Thursday, 14 April 2011
National Substance Misuse Strategy
Question 8: To ask the Minister for Community; Equality and Gaeltacht Affairs if she is committed to the development of a National Substance Misuse Strategy; if she has received the report of the Steering Group and when she will publish the report. [7990/11]
As the Deputy will be aware, the Government has agreed, with effect from 1 May, to transfer the functions of the Minister for Community, Equality and Gaeltacht Affairs for the national drugs strategy to the Minister for Health and Children. As Deputies will be aware, the functions that were performed in the Department of Community, Equality and Gaeltacht Affairs are in the process of being moved, with a number having been transferred already. For example, the equality section has already moved to the Department of Justice and Equality and a number of the others will move within the next three weeks. The new Department will then be in a position to be formed and the functions formally given legally. Responsibility for the drugs strategy will move to the Department of Health and Children.
The Government is committed to supporting the principles and objectives of a national strategy to deal with issues relating to the misuse of both drugs and alcohol. This is made fully clear in the programme for Government, Government for National Recovery 2011-2016. A steering group, jointly chaired by my Department and the Department of Health and Children, has been working to develop proposals and make recommendations to Ministers on the alcohol aspects of a national substance misuse strategy. The drugs element of the strategy - the national drugs strategy 2009-2016 - is already in place.
The work of the steering group is well advanced and I expect that the report will be finalised and recommendations submitted to the Minister for Health and Children in the coming months. Decisions on the publication of the report will be made at that stage.
Will the Minister make a strong case to have the report published? I understand it will be given to the Minister for Health and Children, but there should be a commitment to its publication. Does the Minister have any views on alcohol company sponsorship in the context of a national substance misuse strategy? The issue is very relevant.
I take the Deputy's point on the publication of the strategy. There has been a delay in placing emphasis on a national misuse strategy. Further meetings of the steering group are to be scheduled and the recommendations will be finalised as quickly as possible. The report will then be given to the Minister for Health and Children and proposals are likely to be put to the Government shortly thereafter. That addresses the Deputy's question on urgency. This is an important report which should be brought before the Government as soon as possible. The issues that remain to be finalised by the steering group relate to supply reduction and include the ones the Deputy raised such as marketing, sponsorship, mixed trading and pricing. I look forward to receiving the group's recommendations. We know there are serious issues regarding glamourising access to alcohol and drugs by young people. Sponsorship is part and parcel of this and needs to be examined. The steering group is examining the issue seriously. We will examine the report when it is finalised and make a decision.
Sponsorship is one of the issues the steering group is examining. I do not have the report's final conclusions, but it is an expert group and we will have its report shortly, at which point we will be in a position to discuss the issue of sponsorship as raised by the Deputy.
I noted what the Minister had to say about responsibility for the national drugs strategy transferring to the Department for Health and Children, which seems to infer the drugs problem is primarily a medical problem. It surely is a medical problem, but as we all know, much of it relates to the structures of communities. The reason it was placed in the Department of Community, Equality and Gaeltacht Affairs was to tackle the wider community issues which in many cases gave rise to concentrated drug problems, particularly involving the use of heroin. Will the wide range of community programmes built up over the years which dealt with the wider issues of planning, intergenerational disadvantage and social deprivation in certain areas be continued under the Department of Health and Children or will the Department take the view that this is purely an individual health problem rather than a societal and community problem, which is the case with a large part of the drugs problem here?
I join in congratulating the Minister. It is good to see four graduates of the Seanad in the Dáil Chamber at the one time. Would we be in the Dáil if there had been no Seanad? The Minister might answer that question too.
I have not had a chance previously to wish the Minister well in her job. She referred to the National Substance Misuse Strategy 2009-16 on which the steering group is working. Much work has been done across communities with drugs task forces. I have been a member of the Finglas-Cabra Local Drug Task Force and the Ballymun Local Drug Task Force for 11 years. They have made a significant input, as have communities in terms of providing information on the ground. I am pleased the strategy will move ahead. There have been significant cutbacks to drugs taskforces. In the past three years there have been cutbacks of 8% to 10% each year. That is having a major impact on communities. I urge the Minister to ensure there will be no further cutbacks. Working class areas cannot take any more cutbacks because it is having a knock-on effect in terms of crime and other issues. I hope the Minister will take on board what I say.
I accept the points made by both Deputies on the community aspects of dealing with drug addiction, which is critical. It is not the intention of the Department of Health and Children to undermine the wonderful work being done by people at local level. It will not take a medical model approach only to the treatment of drug addiction or to tackling the scourge of drug addiction in local communities. It would be a retrograde step if that were to happen. A more comprehensive approach will be taken to tackling the drugs issue by the Department of Health and Children which will build on the work already being done in communities to which Deputy Ellis referred and from which we have learned valuable lessons. Members will agree that it is time for a review. Some of the programmes have been in place for some time and we need to review the structures. In line with the reform agenda, it is important that we review how programmes are developed, seek efficiencies and value for money.