Dáil debates

Tuesday, 2 October 2012

Addiction Services: Motion [Private Members]


7:55 pm

Photo of Maureen O'SullivanMaureen O'Sullivan (Dublin Central, Independent)
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I move:

That Dáil Éireann:recognises:
— the scale of the problem of addiction throughout Ireland and the increasing demands on services;

— that poly-drug use has increased significantly due to the increase in the accessibility and range of dangerous substances, both illegal and unregulated;

— the increased risk to individuals using substances and lethal combinations of substances with respect to overdose, fatality and long-term ill health;

— the numbers of drug and alcohol related deaths each year are more than twice that of the numbers of deaths on our roads;

— the strong association between drug-alcohol abuse and suicide, and also accidental death;

— the increased use of technology in accessing harmful substances;

— the continuous on-street dealing in disadvantaged communities, the levels of intimidation and fear because of violence by drug gangs and the increased availability of firearms;

— that alcohol has been identified as a contributory factor in 90% of public order offences as recorded under the police using leading systems effectively, PULSE, system and alcohol related crime costs the Irish State almost €1.2 billion a year;

— that alcohol and drug related illness costs the health system a further €1.2 billion yearly;

— the link between economic and social disadvantage, including early school leaving, unemployment, housing conditions and problem drug-alcohol addiction and crime;

— the increase in the number of children with need for child protection because of families’ problems with drug and alcohol addiction;

— the links between mental health, homelessness and addiction; and

— the unacceptable levels of drug abuse in our prisons and the increasing emergence of ‘process’ addictions in gambling, food, sex, Internet usage and other compulsive behaviours;
— the work of the drugs task forces, the partnership model, the pillars of treatment and rehabilitation, supply control, prevention and research and family support;

— the work and commitment of the young people’s facilities and services fund in targeting those most at risk of drug abuse in funding services and facilities in many areas, particularly to those most vulnerable;

— the work of the Dublin north inner city community policing forum as an example of best practice in collaborative work between the communities, local authority and Garda to resolve local drug related and anti-social behaviour issues;

— the work of the various groups, Departments and agencies, the community and voluntary sectors and others in producing the national substance misuse strategy report;

— the work of the community and voluntary sectors and the projects in engaging those in addiction and in recovery from addiction in services;

— the work of fellowships and 12 step programmes for those in addiction and those affected by the addiction of a loved one; and

— the improvement in best practice and the range of treatment, rehabilitation and recovery for those in addiction; and
calls on the Government to:
— prioritise addiction as a health issue and not primarily as a criminal issue and ensure the necessary allocation of resources;

— continue to support and enhance the local, regional and national structures of the drugs strategy and drugs task forces involving community, voluntary and statutory services in the co-ordinated delivery of responses at individual, family and community level to the benefit of those most affected by problems of addiction;

— improve supports for those high risk lower socioeconomic populations experiencing underlying social disadvantage leading to addiction problems, and in particular to improve supports in areas of health care, education, housing and employment opportunities;

— improve care planning and case management for individuals in addiction treatment, rehabilitation and recovery, as envisaged by successive national drugs strategies;

— increase the availability and affordability of residential rehabilitation, including non-abstinence based options and respite for highly vulnerable individuals in addiction, particularly young people under 18 years of age, mothers of young children, individuals affected by mental health issues and homeless individuals;

— introduce legislation to deal with Internet sourcing and accessing of drugs, to apply the harmonised EU definitions of a medicinal product to a new psychoactive substance so that national medicines agencies can prohibit its unauthorised importation, marketing or distribution;

— provide clear oversight and leadership so as to ensure the implementation of the national substance misuse report, including minimum alcohol pricing, reduction in alcohol advertising and sponsorship, greater health promotion programmes to the entire population on the dangers of alcohol misuse and abuse and to indicate a timeframe for implementing the recommendations of the report;

— ensure that, while acknowledging the stabilising effect of methadone, it is seen as part of the treatment process and not a stand-alone treatment;

— implement the review of the methadone treatment protocol, ensuring timely availability of access to treatment through primary health care;

— fully implement the hepatitis C strategy in the areas of surveillance, prevention, screening and laboratory testing and treatment, particularly affecting injecting drug users;

— open the debate on decriminalisation of illegal drugs and safer consumption;

— make available the assets of drug related crime through the Criminal Assets Bureau to counter the negative impacts of drug related crime and to be used in support of communities in tackling drug-alcohol abuse and misuse;

— refrain from further cuts to the services provided by the community and voluntary sectors for those in addiction and continue to support the special community employment, CE, schemes for those in drug rehabilitation;

— ensure that the ring-fenced betting taxes, proposed to be re-invested in the racing industry, includes a contribution to resourcing programmes addressing gambling addiction;

— integrate mental health services with addiction services in responding to dual diagnosis of individuals, affected by substance misuse, experiencing mental health difficulties in recognition of previous recommendations of the national advisory committee on drugs;

— demand that prison programmes provide, at a minimum, parity of esteem with community programmes with respect to addiction services to minimise harm to individuals in prison and that integration of prisoner release dates with community-based programmes is improved to lessen the harm done to individuals with addiction histories resulting in unco-ordinated release; and

— promote innovative programmes that will support mental health and addiction issues such as mindfulness and applied suicide intervention support training, ASIST.
Ar dtús, ba mhaith liom comhghairdeachas a ghabháil leis an Aire Stáit as an phost nua atá aige.

There is a public face of addiction. It is the zombie-like drug addict we see on the streets or the alcoholic who is staggering home or falling off the bar stool, drunk. The private face presents differently. Not all addicts fit the stereotypes I have mentioned. Addiction affects many people in our society. For every person in addiction, at least six or ten other people are affected by it, often very seriously. We know the economic cost. It is more than €3 billion, considering the crime related and health related matters. I move this Private Members' motion to bring this matter onto the floor of the House and to look at the scale of the problem, what is being done to address the matter and what is lacking in tackling these issues, and to ensure the issue does not end up on the cutting-room floor of the budget.

It is also important to look at the changing nature of addiction. We are now in the area of polydrug use of lethal combinations, including alcohol. Services must be able to keep up with these changes in use. Many of the statutory services are focused solely on heroin use. We must also consider the use of the Internet in sourcing substances. In acknowledging the scale of the problem, the point must be made that it is not confined to Dublin. It is a national problem. Alcohol was always there, but now the towns and villages of Ireland are seeing heroin, cocaine, head shop products and so on. We must also consider other addictions, such as gambling, food, sex and the Internet.

We know there is gangland crime. It is one part of the problem. The horrific recent killings, particularly in front of young children, were especially gruesome. I hope the other aspects of addiction will get the same attention and resources as the gangs are getting.

I am hoping for an honest, thoughtful and thought provoking debate. The motion calls for addiction to be prioritised as a health issue and not primarily a criminal issue. It is good to see drugs are now the responsibility of the Department of Health. That is a positive step.

Heroin first appeared in the late 1970s and 1980s in Dublin's inner city, where cynical operators and dealers targeted poor communities. The drugs were dispensed like sweets until the teenagers were hooked. I saw so many lovely young people taken over by heroin. Their families were devastated and their communities held to ransom. The lone voice of the late Tony Gregory brought the issue into the Dáil Chamber, where it was not taken seriously because officialdom had no real interest in tackling the issue then. The flat complexes in the inner city were known as heroin supermarkets at the time. Tony Gregory continued to make drugs a major issue in the Dáil and in Dublin City Council. This debate is so that the issue will not be off the agenda.

Currently, we are seeing a rise in heroin use. It is interesting that it is coinciding with another economic depression. Again, there are no geographic bounds. At a meeting this morning we were told of increases in seizures of heroin for personal use and supply in Dublin city. The European monitoring centre for drugs and drug addiction places Ireland top of the table of EU countries for heroin use. This is compounded by polydrug use, including alcohol use.

We are also seeing an alarming emergence of grow houses in suburbia, in rural areas and in rented apartments. It is not confined to poor communities. The growers' expertise is considerable. They are producing higher strength cannabis. The main psychoactive chemical, THC, is several times higher in grow house skunk than in hash. Project workers working with young people are concerned about this. It is being confused with the more benign name of hash which, whether we agree or not, has a different effect on people. I will not be like various Presidents of the United States or Ministers and admit to smoking the odd joint when I was in college. I did not. This is irrelevant, but I thought I would put it out there.

