Dáil debates

Wednesday, 11 October 2006

Private Members' Business

Crime Prevention: Motion (Resumed).

5:00 pm

Photo of Conor LenihanConor Lenihan (Minister of State, Department of Foreign Affairs; Dublin South West, Fianna Fail)
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I wish to focus on the drug supply reduction aspect of this debate. As my colleague, the Minister of State at the Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs, Deputy Noel Ahern, pointed out yesterday evening, drugs law enforcement is one of the pillar headings of the Government's drug policy framework, namely, the national drugs strategy. I reiterate the point that the Government's top policing priority continues to be the targeting of organised crime, including drug trafficking and the gun culture with which it is associated. In order to assist in its consideration of such matters, I wish to provide the House with more detail regarding the measures and strategies that the Garda Síochána and the customs service of the Office of the Revenue Commissioners already have in place in tackling these activities. Moreover, I wish to respond to a number of matters which have already been raised concerning the Government's drug law enforcement efforts during this debate.

Given its nature, tackling drug trafficking demands local, national and international responses and is primarily intelligence led. The Garda Síochána invokes a number of broad strategic responses to address the issue. These include identifying, targeting and dismantling national and international drug trafficking networks that supply and distribute illegal drugs within this State; conducting intelligence-driven operations focusing on all aspects of the illicit drugs trade, including commodity, logistics, distribution and financing; working with other national and international law enforcement agencies on joint actions designed to reduce the availability of drugs and the proceeds derived from the drugs trade; and working in partnership with statutory, community and voluntary groups to reduce both the supply and demand for drugs in society.

Best practice in customs administration worldwide shows that the development of information and intelligence is critical to the detection of drug smuggling. This has become very important in Ireland since the completion of the Single Market in 1993, which is based on the free movement of goods and people within the Community. People travelling within the European Union have the right to free movement and Revenue has no power to stop them except on the basis of a suspicion that is normally grounded in specific intelligence.

The Customs service liaises on an ongoing basis with other national and international enforcement services such as the Garda Síochána, with which there are in place a formal memorandum of understanding and protocols to facilitate joint operations, the Naval Service, the Air Corps and foreign customs and police services. It takes part regularly in European, bilateral and national surveillance operations focused on specific drug smuggling methodologies, including general aviation. Some operations of this nature have been directed specifically at light aircraft and helicopter movements.

The Customs service also shares and receives information and intelligence on drug smuggling from a number of international bodies, including the World Customs Organisation, the United Nations Drug Control Programme, Interpol, the Council of Europe, Europol and the United Kingdom's Serious Organised Crime Agency.

The Revenue Commissioners' Customs service is continually engaged in the analysis and evaluation of seizure trends, routes and smuggling risks and consequential resource deployment. All Customs operations are risk focused and staff are deployed to combat areas of greatest risk. Revenue constantly reviews staffing levels and structures to ensure that resources are matched to risk. Previously, it was noted that tackling organised crime and drug trafficking is achieved primarily through the use of specialist units and targeted intelligence-led operations and I wish to highlight some of the results of such measures.

Since November 2005, with the establishment of the organised crime unit in conjunction with the Garda national drugs unit and local gardaí, Operations Anvil and Oak have targeted criminals involved in the trafficking of drugs to prevent the resultant feuds which can arise between them. Since November 2005, significant drug seizures have been made as a result of these operations including 30 kg of heroin, 35 kg of cocaine and 1.4 tonnes of cannabis resin, with an approximate cumulative street value of €20.5 million. In addition, quantities of arms and cash have been recovered by the Garda through this work. This has led to the arrest of 41 persons and a further 26 are before the courts at present. These ongoing operations will continue dismantling a number of drug trafficking networks in the State and will continue to be implemented by the Garda Síochána, backed up by the provision of the requisite level of resources by the Government.

As for the issue raised regarding huge levels of wealth being generated and flaunted by organised criminals involved in the drugs trade, such individuals' activities are characteristically driven by pure greed and are carried out with a total lack of regard for the effects of their drug dealing on the well-being of the people and communities in which they operate. The Garda will continue to pursue vigorously any such wealth accrued by identified drug trafficking criminals, either through the provisions of the Criminal Justice Act 1994 or through the work of the Criminal Assets Bureau under the statutory remit of that agency.

In order to enhance the effectiveness of this strategy on a nationwide basis, since 2004 an initiative has been developed by the Criminal Assets Bureau in conjunction with the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions, in which one member of the Garda Síochána from every Garda division will undergo training as a profiler in respect of criminal assets. At present, a divisional criminal assets profiler has been appointed in each of the 25 Garda divisions and a full complement of divisional profilers is being maintained. The appointment of additional profilers will be kept under review, depending on the threats posed.

The benefits of such ongoing law enforcement efforts, which are often carried out in a dangerous and threatening environment, are demonstrated by the continued high level of drug seizures made by both the Garda Síochána and the Customs authorities, as well as their continued success in bringing serious drug traffickers to book and putting them out of business. Both agencies should be acknowledged and warmly commended in this debate for so doing.

No one on the Government side is naïve regarding this issue and we acknowledge fully that tackling the problem of drug trafficking remains an ongoing challenge to be faced with vigilance. However, it is one that the Government, in conjunction with its law enforcement agencies, will continue to tackle as a priority under one of the main pillar headings of its overall national drugs strategy.

Photo of Charlie O'ConnorCharlie O'Connor (Dublin South West, Fianna Fail)
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I wish to share my time with Deputy Ardagh.

Photo of Michael WoodsMichael Woods (Dublin North East, Fianna Fail)
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Is that agreed? Agreed.

Photo of Charlie O'ConnorCharlie O'Connor (Dublin South West, Fianna Fail)
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While I should not say this, I would be as happy to be in Lansdowne Road cheering on my neighbour, Robbie Keane, as he leads out the Irish team. My best wishes go to them.

However, the House is concerned with a serious debate this evening. I notice that my colleagues, Deputies Catherine Murphy and Healy, are present. I compliment the Independent group for tabling this motion and providing Members with an opportunity to discuss this matter. I listened carefully to what Deputy Murphy said last night. In her fine contribution, she made reference to recent events at Weston Aerodrome. It is important for us to spend a minute or two dwelling on that issue.

