Tuesday, 10 October 2006
Private Members' Business
Crime Prevention: Motion.
That Dáil Éireann notes:
the heroin drugs crisis that continues to cause appalling human misery in Ireland today;
the spiralling drug related crime and feuding drug gangs that are a cause of great fear and concern in many communities;
the huge wealth involved in the drug trade exploited by a small number of major crime gangs;
the increasing numbers of young people in disadvantaged areas being attracted into drug crime by the lavish lifestyles enjoyed by relatively minor drug dealers from within their own communities;
the unprecedented seizures of heroin in recent months, notably a consignment with a street value of €7 million seized in Ratoath, County Meath, and a further consignment worth €10 million intercepted in Belgium en route to a private Irish airfield via private jet;
the fact that the latter consignment was almost twice the value of all drugs seized during the whole of 2005 at Dublin Airport;
the fact that drug seizures account for on average a mere 10% of drug availability;
the scale of the potential risk to society in this State posed by the trafficking of such vast amounts of heroin; and
the health implications for drug users and other vulnerable young people and the collateral damage caused to families and communities;
deplores the failure of the Government and of the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform:
to formulate an effective strategy to combat the worsening drugs crisis; and
to provide the Garda with sufficient funding to continue running Operation Airwaves which, until its cancellation, monitored the movements of small aircraft at a number of the country's private airfields and led to the seizures of quantities of drugs;
deplores the failure of the Government and of the Minister for Finance:
to respond to the lack of customs cover in 27 private airfields in the State and particularly to the situation at Weston Aerodrome brought to his attention in Dáil Questions in December of last year, February of this year, and again in September of this year; and
to show regard for basic security measures at Weston Aerodrome where there were only 16 customs inspections during 2005;
calls on the Government:
to acknowledge the grave error it has made and continues to make in failing to provide adequate Customs and Garda cover at private airfields which allowed drug traffickers to import large drug consignments into this State;
to immediately deploy a permanent Customs and Garda presence at Weston Aerodrome and other similar private airfields to prevent their use for drug trafficking and other crime;
to immediately provide sufficient funding to the Garda in order that it can re-establish Operation Airwaves to specifically monitor and prevent the importation into the State of drugs via small aircraft and airfields;
to initiate immediate reform of the customs and excise function of the Revenue Commissioners supported by any necessary budgetary increase to fill this serious gap in customs cover;
to request the Criminal Assets Bureau to investigate all those connected with the major heroin seizure referred to;
to expand the Criminal Assets Bureau to include regionalised structures to ensure that middle ranking drug traffickers are targeted at local level throughout the State;
to radically increase the numbers of community gardaí participating in disadvantaged urban areas; and
to review the manpower needs of Garda drug units in drug black spot areas and the resources available to them in order to extend the strategy used in Operation Marigold to all areas where heroin drug crime poses a serious risk to the community and so develop a new impetus in the 'supply-control' aspect of the overall response to the drugs crisis.
I wish to share time with Deputies Catherine Murphy, Finian McGrath, Cowley and Ó Snodaigh.
The Government does not have a strategy to deal effectively with the ongoing supply-control aspect of the drugs crisis. As one crime correspondent put it last week, when he quoted a senior security source on the private airfields issue: "It is the simplest and most straightforward method of drug trafficking there is." Despite repeated warnings in this Chamber, the Government has failed to act, continues to be disgracefully negligent on the issue and only now, in its long-winded amendment, does it refer to reviewing the risks involved.
Apart from the basic measure of customs cover and aircraft monitoring, the most powerful weapons against the drug gangs are the Criminal Assets Bureau and, at local level, community gardaí, yet the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform has taken almost five years to start delivering the necessary community gardaí in local areas. During these five years of neglect the drug gangs have gathered momentum, with rates of hard drug consumption among our young people now among the highest in Europe.
I observe in my constituency a repeat of the failures of the 1990s. The Criminal Assets Bureau is the other great weapon against drug gangs but I see young, middle-ranking drug dealers in 06 registered jeeps and cars, with lavish apartments and lifestyles, continue to claim and receive social welfare payments, the very practices the bureau was set up to prevent. Many other young people follow the easy money and drugs. The Criminal Assets Bureau should be regionalised and given local structures to stamp out this problem. This is the most effective way to stem the drug tide. Otherwise the Garda drug units, under-resourced as they are, will only provide a fire brigade service and will have no real impact on the ongoing drugs crisis.
Until recently, most people, if they had heard a description of a €10 million drugs haul at an airfield on the Continent bound for a small unmonitored aerodrome on the outskirts of Dublin using an aeroplane borrowed without the knowledge of its owner, would have assumed it referred to an extract from a television show such as "Miami Vice". Unfortunately, life is beginning to imitate art in a dangerous and worrying way at Weston Aerodrome on the Leixlip-Lucan border where 50 kg of heroin was to be landed. According to the aerodrome's website, this consignment would have been delayed by only five minutes between "plane touch down and taxi or limousine departure". This "key benefit" of a mere five minute delay between landing at and exiting the airport may not be an open advertisement of a non-existent or light security standard but who would be attracted by such an advertisement? We can all agree that recent events in Belgium give us a clue as to the answer to this question.
Following ongoing discussions with local people in north Kildare and west Dublin on the level of security at Weston Aerodrome, I first raised the issue with the Minister for Finance in a parliamentary question inquiring about the customs arrangement at the aerodrome. I was informed that while the volume and type of business conducted at the aerodrome did not justify the deployment of a permanent customs presence, customs officers visited the aerodrome regularly as a check against the landing or exportation of prohibited goods, in particular, controlled drugs. In February this year, I tabled a further parliamentary question asking the number of customs visits conducted at the aerodrome and was informed that during 2004 officers attached to the Dublin enforcement district carried out 12 planned and six unplanned visits to Weston Aerodrome and a further ten planned and six unplanned visits in 2005.
Effectively, self-regulation is in force at the 27 private airfields in the State. While the Government deadbolts front door access to the State at our major airports, it has handed out copies of the back door key to anyone who has shown an interest in having one. Anyone can own, operate or work at a private airfield without undergoing a security check. Aer Rianta operates under strict Garda and customs supervision and will not even issue a security badge to a person with a criminal record, not to speak of allowing such a person to take an aeroplane for a spin. How can the Government justify such a relaxed approach to security at private airfields when we are only too aware of the incidence of drug smuggling at larger, heavily monitored airports?
Like the customs cover at Weston, immigration arrangements are also limited. I refer to an article in Village magazine of 24 August:
An internal Garda report has highlighted security risks at Weston. The airport has no immigration officers, no x-ray, baggage or people scanning machines. The report goes on to say that the airport makes it possible for terrorists to enter England or the rest of Europe with explosives.
I raised similar security concerns during the Second Stage debate on the Air Navigation Transport (Indemnities) Bill. We must remember that the State provides major indemnities to people who require to take them up. A dedicated operation targeting air shipments of drugs into Ireland was cancelled almost ten years ago because there was no money to keep it going. That operation must be restored without delay. While I congratulate those involved in the recent heroin seizure in Belgium, we can imagine how much more success we would see if the Government provided the Revenue and the Garda with adequate resources. The €10 million pales into insignificance when one considers the cost of drug treatment programmes, drug-related crimes and their prevention and the cost of imprisoning those who have fallen through the cracks and wound up in our prisons. What about the trail of human misery and destruction that drug gangs, organised crime and drug use causes?
