Thursday, 20 October 2005
The problem of cocaine and crack cocaine has become rampant recently and there has been an explosion in usage. Cocaine was scarcely used in the 1990s. In 1994, Garda seizures of cocaine were worth €4,672 but, in 2003, they were worth €10,915,786. A total of 167.5 kg of cocaine was seized last year with a value of approximately €500,000 per kilogram. It is estimated that the former figure has doubled again and that there is an Irish cocaine market of approximately €200 million. Crack cocaine, which scarcely existed two years ago, has become a common feature. Recently, there was a major seizure of crack cocaine in Phibsborough, one of a number of seizures that are becoming widespread.
I was contacted and asked to enter the Moore Street traders' market in the heart of Dublin recently. Various sites and persons involved in trading cocaine were pointed out to me. The gardaí are increasing their presence in the area. However, we are effectively experiencing an epidemic of a new hard drug that scarcely existed in this country in 2000. Where it did, it only existed among so-called celebrities, the middle classes, pop stars, etc. Now, it runs rampant through the country.
The situation is different in many ways. The price of cocaine in 2000 was double the price of cocaine today, which is exactly how heroin spread throughout Ireland. Prices fell to the price of cannabis in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Pushers have done the same with cocaine, namely, halving prices. Currently, it is €70 per gram whereas it cost more than double this figure five years ago. It differs from the importers and traffickers or heroin and cannabis, where a number of major figures operating outside the country existed, because, in this instance, there is a large number of small operators who are travelling the length and breadth of Ireland. As such, there is a much larger network and its use is spreading more rapidly.
Nothing has been done by the Government in respect of this matter. The Minister of State at the Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs with special responsibility for drugs strategy and community affairs, Deputy Noel Ahern, put on record in 2002 that he did not regard the incidence of cocaine availability as warranting any action. Now, it is a major illegal industry here. The Minister of State must acknowledge this fact. We must refurbish, restructure and increase the number of personnel in the drugs squad because we have a new drug problem.
Heroin is widely available at present, which is why we still have addicts, but a new drug is bringing into play a whole spectrum of new addicts. The younger brothers and sisters of those who were on heroin almost regard cocaine as something exciting and safe, whereas heroin was different. A new generation is being turned onto a drug that is supposedly relatively safe, as it is perceived as the drug of the celebrity. This is not the case. It is extremely difficult to deal with in that it is more difficult for a person to undergo detox for cocaine than heroin and it is exploding in terms of its availability and use.
While we do not yet have the relevant figures for 2005 but which are thought to be twice 2004's, the seizure of 167 kg last year is only the tip of the iceberg. The Garda Síochána recognise that the most it expects to see is only 10% to 15%. Before it is too late, let us not continue to bury our heads in the sand and pretend this new epidemic is not upon us. Let us take some robust action for a change to try to deal with this issue.
The Government is aware of the increased prevalence of cocaine usage in Ireland recently. This mirrors an increase in the availability and usage of cocaine in Europe generally.
It is believed that high levels of production of the drug in a number of Latin American countries is being driven by an increased focus by suppliers on Europe as a prime market for potential growth in cocaine consumption.
The National Drugs Strategy 2001-08 addresses the problem of drug misuse across a number of pillars, including supply reduction, prevention, treatment, rehabilitation and research. Implementation of the strategy across a range of Departments and agencies is co-ordinated by the Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht affairs. In this way, efforts to tackle drug abuse, including cocaine abuse, are broadly based to include measures aimed at both supply and demand reduction, including awareness initiatives. The criminal justice response is primarily, although not exclusively, in the area of drug supply control.
The national strategy specifies a number of supply reduction targets for the Garda Síochána in terms of all drug seizures and notable successes have been achieved. Details of the volume of cocaine seizures over the period 2000-04, inclusive, are 18 kg in 2000, 5.3 kg in 2001, 31.7 kg in 2002, 107.4 kg in 2003 and 2004 a provisional figure of 167.3 kg in 2004.
Garda strategies for dealing with drug offences are designed to undermine the activities of organised criminal networks involved in the trafficking and distribution of illicit drugs, including cocaine. All these strategies are based on a number of underlying principles, namely, focusing on all aspects of drug trafficking including the importation, transportation and distribution of illicit drugs; the gathering of intelligence on all individuals and organisations involved in the distribution of drugs, including the support structures underpinning this activity; conducting targeted operations on criminal networks based on intelligence gathered; and working in collaboration with other law enforcement agencies, both within and outside the jurisdiction, to address the national as well as international aspects of drug trafficking and distribution.
These strategies continue to result in ongoing operational successes, including successes against cocaine trafficking. The trafficking and distribution of all illicit drugs, including cocaine hydrochloric and freebase, popularly known as crack, at local, national and international levels is constantly monitored by the Garda Síochána.
The Criminal Justice Bill before the Houses of the Oireachtas, provides a comprehensive package of anti-crime measures which will enhance the powers of the Garda in the investigation and prosecution of offences, including drug offences.
The Bill includes provisions on search warrant powers for the Garda and admissibility of statements by witnesses who subsequently refuse to testify or retract their original statements. Moreover, the Minister is finalising further legislative proposals to provide for criminal offences regarding participation in a criminal organisation and to strengthen existing provisions relating to the ten-year mandatory minimum sentence for drug trafficking.
In addition to the implementation of actions under the various pillars of the national drugs strategy and projects and initiatives undertaken by local drug task forces, earlier this year the Minister of State with responsibility for the national drugs strategy, Deputy Noel Ahern, approved funding of approximately €400,000 for a number of pilot cocaine projects.
I do not know the market price. This funding is being used for the establishment of four pilot treatment interventions for specific groups, such as intravenous cocaine users and problematic female cocaine users, for the training of frontline staff in both the community and statutory sectors dealing with cocaine users and for the development of educational material outlining the dangers associated with cocaine use. All of this work is under way. Moreover, the third phase of the national drug awareness campaign is focused on cocaine use.
The Minister can assure the House of his commitment and that of the Government to ensuring that the necessary strategies and measures are in place to tackle the problem of cocaine.