I have seen the long-term effects of significant use of cannabis. It is not good to see. However, we should open the debate on cannabis use and look at the arguments for and against. Ireland is the only EU country not to regulate the medical use of cannabis. The Netherlands is looking at classifying this high potency cannabis with cocaine and ecstasy. More young people are using skunk in Dublin. At one of the projects young people talk about paranoia and panic attacks. Other substances are mixed with skunk and young users, in turn, mix it with Benzodiazepine and alcohol. There is great pressure on some drug projects because they are dealing with a broader array of drugs, rather than cannabis or heroin on their own. There is also crystal meth, crack cocaine and tablets.

It may be because the heroin epidemic began there that Dublin's inner city has become associated with drugs. The response in the inner city has been remarkable. We have excellent projects and services in the voluntary and community sector. There is SAOL, Soilse, Chrysalis, HOPE and Crinan, to name a few. They are taking on these challenges. The SAOL project produced the Reduce the Use booklet which is being used in Ireland and throughout Europe. There are other interesting initiatives on harm reduction. I was at the north inner city drugs task force today. I used to chair it when I was a teacher and I am now back as a public representative. I listened to project workers talking about their work, how they are coping with funding cuts and with their terror of the effect of further cuts to front-line services.

The late Tony Gregory once said, "Follow the money". That eventually led to the setting up of the Criminal Assets Bureau, CAB. The Minister for Education and Skills, Deputy Ruairí Quinn, was Minister for Finance at the time. It took the murder of Veronica Guerin to get people moving. That is not good enough for all the other people who are involved in the addiction area. In 2007, Tony Gregory also spoke about the middle rank of dealers, and called for a mini-CAB for those areas where young people see dealers with extravagant lifestyles and no visible means of income. The motion calls for some of the assets of drug related crime acquired by CAB to go back into communities most negatively affected and used for treatment, rehabilitation, prevention, education and family support services. The money could also be used to deal with the intimidation and fear that families must deal with because of drug debt.

We know about death from overdose, lethal mixing and suicide. We have innovative programmes that are seriously at risk of being cut. I am talking about ASIST training, particularly for those dealing directly with vulnerable people. Statutory agencies sometimes send people to do this training and then do not use it, while community projects whose workers would use the training might not have the funding for it. Mindfulness also has a programme. It is a proven strategy for those in recovery. The Oasis Deora counselling centre in North Wall, Dublin, is one of the few that will deal with people in addiction. So many programmes wait until people are in recovery.

Between 20,000 and 50,000 are affected by hepatitis C but effective treatment is available. We know that injecting drug use, especially the sharing of injecting equipment, is the leading risk behaviour for the transmission of hepatitis C. The national strategy has set out a clear plan. The Government amendment refers to the expansion of needle exchange services. Will this include the provision of injecting rooms which are in some other cities but not in Ireland? This is controversial, but we need that debate.

We also need the debate on decriminalisation. We need to have a reasoned debate looking at the research.

8:05 pm

Photo of Tom HayesTom Hayes (Tipperary South, Fine Gael)
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The Deputy has used her ten minutes.

Photo of Maureen O'SullivanMaureen O'Sullivan (Dublin Central, Independent)
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I will make a couple of final points. With regard to the methadone protocol, methadone has certainly had a stabilising effect on drug users. There is no doubt about that, but the problem is that people are being left on methadone for too long. There is a need to address this. It is much cheaper to have somebody on methadone than to have them in a rehabilitation or residential centre.

My final point is about the alcohol strategy. A national substance misuse strategy was launched last February but the Government will have to take on a very powerful lobby, that is, both the drinks industry and the sporting organisations that accept sponsorship from the drinks industry. We have seen all the problems and we know the facts and figures about the effects of alcohol. I could use an extreme case. We could ask one of the drug barons in Dublin, Cork or Limerick if they would like to sponsor an event. We ask it of the drinks industry, which is also responsible for a drug. It is a much more harmful drug at times because more people are dying from alcohol related illnesses than are dying from all the other drugs combined.

I will conclude as I do not wish to take time from the other Members in the Technical Group. I will have more time to speak tomorrow night.

Photo of Thomas PringleThomas Pringle (Donegal South West, Independent)
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I welcome the opportunity to contribute to the debate on this motion. I congratulate Deputy Maureen O'Sullivan on drafting the motion and apologise to her for encroaching on her time. She was in full flow and could have continued. I also welcome the new Minister of State with responsibility for primary care, Deputy Alex White. I hope he has a successful tenure, at least more successful than his predecessor.

This Private Members' motion is very important because addiction is a serious problem throughout the country. I received a call from my local radio station today. It related to just one phrase in the motion which refers to opening a debate on the decriminalisation of drugs. I will address that issue later in my contribution. It is a pity that this single phrase has been picked on by some Members on the Government side as the important message of the motion, because the motion covers all aspects of addiction.

The biggest addiction problem in this country is addiction to alcohol and alcohol abuse. It is the number one issue in Ireland today. In 2010 a HSE report estimated the cost of alcohol related problems at €3.2 billion annually. That is a huge figure when one considers the costs of the HSE and the overruns it is dealing with at present. Addiction, particularly alcohol addiction, is the cause of that financial cost, as well as further problems. Alcohol related crime is estimated to cost approximately €1.2 billion every year. We really have a major problem with alcohol and alcohol addiction in this country and it must be dealt with as comprehensively as possible.

In the case of alcohol related crime, 97% of public order offences are due to alcohol, according to the Garda PULSE system, while in over 50% of murders committed in this country the perpetrators had consumed alcohol. For 76% of rape defendants, alcohol was a factor in the rape. One can see it is a huge problem. Financially, we must deal with it, quite apart from the cost to society and the cost to families and young people who are damaged and abused as a result of alcohol abuse. One of the biggest problems with alcohol is its availability. It is in every corner shop and supermarket. We just cannot get away from it. When I was young, parents complained about the fact that the sweets were always on display beside the checkout in the shops. Now, it is the off-licence that is on display beside the checkout, to encourage people to buy drink when they are paying for their groceries. We must deal with that. The previous Minister was putting together proposals and hoping to put measures in place to deal with it, so I hope this Minister will continue that work.

We talk every day about the reductions in the health budget and the cutbacks that are due to take place in forthcoming years. Consider that in the context of the cost of alcohol abuse at over €3.2 billion each year. If we could deal with that and make real inroads, we could ease a great deal of the pressure on our health budget and have a more reasoned debate about it.

Drug abuse is a problem not only in the inner cities but throughout the country, including in rural areas. There is a complete lack of support and services for addicts in rural areas. There is a heroin problem in a number of areas in County Donegal, with many addicts in the local communities. Indeed, over the last year or so there were a number of deaths related to drug use in rural areas. Addicts in rural areas who wish to get on a methadone programme or who wish to deal with their addiction must wait six weeks for an appointment for a methadone programme. They must then travel to Dublin to get approval to attend the methadone clinics. That is unacceptable when drugs are available throughout the country. Young people's lives are being destroyed from drug abuse and the lack of support services for them.

This motion proposes a number of actions to be carried out by the Government. It calls for the assets seized by the Criminal Assets Bureau, CAB, to be made available to fund drugs projects. That is vital. They should also be used to offset the cuts that are being imposed. It calls for no further cuts to community employment, CE, schemes that are dealing with addiction services. That must be implemented. In the last number of weeks cuts have been made to child and adolescent mental health services in the HSE west area. This means that young vulnerable people and the many families suffering as a result of alcohol abuse and addiction problems cannot avail of the services they require to help them to cope with their daily lives. Those services must be reinstated to ensure young people will be able to cope and talk to somebody who could help them to live through their difficult situation.

It is vital that we have a debate on the decriminalisation of drugs in this country. In 2002 Portugal decriminalised the possession of drugs for personal use. Reports I have read show that this has reduced addiction and crime related to drug use. We must have that debate and it must be done without hysterical reactions. We must look at these models to see if there is anything we can transpose to Ireland which could help to reduce addiction. Anything that would lower the level of addiction and the problems people have with it must be welcomed.