I wish to highlight the irony of the destination of the Belgian heroin. It was headed for Weston Aerodrome, a stone's throw from Lucan Garda station where the Garda worked tirelessly gathering evidence related to the murder of Ms Veronica Guerin, a victim of drug-related crime of the worst kind. It is the Government's responsibility to ensure that history does not repeat itself and to make adequate provision to stop the existing back-door arrangement.
The Independent Deputies deal with real issues every day and we propose sensible solutions to this matter. I commend and pay tribute to the late Ms Donna Cleary, a constituent of mine shot down in a drugs-related incident. I also remember all the victims of crime throughout this State. These are real people, our citizens, and we should stand up and defend their rights.
The heroin crisis that causes much misery in this country is appalling. Drug-related crime spirals out of control while our Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform seems to have his head stuck in the sand and does nothing about it. The Independent Deputies challenge the Minister and the Government to do something about it. We also propose many sensible solutions. The criminal justice system must be reformed to give greater respect and protection to witnesses and victims during criminal cases so that intimidation can be minimised. This is the sad reality for many people in this State, particularly for many on the north side of Dublin.
I wish to put forward a number of proposals to deal with crime. We need more judges. Preliminary hearings should be held with a view to shortening trials. We must establish a dedicated witness, victim and family liaison officer scheme. The courts need to operate between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. We need more support for disadvantaged schools, which should be targeted with extra resources, particularly counselling and family therapy sessions. We need more community gardaí on the beat and I urge the Minister to develop Operation Anvil against the armed gangs. These are sensible proposals which we need to adopt. The House heard from my colleagues about airports that are open to private aircraft. Let us not forget that we have a major issue with the coast of Ireland where people use boats and yachts to smuggle in drugs.
The Minister is handling the administration of justice in a disastrous way. For example, the annual cost of keeping a prisoner in custody is €90,000, almost a 10% increase on last year's average. Some 85% of committals in 2005 were for non-violent offences. Some 90% of women committed to a prison in 2005 were there for non-violent offences and 78% of all committals under sentence in 2005 were for 12 months or less. The drug barons and armed criminals should be behind bars, not these people who are involved in petty crime and smaller issues related to broader society. This is an important debate. It is essential that we target resources at the most needy in society, put in a proper, honest and decent policing structure and listen to the views of the Independent Deputies.
Hundreds of gardaí are in Rossport, County Mayo, trying to put through an ill-fated project, yet millions of euro worth of drugs are coming into private aerodromes, as has been pointed out. We have had a problem with alcohol for many generations, but in recent years other drugs have compounded and accelerated the situation. Heroin has devastated disadvantaged communities in Dublin. Although it is estimated that there are 15,000 people addicted to heroin in Dublin alone, the State provides only 20 residential detox beds in the entire country. That is a disgrace. It can take up to 12 months for a chaotic addict to get on a methadone programme that will stabilise him or her. It is disgraceful. During this time, two crimes a day are needed to feed his or her habit.
Drugs such as heroin and cocaine are in every part of the country and in every walk of life and section of society, even in rural areas. These addicts are sons and daughters, real people, mothers and fathers, many of whom are not more than children themselves. Many grew up in an alcoholic home. Society has written them off because they generally do not come from middle-class families, so they do not count. To fund their addiction, many engage in crime, particularly shoplifting. We place those people in the dustbin that our prison system has become at a cost of €1,600 per week before releasing them to continue the crime-addiction cycle.
Our criminal justice system is full of alcoholics and drug addicts. The only winners are the criminal justice professionals, lawyers who make lottery-like salaries for a process that does not make society any safer. We must address this issue. In 2003, the director of the Merchant's Quay Project pointed out that there were only 20 residential drug addiction treatment beds in this country. Add 6,000 on methadone maintenance in 2001 compared to 400 in 1995 and we have all the proof we need of the growth of heroin and its ability to thrive and spread.
A prohibitive mentality has left us hamstrung. The figure of 20 beds for addicts is embarrassing when we consider the emphasis on creating more prison spaces. We encourage judges to lock people up, creating even more overcrowding in the prison system. When that happens we have too many people in too small a space with no meaningful work or education, creating another site for drug abuse.
The State was not always like this. Britain and China fought two wars over drugs, the opium wars. Up to 1868 one could buy opium and morphine in general stores in Britain. The Pharmacy Act 1868 stopped this and gave dispensing powers to pharmacists. Since many of those who can do something are publicly one-dimensional, drugs are merely a problem where it is politically expedient to sit tightly on the fence and wring one's hands or call for more severe action. Nobody loses votes for saying "lock up drug pushers" or "drugs are evil", but as the people who live cheek-by-jowl with the fallout from the problem on a daily basis we expect a little lateral thinking from our political masters. Without breaking new ground, more treatment, more beds, employment opportunities, green spaces, proper recreational areas and open education opportunities would help alleviate some of that mess. It is up to the powers that be to try pilot schemes such as needle exchanges and safe places for addicts to inject. However, these are mainly cosmetic. We must address the problem and break the mould. We need to stop drugs pouring into our airports.
I welcome the presentation of this motion by the Independent Members. The Government's national drug strategy is implemented and overseen by the Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs. Responsibility in this regard, which in the previous Dáil lay with the Department of the Taoiseach, was bestowed on the Department upon its establishment. That was a curious decision because those who were involved in dealing with the ravages of drugs in our nation's communities would have thought, when the national drugs strategy was first put in place, that the involvement of the Department of the Taoiseach at least indicated that the then Government was prepared to adopt a joined-up approach to this scourge on society.
This well-crafted motion highlights the need for joined-up government and refers not only to the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform but also to the Minister for Finance. It further refers to the lack of oversight and control at our country's aerodromes. Even the Department of Transport has a role in investigating how illicit substances are imported into the country and being allowed to wreak havoc on our communities. Despite his estimable qualities, it is curious that the Government is represented in this debate by the Minister of State at the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment. I would have thought that his is one of the few Departments whose input would not be required in this need for joined-up Government thinking. Perhaps his presence indicates a frivolousness on the Government's part towards the seriousness of this motion and the way it needs to be treated.
That seems to be counteracted by the effort the Government has invested in producing an amendment that appears to be twice as long as the original motion. Given recent agreements between the Taoiseach and the Tánaiste, perhaps the Government has adopted a sardonic bent. In that context, perhaps there is a need to engage with everything it says from a surrealistic perspective. In its amendment to the motion, the Government claims that Weston Aerodrome is run to the highest possible international standards. People were appalled by what was discovered in Brussels but I will say little about the individuals associated with the events in question and about those with whom such people might be associated. The fact, however, that such a huge quantity of drugs was discovered upon a private plane, the egress from and regress to this country of which came about via a route that is obviously unpoliced, means that the Government must take responsibility.
I am contributing to this debate not only as a Deputy representing a constituency which, as much as any other, is subjected to these difficulties but also as my party's spokesperson on matters relating to the Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs. It is curious that this Cinderella Department, which is under-resourced, has responsibility for one of the biggest issues facing society. If the Government is serious with regard to tackling the problem of illegal drugs, it should begin to reconsider the type of prioritisation it is giving in the areas of resources and policy. Under this Government, the latter are sadly lacking.
