Dáil debates

Wednesday, 21 November 2007

Adjournment Debate

National Drugs Strategy.

9:00 pm

Photo of Catherine ByrneCatherine Byrne (Dublin South Central, Fine Gael)
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When I went home yesterday I showed this picture to my children who were finishing their homework. I asked them what they thought of it. One of my children described it as——

Photo of John O'DonoghueJohn O'Donoghue (Ceann Comhairle; Kerry South, Ceann Comhairle)
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Even if it had been painted by Picasso, I would have to tell the Deputy that illustrations are not allowed in the Chamber.

Photo of Catherine ByrneCatherine Byrne (Dublin South Central, Fine Gael)
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I want to focus on the fact that one of my children thought it was picture of a person who had a bad dose of chickenpox and the other child thought it was a person who had been burned.

I was appalled on reading the report in yesterday's Irish Examiner which highlighted the seriousness of the drug problem in this country. We all know that we have a huge drug problem that affects every corner of Ireland, but sometimes it takes a report such as this one, which shows us graphic images of the effects of drugs, to make us stand up and take notice.

Drugs are about buying and selling, and one of those processes cannot function without the other. It is crystal clear to me that the aim of the Government should be to target the suppliers, drug pushers and drug barons and put them out of business. These people are the real criminals whose hunger for profit cancels out any guilt or remorse they might feel about the lives they destroy.

The Government also needs to support actively the rehabilitation of those people who are desperately trying to break free from drugs. We need to give these people opportunities to rehabilitate themselves and to try and lead a drug-free life.

The Minister of State, Deputy Pat Carey, said in yesterday's report that more than €200 million was targeted at problem drug use in 2006. I would like to know where this money went and what effect it has had. The Government can continue to throw money at the drug problem but the sad fact is that it will only continue to get worse unless the Government acts to catch the criminals and educate our young people about the real dangers of getting involved in drugs. It would be much more effective to channel Government funding to ensure it reaches the people who need it the most. At this stage the Government has enough policies and plans in place. What we need now is action.

It is a tragedy that the lives of young people and those of their families are being destroyed by drugs every day of the week. In my constituency of Dublin South-Central I have witnessed at first hand many families whose lives have been torn apart and who have buried sons and daughters who have died as a result of drugs. I attended a remembrance service in Ballyfermot this year at which more than 500 people lit candles to remember those they had lost through suicide and drug addiction. The look of despair and hopelessness etched on their faces is a sight I will never forget. It is heartbreaking to see families experience such a great loss. Their loss should portray a clear picture to the Government that its policies are not working.

I acknowledge that the Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs and the Minister of State, Deputy Pat Carey, are playing their part in trying to combat the drug problem through the development of the local drugs task forces, the young people's facilities and services fund and the national drugs strategy. However, these programmes are in place for nearly ten years and the drug problem has worsened. We can have all the meetings, policies and plans in the world at our disposal but they are not improving the situation. They are just another waste of taxpayers' money.

The local drugs task forces have done good work locally and have the potential to do great work.

They have a challenging role which takes in treatment, rehabilitation, education, prevention and curbing local supply. However, I often feel that their work can become tied up in red tape and bureaucracy, which shifts the focus from why they were set up in the first place. It is the people in the local community who have come face to face with the devastation and violence caused by drug addiction, who should be main focus of the local drugs taskforces.

The national drugs strategy is an ambitious document, which aims to tackle the source of the drug problem as well as the terrible effects it has on communities. It is now six years, however, since it was introduced, and how many of its recommendations and aims have actually been achieved?

The Department of Education and Science prides itself on being heavily involved in running awareness and education programmes in schools throughout the country to communicate the dangers of drug misuse to children and young people. However, it could do much more and I really believe that education is the key. The Department's drug prevention programmes such as On My Own Two Feet and Walk Tall go some way towards educating young people about drugs but there is still no mandatory drugs and alcohol awareness programme available for senior cycle students. Teenagers in fifth and sixth year are vulnerable and are often targeted by drug dealers, yet receive no drugs awareness classes. This is a clear failure of Government policy.

Fr. Terry Murphy, parish priest in Darndale, was quoted yesterday in a moving piece in the Irish Examiner to the effect that one of the pieces missing at the moment was gardaí on the street building relationships, getting to know the community, meeting families and breaking down the divide between the Garda and the community. I agree with Fr. Murphy and believe that in order for the Garda Síochána to have a more effective role in the fight against drugs, more community policing is needed at a local level. This will entail community gardaí staying in place in the communities they serve for some length of time. I know there is no quick fix in prospect, but the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform as well as the entire Government need to look at all the strategies and policies and assess why there has not been significant progress to date in the fight against drugs. Can the Minister say why, if €200 million was spent last year on tacking the drug problem, this country is still in the grip of a drugs crisis, with young people in particular dying every day as a result of their addictions?

Photo of Mary HanafinMary Hanafin (Minister, Department of Education and Science; Dún Laoghaire, Fianna Fail)
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Again, I am making this reply on behalf of my colleague, the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy Brian Lenihan.

The Minister would like to thank Deputy Byrne for raising this matter on the Adjournment this evening and indeed we all welcome the comprehensive reporting on the drugs issue this week by the Irish Examiner.