The motion is comprehensive and I congratulate Deputy Maureen O'Sullivan on producing it. It is vital that we maintain services as well as putting them in place. If we could move away from a system of year to year budgets and think in the long term, we could make a real impact, reduce our costs and reduce the level of the problem in our society.

Photo of Clare DalyClare Daly (Dublin North, Socialist Party)
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This is an incredibly diverse motion which contains some excellent ideas for dealing with addiction in Irish society. In fact, any specific aspect of the motion could be a single motion in itself. I will use the short time available to me to deal with drug addiction as it pertains to prisons.

Any meaningful policy for dealing with drugs must take a particular approach to prisons for a number of reasons. First, there is the fact that crime is the central reason for so many drug addicts ending up in prison. Obviously, the individuals themselves are victims. In addition, on a purely economic basis, there are benefits to society in terms of saving money from ending a revolving door by dealing with the issue of addiction when people are caught by the system, as it were. When people are taken out of society and incarcerated with plenty of time on their hands it should be an opportunity to rehabilitate them. Instead, it is a training ground to get more people hooked on and involved with drugs. Unless we deal with this issue, we are deceiving ourselves.

There are two issues involved. The first is the number of prisoners who have addiction problems and end up in prison as a result. A survey carried out on the psychiatric status of Irish prisoners in 2005 revealed that almost 60% of male prisoners sentenced had a drug dependency problem and 45% had an alcohol dependency problem. Only 26% of sentenced prisoners did not have an addiction problem of any nature. Other shocking surveys were carried out in the late 1990s and early in the last decade which showed that 21% of intravenous drug users first injected drugs while they were in prison. Our prisons are introducing people to a life of drugs rather than dealing with the issues while prisoners are in prison. This is despite the fact that there has been a huge shift in policy, with airport style searches being introduced since 2008 and a hard-nosed attitude being employed.

That does not work.

We must go back to the drawing board and we need a rational, sensible and non-sensational attitude to this problem because it has been the official strategy of the State since 2002 to have drug-free prisons. That is an embarrassment when we look at the policy pursued by the former Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Michael McDowell. It was based on increasing the resources to deal with searches and surveillance, amending the rules regarding visitors and contraband, mandatory drug testing, increased punishment for prisoners who were drug offenders and a much more hardline approach but the reality is that it has been a complete failure and we must now consider a different way to work.

It is completely wrong that we have a scenario where such resources are spent on security when we only have 24 full-time drugs counselling posts spread over 14 Irish prisons, with 4,000 Irish prisoners reliant on nine detox beds. It is completely back-to-front. I had the misfortune to spend a month in prison in the Dóchas centre ten years ago where I got to see at first hand many of the antics that went on and again the approach was the wrong way around. While I was there a young woman was released, took an overdose and died that weekend. It was a normal conversation in the prison. This young woman had been in and out of prison all her life. The prison wardens would report young people coming in and for a while they are getting steady meals, their skin is improving and they are starting to deal with their issues if they can keep them off the drugs. Suddenly, however, they are back out into the same conditions on the outside that led them into addiction in the first place, they take a hit and end up dead.

We need joined-up thinking. I was appalled that while I was in the centre, there was not a single counsellor to deal with all the issues, stresses and strains faced by those young women and mothers as a result of a life inside. There was a hairdressing unit that could have taught them a skill that could get them a job when they were released but no one tried to deal with the training aspect of rehabilitation.

Every society that places an emphasis on rehabilitation in such places sees it work because it is not just illegal drugs that are the problem, it is the pro-drug culture that exists in the prison. In 2010 we spent approximately €3 million on prescription drugs in the prisons. When I was there I was the only person in the prison who was not on drugs of some sort. People were either doing the illegal stuff or at night they queued for the tranquilisers and sleeping tablets that keep people sedated. It was scandalous that this should have been happening instead of proper intervention. We must look at this.

I fully support the idea being pushed by the Jesuits in particular about developing custodial treatment centres instead of sentencing, that people would agree to be sent to a treatment centre instead of a prison, perhaps with a reduced sentence on the basis that they get treatment. It would cost a fraction of what it costs now, would stop the revolving door and society would win. Unless we deal with this how we are deceiving ourselves.

8:15 pm

Photo of Richard Boyd BarrettRichard Boyd Barrett (Dún Laoghaire, People Before Profit Alliance)
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Like the other speakers, I pay tribute to Deputy Maureen O'Sullivan for bringing this comprehensive motion forward and highlighting the many important issues it raises.

It is timely that such a motion should come forward because alcoholism and drug addiction, particularly heroin addiction, have blighted our society for many years. We are now in an economic recession, with mass unemployment, austerity and cuts being visited in a serious and severe way on our society. We are recreating the conditions which have given rise to these problems at a serious level since the 1980s, and even further back with alcohol. We are now at a moment when we will create the conditions for all of these problems, which are already very serious, to get much worse if we do not take them seriously and deal with them in a sensible and rational way. More lives, families and communities will be devastated by these problems if we do not ensure it does not happen.

We do not need to quote statistics, although there are many, to know of the enormous overlap between alcohol addiction and heroin addiction and issues such as poverty, homelessness, poor quality housing and high levels of unemployment, particularly youth unemployment. We might add to that list the issues of suicide and mental illness. All of these are complex, multifaceted issues but there is unquestionably a huge correlation between them all. They must be dealt with if we are to make any serious effort to deal with heroin addiction, alcoholism or other forms of addiction.

It is no coincidence that the heroin epidemic first arose in this country in the 1980s during the last period of recession and mass unemployment. It ravaged lives, families and communities and we are still dealing with the legacy of the problems that developed then. Many of those problems have been passed down through the generations from parents to children and even to grandchildren. If we made any headway in trying to deal with those problems, it was because the communities most affected by them, the families and the rehabilitated addicts themselves, fought back, demanded resources, set up community initiatives, worked through community employment schemes to cope with and manage those problems and forced some sort of serious policy response from Governments over the last 20 years to a point where we did not resolve the problems but we were beginning to get a handle on how to address them.

Now, however, there is a threat that all that work could be undone if cuts are imposed on CE schemes that provide counselling services, drug rehabilitation schemes and outreach services to young people who are vulnerable. These CE schemes are holding together some of the most disadvantaged communities that are most affected by alcoholism and drug abuse and every cut to those services threatens to exacerbate the problem of heroin addiction.

It is rarely said, particularly about heroin, but there is an important distinction between heroin and many other drugs. It is almost a misnomer to talk about heroin getting people high, as if it is a fun drug. Heroin is a pain-killer; people take it to kill the pain. It is more akin to tranquilisers and legally prescribed drugs, which are also about sedating people with serious mental health and other problems. We must understand that it is the underlying problem of poverty, with many of those who have fallen into heroin addiction being the same people who went through industrial schools, sexual abuse and neglect and ended up in prison. We must deal with the problems at the root cause.

It means addressing issues such as homelessness and I note the strong correlation between homelessness, drug problems, alcoholism and so on. In addition, as previously noted, there must be a serious debate on decriminalisation, not in some sort of hippie way of thinking one should let it all hang out and let drugs be taken because it is cool but rather because criminalising the problem has not worked. It does not work and one must deal with it as a serious health and social problem. Moreover, one must ensure the provision of the resources and services necessary to deal with that problem and the underlying social causes, such as poverty and unemployment that create the conditions under which such problems can flourish.

8:25 pm

Photo of Joan CollinsJoan Collins (Dublin South Central, People Before Profit Alliance)
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As previous speakers have stated, this is an important debate and I thank Deputy Maureen O'Sullivan for tabling this comprehensive Private Members' motion. As the budget will be announced within eight weeks of this debate and given the amount of kite flying that has been taking place in other areas regarding cuts, it is of particular importance to have a real debate on this subject over the next two days. In stating the obvious, there is a massive crisis. There must be urgent action on the part of the State and a real discussion on the problem because the measures taken thus far, while having some effect, really have made little progress or have had little impact. As my colleague has noted, the drug problem developed in Dublin's inner city in the 1980s and mainly manifested itself as a problem with heroin addiction. However, we now are faced with a national problem involving polydrug use, including alcohol, as well as a massive increase in gang activity around the issue, which is a major element to have developed recently.

