Thursday, 2 February 2006
Question 5: To ask the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform his views on the significant increase in Garda seizures of crack cocaine in Dublin's north city district; his further views on the implications of the spread of crack cocaine among drug users generally; if there are specific measures required to assist the Garda Síochána to counteract same; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [3719/06]
I am informed by the Garda authorities that while there has been an increase in the seizures of freebase or crack cocaine in this jurisdiction over the past three years this represents a small proportion of the total number of cocaine seizures recorded annually. However, the Garda authorities also inform me that most of the recorded seizures of freebase cocaine, particularly in the past two years, have been in the north central division of the Dublin metropolitan region — the area represented by Deputy Gregory.
This is a matter of significant concern to the Garda authorities, which have taken a number of measures to address the problem. The Garda national drugs unit and local drug units are conducting intelligence-driven operations to target individuals suspected of involvement in the distribution of freebase cocaine. Drug units and community policing personnel are engaged in intelligence gathering on individuals and groups suspected of involvement in the sale and distribution of the drugs. I thank the local community for the work of its many activists to help the Garda in that regard. There is also targeted patrolling by uniform and plain-clothes personnel of problem areas in order to detect and disrupt persons involved in such activity.
The national drugs strategy 2001-08 addresses the problem of drug misuse across a number of pillars — supply reduction, prevention, treatment, rehabilitation and research — and the implementation of the strategy across a range of Departments and agencies is co-ordinated by the Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs. The Government is aware of the increased prevalence of cocaine usage in recent times and efforts to tackle it are broadly based to include measures aimed at both supply and demand reduction, including awareness initiatives.
The fact that most of the arrests have been carried out in the Deputy's constituency shows that there is a particular local issue and that the area is effectively a base for the distribution of crack cocaine, not merely in the city but in Ireland. It would be idle of me to pretend otherwise than that it is a particular community within the Deputy's constituency which at the moment specialises in this area — I do not want to go any further than that because I do not want to be accused of fanning flames. However, in so far as immigrants are engaged in this trade, they should be under no illusion but that if they are convicted or apprehended, or if they come to attention in any other way, the power of deportation will be used aggressively and vigorously to counter this threat.
My purpose in raising the question was to highlight a specific problem, which the Minister outlined in his reply, which is of immense concern, particularly to local community activists who are involved in trying to counter the drug problem in the north inner city. Is the Minister aware that seizures of crack cocaine have occurred almost on a weekly basis in the north of the city since October last? The locations of the seizures are spread across the north city, from Moore Street to Phibsboro. However, while drug seizures are increasing, they usually represent only 10% to 15% of drug activity. This indicates that there is a complex network of crack cocaine dealers operating in the area.
To some extent, the Minister's reply has gone some way to addressing the issues I wanted to raise. I want to be assured that he is taking all steps to have this specific problem assessed and to ensure the correct strategy will be put in place to deal with it before it escalates. If crack cocaine spreads to drug users generally, we will have a major crisis on our hands. The community policing forum in the north inner city, in which I am involved, has been working with the local Garda drug unit on this issue. One of the forum's suggestions is that an inter-agency group composed of the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform, the Garda drugs unit, immigration authorities and the community be put in place. Many of these seizures have resulted from intelligence from the local community, which has been working with the drugs unit under the umbrella of the community policing forum.
I know the Minister appreciates how serious this issue could become if crack cocaine were to spread. Is he aware of evidence showing that crack cocaine is being sold outside the particular grouping specialising in it? There is evidence that it is beginning to spread to drug users who would have used other drugs in this area. This development is causing considerable concern to all those in the north inner city who have made considerable progress with the help of the Garda drug unit in dealing with the problem of heroin and other drugs. If crack cocaine spreads through the north of the city, it will be very difficult to deal with. At this stage, we have an opportunity to assess the problem of crack cocaine, develop a strategy to deal with it and prevent it from spreading. Will the Minister support the suggestion by the community policing forum in the north inner city that the various specialist agencies which have an input in this issue due to its specific nature be combined and a strategy for dealing effectively with it produced?
It is a sensible idea and I will entertain it and give it as positive a response as possible. It is important that there be an inter-agency response and that all State institutions dealing with this problem have a focused and clear view of the problem when it is present in a relatively confined place before it escapes out of the area where it is now located and becomes endemic.
It is not generally understood that crack cocaine is far more potent and addictive than ordinary cocaine. It is far more damaging to human health and leads to the risk of blood clots, strokes, heart attacks, damage to the heart muscle and damage to lungs. It is also frequently associated with psychotic episodes and very violent and alarming behaviour is associated with its use. I do not doubt that what Deputy Gregory said is essentially correct.
Anyone who thinks it is applicable to them should bear in mind that there is no right to engage in this activity in this country under any circumstances. The status of people who have visas to remain in Ireland as a result of the Irish-born children scheme or on another basis is conditional on their upholding the law. If I find it appropriate in any particular case, based on information available to me, to withdraw the right to remain in Ireland and to deport the people in question, I will do so. I will not be dissuaded by humanitarian concerns which are disproportionate to the damage caused by this trade.
Ireland will not be a soft touch for crack cocaine. Any section of the community which believes that the Government will be a pushover on this issue will find that the opposite is true. I agree with Deputy Gregory that in the same way as the Criminal Assets Bureau involved different groups ranging from the Department of Social and Family Affairs to the Revenue Commissioners to the Garda, it is necessary for the immigration authorities, social workers, the drugs programme, the Garda and the local community to combine to produce a focused result to stamp out this problem.