The issue remains one of the most pressing social problems facing us. Given the destructive consequences brought about by drug misuse at the individual, family and community levels, many of which are recorded sadly in the newspaper reports referred to, it is an issue on which we as a society must continue to collectively maintain a sharp focus and sense of urgency. It is useful for any debate on the issues of drug misuse and drug trafficking to take place in the context of the nature and the scale of the problem with which we have to deal.

The annual report 2007 of the United Nations Office of Drugs and Crime states that the total number of drug users in the world is now estimated at some 200 million people, equivalent to approximately 5% of the global population aged between 15 and 64 years. This is undoubtedly a global problem, one which is by no means unique to Ireland. Equally, it is one for which there is no quick and easy solution. The focus in our jurisdiction must be to constantly strive to ensure that the measures and policies which we have in place to address the problem are appropriate and flexible enough to be able to respond to what is a global and dynamic issue. The Government remains resolutely committed to tackling the problem of drug misuse through the National Drugs Strategy 2001-08. The national strategy addresses the problem under pillar headings of education and prevention, supply reduction, treatment and rehabilitation and research and is firmly founded on the principle that drug misuse needs to be addressed in an integrated manner across these headings through a co-operative approach involving the statutory, community and voluntary treatment sectors.

As Deputy Byrne will appreciate, the Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs, under the stewardship of Minister of State, Deputy Pat Carey, is the lead Department in co-ordinating the implementation of the national drugs strategy. The Government firmly believes that the co-ordinated and integrated approach involving all the relevant players concerned with the issue in place under the national strategy is the only way by which real and meaningful progress can continue to be made in tackling the drugs problem. Under this policy framework, significant resources continue to be allocated to a range of measures dedicated to addressing the issue which are in place. A good example of this is the allocation of €50 million to the Vote of the Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs for the drugs initiative this year which represents a 16% increase on the equivalent 2006 allocation. This figure is exclusive of the many mainstream services that are availed of in the normal way by those affected by problem drug use and the Government will continue to make resources available on a scale appropriate to the needs arising.

The Government is conscious that the drugs situation is a dynamic and ever-changing one and the policies in place must be kept under close scrutiny and review. The current national strategy is nearing its conclusion and with a new programme for Government taking us through to 2012 this is an appropriate time to reflect on and note what it has been achieved and make any changes in our approach which are deemed necessary. We need to evaluate the current drugs situation, our experiences during the past six years of the strategy and utilise what we have learned from the outcomes achieved when developing a new national drugs strategy for the period 2009-16. Initial steps in that process have already been taken. Under the remit of the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform, the area of drug supply reduction and drug law enforcement remains a key feature of the Government's drug policy framework. Enforcement of the law relating to drugs very much continues to be a key element in the Government's policing priorities. Underpinning this approach, the Garda Síochána will continue to invoke a number of broad strategic responses in addressing the issue. Under the strategy, the Garda National Drugs Unit co-ordinates large scale operations against drug dealing and trafficking and unit personnel either investigate such cases or assist local investigation teams. Additional assistance is also available from other specialised Garda support units, such as the National Bureau of Criminal Investigation, the National Bureau of Fraud Investigation and the Criminal Assets Bureau.

A joint Garda National Drugs Unit-Criminal Assets Bureau initiative is in place which targets local dealers and the Minister has specifically included in the policing priorities for 2008 a reference that enhanced liaison arrangements between Garda divisions and the Criminal Assets Bureau are put in place in the pursuit of those engaged in drug dealing at all levels. As it is, profilers trained by CAB are now present in every Garda division. The Minister wants the message to be clear that drug dealing by anybody on whatever scale is unacceptable and will be pursued.

Significant drug seizures, including the considerable amounts of heroin and cocaine which have been discovered in recent times, have been made as a result of these strategies. Policing operations continue to dismantle drug trafficking networks and have led to the arrest in recent times of major criminals both based here and abroad who are involved in the drugs trade and such measures will continue to be vigorously pursued by the Garda Síochána.

The House will be aware that additional Garda resources are coming on stream all the time. These resources will facilitate the Garda Commissioner in the allocation of additional manpower to areas most in need, including areas with a significant drug problem. I should like to take the opportunity to wish the new Garda Commissioner, Fachtna Murphy, who took up his appointment today every success in the job. In conjunction with this, the Government is ensuring that our law enforcement agencies continue to have a strong legislative platform from which to operate in their work in tackling those involved in such criminal activity.

While we already had a strong legislative package in place for tackling drug trafficking, the Criminal Justice Acts 2006 and 2007 provide further measures which will enhance the powers of the Garda in the investigation and prosecution of drug offences. In talking about the successes the Garda has had, I want also to pay tribute to the outgoing Garda Commissioner Noel Conroy for his tremendous work over the past few years.

Finally, the Minister is very clear that there is no room for complacency in our response to the issue of drug misuse. He would like me to stress again, as indeed would the Minister of State, Deputy Carey, that the enforcement of the law relating to drugs is a key element in the Government's policing priorities. The implementation of the national drugs strategy is also a key element.

The Dáil adjourned at 9.40 p.m. until 10.30 a.m. on Thursday, 22 November 2007.