Dáil debates

Thursday, 10 September 2020

Public Health, Well-being and National Drugs Strategy: Statements


4:15 pm

Photo of Joan CollinsJoan Collins (Dublin South Central, Independents 4 Change)

I also support the Minister of State in his new position. Many people involved with the drugs and alcohol task forces will be watching closely to see how he will deal with his brief. I am a political representative on the Canal Communities local drugs and alcohol task force and it welcomes and looks forward to working with him.

During the previous term, I put down a Private Members' motion representing the CityWide position on the national drug strategy and task forces. The then Minister for State said that she would be prepared to go into committee and discuss those matters in more detail because there was support for them in the House as a result of the review. However, that did not happen before the election came. CityWide sent an email just after the general election which contained a drugs crisis campaign briefing document for Deputies of the 33rd Dáil. That document outlines six actions to tackle Ireland's drug problems and encourages a whole-of-Government response, for which CityWide has always been calling. CityWide hoped that a Minister of State with responsibility for drugs would be appointed, which has happened. It had also hoped that the Minister of State would have a seat at the Cabinet table, as has happened in the past. The organisation feels that an all-party and all-Cabinet approach must be taken to drug strategy.

In the email to which I refer, CityWide raised the need for strong co-ordination and co-operation in delivering the national drug strategy actions, involving 17 different Departments, agencies and sectors, and to ensure accountability across all sectors. It also suggested that the Department of the Taoiseach needs to have high-level representation on the national drug strategy committees. That was the first point.

The second point in the CityWide drugs campaign is that budgets need to be restored to community drug projects. The point has been made many times that there has been no increase in the budgets for drug task forces since 2008 and no restoration happened whatsoever. It has been particularly difficult during the pandemic. One of the arms of the Canal Communities national drugs strategy task force saw what was happening on the ground and contacted the HSE to request that a unit be brought to Dolphin House so that people could be tested for Covid-19. That is a positive initiative because those people have their ears to and eyes on the ground in communities, see what is happening and are able to respond to it quickly.

The CityWide campaign also calls for support for local and regional drug task forces to meet the need on the ground. It encourages support for strong, proactive community representation on task forces and suggests that statutory engagement is made obligatory for Departments and agencies. CityWide also suggests making a concerted effort to respond to drug-related intimidation. We know that is happening throughout the country.

The campaign also recommends that an oversight group is set up to engage with all relevant partners to monitor the implementation of the health regulation approach. It further recommends community participation and calls for immediate investment in a new community development initiative to support community participation on drugs issues.

Those are the main points that CityWide is putting forward. I do not know if the Minster of State has met representatives from CityWide. I hope he has, although I know he has only been in the job for eight weeks. If he has not done that yet, it would be good if he made linking in with the community via CityWide a priority. The Minister of State might indicate if he has been in touch with them or whether he will meet them. I talked to those CityWide representatives before my contribution today. One of the first questions that the Canal Communities task force wanted to ask was what is the Minister of State's vision for the task forces and community national drug strategy? What is his opinion on the review that is taking place?

Senator Ruane is the co-ordinator of the Canal Communities drugs and alcohol task force. I know she has met with the Minister of State and talked about some of the issues on the ground. I hope I will also have the opportunity to meet the Minister of State.

There is another important issue. As the Minister of State already mentioned, his brief includes public health and housing. On Tuesday morning, at a meeting of the strategic policy committee for housing, Brendan Kenny of Dublin City Council announced that there is a shortage of 300 beds for homeless people as we come into the winter. That is extremely dangerous for the people concerned, and I hope the Minister of State will be able to intervene to assist councils and the Dublin Region Homeless Executive to find 300 beds. We cannot have a situation in which homeless people, some of whom have serious drug addictions, are unable to access emergency accommodation during a pandemic and winter. I ask the Minister of State to respond to that.


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