It is clear that the smashing of a major drug smuggling ring some weeks ago by the Garda and their colleagues in Belgium and Holland shut down a significant drugs channel into Dublin. It is important that we acknowledge the work of the Garda not only in that operation but in general. Security at Weston Aerodrome should be on a par with the procedures at Dublin Airport and other major airports. I strongly believe that international flights into Weston Aerodrome should face the same level of security as similar flights into any other airport. The operators of that airfield should conduct a review to ensure that is the case. I know I have the support of many of my colleagues in saying that.

It is important to acknowledge that life is becoming more difficult for drug gangs at every level. I refer to those who deal in drugs on the streets of Dublin, those who try to bring drugs through our ports and airports and those who meet international drug smugglers in other countries. Garda surveillance and intelligence gathering is scoring major victories in the ongoing war on crime and drugs, and it is important to acknowledge that.

I do not want to talk about my constituency or my community in a negative way, obviously. It is important we support those who are fighting drugs in all our communities. Tallaght is no different in that regard. While I am talking about the justice element, I express my support for the drugs units in all our towns. I live in Tallaght, work in Tallaght and represent Tallaght within my constituency along with my colleague, the Minister of State, Deputy Conor Lenihan. It is important to mention that the drugs unit in Tallaght is worthy of our strong support. When the country was talking about other matters last week, I tried to focus on making the point that Tallaght, the third largest centre of population in the country, needs more gardaí and a new Garda station. The west Tallaght area could also benefit from the location of a Garda station there. I support the proposal to develop such a facility. I ask the Minister of State to convey to the Tánaiste my belief that Tallaght needs more gardaí on the streets. The drugs unit based in Tallaght Garda station also needs to be beefed up so it can continue the good work it is doing in conjunction with the general police force.

I acknowledge publicly the tireless efforts of the many organisations in all our communities which are doing so much to combat the drugs problem. I am not sensitive about saying that Tallaght has led the way in community endeavour. Many groups have done a tremendous job in that regard. The Tallaght Rehabilitation Project, for example, hit the headlines last week following its recent move to Kiltalown House, an historic building in west Tallaght. I know I am not supposed to mention the President, but I would like to inform the House that President McAleese joined the Minister of State, Deputy Conor Lenihan, Deputy Crowe and me at the official opening last week. It was good to hear the President speaking so positively about the work of that initiative.

I also want to mention briefly some of the other organisations in my community, including the Brookfield addiction response programme, the St. Dominic community response programme, the St. Aengus community response programme and JADD.

The SWAN network, a family support group that operates in the Springfield estate where I live, aims to provide practical support to families which are under stress due to substance use issues within the family setting. The network uses a professional and holistic approach in a confidential, respectful and non-judgmental environment. It offers a tremendous service to the local and wider community in Tallaght. I have highlighted the SWAN network specifically among all the other groups in my constituency, with which my colleagues will be familiar, because it tends to be ignored when decisions are being made about funding and support. It is often not clear where the network should go in search of funding. Many people have reminded the Tallaght drugs task force that organisations like the SWAN network should get more help than they are getting. My predecessor as Fianna Fáil Deputy in the constituency, Chris Flood, who was chairman of the task force for some time, would be keen for me to express my support for that viewpoint and I am happy to do so. Perhaps the Minister of State will convey my concerns in that regard to the Ministers. I am anxious to ensure that resources continue to be made available to all the groups in my community. I have singled out the SWAN network because it falls between the various stools to some degree.

We need to support those who are afflicted by drug abuse. It is important to help the families of drug users and addicts to understand that their relatives can be helped and looked after. Those of us who have the privilege of representing communities — Tallaght is no worse than any other community — should support the ongoing work to which I have referred.

I want to speak briefly about the challenges which are being faced by many organisations which deal with people who are afflicted by drugs. A number of worrying trends are evident, such as the illegal trade of prescription drugs, including sleeping tablets and other products. The Minister of State, Deputy Tim O'Malley, is much better acquainted with this problem than I am. Many prescription drugs are being made available legally before being sold on illegally. Many people in our communities have identified that this is becoming quite a problem and needs to be dealt with. There is some illegal trade in methadone, which is made available to wean people off heroin. The Minister of State should tell the Ministers that there is a need for stricter policing of methadone clinics. I have been told that it is quite easy to buy tablets on the open market throughout the Dublin region. We need to examine this area and take some action.

When dealing with drug addiction and rehabilitation, it is important to focus on the key issue of education and to offer support to addicts and their families. That is why I expressed my support for the organisations in my community and elsewhere which are doing their best to help those who need assistance. It is important we continue to offer such support.

I acknowledge, in fairness to the Department, that a great deal of public money has been made available to support many projects and to meet the needs of many estates in my constituency. I will not list all the projects again. I compliment the Minister of State in that regard. My colleague Mick Billane, a former Fianna Fáil councillor, has often made the point that it is much better to spend money on community facilities, community endeavour and doing things for young people in the community than to help to create the circumstances in which we have to visit those young people in various institutions, as we often have to do. It is a simple message — it may even be a coy soundbite — but it is important for us to continue to follow it. My community is not the only one which is linked to this trade.

Deputies should use the opportunity presented by this debate to send a clear signal that the Dáil supports those who are involved in the fight against drugs. While drugs and drug dealing is not just a law and order issue, as I said earlier, it is first and foremost a law and order issue. I am glad the Chairman of the Joint Committee on Justice, Equality, Defence and Women's Rights, Deputy Ardagh, is present to hear me saying that. We must continue to view it as a law and order issue in the first instance. I have been told the situation has not radically deteriorated in my community or anywhere else. At the same time, clear challenges need to be confronted. I have already argued that more gardaí are needed in major population centres to deal with these issues. We need to continue to focus on the other side of the argument by helping organisations working with drug addicts to build up their resources. We have to ensure that good programmes are available and give as much support as possible to young people who need to be encouraged to avoid the dangers posed by drugs.

This is a very important debate. It is good that we are having it and that we are taking the opportunity, on what I hope will be a good night for Ireland, to support those who are involved in the fight against drugs.

Photo of Seán ArdaghSeán Ardagh (Dublin South Central, Fianna Fail)
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I thank Deputy O'Connor for allowing me to share time. I represent the constituency of Dublin South-Central which takes in some of the most deprived areas in Dublin, including Fatima Mansions, Dolphin House, Merchant's Quay and St. Michael's Estate. The devastation caused over the years by drug and alcohol abuse to personal, family and community life is all too evident in these areas.

