Thursday, 10 September 2020
Public Health, Well-being and National Drugs Strategy: Statements
Eoin Ó Broin (Dublin Mid West, Sinn Fein)
I thank the Minister of State for his introductory statement. While I appreciate he is only a few short weeks in his job I want to highlight what is very clearly a gap between his description of the services and supports the Government is providing and the reality in many constituencies, urban and rural, throughout the State. As the Minister of State knows, I represent Dublin Mid-West and I was a former member of the Clondalkin drug and alcohol task force. Before speaking here today, I spoke to a number of managers of local drugs services and members of the task force. I want to reflect for the Minister of State what is happening on the ground at present in my constituency so he can consider it with regard to his work. Like all drug and alcohol task forces, there has been no increase in funding since 2008. In fact, in my area the task force's catchment area has more than doubled to stretch beyond Clondalkin to include Lucan, Palmerstown, Newcastle and Rathcoole. The same level of funding for a larger catchment area effectively represents a cut and there has been no increase in core funding or staff funding.
We have also seen a knock-on effect from the very good work that has been done in the north inner city by local communities, the Garda and the HSE. This is a return to increased drug activity and drug sales in many parts of the suburbs, including in my constituency. This has also led to an increase in the involvement of minors in an ever-expanding drugs economy. I agree with earlier speakers that this is, in the first instance, a health issue but where we have the active grooming of minors to become involved in the drugs economy, it has to be made a criminal offence and those involved in such grooming need to be targeted. Crucially, of course, we need to see greater investment in health and youth services and diversionary activities.
We have also seen a significant impact on front-line drug and alcohol services as a result of Covid.
For example, it has cost one project I spoke to today €8,000 to make its small premises Covid-compliant to enable it to continue to provide services. It has not got a single extra cent of funding from the HSE. A small amount of funding from the local authority and the local task force has covered some of that cost, but this is acting as a real impediment to it doing its work. There is also a real concern that because of the additional financial pressures on Government because of Covid-19, just as community and voluntary sector services were the first to suffer severe cuts after the recession in 2008, these vital front-line services, which are providing such important supports to those in addiction, those recovering from addiction and their families, may suffer cuts in the short to medium term. I would be very interested to hear the Minister of State's view today or in the future as to whether that is the case.
While I appreciate that this is not within the Minister of State's remit, we have a real problem with the under-resourcing of the Garda. We have a single Garda division dealing with drugs for all of my constituency, in Clondalkin and Ballyfermot, and that is simply nowhere close to enough. We also have an under-resourcing of community gardaí and the diversionary services.
The Minister of State is welcome to come to my constituency anytime and meet the workers and communities on the front line. They will give him a very different picture from the one he has pointed to today. If he comes to my constituency and listens to the people who know what is really happening on the streets, it will better inform him to ensure he does the best possible job by our communities and front-line services in tackling the issues of alcohol and drug misuse into the future.