The Taoiseach needs to become involved. I am aware of the existence of Cabinet sub-committees but I would like those responsible for the areas to which I refer, namely, the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform and the Ministers for Transport and Finance, becoming involved at that almost secretive level and issuing public statements as to why they are failing to deal with the problem. I would particularly like the Tánaiste to do so. I know it is anathema to him to consider the possibility of failure in connection with any aspect of his brief. If, however, we are to start to tackle this problem, there must be an acceptance of responsibility and a willingness on the part of the relevant Departments to at least accept that the action that has been taken has failed, that matters are growing worse and that a radically different approach must be adopted.
I commend the motion to the House and I reject the Government's amendment.
Tá áthas orm deis a bheith agam labhairt ar an rún tábhachtach seo. Tá an Comhaontas Glas ag tacú leis, mar a luaigh an Teachta Boyle.
This is an important and welcome debate, particularly in light of what I perceive as a certain amount of ambivalence on the part of the Government when it comes to dealing with addiction and social disadvantage. The Government has failed to get to the heart of the problem and to provide the necessary treatment to those who have fallen into the clutches of unscrupulous and vicious individuals involved in the drugs trade.
On most occasions when we debate this matter, we discuss illegal drugs. However, as indicated on Order of Business, strong evidence was provided yesterday by Dr. Jean Moriarty to the effect that, as a result of alcohol abuse, people are being affected by liver failure at a much younger age and that half of those admitted at weekends to the hospital in which she works are found to be suffering from the effects of alcohol consumption. Despite this, an alcohol products Bill has not been introduced and the alcohol industry is governed only by a voluntary code. Therein lies part of the problem, particularly if the Government wants to be seen as being interested in, not to mention dealing with, the problem of drug abuse.
In my constituency, Dublin North, major courage has been shown by members of the community in tackling this problem, providing training and as much treatment as possible and putting in place preventative measures in areas that are prey to drug dealers. I refer here, for the most part, to the dealing of illegal drugs. The example to which I refer must be replicated throughout the country. On a particular housing estate in Balbriggan, the town in which I live, rather than close their doors and hope that the drug dealing on their streets was not happening, parents, especially mothers, came together and effectively faced down the dealers who were gathering on street corners with the intention of luring these people's children and teenagers into their company. As a result and following a large public meeting, a group that involves input from every housing estate in the town was formed. As the Minister of State at the Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs, Deputy Noel Ahern, will be aware from his visit to Dublin North last Monday, the Balbriggan Awareness of Drugs group has gone from strength to strength and is not in any way given to the kind of knee-jerk reaction that sometimes occurs and that smacks of vigilantism. The group provides parent-to-parent courses that empower parents to intervene and play a vital role in protecting the health of their children and prevent them from having to seek treatment. Such treatment is provided, though not to an adequate degree, in places such as the Rutland Centre.
The Government must realise that while it may seem to be saving money, the cost will be greater in the long term if it does not put in place the necessary resources in respect of the provision of drug treatment. Those who emerge from the Rutland Centre having undergone a difficult and long treatment process are, unfortunately, only too likely to relapse for want of the supports that are needed, namely, a mentoring system, employment opportunities, financial incentives and the help required for those convalescing in such circumstances. Those undergoing medical treatment, many of them on medical cards, are undoubtedly experiencing difficulties and, unfortunately, they are not likely to be cured unless the Government takes more interest in providing ongoing treatment. Such treatment is not provided at present and that is a matter over which the Government must stand indicted.
The motion refers to community gardaí and the Garda drugs unit. Currently, the Garda is stretched beyond breaking point in towns such as Balbriggan and its environs, which has a population of the same size as Tullamore; Swords, which is the same size as Waterford city; and Malahide and Portmarnock, which are the same size as Clonmel. In effect, they are cities. However, these large towns are trying to cope with the same Garda presence as existed in 1988, or even less in some cases. I ask the Minister of State to get real about this issue by putting resources into it and saving money in the long term.
Tá mé ag tabhairt tacaíochta don rún seo ó na Teachtaí Neamhspleácha agus molaim iad as an rún seo a chur os comhair na Dála. Measaim gur léir ón leasú nach bhfuil an Rialtas sásta tacú leis. Ní raibh sé sásta tacú le rún cosúil leis seo a chuir muid os comhair na Dála i mí Mheithimh i mbliana a bhí ag impí ar an Rialtas ceist na ndrugaí sa tír seo a thógáil dáiríre. Muna ndéanann sé sin, tá todhchaí uafásach do cheantair sa chathair seo agus a lán bailte lasmuigh de Bhaile Átha Cliath.
I support this motion. I apologise to my colleagues in the Technical Group because some Sinn Féin Members will be unable to lend their support to the motion tomorrow evening as a number of us will be travelling to Scotland for the forthcoming talks.
Although Sinn Féin tabled a similar motion on the drugs issue in May that also raised the seriousness of this issue, the Government was unwilling to listen. At the time, we highlighted the failure of the Health Service Executive to provide harm reduction facilities throughout the State. We also highlighted the emergence of a trade in crack cocaine, the high levels of crime fuelled by the drugs trade, the issue of rights for grandparents who care for the children of their addict sons and daughters, the issue of resources for the Garda Síochána to tackle drugs and drug crime and the provision of resources for educational programmes and campaigns for children, parents and communities as a whole.
Had that motion been accepted, it would have underpinned an effective response to this growing crisis. The motion now under discussion again reminds the Government of this crucial issue for our society. In the main, it focuses on the crucial supply issue, which constitutes one of the pillars of the Government's national strategy and on which it has failed miserably. Although the Government's amendment asserts that An Garda Síochána and Customs and Excise authorities are exceeding their drugs supply reduction targets, anyone travelling through Dublin or anywhere else knows this to be an absolute lie. Such agencies cannot be addressing reduction because there are more drugs available than was the case before the national strategy was meant to take effect. There are increasing levels of drugs in every town and village. This is the scale of the failure of the Government to tackle this major crisis.
A number of high profile stories and revelations have made the news in recent weeks, including the seizure of heroin worth €10 million which was en route on a private aeroplane through a private airfield both owned by Jim Mansfield. This makes it clear that the heroin problem still amounts to a crisis. While one hears more about cocaine than heroin in the tabloid press, the latter still ravages communities in this city and beyond. The Government must get real in respect of heroin, cocaine, crack cocaine and ecstasy in particular, as well as all other illegal drugs.
Last week, a report was published on illegal drug use in counties Cork and Kerry that found that the percentage of people who had used illegal drugs in the HSE south area had doubled from 16% in 1996 to 34% in 2004. There is "the reduction" for the Minister of State. The numbers who have used cocaine, crack, speed and ecstasy in that area have increased fourfold in the same period. The report again demonstrates that all-pervasive geographical reality of drug use in today's Ireland.
While the Government may hope to continue to downplay the gravity of the situation, any attempt to so do simply will not wash with members of the public, who know how it affects their communities. The communities which are worst affected by drugs and drug-related crime have long recognised the extent of the problem and have sought, through many different organisations, to try to change it. Sometimes, they have had some success, in that the Government has listened. However, it is extremely slow to listen and has not directed the proper resources to deal with the issue.