The way the State interacts with such communities largely dictates the approach of wider society and the relative success in solving these problems. In the cases of Fatima and St. Michael's House money invested recently and the work of the local community have improved the areas and helped the regeneration of flats. It is possible that this will be replicated in Dolphin House and St. Teresa's Gardens. Local drugs task forces have been engaged in the challenge also.

Ten years ago, when I began in Dáil Éireann, the situation was deplorable. Things have improved, but not sufficiently. Drug use is often seen as a problem that impacts on individuals, communities and society but not on families. It is estimated that there are 15,000 heroin users in Ireland and that means 15,000 families are blighted by addiction. Not only is it a life of addiction but it brings total marginalisation and poverty.

This relates only to heroin. I recently read statistics on the quantity of drugs seized by the Garda Síochána from 2000 to 2005. Heroin seized rose from 23.9 kg to 32.28 kg over those six years. That represents an increase of only 35%. I say "only" because it is small relative to the amount of cocaine seized in recent years. In 2000 18 kg of cocaine was seized and in 2001 it was 5.3 kg. By 2004 this had risen to 167.3 kg and by 2005 it reached 229.38 kg. This is an increase of 1,174%. Those of us representing marginalised areas are aware of the availability of cocaine and how it has substituted for heroin to a large extent. However, the use of cocaine is not a problem confined to marginalised areas. It badly affects people in all strata of society. It leads to health and addiction problems that result in the type of marginalisation and poverty that many people in the inner city and other deprived areas have experienced.

I congratulate Kerry Life Education Limited which carried out an excellent seminar, Getting a Grip 2006, in Killarney last Friday. The Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children, Deputy Tim O'Malley, attended and raised the problem of over-the-counter drugs in addition to hard drugs. Such drugs are often seen as headache tablets and the like but are used to such an extent that they have an effect on people's mental and physical health. Deputy Lynch mentioned prescribed drugs and many people taking such drugs are consequently suffering greatly.

Many of those at the seminar raised the issue of alcohol. In Ireland we do not pay as much attention to addiction to the drug that is alcohol as in other countries. There is a great need to consider the recommendations of the strategic task force on alcohol which issued its second report in September 2004. If the price of a drug is increased demand for that drug is affected. With the upcoming budget in mind, we must consider increasing the price of alcoholic beverages to have a substantial effect on demand, particularly among young people. We must examine the manner in which we, as parents and role models, behave in terms of alcohol so that, in future, young people can change how alcohol is approached.

Regarding poverty, the State must continue to put significant funds into the local drugs task forces, the youth facilities services programme and the various emerging funds such as the premises initiatives. Merchant's Quay Ireland has provided some important statistics. Over 75% of drug users in treatment left school before they were 16 years old. This presents a challenge to ensure such children return to the education system, not necessarily through the standard schooling process but through special schools and through the endeavour of many hard pressed community workers. The children may be reluctant to return to the education system and the task of bringing them on stream is difficult and trying. I commend the people working with these children.

Some 74% of all drug users are unemployed. The link between poverty, social exclusion and drug use has been recognised both in Ireland and abroad. The problem of drug use is particularly prevalent in areas with high levels of poverty, long-term unemployment, poor or insecure housing, early school leaving and crime and urban neglect. I often examine the statistics detailing where children who go to university have come from. Very few from Dublin 8, Dublin 10 and Dublin 12 go on to University College Dublin. Thankfully, there are post-leaving certificate courses which can act as a stepping stone. Ultimately, these children do not go on to third level education because people living at such addresses do not receive the requisite amount or type of education to come through.

There is still much work to be done on the drugs issue. The Minister of State at the Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs, Deputy Noel Ahern, last night, and the Minister of State at the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy Brian Lenihan, tonight, clarified what their respective Departments are doing to deal with this issue. Overall, there is a huge job to do and we are only getting started. We must continue to work hard to try to have a substantial effect in the forthcoming years. Combating drugs is a major battle and we can never say it has been won.

Photo of Brian O'SheaBrian O'Shea (Waterford, Labour)
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I wish to share time with Deputy Costello.

Photo of Rory O'HanlonRory O'Hanlon (Cavan-Monaghan, Ceann Comhairle)
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Is that agreed? Agreed.

Photo of Brian O'SheaBrian O'Shea (Waterford, Labour)
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Ba mhaith liom na Teachtaí Dála Neamhspleácha a mholadh as ucht an rún caoithiúil seo a chur ós comhair na Dála agus an seans a thabhairt dúinn géirchéim na ndrugaí a phlé. I commend the Independent Deputies on bringing this very timely motion before the House. It affords us the opportunity to debate this major crisis, which is causing very serious nationwide disruption and concern. The Labour Party will support the motion during the vote this evening.

The motion states the Dáil notes "the health implications for drug users and other vulnerable young people and the collateral damage caused to families and communities". Collateral damage caused to families and communities relates to road safety, among other issues. This requires urgent attention but is largely overlooked. I recently asked the Minister for Transport in parliamentary questions for his proposals to introduce a breathalyser system to test drivers for illegal drugs and also for the evidence he has regarding the extent of impairment of drivers arising from the presence of illegal drugs in their systems. He informed me that the Road Traffic Acts provide that a member of the Garda Síochána may, where he or she believes a person in charge of a mechanically propelled vehicle in a public place is under the influence of a drug or drugs to such an extent as to be incapable of having proper control of that vehicle, require that person to go to a Garda station and further require him or her to submit a blood or urine sample which would then be subject to analysis by the Medical Bureau of Road Safety.

The Minister also replied that, of 569 specimens tested in 2004 for the presence of a drug or drugs, 354 tested positive and 215 were found to be negative for the presence of a drug or drugs. These tests were carried out by the Medical Bureau of Road Safety, which continues to analyse blood and urine specimens for the presence of a drug or drugs. Unfortunately the Minister informed me there is no feasible basis for the introduction of a scheme of preliminary roadside testing for drugs at present. He did point out, however, that screening devices based on oral fluid specimens are being developed for the purpose of carrying out roadside drug testing. He also outlined that the Medical Bureau of Road Safety is keeping abreast of developments in this area but that these testing devices are in the prototype stage.