I represent the constituency of Dublin South-Central, which is the most disadvantaged urban constituency in the country. While its people are very proud and well organised in their efforts to organise their community, that is the legacy of the Celtic tiger in my constituency. I refer to the poverty levels, unemployment and youth unemployment levels and the high numbers of early school leavers in that area. Moreover, there is serious drug and alcohol abuse within the community, as well as gang activity. An informed source told me the areas of Dublin 10 and 12 have the highest levels of drug seizures and highest drug use and supply in the entire country. There is an epidemic of hashish, which is not like it was in the 1970s but which is a potent, powerful and very expensive drug. It costs approximately €50 to buy a bag, from which one might get four joints. In addition, another dangerous drug, crystal meth, is beginning to make its appearance in the community.

The constituency has experienced a vicious feud between two gangs in the Dublin 12 area that has resulted in 29 murders, the most recent of which was the vicious shooting of a gang member in front of his child. There is a major problem of intimidation which must be addressed, although I acknowledge it has been addressed by some of the local task forces. During the past two years, I have been approached by community groups, such as Addiction Response Crumlin, ARC, and individual families with regard to the intimidation in the area. For example, one family was driven out of their home by gang activity recently. Only yesterday, I spoke to a woman who is being extorted of €10,000 by the gangs in the area. These are people who are in receipt of social welfare and this has been going on daily. For €40, they are willing to put in one's windows unless one pays up. This is the level of activity within the community that people are facing and it is not an exception but is widespread. The gangs in my area usually are based around criminal families, which groom troubled teenagers and children, some as young as ten, to expand their operations. These children and teenagers are used to target families on behalf of those gangs and this cannot be ascribed to antisocial behaviour but constitutes organised crime in the community.

As a member of the local policing forum, my perception is there is a lack of urgency in dealing with such issues. I am sure the position is the same in other areas and I note Deputy Maureen O'Sullivan made particular reference to the inner city local policing forum. This must come from the top, that is, there must be a Government-driven strategy to deal with this issue. I recall that a special drugs policing forum operated in the inner city. It intervened in the community and did a very good job until its disbandment after a number of years of being in place. However, one is told the Garda cannot do much because families are not coming forward. There is a reason families do not come forward, which is they are afraid that their houses might be burned, petrol bombed or pipe bombed. They fear that their windows could be put in or, in some exceptional circumstances, that they could be shot dead. Anyone with any local knowledge knows who is involved in this gang war. There must be a strategy to target such serious criminals. There must be constant surveillance, raids, searches and constant arrests in respect of these criminal gangs. There must be CAB investigations to let them know they cannot act with impunity, which is what they are doing at present in many communities.

I also wish to address the issue of services. The Addiction Response Crumlin centre is a highly successful community response to the drug crisis. Working with more than 550 individuals and families, it runs a total of eight projects, which include three community employment schemes and family support for 80 families with an under-18 project. However, since 2008 the centre has had its funding cut by 22.7%. Its training allowance has been cut by 50%, its material grant cut by 53% and its administrators must juggle things around skilfully. A citywide estimate of community drug services in general indicates they have had their funding cut by 29% since 2008. The dial to stop drug dealing initiative, which built up local knowledge and had been introduced highly successfully by all accounts, was abolished in January of this year without consultation. The cuts have devastated and undermined the community's response to the drugs crisis and another round of cuts in the forthcoming budget would be disastrous. Perhaps someone in government should explain this to the troika. Our communities are being devastated and we cannot take any more from that perspective. Finally, I fully support the point made about opening up debate in respect of legislation to legalise certain drugs at least, thereby removing organised crime from the scene. International experience shows the war on drugs is a complete and absolute failure.

Photo of Michael Healy-RaeMichael Healy-Rae (Kerry South, Independent)
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While I already did so in the Chamber earlier, I wish the new Minister of State every good luck in the years ahead. I wish him all types of success and hope he will be successful in an extremely difficult, demanding and tough role. I really mean this and wish him good luck. I sincerely thank the Technical Group. This is an unusual situation in that I appreciate the great work done by Deputy Maureen O'Sullivan and am thankful to the Technical Group for allowing me time even though its members did not know I am not fully in support of the motion before the House this evening. Their willingness to give time to a person who does not support fully the motion demonstrates just how open and understanding they are.

I have a number of issues and I wish to use the time allocated to highlight my concerns. First, if one considers our history regarding the abuse of substances, one must acknowledge our experience nationally with alcohol, for instance, is not good. If one takes the motion's call to "prioritise addition as a health issue and not primarily as a criminal issue and ensure the necessary allocation of resources" and to "open the debate on decriminalisation of illegal drugs and safer consumption", I must reiterate that as a nation, our record with regard to consumption is not good. This is the reason I genuinely cannot fully support this motion. As for decriminalising some of the drugs that are illegal at present, it could make it easier. I acknowledge great arguments can be made on both sides and I listened attentively to previous speakers but when it comes to maintaining addictions, it could result in it being easier for people to sell drugs that would then be classified as being legal. Moreover, selling such drugs over the counter could lead to a false notion that consumption of such drugs was safe. It could mislead drug users and, in particular, young people into thinking that if it is legal, it must be okay. When one considers cigarettes, for instance, it is perfectly legal to buy cigarettes over the counter but at the same time, there is a massive industry in the illegal sale of cigarettes at present.

I am not convinced and that is why I am more inclined to side with what I am hearing from the Government on this issue than with what is being proposed in the motion. I have real concerns and even though Deputy Maureen O'Sullivan is motivated for all the right reasons, it is just we do not always agree on everything at all times.

I return to the damage being caused by drugs. It is a major problem facing the Government and all of us, and should be our top priority. The incidence of suicide is very high in the country and I believe many suicides are as a result of poly-drug use, which is in the majority of cases illegal drugs or even legal drugs being taken in conjunction with alcohol. I believe this is a contributory factor to the enormous increase in the incidence of suicide. From our constituencies and from being involved with communities and knowing so many people, sadly we all recognise the enormous increase in the incidence of suicide. This wreaks devastation upon families, parents, children and neighbours. Communities are being torn asunder from this. There is not a family, townland, village or town that is not affected by suicide on a regular basis, which is terribly sad.

It is incumbent on the Government and all of us to ensure we do everything we can to tackle illegal drug use. I have reservations about opening the debate on decriminalising some illegal drugs on the basis that it might allow for safer consumption. I am not convinced of that argument which is why I am not in a position to support the motion before us tonight. The Government should be concentrating on sorting out the existing addiction problems we have such as alcohol rather than making other substances legally available. I do not believe the timing is right for that at present. It is no harm to have tonight's debate on the floor of the House allowing everybody to make contributions. Whether for or against, everybody's contribution is valuable and important. We need to get the message from both Government and Opposition that we are serious about taking on the crime lords who are wreaking such havoc. Because of their greed for money they are willing to take people's lives and tear lives asunder by importing and making freely available illegal drugs on the streets of our towns and villages.

8:35 pm

Photo of Tom HayesTom Hayes (Tipperary South, Fine Gael)
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It is my pleasure to call upon the newly appointed Minister of State at the Department of Health, Deputy White, who has 20 minutes to speak. I understand he is sharing his time with Deputies O'Donovan and Catherine Byrne. Is that agreed? Agreed.