Recently, Operation Marigold led to charges being brought against approximately 30 drug dealers. However, many others remain on the streets and still ply their trade openly in Ballyfermot, the Liberties, the north inner city or in any working class community in this city in particular. Such people may be seen plying their trade openly on the street by day, at night and at the weekend. It is like meals on wheels, in that one telephones in advance and the order is delivered to one's pub of choice. This is the scale of the cocaine problem in Dublin. Heroin, ecstasy and crack are available wherever one wants in this city and, in some parts of Ballyfermot and the Liberties, it is like a supermarket. In the north inner city, one goes to different places for different drugs. In some cases, the same drug dealer deals from different pockets. In some pubs, the drugs for sale depend on the table one visits.
Members should consider the effects of drugs to ascertain the seriousness with which the Government should take this issue. It loses millions because money must be diverted from other fields in terms of the requirements of the Garda Síochána and Customs and Excise to deal with this issue, as well as in terms of education, broken homes, health and the health problems we will bequeath to future generations because of our unwillingness to tackle drugs supply and the effects drugs have on people. I refer to broken homes, abandoned children, health problems such as HIV, AIDS or other complications due to drugs, high crime levels, dereliction in some areas, deprivation and the running down of community spirit. While these examples are from my own constituency, all Members could give examples from their constituencies. There is a lack of confidence among community organisations because the State does not appear to care. The State ignores them.
The illicit drugs market and gangland crime, including gangland shootings, are intrinsically linked. While dealing with heroin-related crime was hard enough, cocaine and crack have appeared and have hit this city much harder than any Minister has been willing to admit. One need only consider the problems in both Limerick and my own constituency in respect of gangland shootings. The dangerous feuds in such areas have needlessly and prematurely taken the lives of young men who have been caught up in the spiralling tit-for-tat violence associated with drug dealing and with the cocaine trade in particular. It is the same throughout the world and while some might say they deserve their fate or the more the merrier, I do not share their views. These are young men with families who deserve to be brought up in a different environment and who have been led astray.
No one in his or her right mind would tolerate the drug wars that are taking place, the taking of these young lives, or the frequent taking of innocent lives, such as that of a young Coolock woman earlier this year. While life may be cheap for those young thugs, all Members must do their best to prevent our society from falling into the abyss which faces us. It may be glimpsed in societies in the United States, England and elsewhere in the world which have been riven by drugs for much longer than has Ireland. Unless this is done now and unless the drugs crisis is taken seriously before we move beyond the point of no return, we will end up in the same place.
Any meaningful attempt to prevent gangland crime and shootings will be dependent on effective steps being taken to tackle the supply of drugs and the demand of the drugs market at an international, national and local level. Operation Marigold and Operation Anvil must be properly resourced if their effectiveness in terms of meeting their complementary objectives is to be improved. Proper resources need to be dedicated to the local drugs units, the Garda liaison officers and the Garda national drugs unit. This can be achieved by targeting Garda resources properly and providing for the civilianisation of appropriate tasks. The Government needs to recognise the seriousness of this problem, which it has failed to do up to now. I commend this motion to the House. I hope the Government will withdraw its amendment and support the motion.
Noel Ahern (Minister of State, Department of Environment, Heritage and Local Government; Minister of State, Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs; Dublin North West, Fianna Fail)
Link to this: Individually | In context
I move amendment No. 1:
To delete all words after "Dáil Éireann" and substitute the following:
"recognises that the global problem of drug misuse which is experienced in Ireland must continue to be tackled in an integrated manner across the different pillar headings of the National Drugs Strategy through a co-operative partnership approach involving the statutory, community and voluntary treatment sectors;
wholeheartedly supports the Government on their ongoing implementation of the Strategy;
acknowledges the significant ongoing work being done under the four pillars of the National Strategy — supply reduction, prevention, treatment and research — and the decision to include a fifth pillar of rehabilitation to further focus initiatives in that area;
notes that the key finding of the mid-term review of the National Drugs Strategy in 2005 was that the current aims and objectives of the strategy are fundamentally sound and that progress was being made across the four pillars of the strategy;
welcomes the significant increase in funding provided this year to the Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs for drugs initiatives;
supports the Government's top policing priority for 2006 to continue to target organised crime, including drug trafficking, and the gun culture with which it is associated;
acknowledges the continued operational successes of An Garda Síochána and the Customs Authorities in meeting and exceeding the drug supply reduction targets set in the National Drugs Strategy;
welcomes the record high level of finances being provided to An Garda Síochána in this year's budget which enables the Garda Authorities to implement targeted, intelligence driven and high intensity operations against organised crime, with a special focus on drug crime;
commends the success of An Garda Síochána's anti-crime measures such as Operation Anvil, Operation Clean Street, Operation Encounter, Operation Nightcap and Operation Marigold and supports the implementation of such ongoing measures targeted towards the prevention and detection of crime such as gangland murders, organised crime, drug trafficking and other criminal activity which gives rise to serious community concern;
commends the record levels of Garda personnel strength now available to Garda management which will permit the deployment of extra resources to be targeted at areas of concern;
applauds the work of the Criminal Assets Bureau in continuing to achieve considerable success in depriving persons engaged in criminal activity from retaining the proceeds of their crime through its highly effective co-ordinated multi-agency, multi-disciplinary and partnership approach;
supports the comprehensive strategy of An Garda Síochána in place to deal with the threat of organised crime including drug trafficking;
acknowledges that the Government's legislative package for tackling serious and organised crime, including drug trafficking, is already viewed as being one of the toughest in Europe and welcomes the introduction of the Criminal Justice Act 2006 which provides a package of further anti-crime measures which will help enhance the powers of the Garda in the investigation and prosecution of offences;
notes that the Customs and Excise Service is continuously engaged in the analysis and evaluation of drug seizure trends, routes and smuggling risks, international trends and best practice;
notes that the monitoring of licensed aerodromes in the State by the Revenue Commissioners is currently in line with international standards and that, in light of the recent seizure in Belgium of 50kg of heroin which is believed to have been destined for Weston Aerodrome, the Revenue Commissioners are reviewing the risks attached to the operation of all 27 licensed aerodromes in the State; and
notes that the Revenue Commissioners have commenced a review of the approval conditions of licensed aerodromes."
As the Minister of State with responsibility for the national drugs strategy, I assure the House, on behalf of the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy McDowell, and the Minister for Finance, Deputy Cowen, that the Government welcomes this debate on drug trafficking. The debate gives us an opportunity to focus our attention on the issue of drug misuse and the related serious and harmful consequences to which it gives rise at individual, family and community levels in society. We must address the issue in a realistic and measured way, taking account of its extent, complexity and multifaceted nature. We must be aware of the global and national contexts in which drug trafficking and drug misuse take place. Drug misuse is a societal and global problem which cuts across many policy areas, including the health, education, employment and training and criminal justice sectors. While drug misuse is most prevalent in areas of high social deprivation, it cuts across all social divisions. The Government is aware that appalling human misery is one of the destructive consequences of drug misuse. The Government has tabled the amendment for those reasons, rather than for the purposes of self-congratulation or political point-scoring.