In a study carried out by the Medical Bureau of Road Safety, it was indicated that 15.5% of tested drivers were positive for one or more drugs, that of the drivers who were under the limit for alcohol, 33.1% were positive for one or more drugs, and that of the drivers with very low or zero levels of alcohol, 67.9% were positive for drugs. This is an astonishing result.

The Minister of State should note that there is an urgent need to address this area properly. If, for example, a garda finds a person smoking cannabis or taking some other illegal drug in a mechanically propelled vehicle, the garda can charge that person with a crime. If that charge is upheld by the courts, a further conviction can follow, that is, of committing a crime while in charge of a mechanically propelled vehicle.

A second conviction can lead to a driving ban. However, if a garda stops a person who has drugs in his or her system, that garda must effectively rely on the legislation which predates the introduction of the breathalyser to test for drunk driving. There is a need to introduce limits for illegal drugs and for poly-drug intake to make our roads safer. Doing so would also identify those who are using illegal drugs. It is not good enough that if a garda apprehends a person on suspicion of being in charge of a mechanically propelled vehicle in a public place and of being under the influence of a drug or drugs to such an extent as being incapable of having proper control of that vehicle, he or she must proceed on the basis of his or her visual assessment of the situation. The garda can require the person to go to a Garda station and further require him or her to submit to a blood test or provide a urine sample, which would then be analysed.

The statistics I have quoted are based on a two-year research programme on drug analysis of blood and urine samples in 2001 and 2002, and also on testing in 2004. There is abundant evidence that circumstances pertaining to the use of illegal drugs have gotten a great deal worse since then. Impairment must be proven when somebody is apprehended while in charge of a mechanical vehicle in a public place and in this regard tests involving legal limits are obviously required. Appropriate legal measures need to be introduced urgently to deal with this appalling threat to public safety.

In early July, the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Arts, Sport, Tourism, Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs published a report entitled "What everyone should know about Cannabis". Cannabis is the most widely used illegal drug in western societies. In the past, its use was regarded as less serious than the use of other drugs and, in some quarters, was regarded as harmless. However, the findings of the committee suggest this is far from the reality. Over one third of Irish schoolchildren have tried cannabis by the age of 16 and 9% of Irish 16 year olds use cannabis at least three times per month, with as many girls as boys now using it. About one in ten is dependent on it, which amounts to 28,000 current users of cannabis. Surveys indicate that the majority of Irish people do not want cannabis legalised and a substantial minority of past and current cannabis users do not wish to see it legalised either.

There is now compelling evidence that cannabis abuse can result in the development of psychotic illness in later life. Prolonged exposure to cannabis can induce changes to neurotransmitter pathways in vulnerable people, which can result in serious illness, such as schizophrenia in some and cognitive impairment in others.

In recent years it has become clear that the human brain continues to develop during adolescence and it appears that cannabis use during this developmental phase, when brain architecture relating to some higher functions is being fine-tuned, is most likely to result in long-term impairment. It is reliably estimated that there are some 300,000 users of cannabis in the State and in view of the consequences for their mental and physical health, the joint committee recommends that a national strategy be drawn up with the aim of reversing the exponential rise in cannabis use over the past decade. Particular emphasis must be paid to young women of childbearing age and to their children, as well as to young people in general given their vulnerability to mental health problems.

There needs to be further neurobiological and clinical research to examine the long-term cognitive impairment effects associated with heavy cannabis use, particularly those impairments relating to heavy use in adolescence and to prenatal exposure. The physical effects of cannabis use and the health risks are greater than those for conventional tobacco because cannabis smoke contains more carcinogens and has a higher tar content. The cannabis trade in Ireland is worth an estimated €375 million and is the largest component of the vile drugs trade. The committee was united in expressing the view that greater resources be devoted to criminal investigation and that there should be more proactive pursuit of those who gain from it financially, as is the case with class A drugs.

Awareness of the risk of cannabis use needs to be raised through public information campaigns focused particularly on young people and their parents and we need to understand that cannabis is primarily a health issue. Cannabis is as socially unacceptable as cocaine or heroin and the drug barons who profit from it should be pursued with the full rigour of the law. The so-called leisure use of cocaine is a new departure which must give rise to the gravest concern. Too many of those cocaine users do not appear to connect its purchase with very violent criminals who are the major beneficiaries of this wicked trade. It is incumbent on all of us, in particular the Government, to use every possible means to get this message across.

There is crack cocaine in north inner city Dublin. At least 80% of crack cocaine users develop an addiction, usually within a fortnight of their first smoke, while 7% of cocaine users become addicts in approximately 18 months. The high risk associated with cocaine is unparalleled. I understand the affects of crack cocaine can last for 40 to 50 seconds and never exceeds a few minutes. The high from cocaine lasts for half an hour and that from heroin for three to four hours. Crack cocaine is a particularly lethal and awful drug. There is plenty of cocaine in the country and the establishment of so-called cocaine factories is not particularly difficult. It is imperative that the spread of crack cocaine is prevented and eliminated, where it is already available.

The Government needs to demonstrate a much greater sense of purpose and effectiveness to come to terms with the drugs crisis, which is a problem in every town and village.

Photo of Joe CostelloJoe Costello (Dublin Central, Labour)
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I compliment the Independent Deputies for putting together this very important and relevant motion on the drugs crisis. Irrespective of anything the Minister of State with responsibility for drugs strategy said last night, or what the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform says on a regular basis, the situation has continued to deteriorate over the years. It has not been improving at all. More drugs are seized, more sectors of the community are experiencing drug use, more people are using drugs and more new drugs than ever before are coming on the market.

The use of the Liffey boardwalk in Dublin for drug pushing during the summer highlighted the extent of the problem in just one area. In a three-month period the Garda arrested over 400 people on the boardwalk under the Misuse of Drugs Act. That provides a pin picture of the situation.

The quantity of drugs seized in recent months is greater than at any time in the history of the State. Clearly, the drug barons are stocking up well for Christmas. A consignment of heroin worth €7 million was seized in Ratoath, County Meath last month. A consignment worth €10 million was intercepted in Belgium en route by private jet to a private airfield, Weston Aerodrome this month. A consignment of at least €10 million was seized yesterday in Northern Ireland and it is widely believed it was intended for this jurisdiction. When it is considered that only 5% to 10% of all drugs imported into this country are seized by the Garda and Customs and Excise, it is clear the illegal drug market in Ireland is worth well in excess of €1 billion.