Photo of Alex WhiteAlex White (Dublin South, Labour)
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I move amendment No. 1:

To delete all words after “Dáil Éireann” and substitute the following:

— the scale of the problem of addiction throughout Ireland and the increasing demands on services;

— that poly-drug use has increased significantly due to the increase in the accessibility and range of dangerous substances, both illegal and unregulated;

— the increased risk to individuals using substances and lethal combinations of substances with respect to overdose, fatality and long-term ill health;

— the numbers of drug and alcohol related deaths each year are more than twice that of the numbers of deaths on our roads;

— the strong association between drug/alcohol abuse and suicide, and also accidental death;

— the increased use of technology in accessing harmful substances;

— the continuous on-street dealing in disadvantaged communities, the levels of intimidation and fear because of violence by drug gangs and the availability of firearms;

— that alcohol has been identified as a contributory factor in 90% of public order offences as recorded under the Police Using Leading Systems Effectively (PULSE) system and alcohol related crime costs the State almost €1.2 billion a year;

— that alcohol and drug related illness costs the health system a further €1.2 billion yearly;

— the link between economic and social disadvantage, including early school leaving, unemployment, housing conditions and problem drug/alcohol addiction and crime;

— the number of children with need for child protection because of families’ problems with drug and alcohol addiction;

— the links between mental health, homelessness and addiction; and

— the unacceptable levels of drug abuse in our prisons;
— the work of the statutory, voluntary and community sectors, the partnership model, the pillars of treatment and rehabilitation, supply control, prevention and research and family support;

— the role of the Young People’s Facilities and Services Fund in targeting those most at risk of drug abuse in funding services and facilities in many areas, particularly to those most vulnerable;

— the work of the Community Policing Forums in promoting collaborative work between the communities, local authorities and Gardaí to resolve local drug related and antisocial behaviour issues;

— the work of the various groups, government departments and agencies, the community and voluntary sectors and others in producing the National Substance Misuse Strategy Report;

— the work of the community and voluntary sectors in engaging those in addiction and in recovery from addiction in services; and

— the improvement in best practice and the range of treatment, rehabilitation and recovery for those in addiction; and supports the Government in its determination to tackle the issue of substance misuse and addiction through:

— continuing to support local, regional and national structures of the National Drugs Strategy involving community, voluntary and statutory services in the coordinated delivery of responses at individual, family and community level to the benefit of those most affected by problems of addiction;

— taking measures to strengthen the effectiveness of Drugs Task Forces;

— taking progressive measures, such as expanding the provision of needle exchange services around the country;

— continuing to implement the Irish Prison Service’s Drugs Policy and Strategy, ‘Keeping Drugs out of Prison’, to develop drug treatment services and enhance supply reduction measures across the State’s prisons;

— supporting the continued efforts of An Garda Síochána in tackling organised crime and those involved in drug dealing at local level in our communities; and

— its intention to bring forward a co-ordinated National Substance Misuse Strategy.”
I thank you, a Chathaoirligh, for your kind words and I also thank other colleagues for their kind words. I welcome the debate and I congratulate Deputy Maureen O Sullivan and her colleagues on tabling the motion. There is considerable agreement between us although not total agreement and therefore I believe it is appropriate to ask the House to support the Government's amendment in this regard.

At the outset I wish to recognise the very considerable work in which Deputy Maureen O'Sullivan has been involved over many years with her colleagues and collaborators - if I may describe them as such - back to the involvement of the former Deputy, the late Tony Gregory, who did such extraordinary work not just in promoting the debate and discussion, but in taking a very fearless attitude and public stance over much of what was happening in his constituency and indeed throughout the country. Deputy Maureen O'Sullivan may be aware that I have some involvement in one of the organisations she mentioned in the course of her speech, the SAOL project, with which I am very glad to have been associated over a number of years. I acknowledge the work she mentioned that the SAOL project and others are doing.

There is a high degree of agreement among us particularly on the harms caused by addiction, be it drugs, alcohol or other forms, to individuals, their families and friends and society in general. There are approximately 14,500 known opiate users in Ireland. Current figures indicate that more than 12,500 are in receipt of drug treatment, of whom more than 9,300 are in receipt of methadone treatment.

Alcohol plays a complex role in Irish society. Unfortunately, its consumption for enjoyment and sociability - along with its economic benefits - is overshadowed by the harm and health problems it causes when it is misused or consumed in a harmful and hazardous way. The National Drugs Prevalence Survey 2010-2011 indicated that 87% of adults aged between 18 and 64 years are classified as current drinkers. Some 58% of current drinkers, representing half of the State's population, are classified as consuming alcohol in a harmful manner. These are stark figures.

The Government is committed to maintaining the impetus in tackling the drugs problem through the full implementation of the national drugs strategy. It sets out a series of actions to deal with the drugs problem under the five pillars. I accept this requires a multifaceted and multifactorial approach and it cannot be reduced to one approach or another whether in the important criminal justice area or any other area - all of the areas must be brought together. Those five pillars are supply reduction, prevention, treatment, rehabilitation and research, each of which is important.

Co-operation and interagency working between the statutory, voluntary and community sectors is crucial to the success of the national drugs strategy. Expenditure on drugs services by Departments, State agencies and others is in the region of €250 million per year. As I will outline, significant progress is being achieved across the five pillars of the strategy I mentioned.

On supply reduction, I can assure the House that drug law enforcement remains a key priority area for An Garda Síochána and the Government. An Garda Síochána continues to proactively and resolutely tackle all forms of drug crime. The Garda national drugs unit, works closely with divisional and district drug units and other national units, including the organised crime unit, as well as the Criminal Assets Bureau, in targeting persons involved in the illicit sale and supply of drugs.

The association between the drugs trade and the use of violence and intimidation, as adverted to by some earlier speakers, remains a significant problem and the State will continue to utilise all resources at its disposal in pursuing those involved. The recent brutal murders have shown the callous disregard some people have for human life and the Garda is determined to do everything it can to bring the perpetrators to justice. The Minister for Justice and Equality is in ongoing contact with the Garda Commissioner about all aspect of serious crime. The Garda will continue to bear down heavily on the activities of those involved in gangland crime including drug crime.

The use of intimidation in the pursuit of drug-related debts is a matter which is being treated as a priority by the Garda. A framework is being developed between the Garda national drugs unit and the Family Support Network to assist persons who may be subject to the threat of drug-related intimidation.

In targeting those involved in drug trafficking a number of strategies have been put in place by An Garda Síochána to address the sale, supply, importation and distribution of illegal drugs. This approach is continuing to result in significant drug seizures and the related arrests of those involved in this trade and other forms of criminality. Provisional Garda figures for the period January to August 2012 indicate that 11,263 drug offences were detected, with 9,743 related arrests made. Based on figures provided to An Garda Síochána by the Forensic Science Laboratory, it is estimated that drugs with an approximate street value of €59.3 million were recorded as seized during the first six months of the year. The seizure data do not include a number of significant seizures made at the end of the first six-month period which remain the subject of further analysis and which will be reflected in later Forensic Science Laboratory returns. For example, in June as part of an ongoing intelligence-led operation targeting organised crime, the Garda national drugs unit, working with colleagues from the Revenue's Customs service, seized in excess of 400 kg of cocaine following searches in west Dublin and Kildare and arrested a number of key players involved in the drugs trade. I commend An Garda Síochána and the customs authorities on their ongoing work in this regard.

This Government has taken concerted action to tackle the emergence of new psychoactive substances, often known as legal highs. Since the middle of 2010, more than 260 psychoactive substances have been declared controlled drugs under the misuse of drugs Acts. In addition, the Criminal Justice (Psychoactive Substances) Act 2010, made it a criminal offence to sell or supply substances which have psychoactive effects on humans. This combination of initiatives has had a huge effect on the availability of new psychoactive substances that were in the main being sold through head shops. The Garda report that the number of head shops operating here has been reduced from more than 100 to three. The Garda continue to monitor retail outlets involved in the sale of equipment that can be used to cultivate cannabis and investigate any incidents involving the availability of psychoactive substances through retail outlets.

As stated by colleagues earlier, under the Medicinal Products (Prescription and Control of Supply) Regulations, it is prohibited for a person to supply a prescription medicine by mail order, including over the Internet. Furthermore, it is an offence to produce, import, export, sell, supply or possess substances controlled under the misuse of drugs Acts and regulations, except in accordance with a licence. The Department of Health is currently reviewing the misuse of drugs regulations, to introduce additional controls on benzodiazepine medicines which are known to be traded illicitly. The new measures will require import and export licences and create an offence for persons who possess these substances without a prescription, licence or other authority.

The strategy recognises the vital importance of promoting a greater awareness and understanding of the dangers of problem drug and alcohol use. Prevention measures are in place, focusing on those most at risk as well as on the general population. National media campaigns are undertaken by the HSE and include the development and-or support of information websites such as www.drugs.ie, www.yourdrinking.ie, www.healthpromotion.ie and regional awareness raising events such as drug awareness week.