When we consider the drug problem experienced in our communities, we cannot deal with the issue of drug misuse from a supply reduction perspective only, as the Private Members' motion appears to imply. The Government's national drugs strategy reflects this by addressing the problem under the pillar headings of education and prevention, supply reduction, treatment and rehabilitation and research. The strategy, which reflects the links between drug use, poverty and social inequality, is firmly in the social inclusion arena. I report on its progress directly to the Cabinet sub-committee on social inclusion. As the Government is conscious that it cannot deal with the drugs issue in a meaningful way on its own, its strategy and the structures arising from it are founded on the principle of joint effort, whereby the various interests work to tackle the problem together. In practice, there is an integrated partnership approach involving the statutory, voluntary treatment and community sectors. Bodies like the interdepartmental drugs group, the national drugs strategy team and the National Advisory Committee on Drugs are involved. The regional and local drugs task forces are involved at regional and local levels throughout the country. The strategy, which will run until 2008, demonstrates the Government's commitment to addressing the drug problem in a proactive, innovative and collaborative way. It has a balanced focus on seeking to prevent people from using drugs through education, reducing drug-related harm and providing treatment where required. It also concentrates on continuing to vigorously disrupt the operation of the drug market.
The Private Members' motion does not seem to acknowledge the existence of the national drugs strategy. It does not appear to recognise the progress which has been made over the first half of the strategy's lifetime. It does not seem to recognise the significant work being done under this policy framework. The Government remains fully committed to dealing with the problem in an integrated way. It has noted that the key finding of the mid-term review of the national strategy was that the strategy's aims and objectives are fundamentally sound and that progress is being made across the four pillars of the strategy. The fundamental point I am making is that a great deal of progress is being made. One could give a number of examples of the progress that has been made in implementing the specific actions in the strategy. On the supply reduction side, Garda and customs operations continue to yield drug seizures. I heard what the previous speaker said about seizures, but he should examine the graph which indicates that the number of seizures is increasing significantly. The Garda and the Customs and Excise are being resourced, funded and equipped. It is not long since I was present when the Customs and Excise took possession of a new x-ray scanning machine, like the machines which scan one's suitcases at an airport.
Noel Ahern (Minister of State, Department of Environment, Heritage and Local Government; Minister of State, Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs; Dublin North West, Fianna Fail)
Link to this: Individually | In context
The new machine is able to scan 40-foot trucks.
On the drugs education and awareness side, substance misuse prevention programmes are now included on the curriculums of all schools. The process of planning for a new drug awareness campaign, which is being co-ordinated by the population health directorate of the HSE, is under way. On the treatment side, the central treatment list recorded at the end of July 2006 that 8,118 people were availing of treatment. In addition, a vast range of clients who do not depend on opiates are availing of the HSE's counselling and rehabilitation services. Since the start of the strategy, there has been a significant increase in the number of people on methadone and in treatment. We are ensuring that more and more people are receiving treatment.
A number of positive messages are emerging from the research results. The recent research outcome study in Ireland, which was commissioned by the National Advisory Committee on Drugs, highlighted the positive and tangible benefits of the provision of such treatment. The study followed 400 people who were availing of drugs services. They were interviewed after six months and again after 12 months. Significant improvements were recorded in their health and their awareness of the dangers of drugs. They were not sharing paraphernalia to the same extent, they were not using the same quantities of drugs and they were not involved in crime to the same extent. There were very significant improvements in the lives of the 400 people in question. The study, which was professionally organised by the drugs advisory committee, made it clear that treatment does work and is working. The drug prevalence study, which was undertaken by the National Advisory Committee on Drugs in 2003, indicated the number of people using heroin in the greater Dublin area had decreased since 1996.
I do not have any degree of complacency because, as all of us know, it is not easy to tackle the drugs problem. It is an ongoing challenge, especially as the drugs situation is dynamic and changing. Our policies need to be flexible to meet those changes. Some difficulties and problems still have to be faced, of course. The level of progress is not always as quick as the Government would like it to be. It is important, in any debate, to recognise the progress which has been made has resulted from co-operation and partnership. The communities are central to that process. Many of the ideas which have been pursued and the programmes which are in operation have originated from people in the communities. The essence of local drugs task forces is that ideas do not just come down from on high — they come from community people on the ground. Approximately 650 people who started as activists are now in full-time jobs. They are working on ideas and programmes on the drugs side and on the young people's side. Such ideas started at local community level. There is no point in anyone trying to pretend that such people are not making a significant commitment.
I would like to turn my attention to the specific measures we are undertaking as part of the drug-supply reduction area of the strategy. Drugs law enforcement is a key feature in our overall drug policy framework. The Government's top policing priority for 2006 continues to be the targeting of organised crime, including drug trafficking and the gun culture with which it is associated.
The Garda Síochána has never been as well resourced financially with the 2006 budget reaching an historic high of €1.31 billion. In particular, the 2006 overtime allocation has risen to €83.5 million which represents an increase of more than 36% above the allocation of €61.1 million for 2005. This increase will allow the Garda Síochána to further intensify its crime detection and investigation capabilities.
The personnel strength of the Garda was recorded at a record level of 12,762 on Friday, 8 September 2006 following the attestation of 249 new members. The increase in numbers which has been achieved will permit senior Garda management to deploy these extra resources to target areas of concern. Areas with a significant drug problem will be deemed a particular priority.
Significant resources are also being invested in technology for the Garda to assist its members in exercising of their functions. The capital allocation for IT in 2006 is over €33 million and the allocation for communications is just under €13 million. This demonstrates the resolute commitment of the Government to invest in the criminal justice system. This increased Garda manpower and additional funding resources will enable the continuation of successful anti-crime measures to tackle drug trafficking and dealing as seen in Operations Anvil, Cleanstreet, Encounter, Nightcap and Marigold.
This Government's approach to policing, as has often been emphasised by the Tánaiste, has always been about more than resources alone and has attached significant importance to the development of a real partnership between the Garda Síochána, the local authorities and the communities they serve. The introduction of the new joint policing committees and local policing fora, which will be coming on stream under the implementation of the Garda Síochána Act 2005, will realise this on a statutory basis.
I would like to use this opportunity to acknowledge the work being done over the last number of years in this regard by the community policing fora which are already in place in the local drug task force areas. Some of these fora are official but many others operate informally and count Deputies in this House as members. Much good work has been done and this will grow as such groups adopt an official status.
The House should be aware that Garda strategies for dealing with drug offences continue to seriously undermine the activities of organised criminals involved in the trafficking and distribution of illicit drugs. Investigations carried out under these strategies have led to the arrest in recent times of major criminals based both here and abroad and I can assure the House that the Garda will continue to vigorously pursue such strategies.
The House should be advised that the tackling of organised crime and drug trafficking is primarily achieved through the use of specialist units and targeted, intelligence-led operations. National units such as the Garda national drugs unit, the Criminal Assets Bureau and the Garda Bureau of Fraud Investigation all have specific roles in reducing drug supply and the material benefits which accrue from drug trafficking. The Garda national drugs unit also works closely with divisional and district drug units in detecting and preventing the sale of illegal drugs.
It is important in this debate to put on record the continued operational successes of both the Garda Síochána and the Customs and Excise in preventing large quantities of drugs arriving in our communities. Both agencies should be commended on their efforts in this regard in continuing to meet and exceed the drug supply reduction targets set in the national strategy.
A number of law enforcement initiatives should be highlighted during this debate for the role they play in disrupting the criminal activities of a number of key criminal gangs and families including those involved in the drugs trade. Operation Anvil is working well and has already led to a number of high profile arrests and the collection of intelligence on the movements of criminals targeted under special initiatives arising from this operation. This is an intelligence-led policing initiative, the focus of which is the targeting of active criminals and their associates involved in serious crime. The initiative aims to prevent and disrupt criminal activity through extensive additional overt patrolling and static check points by uniform, mobile and foot patrols supported by armed plain clothes patrols. The operation remains in place in the Dublin Metropolitan Region and has been extended nationwide in 2006.