When it is further considered that there are an estimated 15,000 drug addicts in the country and that an estimated 75% of inmates in Mountjoy Prison are there for drug-related offences — as Governor Lonergan tells us on a regular basis — we have some idea of the amount of crime being committed to feed addictions, the cost to the taxpayer and the human cost to victims against whom crimes are perpetrated.

The opportunity to tackle the heroin problem, which the motion specifically deals with, existed for about 15 years, from 1979 until 1993-94. It was confined to the capital up to about 1994 and remained a Dublin problem, almost exclusively, for 15 years. A window of opportunity existed, while local disadvantaged communities got little help from the authorities and attempted to fight back. With the failure to address the issue in the capital, the virtual immunity from prosecution of the drug barons and the increasing wealth being generated from the illegal drugs trade, the problem spread rapidly throughout the provinces in the mid-1990s, as the Celtic tiger began to appear. The arrogance of the drug barons culminated in the murder of Ms Veronica Guerin in 1996. While they were then targeted by the Garda drug units and the Criminal Assets Bureau and had to flee the jurisdiction, they were still able to direct their activities from Spain and the Netherlands. They have continued to prosper since they left and have established networks throughout the country. This means that every drug which comes into the country can be distributed in every province. Moreover, they have become exceedingly dangerous. Gangland feuds and turf wars are the order of the day. The Minister tells us, of course, that he is well in control of the situation — the dying sting of the wasp. A couple of years ago he had it all under of control, but it is still the order of the day. Weapons are now being imported with drug consignments and dissident and redundant paramilitaries from the Northern Ireland conflict are using their skills increasingly as enforcers in the illegal drugs trade in this jurisdiction.

The drugs trade is effectively out of the control of the authorities. They have an uphill battle to try to control it. There is little interest or leadership at Government level, only lip service and sound bites from the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform. None of the pillars of the national drugs strategy is being effectively implemented. These are supply reduction, prevention, treatment and research. Likewise, the new pillar that has recently been added to the strategy, namely, rehabilitation, is starved of resources. A whole new approach is required if our young people are to be protected from the scourge of drugs and our citizens and communities from drug-related crime.

We need to restate and reaffirm the strategy already in existence and we must fund its five pillars with the necessary resources and personnel to carry out the programme and to assist, in particular, the local drugs task forces. We must build up our communities, which are still blighted despite a decade of the Celtic tiger, and which provide lucrative markets for drug pushers. The revitalising of areas by planning, investment and development programmes — RAPID — must be reactivated and revamped. This programme promised an injection of €2 billion from the national development plan to target blighted and disadvantaged communities, to provide child care services, after-school support, leisure facilities, employment opportunities for young people leaving school and so on. That was in 2002, before the election. As the Minister of State well knows, it never materialised and now it has degenerated into the odd drip hand-out of dormant funds here and there from the slush funds of various Ministers, in particular the Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs, Deputy Ó Cuív, and the Minister of State, Deputy Noel Ahern.

Not only must we be tough on the causes of drug addiction, we must be tough on the pushers of drugs. The moneys seized by the Criminal Assets Bureau must be reinvested in the blighted communities from which they have been extracted. The addicts, whose lives have been wasted and the victims on whom criminal acts have been perpetrated, should see their areas benefit from the drug barons' ill-gotten gains that have been seized by the Criminal Assets Bureau. Finally, Garda drug units must develop a much more sophisticated approach to controlling the supply of drugs. They must map out their areas of responsibility, target and monitor the dealers and their networks, be ready to swoop when a consignment arrives and be sufficiently knowledgeable to target and prevent the importation of such consignments. A 10% success rate is not enough. Community policing is an essential element; it is the eyes and ears of the police force. It is imperative that a meaningful structure of community policing is immediately established. The treatment by the Garda authorities of community policing as the Cinderella of the police force must be radically changed.

Photo of Rory O'HanlonRory O'Hanlon (Cavan-Monaghan, Ceann Comhairle)
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The Deputy should give way to Deputy Crowe. The extra time he has taken is coming out of other Members' time.

Photo of Joe CostelloJoe Costello (Dublin Central, Labour)
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Unless radical steps are taken and hands-on leadership is shown, we can expect the bad circumstances that currently exist to grow much worse in the future.

Photo of Seán CroweSeán Crowe (Dublin South West, Sinn Fein)
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I wish to share time with Deputies Cuffe and Gogarty.

Photo of Rory O'HanlonRory O'Hanlon (Cavan-Monaghan, Ceann Comhairle)
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Is that agreed? Agreed.

8:00 pm

Photo of Seán CroweSeán Crowe (Dublin South West, Sinn Fein)
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Sinn Féin tabled a comprehensive motion on this subject in May and I welcome the opportunity to speak about the issue of drugs in Ireland. When we turn on our television sets we see the problem of drug abuse in soap operas and films. One can see the problems with drugs outside one's own door in many areas. I would argue that one could find drugs being taken in every pub in Dublin. I would be surprised if there was even one nightclub in Dublin where one could not find drugs.

We must decide whether there is simply a difficulty or a crisis. I believe it is a crisis and one that is worsening. Deputy Ardagh alluded to the fact that there has been a 35% increase in heroin seizures. Cocaine seizures have grown by 1,600% in the past six years. While I welcome these seizures, the country is awash with drugs and only a certain section is being detected. Others have spoken of the role of the CAB and the gardaí and I am supportive of their work, but I do not remember the last time the CAB moved on a drug dealer in my area. Perhaps they have done so but I am not aware of it. It is not happening enough. Many gangs have been operating in my area for the past ten to 15 years. The gardaí know who they are — I know who they are — and they are causing misery and death in my area.

I was told today about a young addict who has abscesses on many of his veins and, in desperation, he is injecting into his groin. What can any elected representative say to that young person to help get him off drugs? We must be able to tell addicts that programmes and facilities are available to them should they want to come off drugs in the morning. The problem is that it may take up to 12 months to get treatment — it is even longer in some areas. We cannot tell young people seeking help that facilities are available to them.

