. We must put community policing up with the other more high-profile policing. We all know that unless we get the community policing part of policing right and resource it adequately, then much of the rest it will be too late in terms of an intervention. We must deal early with youth crime and the things that we often talk about in the House, including the proliferation of quad bikes, scramblers, urban horses, petty theft, gangs, intimidation and bullying. All of these things are regarded as low-level stuff but they lead to an atmosphere and culture of lawlessness. We must have a strong community policing force to address these low-level issues and nip the problem in the bud, as it were, if we are to have a serious impact on more serious crime.
Let us consider the figures for community policing over recent years. We can see a major dip in the numbers, from a high in 2012 or 2013 of over 1,000 community police to a current strength of 700. It is a huge dip and in urban areas in particular, this is having a major impact.
Those involved in criminal groups within communities know well that the Garda ability to respond to their activities is limited. When I look across my constituency, I can see this in the different areas and Garda stations.
The number of gardaí allocated to the community Garda service is less than 10% of the overall allocation of gardaí for those stations. It is clear the Government is only paying lip-service to this principle of putting the community Garda service front and centre. Unless we support that service and ensure that adequate resources are provided for it, what starts off as minor crime and small incidents of anti-social activity will inevitably provide the circumstances and the seedbed for much more serious gangland drug-related crime, which is what we have seen happening. We are paying a price for those cuts. Equally, in the drug units, the numbers are small and thinly stretched over large areas.
I welcome the provisions of this legislation. It is discrete legislation. It addresses a particular growing issue, which has been raised with the Minister on many occasions, that is, the recruitment of minors, particularly in disadvantaged areas, into what looks like an attractive way of life but, of course, ends up as anything but. I strongly welcome this legislation, very much commend it to the House, and congratulate the Deputy on bringing it forward.