Outside the Dublin Metropolitan Region, a series of special operations, prepared by senior Garda managers and designed to focus on areas and incidents of high crime, are also in place.
In addition, the Garda Commissioner, in November 2005, augmented the organised crime unit at the National Bureau of Criminal Investigation with an additional 55 gardaí to address the problem of criminal gang activity. Operations carried out by the unit have resulted in firearms being seized and a number of persons arrested, thereby disrupting their criminal activities. The Criminal Assets Bureau continues to act as an effective element of our overall enforcement efforts against those involved in organised criminality including drug trafficking. The most recent report on the agency's work, in 2005, demonstrates its effectiveness.
In terms of ensuring that we have robust legislation in place to deal with the threat of drug trafficking, it should be noted that it is already often acknowledged that our legislative package for tackling serious and organised crime is already one of the toughest in Europe.
The Criminal Justice Act, recently approved by this House, provides a further comprehensive package of anti-crime measures which will help enhance the powers of the Garda in the investigation and prosecution of offences. A number of specific provisions in the Act of relevance to this debate include the creation of criminal offences regarding organised crime, the strengthening of provisions on the imposition of the ten year mandatory minimum sentence for drug trafficking, new offences of supplying drugs to prisons and the provision for the establishment of a drug offenders register.
In terms of the issues which have been raised on the motion that come under the remit of Revenue's customs service, again we should firstly acknowledge the ongoing operational successes against drug trafficking which the customs authorities continue to achieve.
The reported recent seizure in Belgium of 50 kg of heroin, the arrest of three Irish nationals and the seizure of an aircraft based at Weston Aerodrome is a matter of major concern to the Government. The Minister for Finance has been assured that the Revenue's customs service is continually engaged in the analysis and evaluation of seizure trends, routes and smuggling risks and consequential resource deployment. Given the scale of international travel, all customs operations are risk-focused and staff are deployed to combat areas of risk on an intelligence led basis.
The Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs has also been advised that the monitoring of licensed aerodromes in the State by the Revenue Commissioners is in line with international standards. However, in light of the concerns raised by the Weston incident, the Revenue Commissioners are reviewing the risks attached to the operation of all licensed aerodromes in the State and have initiated an immediate review of the conditions under which approval is granted to licensed aerodromes. Furthermore this review will examine options for improving the level of control and prior reporting of arrivals from EU and non-EU countries. The Government has no intention of resting on its laurels in tackling the ongoing drugs problem. We will continue to address it in an integrated way under our national drugs strategy using the solid partnership between the statutory, voluntary treatment and community sectors. In my capacity as Minister of State responsible for the strategy, I must say good work is being done in partnership with the communities.
The strategy has been in place since 2001 and the local drugs task forces were set up in 1997 and 1998. There were 14 initially, as is still the case, and they include 12 in Dublin, one in Bray and one in Cork. In the past eight or nine years, we have spent over €100 million directly through the 14 local drugs task forces. The ten regional drugs task forces, which have been operating for the past year or so, are covering a much larger area. The plans they have submitted have been approved and are to be rolled out over a two-year or three-year period. These task forces received their first allocation of funding this year and now have full-time co-ordinators doing the relevant work.
The Department's young people's facilities and services fund addresses the question of prevention and is responsible for a marvellous amount of good work. Many less well-off suburbs of Dublin built in the 1960s and 1970s and inner-city developments had very poor facilities for young people. Too often one hears young people saying there is nothing to do, which to them is an excuse for getting involved in drugs. To date, the Government has spent over €100 million to provide facilities in disadvantaged areas. Capital funding has resulted in more sports and youth facilities and there are now many staff, including sports development officers and youth workers, helping to divert youths from drug-taking and to offer them healthy lifestyle alternatives.
The local drugs task forces and the young people's facilities and services fund have led to the employment of 650 staff. They represent a great resource and, while some say it is not enough, seven to nine years ago not many people were asked how many workers they believed would be necessary on the ground to try to deal adequately with the drugs problem. The 650 staff are not employed on a statutory basis but employed in 400 odd projects, the ideas for which emerged from local communities and the local drugs task forces. They are doing a lot of work.
Some €14 million has been spent on the premises fund to date and it helps to provide accommodation for drug treatment services. Today I opened a project in Ballymun which had received approximately €1.4 million through the fund to provide facilities for staff and their clients with drug problems. The projects that existed previously in Ballymun were in basement flats and it is therefore good to see the staff and clients are now in very modern office accommodation. There is no reason somebody who happens to have a drugs problem should not be treated well.
The emerging needs fund started small and was originally intended to fund new projects to combat cocaine use. However, it ultimately funded 67 projects and another €4 million has been committed. The ideas for the projects came from the community.
This year's budget under the drugs head in the Estimates of the Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs amounted to €43 million, which represents an increase of approximately 36% or 37% over the figure for last year. Very few budget heads in any Department refer to increases of over 30% in a given year. The aforementioned sum is not the only sum being spent on combating drugs because it represents only a very small proportion. All the programmes in the Department are pilot programmes initially and when they are evaluated they are mainstreamed and the funding is transferred to the Departments of Health and Children, Justice, Equality and Law Reform or Education and Science, or to the local authorities.
If one considers what has been mainstreamed, one will note that approximately €70 million is being spent every year on projects that began at community level. This is in addition to the €80 million or €90 million being spent by the HSE and the sums being spent by the Garda and other bodies. Over €200 million of taxpayers' money is spent per year under the four or five pillars in the fight against drugs. More may be needed but the existing provision represents a great resource.
I am often asked what we have to show for the €200 million being spent per year or whether it is just money down the drain. The ROSIE study, carried out by the National Advisory Committee on Drugs, tracked 400 people in receipt of drug services for over a year. It demonstrated that after a year, they had benefited in a very positive way from the services on offer. Some of them had come off drugs and some had not, but a very high percentage of those who had not were using fewer drugs and were much more conscious of the health risks they posed. They were much more aware of the danger of sharing needles and other paraphernalia and were involved in far fewer crimes. Generally, they were getting their act together so they could make a contribution to their families and communities. The study showed clearly that drug treatment works.
We all have a responsibility to encourage drug services in our communities and to be brave occasionally. Recently, a certain election candidate for Fine Gael in Dublin West, who is a doctor, no less——
Noel Ahern (Minister of State, Department of Environment, Heritage and Local Government; Minister of State, Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs; Dublin North West, Fianna Fail)
Link to this: Individually | In context
He was a bloody disgrace. Certain candidates may run for election on such an issue and try to lead those affected over the cliff, but one would expect a doctor, who ought to have an understanding of such matters, to adopt a different approach. The sort of carry-on whereby candidates thinking of possible votes try to scare middle-aged and middle-class people into being concerned about the possible dangers associated with drug treatment programmes is unacceptable.