What does one say to a father or mother whose son or daughter has died of an overdose? I do not know how many such funerals I have attended. The son of friends of mine died on a toilet bowl with a needle injected into his arm. What can one say to that family? One has to look them in the eye and tell them one is trying one's best to ensure it does not happen to any other child. The only way to do this is by waking up to the crisis that exists. I am not trying to score points for the Opposition when I say that a crisis exists. One only has to talk to people to recognise that. It is in our faces every day.

I have seen many talented, energetic, intelligent and bright young people turned into living wrecks. I have grown up with people who have died from drug abuse. People are seeking leadership on this. It is not a party political matter. We should acknowledge the crisis and provide the facilities. A Minister from the Limerick area addressed this debate earlier. Why is methadone not available for addicts in the Limerick area? Why must addicts from Limerick, Cork and Arklow come to Dublin for services? How can a person seeking to move beyond his or her addiction gain employment if his or her treatment entails travelling to Dublin for methadone, counselling or other treatment?

A recent "Prime Time" broadcast showed problem areas around the country where local representatives said they agreed with helping addicts but not in their backyard. There is a responsibility on all public representative, particularly TDs, to support services in local areas. This means standing up to bigots living in the area and those people who are living in cloud cuckoo land and do not realise the crisis that exists.

It also means supporting needle exchange programmes. Many people have difficulty with this notion. I mentioned a young person who was injecting into his groin. One can only imagine the effect that a lack of clean needles will eventually have on him. The importance of offering clean needles is that addicts are being brought into centres where they can avail of services. These people are at risk from diseases like hepatitis C, AIDS, HIV etc. Hopefully they will accept help.

If an addict is seeking help it should be available. It is not currently available and that is why I am calling for more services to be put in place. It is not as if this is a poor country that does not have the resources. I cannot understand why we are not doing this. Many areas have community facilities with available space but we are not using them. It seems that there are difficulties between the HSE and the local communities as to who will be in charge.

Addicts' families need support too. The voluntary drug treatment element needs to be worked on. The fifth pillar is rehabilitation. This is essential in bringing addicts into employment and living their lives to the fullest extent. We need to support addicts as much as possible. Unfortunately, this pillar has fallen down. My party has been associated with trying to combat the drugs problem. We do not have all the answers, but many of us live in areas that are affected by it. I am in daily contact with families seeking help and I need to be confident enough to tell those families that help is available for them.

Addicts who inject cocaine inject more often than those who inject heroin. Many of them inject the same points in their legs, arms, groin or neck, which causes major problems.

The cocaine abuse problem is getting worse. It affects all stratas of society but, unfortunately, the communities that suffered the worst heroin problem are now experiencing the cocaine problem. We are dealing with abuse of cocaine, heroin and benzodiazepines. People talked about the legal drugs including sleeping drugs, cough medicines and hashish. The country is awash with those drugs. Young Irish people and older people appear to take more drugs than their counterparts in any other European nation. That is a worrying development. In the past people talked about the Irish fondness for alcohol but we appear to have a fondness for other drugs also. We must wake up to this crisis and support those people looking for help.

Photo of Ciarán CuffeCiarán Cuffe (Dún Laoghaire, Green Party)
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I agree with the previous speaker that there is a crisis. The misuse of drugs in society is a challenge but this Government is not giving the issue the treatment and attention it deserves. Drug use is a challenge to Fianna Fáil but, more important, it is a major challenge to the ideology of the Progressive Democrats because the State must intervene. It is not about regulations; it is about strong intervention from the State to tackle the drugs problem. It is also about providing the rehabilitation, programmes and policing that are required and about making a substantial long-term investment in the communities in which drugs are used. That includes the socially excluded and disadvantaged areas and those parts of Dublin in particular where there is a very high prevalence of drug use.

The current drugs programmes cost approximately €40 million per year. We are spending more than that on the advertising of alcohol. If this Government is to get real about the drugs problem, one of the first actions it could take would be to ban the advertising of alcohol, and not just in certain areas, because there is an obvious link between the advertising of alcohol and people taking their first faltering steps towards a lifetime of addiction. In particular, I would single out the association between alcohol advertising and sport because as we know, the main killer drugs are alcohol and cigarettes and unless we seriously tackle those two issues we are not doing enough about the drugs problem. I want the Government to take the initiative and ban alcohol advertising. It should also put health warnings on alcohol products.

On the problem of heroin, as the motion suggests we need stronger community policing, better supervision of the ports in and out of Ireland and additional funding to ensure we have the resources to tackle this problem but we also must reflect the changing patterns throughout Europe and the world. For example, we must allow for the provision of clean needles in our prisons. We must assure prisoners who are at very high risk of contracting HIV that the needles they use will be clean. The Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform is putting his head in the sand on that issue. A carefully constructed report in which the Irish Penal Reform Trust was involved stated clearly that we should make available clean needles and injecting rooms in our jails.

The Minister of State with responsibility for this area should be someone with more clout rather than a Minister who must deal with the housing issue one day and the drugs issue the next day. The Minister of State with responsibility for the drugs issue must get real. His latest plan to provide a bus to bring drug users from the centre of Dublin to the docklands is ridiculous. Does he expect that heavy drug users will line up at a bus stop waiting for the shuttle bus to bring them to a relocated Merchant's Quay project in the docklands? The Minister of State insults the office he holds by making such ridiculous suggestions. I understand where the Minister is coming from. He wants to address the problem of drug dealing and drug use in the centre of our city but what he must do is address the social inequality, the lack of decent housing, decent sports facilities, open space, parental care and family support. All those supports must be put in place; this cannot happen through the trickle of funding that has come into these areas over the past five or ten years. It is about a determined effort to address the inequality and the disadvantage in those areas, whether it be in Dublin, Dún Laoghaire or the towns and cities throughout the country.

The Green Party supports the motion before the House. We believe the issue of drug abuse must receive greater attention from the Government. It should not be a shared portfolio for the Minister of State. We must also re-evaluate our controls over alcohol, which is one of the main killer drugs in society today.

