Thursday, 18 February 2021
Covid-19 (Drug and Alcohol Services, and Homelessness): Statements
Thomas Gould (Cork North Central, Sinn Fein)
I want to express my disappointment at the title of these statements and questions and answers. Addiction services and homelessness are two issues and are often intertwined but we must recognise that these are two separate issues. Those in active addiction or in need of addiction services are not always homeless. Vice versa, homeless people are not always in active addiction. To say otherwise shows a complete lack of understanding and it is about time this Government stopped insulting some of the most vulnerable in our society. I have a number of questions and I want to give the Minister of State, Deputy Feighan, some time at the end of my section to answer. If he does not have the time to respond to all of them, he might respond in writing.
What public health measures is the Minister of State taking to warn vulnerable adults and children of the harms associated with gambling? There has never been a State-funded public health awareness, education or harm prevention campaign on gambling in Ireland. It is urgently needed and we see from data from the European school survey that Irish males aged between 15 and 16-years old have more than double the problem gambling rate of the general population. The Minister of State knows my feelings on gambling addiction. It is about time this was addressed and, while the Minister of State may be quick to claim that he has no responsibility for gambling and that it falls under the remit of the Minister for Justice, we both know this is wrong and that gambling addiction should be the Minister of State's responsibility.
On the national drugs strategy, when is the mid-term review to be published? Will this look at the impact of Covid-19 on addiction services? Of the 50 actions due to be finished by 2020, will those that have not been completed or started be prioritised or will the Minister of State confirm if new actions will replace them? To be clear, the last data from 2019 show that only four of the 50 actions had been completed. The drugs trade terrorises and stigmatises communities. The national drugs strategy overlooked the fear, intimidation and violence that goes with this. It has become deep-rooted in some of our local communities. Will the revised actions include a strong commitment to putting in place the much-needed long-term and sustainable initiatives that will be required to address these problems? Communities are suffering and they need the Minister of State's support.
What response is being planned to address the challenges in providing addiction services in rural areas and the significant additional challenge of rural isolation and its impact on problem drug and alcohol use?
One hundred and nine beds have been shut in residential rehabilitation services since November 2019. The HSE claims this is due to Covid-19 public health measures. However, I know that some of these beds will never reopen. Can the Minister of State give a commitment to restoring these beds or replacing them, and the timeline for this restoration? In budget 2021, provision was made for 150 additional rehabilitation episodes. Will the Minister of State commit that those 150 episodes announced in the budget will be additional to the 709 episodes lost because of the closure of the 109 beds?
There is much more I could ask but the Minister of State could take a minute to respond.