The Government is particularly focused on ensuring that there is an increased emphasis on moving people from drug treatment to a drug-free life, where this is achievable. The report of the working group on drugs rehabilitation, published in 2007, sets out the framework for a multifaceted approach to the delivery of rehabilitation. Considerable progress has been achieved, with an increased number of places in the opiate substitution programmes, more detox beds and more places in rehabilitation programmes. For example there are currently 142 beds available for medical and community-based detoxification and 642 residential rehabilitation beds for those suffering from addiction of various types, the majority of which are being utilised by people with problems relating to alcohol. Additional detox beds were recently provided at a number of locations, including in Bruree, County Limerick; Farnanes, County Cork; Tullow, County Carlow and Ballyragget, County Kilkenny. The HSE continues to prioritise treatment and is currently assessing demand for residential services, reviewing funding arrangements and standardising service level agreements. There has also been an increase in the availability of needle exchange services, with the roll-out of the pharmacy needle exchange programme, in which more than 40 pharmacies are participating. The programme is being expanded over a three year period.

The HSE provides a wide range of services in respect of alcohol related harm. These include health promotion activities and campaigns, outreach and counselling services, addiction services, family support, treatment of patients presenting with alcohol related harm in acute hospitals and support of voluntary organisations. A review of the methadone treatment protocol in 2010 made a number of recommendations, including the involvement of more GPs in the methadone service, more emphasis on moving clients towards recovery, more opportunities for detoxification with appropriate follow-up and greater use of alternatives to methadone. Implementation of these recommendations is overseen by the HSE's social inclusion governance group.

The Irish Prison Service continues to implement its drugs policy and strategy, entitled "Keeping Drugs out of Prison". This drugs strategy was launched in May 2006 and significant progress has been made to date. The strategy seeks to reduce the demand for drugs within the prison system through education, treatment and rehabilitation services for drug-addicted prisoners. Initiatives include the provision of detoxification, methadone maintenance, education programmes, addiction counselling and drug therapy programmes.

Any person entering prison with a history of opiate use and testing positive for opioids on committal is offered medically assisted symptomatic detoxification. Patients can, as part of the assessment process, discuss with health care staff other treatment options which may include stabilisation on methadone maintenance for persons who wish to continue on methadone while in prison. Methadone maintenance is available in nine places of detention, accounting for more than 80% of the prison population. The Prison Service often engages with patients who have not accessed community-based treatment services. The drugs treatment policy has also led to a reduction in the incidence of post release overdoses, since there is a strong emphasis on continuity of care between prison services and the community services.

As part of the Government commitment to deliver focused services to people in rehabilitation, 1,000 CE drug rehabilitation places have been ring-fenced within the community employment sector. The drug rehabilitation places operate as CE schemes but with a special remit around rehabilitation and training to prepare participants to progress to employment. The line between rehabilitation and recovery on the one hand and employment and training on the other is often blurred. In the world of recovery from addiction, labour market participation is one of the surest ways to enhance self-esteem and reinforce stability and recovery. This balance between rehabilitation and training has been at the core of community employment on drug task force projects and is reflected in the national drugs strategy. In June 2012, there were 807 participants in CE drug rehabilitation projects. The CE drug rehabilitation projects are working with the Department of Social Protection to ensure that there is adequate funding for the continuation of the valuable work undertaken by such schemes.

The role of the family in drug rehabilitation cannot be overstated. The national drugs strategy states that families should be seen as service users in their own right; that service providers should actively seek the participation of families in the rehabilitation process and the reconciliation of families, if that is necessary. The HSE works with a number of agencies to support prevention measures with families. Some examples of these initiatives include roll-out of the strengthening families programme and delivery of a comprehensive concerned persons programme in support of family members who experience significant difficulties arising from alcohol and substance misuse. The strengthening families programme is a 14 session, evidence based parenting skills, children's life skills and family life skills training programme aimed at preventing and reducing alcohol and drug misuse and anti-social behaviour and crime among young people.

The drugs task forces play an important role in tackling the drug problem in local communities. They support more than 400 community-based drugs initiatives, which operate a range of interventions covering treatment and rehabilitation, drug awareness and prevention, community safety initiatives and support for families of problem drug users. This year, the Department of Health is providing almost €31.5 million in funding to the drugs initiative, which primarily supports the activities of community-based drugs projects in drugs task force areas. A review of the drugs task forces and associated structures has taken place and recommendations will be considered by the Government shortly. The core objectives of the review are to strengthen the effectiveness of the drugs task forces, improve accountability for their activities and expenditure and streamline the funding arrangements tothe community drugs projects.

I would now like to return to the question of alcohol and its place in our society. The misuse of alcohol is responsible for a wide range of health and social harms in society. A significant burden is placed on the resources of the State in dealing with the consequences of alcohol misuse.

8:45 pm

Photo of Jerry ButtimerJerry Buttimer (Cork South Central, Fine Gael)
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Hear, hear.

Photo of Alex WhiteAlex White (Dublin South, Labour)
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Let us take a moment to consider the facts. Alcohol misuse was responsible for at least 88 deaths every month in 2008. It is a contributory factor in half of all suicides and in deliberate self-harm. It is associated with the occupation every night of 2,000 beds in Irish acute hospitals and one quarter of injuries presenting to emergency departments. Alcohol abuse is estimated to be associated with 16% of child abuse cases. It was a trigger in a third of domestic abuse cases in 2005. In 2007, alcohol related illness cost the health care system €1.2 billion and alcohol related crime cost an estimated €1.19 billion. The cost of lost economic output in 2007 owing to alcohol was estimated to be €427 million. In addition to the terrible human loss and suffering involved, alcohol related road accidents cost an estimated €530 million in 2007.

In addition, a range of disorders known as foetal alcohol spectrum disorders are caused by mothers drinking alcohol in pregnancy.

This state of affairs simply cannot continue. The time has come for us to rethink our relationship with alcohol. Irish people drink in a more dangerous way than people in almost every other country. Irish adults drank 11.9 litres of pure alcohol per capitain 2010. This equates to 482 pints of lager, 125 bottles of wine or 45 bottles of vodka. Ultimately, 1.5 million Irish drinkers drink in a harmful pattern.

It is imperative that as a society we reduce the overall level of alcohol consumed in our society and tackle the problems of alcohol misuse. The report of the national substance misuse strategy steering group was published last February. It made a number of recommendations focusing on the supply, pricing, availability and marketing of alcohol, along with measures for the policy areas of prevention strategies, treatment, rehabilitation, alcohol and substance dependency research and information. For example, it recommended an increase in the price of alcohol so it becomes less affordable, and the introduction of a legislative basis for minimum pricing and a social responsibility levy on the drinks industry.

The extent of alcohol misuse warrants such policies to address this pervasive threat to Irish public health. Minimum pricing is ultimately a mechanism of imposing a statutory floor in price levels for alcohol products that must be legally observed by retailers. The primary function of this measure is to reduce at-risk levels of alcohol consumption, especially by those who drink in a harmful and hazardous way. It would also have a greater impact on discouraging children and young adults to drink. In turn, this should diminish the effect of the misuse and over-consumption of alcohol on public services, crimes and public health, along, of course, with productivity in the economy.

The national substance misuse strategy sets out the future direction of policy to deal with the use and misuse of alcohol. The Department of Health is preparing a concrete set of proposals on the basis of the national substance misuse strategy report, and it is intended to submit these to Government for consideration and approval as soon as possible.

The Government is fully committed to addressing the drugs problem, and as a Minister of State with responsibility in this area I intend to continue to drive the implementation of the drugs strategy and ensure that tackling the problem of addiction throughout Ireland remains very high on the Government's agenda. I acknowledge the progress achieved by my predecessor, Deputy Róisín Shortall, in advancing the national drugs strategy. I look forward to bringing proposals on an alcohol policy to the Government in the very near future, and in this regard I am confident my colleagues in government will support the timely finalisation and subsequent implementation of the national substance misuse strategy.

8:55 pm

Photo of Patrick O'DonovanPatrick O'Donovan (Limerick, Fine Gael)
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I welcome the opportunity to speak on this issue. I wish the new Minister of State, Deputy White, well in his role. I have no doubt the experience he brings from his work prior to being elected to the Dáil will be of huge assistance, particularly in the area of drugs and substance misuse. To repeat what previous speakers said, it is undoubtedly a scourge on society. The country has faced a drugs problem for generations and more recently we have seen the obvious effects of the misuse of alcohol. I pay tribute to the staff at Cuan Mhuire in Bruree, County Limerick, in my constituency who work in this area on a daily basis. They do sterling work in assisting people on their road to recovery. I find myself in the position of agreeing with Deputy Healy Rae, which is a first for me, as I am concerned about the blanket decriminalisation of certain drugs because I do not believe it is the path to take. Various jurisdictions have had mixed experiences of this.