Photo of Brian Lenihan JnrBrian Lenihan Jnr (Minister of State, Department of Education and Science; Minister of State, Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform; Minister of State, Department of Health and Children; Dublin West, Fianna Fail)
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I want to conclude the Government's contribution to what was a welcome debate last evening and this evening in the House. Reference was made by Deputy Cuffe to the amount of money being spent by the Government in tackling this problem. It is interesting to note that in 2005, the estimate we have of expenditure directly related to dealing with drug abuse was €194 million. That expenditure spans the national drugs strategy unit, the Department of Health and Children, the Health Service Executive, FÁS, the Department of Education and Science, the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform, the Irish Prison Service, the Garda Síochana and Customs and Excise. They are indicative figures but they relate to services that are directly attributable to dealing with the drugs issue. That estimated figure of €194 million does not take account of the mainstream services provided to help tackle the issue and neither does it disentangle the funding that is available for the wider community in the context of communities afflicted by the drugs menace. That is a substantial investment and it is directly targeted. That is apart from the various Government social programmes in broad terms in health, education, housing and justice.

It is important that we note this at the outset because it is clear from this debate that the problem of drug misuse is one which is of serious concern to every Member of this House. It leaves very destructive consequences in its wake and serious harm is inflicted on many individuals who experience drug addiction. There is also the pain and despair felt by members of a person's family and his or her friends when they see a life being ruined in such a way. In a wider sense, communities can be devastated by multiple addiction where addiction is at its most prevalent. The drugs problem in Ireland is no longer confined in that sense because it is clear from the development in regard to cocaine that it is a habit indulged in in every sector of the community and in every social class.

The threat posed to our society by the ruthless criminal elements who trade in drugs and the levels of violence they perpetrate to protect their trade is a disturbing element of the problem. It is fair to say that if we examine criminal statistics today in a broad way and contrast them with the criminal statistics of, say, two or three decades ago, we can see the extent to which criminal activity in the State is built around and derives from the drugs problem.

The problem concerns us all and, despite the political differences in this House, it must be addressed. We share a common stake in doing so and the Government is grateful to the Deputies who proposed the motion. A number of speakers have stressed the Government's commitment to tackling illegal drugs under the National Drug Strategy, 2001-08. There is a strong conviction that the only way to make progress is by working in an integrated partnership involving all players from statutory agencies, voluntary treatment providers and those representing the community who are familiar with the problems involved.

The Government believes this problem can be addressed under the headings of drug prevention and education, drug supply reduction and treatment, rehabilitation and research. This debate has demonstrated some of the progress made over the first five years of the strategy. Important improvements have been made, providing treatment services and attracting more drug users into treatment provision. The recent publications of the results of the ROSIE study, referred to by the Minister of State at the Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs, Deputy Noel Ahern, highlights the positive benefits of such treatment.

We have heard of the high levels of drug seizures by law enforcement agencies and significant successes in dismantling trafficking networks. This is a challenge, given the scale of drug trafficking worldwide. Progress has been made in the drugs education and preventative area through community and school efforts. Other initiatives, such as the young people's facilities programme, seek to prevent people from starting on the drug misuse pathway. Personnel numbers in the Garda Síochána have increased, enhancing the enforcement response, especially in areas of drug misuse.

Members have heard of the valuable contribution made by those who work with local and regional drug task forces on a considerable number of community-led projects that are integral to our approach. I salute the work of task forces and local projects in communities all over Ireland. The Government has allocated resources across a range of Departments and agencies. A significant increase was made in the drugs initiatives head at the Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs.

The Government is aware that difficulties remain. Progress is not always made at the speed Members would like but significant progress has been made across pillar headings due to the dedicated efforts of many people. The Government is resolutely committed to the national drugs strategy and I ask the House to support the Government amendment.

Paddy McHugh (Galway East, Independent)
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I wish to share time with Deputies Healy, Connolly and Joe Higgins.

Photo of Rory O'HanlonRory O'Hanlon (Cavan-Monaghan, Ceann Comhairle)
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Is that agreed? Agreed.

Paddy McHugh (Galway East, Independent)
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I applaud Deputy Catherine Murphy who promoted this topic for the Independent Deputies' Private Members' business this week. She focused on the appalling vista of the prospect of Weston Aerodrome being used for the importation of drugs into this country. The recent seizure of 50 kg of heroin in Belgium, apparently destined for Weston Aerodrome, illustrates the criminal neglect of security at private airfields in this country by successive Governments. Some 27 licensed aerodromes in the State have a hit and miss customs presence.

In 2005, only 16 customs inspections took place at Weston Aerodrome, an average of one every three and a quarter weeks. One can see the potential to use the aerodrome for the illegal importation of drugs or other items into this country. It is inexcusable for the Government or the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform to allow this situation to continue, where criminals have the opportunity to bring in killer drugs to this country.

The Government claims to be fighting a serious battle, an empty claim given that a main route of supply — such as that at Weston Aerodrome — is left unguarded and open for use by all and sundry. It is folly for a Government fighting a war against drugs to ignore the route of supply. The supply line should be the first area examined. If there is no supply, there is no problem and if supply is minimised, the problem is reduced. Access points to this country must be fully secured and a customs arrangement must be made at access points such as Weston Aerodrome.

Ireland has many grand plans, strategies and policies in place to deal with drug abuse. These make the right statements and press the right buttons, but do what do they do? For example, the first strategic aim of the national drugs strategy is to reduce the availability of illicit drugs. The Government shows its commitment to reducing availability of illicit drugs by leaving 27 private airfields without security or customs. Drug traffickers can waltz into this country with suitcases packed with drugs. The scale and boldness of the operation foiled in Belgium indicates that this was not a maiden run.

Photo of Séamus HealySéamus Healy (Tipperary South, Independent)
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This is a major problem in Ireland and is getting worse. I fail to understand the lack of urgency and commitment to tackling the drugs problem in Ireland. Colleagues have referred to the 27 private airfields with no customs presence, indicative of the attitude we take to the drugs problem. That situation was brought to the attention of the authorities when Deputy Catherine Murphy placed the matter on the agenda in this House last year and again this year. Some €10 million worth of drugs was intercepted on its way to the airfield. The total amount confiscated is no more than 10% of what is trafficked into the country.

The Minister of State, Deputy Tim O'Malley, stated that we should get real in a press statement during the week. That slogan should apply to this problem. I was always taught, and believe, that prevention is better than cure. Public representatives, RAPID organisations and local authorities in south Tipperary have been seeking services and manpower to address this problem before it gets out of hand. During this debate, we have heard about areas where the drug problem is out of control. Thankfully, this is not yet the case in Clonmel and south Tipperary. We seek services and manpower to address this problem, but unfortunately we have had no response.