We offer drug treatment on three scales, the first of which involves big clinics. The second involves using the local health clinic for an hour or two in the evening and the third involves doctors prescribing treatment to be dispensed by the local chemist. There are many chemists dispensing it and nobody needs to know. People go to chemist shops for all sorts of treatment and I would hate to see the day on which individuals stand outside them and ask those entering why they are going in. In this regard, the Fine Gael candidate's performance was disgraceful. It was pathetic given the knowledge he possesses as a doctor, and I hope sincerely that Deputy English has spoken to him and tried to sort him out.
Link to this: Individually | In context
We all know people who might not be as enlightened as others but one expects more from those who might be educated in the matters in question. We all know wild men and wild women — to be politically correct——
Link to this: Individually | In context
I am sorry, I was trying to be politically correct. I know the Deputy understands my point from a medical perspective.
Link to this: Individually | In context
The only way to deal with the drugs problem is to provide services and the best way to do so is to allow each community to provide them in its own area. If we try to lump them all into one area, we create a great problem. We should all be brave. That was a big problem in Dublin. It now may have moved to other parts of the country. Everybody here involved in this issue should quote the ROSIE study. If people have a drug problem, they either steal to feed the habit or they become mini-dealers and recruit disciples to the cause. The best approach is through treatment.
I commend the Government amendment to the House.
The Minister of State finished on time, despite spending a considerable amount of time off-script. It shows, at least, that he is interested in the drugs problem and is probably aware of how serious it is. He is probably quietly ashamed of the Government in this regard, as I am. One of the biggest failures of the two parties in Government over the last ten years is the outright mess that exists as regards drugs. In that respect I certainly agree with the motion tabled by the Independent Deputies and I will touch on a few facts and figures, accordingly.
The position regarding drugs is a disaster. The Minister of State talked about the need to be brave, and I agree with him. I do not agree with what that doctor said. I accept he wants a debate about it and the matter needs to be highlighted and talked about. The Government does not do this sufficiently. The Minister of State is not brave enough to have a realistic debate about drugs. He said "We must address the issue in a realistic and measured way which takes account of the extent, complexity and multifaceted nature of the problem." We did not have that from the Minister of State who is far from reality every time he talks to the House about drugs and what the Government is doing about it. That is the problem.
It would be very brave of him to come in here and face the facts so we might have a good discussion about how we might work together to solve the problem. That is not happening. Not enough is being done interdepartmentally and among leaders of society as regards saying how dangerous is the drug threat. It is almost a taboo subject. The Minister of State is almost the only person on the Government side who ever talks about drugs. It should be uppermost in the mind of every Minister to try to deter people from going down the drugs route. There is no interdepartmental effort as regards drugs. The Department of Health and Children has virtually disappeared when it comes to tackling drugs. Still, the Minister of State asks people to be brave.
This is one of the massive failures of the Government. I shall correct the Minister as regards one figure, since we were attempting to clarify how much had been spent. He mentioned €200 million. He appears to have jumped €5 million in the last week. He answered a question last week to the effect that the figure was up to €195 million, so that €5 million seems to have arrived out of nowhere. The Minister of State in reply to a question as regards drugs said: "Overall, I am satisfied that current Government expenditure on drugs is sufficient to meet the needs of those involved in tackling the effects and misuse of drugs." That is a joke, which is proven by the fact Ireland is ranked towards the top of the European drug league for cocaine and Ecstasy use according to a UN report in 2005 — not 20 years ago when the Minister of State is convinced this drugs problem started. The problem has to be fixed now. The World Drug Report 2005 puts Ireland in joint third place for cocaine use and joint sixth place for Ecstasy use out of 230 states. Ireland had a higher annual drugs prevalence rate than the world average for four of the main five illegal drugs. As regards Europe, Ireland is above the average for three of the five drugs, cannabis, Ecstasy and the opiates, mainly heroin.
Irish teenagers are much more likely to use cannabis than their counterparts in other European countries, according to a Government report. An Oireachtas committee report published earlier this year found that 38% of Irish 16-year olds have used cannabis at least once. As many as 5,000 16-year olds admit to using the drug at least thee times per month, double the EU average. The Oireachtas report also found that as many as 300,000 people regularly used cannabis, with 10% admitting to being dependent on the drug. That is the reality and the Minister of State says he is happy with what the Government is doing and with the money being spent in this area. If we do not seriously tackle the issue the only culture many people will know in Ireland will be a drug culture. That is how serious the problem is. Parents do not realise yet how serious it is, because the reality of the drug problem is being down played deliberately by the Government and hidden at every turn. That is a shame because I do not think the Minister of State believes matters are as good as he says they are. He knows how bad things are but is not allowed to say it, and that is even more of a shame. We must face reality or the problem will never be tackled properly.
Let us examine some of the targets of the national drugs strategy: a reduction of 0.5% in 2007 in the estimated prevalence of opiates, based on the 2001 data; a reduction of 5% by 2007 in the prevalence rate of recent and current use of illicit drugs in the general population based on the 2002-03 rate; substance use policies in place in 100% of schools; and early school leaving in local drug task force areas to reduce by 10%, based on the 2005-06 data. It appears unlikely that three of these four targets will be reached. They were not even mentioned. The Minister of State only referred to one of them, concerning schools and substance abuse, which was a start. I have only picked four items from the drugs strategy. The Minister of State had half an hour to tell the House how well we were succeeding, and he did not do that. Instead, we got a lecture probably written by the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy McDowell, in relation to his Garda figures. Again, it was more waffle about how great the money is and how much it has increased over the last couple of years.
He said the amounts being spent on Garda resources were historic. We are living in historic times. The population has grown seriously in the last couple of years. Do we even realise what is happening in the greater Dublin region? The Minister, Deputy McDowell, does not leave Dublin. He would not know what is happening outside it.
In my town, Navan, there are less gardaí now than there were 23 years ago, yet the population is three times what it was. That is historic, and we need an historic amount spent in that regard. The Minister of State need not quote the increased Garda budget to me as the solution to the drugs crisis.
He said the level of cocaine being seized had increased by 500% since 1995, an indication of the depth of the problem. The only response from the Government, however, has been to fund three pilot projects. One of the Minister of State's answers to a parliamentary question this week indicates that four more are funded.
The pilot project to tackle the cocaine programme is massive and in his own words the Minister of State says: "I am confident that through the implementation of the actions in the National Drugs Strategy the problem of cocaine use can be and is being addressed." The reality is far from that. There is a massive cocaine problem. It runs to billions of euro and the Minister of State is quoted as saying €200 million is being spent in tackling it. Some €200 million in profits are being made every weekend in the sale of drugs. If we want to tackle the problem, real money must be spent on real resources or we will not win the war on drugs. This Government has to declare war on drugs once and for all. The current position cannot continue.
The Minister of State mentions people on treatment and quotes the study which shows great results for people who are getting treatment, and how beneficial it is. Yet only half of heroin users are on methadone and more than half cannot get treatment. Only a few hundred beds are available to get people fully off drugs.
——here. The reality is that there is a serious problem, but the Minister of State does not admit that. He should not try to quote international figures to defend it. That is not good enough. According to his own figures on the waiting lists for methadone treatment from May 2006, some people are waiting 18 months to start a maintenance programme — not for treatment for drugs, just a maintenance programme to keep the habit at bay. The average wait is six months to a year, and yet the Minister of State can tell the House about the great study that was done which shows that treatment works. If it works why do we not increase its availability? He mentioned access to methadone and clinics all around the country. There are 76 methadone treatment centres in Dublin and 16 outside the capital. It is not very easy to get it, and yet the Minister of State talks about it as if everything were grand and freely available in every town. That is not the case, because not enough is being done to encourage pharmacists and doctors to participate and implement the programme. It is a failure and the Minister of State should admit this.