We need greater co-operation, and the Minister of State's experience in a previous guise may help with this. This is not an issue for one Department; it is multifaceted requiring the Departments of Justice and Equality and Defence to play a major role. We saw the role of the Naval Service in the seizure of illegal substances off the west coast of Cork. It is important that naval services in Europe and elsewhere share information on the traffic into and out of our territorial waters. The availability of naval ships in Ireland is limited for the very good reason of budgetary constraints. However, one would not put a west Cork garda in a Ford Fiesta with only first gear to patrol the entire country. This is what we expect of the Naval Service. The time has come for us to look to our neighbours, particularly our nearest neighbour which has a far greater maritime capability than we do, and ask for the collection and sharing of information on traffic into and out of our territorial waters in certain instances for this purpose.

An issue raised with me recently is mail-order drug dealing. A parent spoke to me about the damage being caused by benzodiazepines to families throughout the country. This issue is gaining momentum. I call on the Departments of Health and Justice and Equality to consider the effective programme put in place to deal with the scourge of child pornography and the use of the credit card details of those who solicited such information from websites. Some of the websites selling drugs are hosted in countries where the law of the land is not the number one priority, but every one of these websites is dependent on an Irish bank or financial institution conveying information on the credit card details being used to make purchases. We need a code of practice or stronger legislation put in place to go after the banks and credit and debit card companies which allow this to happen. To a certain degree, an onus of responsibility should be placed on the sharing of information between those who transit the material into and out of the country, in particular couriers or post workers who bring large packages - these do not come in small packages - on a routine basis to the same people. Perhaps there is also a role for the State agencies in information sharing, but certainly the credit facilities offered by banks to purchase these drugs online should be examined. The work done to deal with child pornography was very effective.

The Minister of State is correct that the scourge of alcohol abuse has been well documented. However, there is another side to the alcohol and drinks industry. It is very easy for Members of the House to be critical of the industry, and I agree that to a certain extent it has gone out of control, but in towns, cities and villages throughout the country we have responsible family-owned pubs which are good houses run by people who are part of the community. They have been waiting for years for something to be done about the unregulated side of the market and I would welcome any measures taken in this regard. In doing so, the Minister of State needs to level the playing field and engage with the responsible end of the industry. These are ordinary people who pay their rates and exorbitant rates of tax on which we depend. No contribution made so far this evening referred to the amount of money raised by the Exchequer from the alcohol industry. A side of the industry is willing to engage with the Minister of State and wants to help address this problem. It is important not to tar all of the drinks industry with the same brush. I encourage the Minister of State to sit down with the representatives of the manufacturers, retailers and publicans. They are in communities throughout the country and provide employment. They do not want to act irresponsibly but, by the same token, they do not want pot shots to be taken at their industry every night. Not all publicans or nightclub owners are bad; there are a few rogues who need to be rooted out. I wish the Minister of State well and I support the amendment he has tabled.

Photo of Catherine ByrneCatherine Byrne (Dublin South Central, Fine Gael)
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I congratulate the Minister of State, Deputy Alex White, on his new role and wish him every success. The motion is very timely given the recent tragic events in the city linked to drugs and gangland activity. I hope in the coming months the Minister of State takes the opportunity to put his own stamp on this very important issue. The people at the heart of this issue are the addicts, their families and children and their communities. We need to focus on those struggling with addiction, whether to alcohol or illegal drugs.

We need to help their families to support them in their battle to get clean and re-start their lives. We need to move forward with a methadone programme that does not keep people sustained on methadone but rather weans them off drugs altogether. We need to help them access proper rehabilitation services and counselling and not be left waiting on long waiting lists to go into rehabilitation. I welcome the review which has gone ahead, although I am not too sure what is in it. This comprehensive review of task forces is vital to assess the work being done on the ground and to ensure projects and services funded through the task forces are connecting with the people they are serving. There is a genuine need for accountability and responsibility. Those projects that do the most must be recognised for their commitment to the provision of vital services for addicts. Last month, I visited the Star Project in my own area in Ballyfermot where I met many of the participants, many of whom have been there for the past two years while others have been participating for a short period of time. I heard one person describe how she had lost five family members through addiction. This issue needs to be tackled urgently.

I cannot talk about drugs and addiction without taking alcohol abuse on board. Here in this country, the levels of alcohol consumption is frighteningly high. It is tolerated and socially accepted. Young people now top up before they even go out on the town. It is seen as our tradition in some people's eyes, which is a very sad reflection on our country - the drunken Irish. Last week saw Arthur's Day, which was a great day but, by the evening, the city was in turmoil.

The drugs crisis in this country has existed for many years. I have lived and worked in an area where drug addiction has devastated communities. People were not allowed to go to their local shop and post offices closed down. One particular pharmacist was allowed to treat 500 people per day on methadone. Thank God those days are gone and people have taken on the responsibility of dealing with them. The mindless violence and unlawful killing we have seen appear to have become the norm. Criminals have taken the law into their own hands. This tit for tat killing in broad day light no longer shocks us, at least not until last week when innocent children saw their parents shot in front of them. What is happening to our country and what was once a civilised society? These are very worrying times for our communities and families. People are frightened. I met people from my area who will not even go to the local authority if they believe people are involved in drugs and gangland crime because they are afraid. I commend the Garda Síochána and the national drugs strategy on the work they have been doing to try to deal with criminal activities. People should contact the Garda, ring the helpline and not be intimidated because the people living there are the eyes of the community. They know what is happening every day and they are the people with whom the Garda needs to connect.

The local drugs task forces and the local police forums are excellent in every community and well worth attending. Some of the task forces are working very well but some of them are not working at all. When the Minister of State puts his stamp on this portfolio, he will be able to weed out the ones that are not doing the work and support the ones that are.

9:05 pm

Photo of Billy KelleherBilly Kelleher (Cork North Central, Fianna Fail)
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I welcome the opportunity to speak in this very important debate. I thank the Technical Group for moving this motion, especially Deputy Maureen O'Sullivan, who has campaigned on this issue for many years, and her predecessor, the late Tony Gregory. In the early 1980s when I was growing up, even though I was from a rural part of Cork but one which was near the city centre, I was unaware of the tragedies unfolding in the inner city in Dublin. It was because of the campaigning of people like the late Tony Gregory and Deputy O'Sullivan that the drugs issue was brought to the fore.

I believe the reason it was not to the fore was simply because it was affecting people who did not have a voice. It was affecting inner city Dublin and people who were underprivileged and did not have a political voice. It was not until such time as it spread out and started to infest other communities that it became an issue of national prominence. It was a very sad reflection on ourselves as parliamentarians, political parties and a society that we ignored what was a serious blight on a generation of people in inner city Dublin. That had a devastating impact on the community, families and individuals in that area. We saw it culminating in many deaths, the arrival of vigilantes and all that flowed from that, such as the evolving criminality and paramilitaries moving into organised crime. The proceeds of that are, unfortunately, visiting our streets regularly in Dublin and elsewhere.

I congratulated the Minister of State and wished him the best of luck today in his absence. I wish him well and hope he has success in delivering on what is a very important portfolio in the Department of Health and Children. If I were the Minister of State, I would go back to the office, write out the delegation of ministerial functions order and get the Minister for Health to sign it tonight to make sure he has full authority and control over his destiny in delivering on primary care and all that flows from that. In essence, primary care is critical in respect of what we are talking about because GPs and social workers are at the heart and to the fore in addressing drug addiction and abuse in our communities, along with law enforcement and trying to cut off the supply.

I have gone through this motion and while there could be a difference of opinion with regard to one or two areas, we decided we would not move any amendment to it simply because it is a very detailed and thought-provoking motion before the Dáil. We can have the debate and we have a free parliamentary democracy where we can talk about decriminalisation and the opening up of that debate. I would have concerns about it even though I know that in respect of the Netherlands or Portugal, where they decriminalised all illegal drugs in 2001, reports from the Cato Institute and others show the issue should at least be discussed. Perhaps there are parts of it that are positive and which we could bring into our own system. I am not sure, however, that as a society we could cater for the complete opening up and decriminalisation of illegal substances, but I am willing to listen to all sides of the argument from those at the coalface, such as the professionals and those who, unfortunately, have substance abuse issues, feel criminalised and withdraw from support services for fear of conviction and being criminalised. Why not have this debate? My instinct would be that we may not be ready for it.

