Thursday, 10 September 2020
Public Health, Well-being and National Drugs Strategy: Statements
Peadar Tóibín (Meath West, Aontú)
I wish the Minister of State well in his role. It is not an easy role but it is a vital one. It is also important to say that he should grab this opportunity and treat it like the opportunity of a lifetime. His actions could radically alter the lives of hundreds and thousands of people in towns and villages throughout the country.
Drugs are affecting nearly every walk of life. People's brothers, relations, work colleagues, etc., are all being affected by drugs and drugs are affecting every part of Ireland. Inner cities are being affected, as are towns and villages. When I am out canvassing and doing my constituency work, even in the smallest villages where there is only one street with a couple of shops, there are people involved in the taking and selling of drugs in broad daylight. It is incredible how widespread and serious the drug crisis has become in Ireland. In an 11-year period up until 2016, some 697 people died as a result of drug use. That is the population of a town similar to Ballinasloe being deleted in the space of ten years as a result of drugs. Half of those in that age group are under 40 and some 75% of the people who are dying from drug use are male.
It is the fact that it is happening in broad daylight that is having such a societal effect. In my home town - and I do not take any pride in saying this - drug dealers and users come in on the buses, deal in the market square, take drugs in the nooks and crannies of that square or go to the local parks in daylight and take drugs there. During one morning sitting in my constituency office, I looked out the window and saw two men involved in a drug deal. Two elderly women were walking past on the way to 10 a.m. mass in the town. It was like two parts of Ireland passing each other at the same time.
The trouble is that there is little response from this Government to this issue. There is a half-hearted policing response and then there is some level of service response and the funding that has gone into that service response has fallen in recent years. If one ever wants to know what the priorities of Government are or get behind the words it uses in order to find out how it really feels about a particular issue, one need only look at the bottom line and the funding allocated. The funding in this area fell dramatically. In my county of Meath, we have no teen rehabilitation beds and no detox services for young people. If one of those kids who is doing the deals in the centre of the town wanted to make a decision to come off the drugs, if he or she could get his or her head focused and oriented in that direction, he or she has no choice of services to help do that. The Government has told those people it will not help them in this situation. We had a wonderful organisation called the Aisling Group, which operated out of Meath and throughout the country. Due to the lack of funding, it was forced to close. We need compassion and understanding when we are dealing with the issue of drugs. However, compassion and understanding must be backed up with adequate funding resources and dedication from the State. We need to translate those words into actions.
On policing, we need a health response to the issue of drugs but we also need a justice response because many criminals are making huge amounts of money. Meath has the lowest number of gardaíper capitain the country, and that has been the case for several years. As a result, it is possible to go 30 or 40 miles through parts of the county on a Sunday morning and it is almost certain that only three or four, or possibly five, gardaí will be available. If two of them are called out to an arrest, there will be hardly enough remaining to answer the phone, let alone go out and deal with the crimes to which I refer. I wish the Minister of State well, but we really need to get to grips with funding in this area.
I will touch on two other related areas. The Government's national drugs strategy commits it to "Build capacity within drug and alcohol services to develop a patient safety approach in line with the HIQA National Standards for Safer Better Healthcare". I am referring to standardised services. This, however, is an incredible situation, because, right now, myself and the Acting Chairman, Deputy Durkan, could decide to set up a residential drug rehabilitation centre. We could deliver any service that we want to those individuals who come to us, and the State will take no interest and provide no oversight or guidelines.
The Church of Scientology has set up a residential drug rehabilitation centre, Narconon, in Ballivor in County Meath. The HSE has stated that there is no scientific proof for the efficacy of the services being delivered at this centre. I asked if representatives from HIQA will be sent in to see if the individuals in the rehabilitation centre are okay. We must remember that these are people who are addicted to drugs and many of them will also have psychiatric difficulties. However, HIQA will not send in representatives to see what is happening. I was told that it does not have a responsibility in this area and neither does the HSE. I have spoken to the Minister about this issue. We must ensure that there is some level of oversight in drug rehabilitation residential centres.
Communication also needs to be working. In May this year, Aontú submitted an information request to the Department of Children and Youth Affairs regarding the level of engagement it had with organisations like Cluain Mhuire Centre for Living, the Rutland Centre, Merchants Quay Ireland, the Ana Liffey Drug Project, Jigsaw etc. during the Covid-19 crisis. The Department responded by stating that it had not engaged in any correspondence with these organisations during the pandemic. I hope the Minister of State agrees that this is unacceptable. We do not want to be looking at another lockdown anywhere else in the country. We must ensure that we can live with this shocking illness, but we also need to ensure that key services for those in trouble, such as drug rehabilitation services, are working hand in glove with the Government.