I will not touch on the mental health area because Deputy Neville will speak on that. I have two quick points to make. Every time there is a drugs seizure, and someone is shot or affected by drugs, we are told the person concerned is known to the Garda. People who are dealing in drugs all around the country are known to the Garda. They are known to the Minister of State and everyone else in the various areas and yet nothing can be done. Surely to God the law can be changed or something can be done to get such people off the streets, since they are known by the Garda to be drug dealers.
I am asking the Minister of State to consider change. Surely, with all the people he has working in this area, some way could be invented to solve the problem. It is not good enough that people known to gardaí are running round the streets every night of the week.
They even do deliveries to pubs and estates. One can stand in estates and watch people going to collect their drugs. That is how obvious it is, yet these people who are known to gardaí cannot be touched. There is something seriously wrong there.
RAPID is also part of the Minister of State's responsibilities. We recently discussed where the money is being spent and while it is sometimes hard to follow where the money is going and what results are being achieved, it seems to be working in some areas. However, the planning of our housing estates is bringing us down the same route again. Houses are been thrown in all over the place. We have not learned from experience. In years to come, RAPID areas will be three times the size they are now if we do not learn from the mistakes we made in the past. Young people need a community — not just hundreds of houses built in estate after estate — with facilities they can access at an affordable price. This is not happening. Instead, we are creating more areas for drug dealers to peddle death. We are not tackling it properly.
I want to deal with this from the perspective of prevention and treatment. I commend the gardaí for the work they are doing in this area. I endorse the point Deputy English made that this is only the tip of the iceberg. I have spoken to gardaí both in Dublin and in my constituency. Drugs sales on the streets of Dublin are a non-stop, 24-hour operation. The gardaí arrest the peddlers and bring them to court, but by the end of the day the same people are back selling on the streets. There are units of the gardaí in this city that do not have 24-hour cover for their drugs squads. Those peddling drugs know that the gardaí cannot possibly deal with the situation on that basis.
In 2004, An Garda Síochána had two drugs trained sniffer dogs in the whole country. These dogs had to be booked in advance. What was one to do if one wanted to conduct a drugs search in south-west Cork? Book the dogs two weeks in advance and hope that the ship landed on that particular night? It is just not practical. Gardaí cannot do their jobs with such resources. I know there are now a few extra dogs but it is no more than a handful.
There must also be an attitudinal change regarding drugs. This is not a criticism of the Government. There is still an assumption that drugs are a phenomenon restricted to disadvantaged areas, and I acknowledge that it is particularly severe in some areas. However, it is just as much a middle-class problem as anything else. I link it to the notion of child pornography. Just because someone does not see the child in front of them does not mean the child has not suffered elsewhere in making the pornographic material. Likewise, just because an individual is not breaking into someone's home to fund their drug habit does not mean that the consequences for communities are any less. I do not think the public sufficiently accepts this principle. People think it is all right if they are using drugs in the privacy of their own sitting rooms. It is not right and the consequences are just the same.
My biggest criticism is the lack of treatment places. I know people in my constituency of Laois-Offaly who have been on a treatment waiting list for a year. I have met mothers whose sons and daughters have agreed to go on a treatment programme. They go through the hoops only to discover they will have to wait a year to get on the programme. Those parents fear their children will die before they get onto a programme. It is difficult to give a real answer to those people. I cannot give them any words of comfort. I cannot help them skip up a place on the treatment programme waiting list because someone else will lose out. The doctor in the Laois-Offaly treatment centre spends a day and a half in Portlaoise, another day and a half in Athlone, and the rest of the time is spent catching up on paperwork. He cannot take any more patients because of safety considerations and no other doctor is willing to come in. There is no point in shrugging our shoulders; it is a problem we have to address. We must put doctors in place by whatever means.
There are plenty of doctors out there and they need to be brought in. It is too late for the Minister of State to say that they have to be trained. The Government has been in office for nine and a half years. It has had its chance to do this but has not done so.
I know what the Minister of State means when he says that young people will claim there is nothing to do. While I acknowledge money has been spent to address this aspect, there are still places where young people genuinely have nothing to do. They will get into trouble if there is nothing to do. Providing one skateboard park for teenagers in County Offaly is fantastic. Great improvements have been made in the provision of playgrounds. However, children lose interest in playgrounds by the age of ten or 11. After that, there are not sufficient resources available for young people. The youth work sector has not been sufficiently resourced. This must be addressed as it will prevent young people from embarking on a chain of events. It is not the case that there is plenty for young people to do now. I can empathise with them when I hear them say that they have nothing to do.
I welcome the opportunity to address this debate and congratulate the Technical Group on tabling it. Today is World Mental Health Day. I asked for a debate today on this serious national issue. However, the Ceann Comhairle decided, as is his right, that this is not a serious national issue. I believe that the lack of resources being invested in our psychiatric services is a serious national issue. The Government has failed to respect the human rights of people with mental illness. The psychiatric service is out of step with international best practices and, as such, fails to comply with international human rights law.
More than 50% of young people who die by suicide have a history of drug or alcohol abuse. Many young people who consider suicide suffer from depression. Suicide is not random. Each one occurs for a particular reason, such as depression or drug or alcohol abuse. Studying such high risk groups is an important way to prevent suicide. Studies have shown that young adults who drink heavily or have a high level of drug abuse have an increased risk of suicide in middle adulthood. People who are dependent on alcohol or drugs have an increased risk of death from accidents, disease and suicide. Suicide is among the most significant causes of death in both male and females who are substance abusers. The strongest risk factors for attempted suicide in adults are depression, alcohol abuse, cocaine use and separation or marriage break-up. The strongest risk or factors for attempted suicide in young people are depression, drug abuse, alcohol abuse and drug use disorder, including binge drinking, substance abuse and aggressive and disruptive behaviour.
The frequency of suicide attempts among substance abusers is five times greater than the frequency among people who do not abuse substances. This is particularly true for alcoholics. Major depression is 50% more common among alcoholics than non-alcoholics. Most people drink alcohol or use drugs such as cocaine to reduce feelings of depression. However, drinking and drug use can actually lead to greater anxiety, depression and thoughts of suicide. Many people recovering from heroin addiction make suicide attempts. Drug abusers often have feelings of being unwell or unhappy. Although these feelings may not last long enough to qualify as a major depression, they may nonetheless increase drug abusers' risks of attempting suicide. In addition, there is a relationship between injecting drugs and suicide attempts.
Addicts who inject drugs are aware that they are engaging in high risk behaviour and may be less concerned about their overall well-being. Alcoholics and drugs addicts often lose their jobs and have troubled relationships. These problems increase the risks of making a suicide attempt. The major risk factors for completed suicide among alcoholics and drug abusers are current drinking and drug use, major depression, suicidal thoughts, loss of support from families, living alone and unemployment.
Unlike many of the other issues surrounding this problem, less is known about the way these risk factors affect other substance abusers. Psychiatric conditions such as depression and schizophrenia play an important role in suicide of alcoholics and drug abusers. The vast majority of suicide victims have symptoms of depression at the time of their death. I will conclude but I had much more to contribute to the debate on this issue.