The one drug that is legal in this country is alcohol and is the cause of huge difficulties and social upheaval - domestic violence, child abuse and suicide. It is something we must address right across the board. Alcohol abuse is a key issue for the Government. It is having a devastating impact on society. These are not criticisms of the Minister of State and the Government, they are just observations as a Deputy, father and person who is interested in promoting health within our society. The Minister of State will know when I want to criticise. The issue of alcohol has been around for too long without us making any serious inroads into addressing the underlying problems and drift from alcohol use to alcohol abuse to drug abuse and all that flows from that. There is a body of evidence in reports, surveys and research that is clearly evidential and shows quite clearly that there is a strong link and that it has a detrimental effect on our society and individuals.

For all those reasons, the national substance misuse strategy steering group report and its recommendations must be acted upon very quickly because we are beginning to lose a generation of people again. We saw it in respect of the Swedish House Mafia concert in the Phoenix Park and we see it every night of the week, particularly at the weekends, in our provincial towns and cities. We know the consequences and causes of it. We know that too much alcohol is being consumed in a binge drinking type atmosphere and we know about the drift towards illegal drugs as well, such as Benzodiazepines, opiates, alcohol and barbiturates. When all these are mixed together, they can become a lethal cocktail. We see it too often in coroners' reports with details of alcohol and polydrug mixes causing death. Daily and weekly our accident and emergency departments are full. In his speech, the Minister of State said that 2,000 beds per night were being used in acute hospitals because of alcohol related incidents. I know we must broaden it out to talk about the other issues as well.

However, it is surely within our scope as a society to deal with this issue.

Other speakers stated the problem is multifaceted and that there is a multi-agency aspect, which is clearly the case. Teachers tell us that children in national schools are experiencing difficulty because of alcohol abuse and use. Therefore, we must not put our head in the sand any longer and decide that alcohol is a bit of craic and part of what we are; we must not decide to park the problem in the belief that the next generation will not be affected. The problem is cyclical and ongoing. Something needs to be done.

The 14 drugs task forces did some ground-breaking work on rehabilitation, training, community employment schemes and getting people back into the labour market. The difficulty is that our labour market is very much diminished and, consequently, it is harder to make progress. We will, therefore, need more supports in the supported labour market area. We do not have the safety net that existed heretofore. If there are not more supported labour market initiatives, there will be a backlog among people on rehabilitation programmes who used to use illegal drugs. It is critical that we provide the supports. I am not making criticisms but observations.

Let us consider the use of methadone as a substitute for heroin. We know approximately 9,000 people are on methadone programmes at present. If one hands out methadone continually without putting in place very serious supports, drug users drift back towards heroin use. Evidence exists to support this view. While we can set up treatment programmes and offer rehabilitation, we will not succeed without a multifaceted, streamlined approach. Let us be honest: most of the drug users are very vulnerable and are under huge pressure. They are addicted to a substance and may not have family or community supports. They may have low self-esteem and all that stems therefrom. Therefore, there ought to be a conveyor-belt system of supports available to them. Any break in this process means one can slip back into drug abuse very quickly.

This area must be prioritised, for a number of reasons, if cuts to resources are being made. If we talk about drug abuse, we must acknowledge it is contributing to homelessness, self-harm and suicide. The figures in this regard are alarming. This ought to be a priority for the Government. All the supports should be built around the drugs task forces and made available at the coalface in communities, thereby giving people ownership of their destinies and the ability to deal with their community problems. Prescriptive diktats from Departments or Governments do not always filter down as intended to communities. The local drugs task forces are important in giving communities ownership and the resources needed to face their challenges. I support this approach. The fruits of it are to be seen. Deputy O'Sullivan and others referred to the good work being done by the drugs task forces. Politically, this matter may have fallen off the priority list. I hope the Minister of State will reinvigorate it and put it back at the centre of Government policy, making sure that scarce resources are provided for those who need them most.

In noting the motion’s acknowledgement of the good work being done by the drugs task forces and through the implementation of various strategies, we must acknowledge that resources to deal with the difficulties are key. We must consider whether there are sufficient resources available to An Garda Síochána, the Customs and Excise, the Navy and Defence Forces to stop supply. Having a land border with another jurisdiction and a vast coastline, we realise it is very difficult to cut off supply. However, all the necessary resources must be made available. X-ray machines are kept in Dublin Port for a few days and then driven to Rosslare for a few. The drug smugglers wait in Britain until they find out the location of the X-ray machine and when they find it has been moved from a particular port they send their containers there. We must use the technology available to us in conjunction with Interpol and the British authorities to deal with this problem head-on.

Let us be clear: some of the drug finds were accidental. One of the biggest drug finds, which was off west Cork a couple of years ago, occurred when someone put diesel into a petrol boat. It was a complete accident that the vast quantity of cocaine was found in the region. If this was by accident, we must ask what is coming in unknown to us and under our noses. We must provide resources to combat smuggling.

It is not a criticism of those who are on the high seas daily to state there are more resources devoted to chasing a few fishermen around west Cork than to chasing smugglers coming from Colombia in yachts and catamarans to the Irish coastline, from where they move farther on into Europe. We must, therefore, get our priorities right if we are to be serious about cutting off supply. Cutting off half or quarter of the supply is no good because all this does is inflate the cost of the products coming in. This increases criminality, resulting in a circular problem. We must deal with the problem head-on on a number of fronts.

I urge the Government to prioritise surveillance and co-operation with Interpol and other agencies on a pan-European basis and globally, particularly with the United States and other countries that have good intelligence on where drugs come from - South America and Africa, for example. It should be within our gift to cut off the supply of major imports of drugs.

The criminal element and the activities of former members of the IRA, who are now moving into criminality and using their paramilitary experience in the process, are having a devastating consequence on cities. Drug dealing is lucrative and will continue without appropriate sanctions. To this day, the sanctions are not tough enough. If one is caught with over €14,000 of illegal drugs, one receives a mandatory ten-year sentence. I raised this in the House time and again. I wrote to the President of the High Court and President of the Supreme Court stating we must have a sentencing policy that puts suppliers away for a very long time.

Those who are using drugs should not be criminalised. We should regard drug use as a health issue. It is a health issue for those who are addicted to substances, be it alcohol, illegal drugs or, in some cases, legal drugs. We should have a good debate on decriminalisation but I have yet to be convinced that it would address the underlying problems in our society.

I ask the Minister of State, Deputy White, to put this matter centre-stage. He should make a name for himself. I know he will on the basis that he has done so already; that is why he is where he is. He should make a bigger name for himself by ensuring that the alcohol and drugs strategies are central to everything he does, not only with the Department of Health but also with the Departments responsible for justice and education and those with lead roles in combating this insidious cancer in society.

9:15 pm

Photo of Seán CroweSeán Crowe (Dublin South West, Sinn Fein)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

Ba mhaith liom comhghairdeas a ghabháil leis an Aire Stáit as ucht a phost nua.

Drug and alcohol addiction, substance abuse and their strong association with suicide comprise some of the biggest problems facing society. The sheer scale of the problem is massive, especially in the Dublin area. It is a very lucky family that has not been affected directly or indirectly by the societal fallout from the drugs crisis.

I have been a member of the Dodder Valley drugs task force since its inception. Daily I see at first hand how legal and illegal drugs are eating away at the fabric that holds communities together. Tallaght has the highest rate of reported burglaries in the State, and Rathfarnham has the fourth highest. Residents quite rightly ask why there are more break-ins in their area and they ask whether the figures are linked directly to the drugs epidemic, which is bubbling away under the surface.

I know of two people who were arrested recently by the Garda as they tried to rob a supermarket. The two addicts were robbing a supermarket every day to feed their out-of-control drug habits. I spoke recently to a number of families who lived beside a drug or crack house.

Debate adjourned.

The Dáil adjourned at 9 p.m. until 10.30 a.m. on Wednesday, 3 October 2012.