Thursday, 10 September 2020
Public Health, Well-being and National Drugs Strategy: Statements
Ruairi Ó Murchú (Louth, Sinn Fein)
I welcome the fact that the programme for Government mentions convening the Citizens' Assembly to look at the overall problem we, as a society, have with illegal narcotics and the drug debt, intimidation, violence and criminality associated with them. There is also the impact addiction has on communities and families and a lack of services. Regional task forces that are operating on the basis of the same funding levels as obtained in 2007 have already been mentioned. We are now in a different economic and health situation but we went through a period when there was a cocaine boom and when, then years ago or earlier, organisations were still operating with limited funding that did not wash its face. This will not suffice or work.
I have pointed out to the Minister and the Minister of State a problem we have, namely, that we do not have somebody sitting at Cabinet who is responsible for the overall problem of drugs. We know that a multi-agency response is required. This matter requires action in the areas of health, justice, education, children and, possibly, others. We are failing on this issue. I wish the Minister of State well but I am not particularly hopeful on the basis of his contribution.
I accept that there are good things in the Healthy Ireland initiative and other such initiatives but these will not deal with the level of criminality that obtains. We need to look at novel approaches and it has always been said to me by a number of experts that Ireland is small. The Citizens' Assembly will examine what we can do on either a 26 or a 32-county basis. In context of the latter, I accept that there are difficulties regarding Brexit and what I would term perfidious Albion. We also need to look at the Portuguese model and other models for solutions. We also need to look, on a Europe-wide basis, for a solution to this problem because it is far too big. If we go back to the Government before last, the Minister of State's predecessor, Catherine Byrne, admitted, at a meeting with Gerry Adams and me, that until someone responsible for the issue was sitting at Cabinet and could call the shots on funding, nothing would happen.
I have been like a broken record talking about the amount of times the Garda is arresting people who are involved in petty crime, probably to pay off drug debts. Neither the Garda nor anyone else is able to access the services that are required in those scenarios. Therefore, the Garda does the people involved and puts them through the system. They get released and then it happens all over again. It is a waste of everybody's time and we do not get anywhere. We need a Department of Justice and Equality and a Garda response. I understand that this does not fall within the remit of the Minister of State but therein lies the problem I raised earlier. We cannot allow the drug debt intimidation that is impacting on a huge number of families and communities to continue. The number of young people who are being groomed and put into drug operations has already been mentioned. This happens because we have a youth justice system that is not fit for purpose. All of this needs to be considered and we need the Minister of State, alongside other Ministers, to step up to the plate and do what is necessary because we are failing the people out there.