Yesterday, the Minister stated that the young persons facilities fund would not be extended to the town of Clonmel because the problem was not serious enough. Four drug-related murders have been committed in the area in the past three years. The emphasis should be on prevention in areas where the problem is at a low level. Every part of the country has a drug problem to some degree but we must provide facilities, youth services, community gardaí and regionalised CAB facilities to deal with minor drug dealers. These middle-ranking drug dealers are setting an example to other young people and dragging young people, particularly those from disadvantaged areas, into the drugs trade.

Paudge Connolly (Cavan-Monaghan, Independent)
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I welcome the opportunity to speak in this debate this evening. We, as Independents, have an abundance of topical issues to discuss. We have discussed health issues, laws on gifts and drugs gateways. This topic was raised because we were astonished to learn that an aircraft could land and passengers and cargo go completely unchecked at an airport in Dublin. It was astonishing to hear the owner of the airport state that the matter had nothing to do with him and to claim that the aeroplane should be checked in its country of departure. This excuse is not good enough. It is akin to saying that a customs service is not needed here if it operates in other countries. I do not know how anyone could come up with such an incredible response.

A person can effectively hire an aeroplane, fly to another country, come back and take whatever he or she wishes, knowing that his or her cargo will not be checked on the way back. It is akin to the situation on Border roads years ago where there were approved and unapproved crossings. Quite a number of these airports are now akin to the unapproved crossings. A person can bring something in with the high likelihood that he or she will get away with it. If there are customs on the ground, I have no doubt that people with mobile phones can warn those flying not to land until customs have left. People used to talk about "doing the roads for guys" in times past and the same concept applies here.

One thinks about the potential damage that drugs worth €10 million can do to society. The supply and increasing use of drugs are responsible for our increasing crime rate, including murder and other violent crimes, and antisocial behaviour. Our response to the drugs problem and the ways in which they enter the country is completely inadequate. Someone put it to me recently that if a restaurant was considered unhygienic, environmental health officials would put tape around it and close it to the public. I cannot see why the airport in question has not been closed down and both it and its aircraft subjected to forensic examination to discover how many aeroplanes have been used on these drug runs. At the very least, an investigation into those who have rented out these aeroplanes and those who have been on drug trips should be carried out. There is no doubt that nobody would chance taking drugs worth €10 million on his or her first run into the country. Those involved believe it is a safe route and that it is only a matter of gathering cash and taking it in.

If drugs are being imported, I have no doubt that arms and people without proper documentation could also be imported in this fashion. It looks like money is the attraction and there are many ways of making it through the drugs route. A full examination of Weston Aerodrome should be carried out. It should be closed down and checked out, as indeed should a large number of other airports. Their records should be examined to discover those who are hiring these aeroplanes. The man who flew the aeroplane in question had previously been imprisoned in England for drugs offences. Yet he was able to work in an airport and hold a pilot's licence, which is unacceptable. We need to take action in this area. We learned that this individual was very wealthy and had large reserves of cash, despite the fact that he only worked as a doorman.

We are possibly accepting credit for the drugs worth €10 million seized in Belgium and the drugs worth €10 million seized in Northern Ireland. However, these drugs were not seized in this country. The figures for 2003 show that 3% of the drugs were apprehended coming into the country and I believe this figure is inflated. A person has, effectively, a 97% or 98% chance of freely importing drugs into this country. Our response is completely inadequate. We charge people who abuse drugs when we should be trying to discover how these drugs were supplied to them.

Photo of Joe HigginsJoe Higgins (Dublin West, Socialist Party)
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I commend the Independent Deputies on drawing attention to very important issues in respect of the dangerous drug situation in this country and, particularly, for emphasising the ongoing and devastating consequences of heroin addiction, particularly in working class communities. The motion also notes the failure of the Government to formulate an effective strategy in respect of dangerous drugs.

The political and business establishment is guilty of monumental hypocrisy in respect of the drugs situation. We hear the ritual condemnation of drugs deemed to be illegal and of those who import and distribute them and devastate communities, particularly those who import heroin or crack cocaine and foist them on communities in whose destruction they are instrumental. These people must be condemned and driven out. I salute those people, particularly working-class people, who democratically rose up in response to the destruction of their communities to condemnation from certain pillars of the establishment.

However, among those who are foremost in condemning illegal drugs are people who benefit from the massive industries built around very dangerous drugs which happen to be legal, particularly nicotine and ethyl alcohol. It is beyond belief that the State still permits the deployment of millions of euro each year to portray alcohol as a sexy, social and beneficial drug without which people could not possibly live when its abuse destroys thousands of lives each year, disables many people physically and socially and contributes to devastating behaviour, leaving some people tragically dead or injured as a result of the violence caused by the misuse of alcohol. However, the pillars of the alcohol and nicotine establishment are feted in Irish society and are among its elite. They are shamefully allowed to sponsor major sports events. It is incredible that the All-Ireland Gaelic football and hurling championships are named after alcohol companies. Similarly, soccer leagues and leagues in other sports are named after alcohol products when we see what the misuse of these products does.

I am not a prohibitionist. Hopefully, most of us use drugs sensibly and they play a very useful role in our lives. However, I am convinced that the advertising of these drugs should be prohibited. We need a wide-ranging and honest debate on prohibitionism, which is the only main policy of this Government, the US Governments and those in other states with regard to drugs like heroin, because it is not successful. It is not sustainable to criminalise a whole swathe of people, particularly young people in this State who use cannabis. It is extremely dangerous to put cannabis on the same footing as heroin, as the law and the Government do, so that the penalties are the same and those who criminally ruin communities with heroin are also those who interface with young people when they go to buy cannabis. We need an honest and balanced debate on whether, for example, cannabis can be regulated to take it out of the hands of the gangsters. We do not want to inflict another new scourge on society by any means. It is true that cannabis, like alcohol and nicotine, has dangerous side effects. However, alcohol and nicotine are still pushed heavily by very wealthy pillars of our establishment.

It is criminal that Weston Aerodrome can be used, as Deputy Catherine Murphy has outlined, apparently at will for potentially massive heroin consignments. It is the working class communities of west Dublin, the inner city and other areas which will suffer in that situation.

Photo of Rory O'HanlonRory O'Hanlon (Cavan-Monaghan, Ceann Comhairle)
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The Deputy must conclude as I am obliged to put the question.