Dáil debates

Tuesday, 5 November 2019

Illegal Drugs: Motion [Private Members]

 

8:30 pm

Photo of John CurranJohn Curran (Dublin Mid West, Fianna Fail)
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I move:

“That Dáil Éireann: notes that:
— individuals, families and communities throughout the country have been devastated by illegal drugs;

— drug-related harm consistently clusters in communities marked by poverty and social inequality;

— drug-related deaths in Ireland are at the highest figure ever, increasing from 431 in 2004 to 736 in 2016;

— new drugs appear regularly on the illicit market, while familiar drugs such as cannabis are becoming more potent; and

— too many people are living with the daily nightmare of drug-related intimidation and violence;
further notes:
— the significant increase in drugs offences recorded by An Garda Síochána;

— the increase in the value of drug seizures from €29,706,281 in 2016 to €71,859,695 in 2017;

— that not all drug users are addicts and there has also been a significant rise in casual and occasional drug use;

— that cocaine use in Ireland increased by 32 per cent in 2017;

— that Ireland is one of six European countries where crack cocaine abuse has increased in the past five years;

— that every cent spent on illegal drugs funds organised crime; and

— the reduction in the number of Gardaí assigned to drug units;
agrees that:
— the importance of a public health approach to drug and alcohol misuse is paramount;

— there is widespread concern that the partnership approach, which has been at the heart of drugs strategies since 1996, is now in danger of collapse;

— community participation and interagency working is crucial to an effective response to an increasingly complex and challenging drugs problem;

— there is apprehension and frustration at the failure of Government to meet commitments on community involvement;

— investment in drugs task forces has stagnated in recent years with an increase of 1.7 per cent since 2015 compared to 28 per cent in overall health expenditure; and

— there is a need for comprehensive services in prevention, detoxification treatment and rehabilitation; and
calls for:
— the Government to act as a matter of urgency to restore confidence in the national drugs strategy;

— the Taoiseach to appoint representation at a senior level from the Department of the Taoiseach to the National Oversight Committee of the national drugs strategy;

— an increase in the level of funding for drugs task forces and treatment services;

— action to be taken against open drug dealing on city streets;

— the strengthening of criminal law against the use of children in drug trafficking;

— increased investment in the Garda Juvenile Diversion Programme; and

— a major education and information campaign to be undertaken on casual drug use.”

I will share time with my colleagues, Deputies Breathnach, Cassells, Lawless, O'Keeffe, O'Loughlin, Cowen and Brendan Smith. It gives me no pleasure to say that we are facing a very significant and increasing drug problem in this country. For a long time, drugs were an issue that affected those of us in Dublin. It was particularly felt in our most disadvantaged communities in the 1970s and 1980s, after which the issue became more widespread. It now affects every village and town right across the country.

Sometimes when we say it in that fashion people say that it is only an off the cuff remark and ask what we have to back it up but there is a great deal of evidence. From the point of view of the Minister's Department, the seizures made by An Garda Síochána have been increasing significantly every year. The queues for those presenting for treatment services are getting longer and longer. There was very interesting article by Liz Dunphy in yesterday's Irish Examiner. She took a very in-depth look at the drugs situation in Cork city, at the lives of people who are blighted by drugs, including some of those who manage to avail of services. A very interesting comment was made by a gentleman by the name of Michael Guerin, who spoke about Cuan Mhuire. He said the facility had six beds, adding that "Three years ago, we would have had between 50 to 75 people waiting for a place. Today, we have 250."

There has been a quantum leap in the scale of the problem. Those of us who sit on joint policing committees or policing fora listen to this on an ongoing basis. Problem drug use is growing at every level. Central Statistics Office figures back this up. CSO figures show that there were a little more than 20,000 controlled drug offences in the 12 months ending in June 2019. This is more than 3,000 more offences than in the comparable period last year. There has been a very significant increase within one year. The number of offences involving possession of drugs for sale increased from slightly under 4,000 to nearly 4,500. This is having a devastating impact on individuals, families and communities. No matter how hard we try to express the difficulties and trauma in the lives of the communities and families who are living with this problem, we will never adequately do so.

Last Wednesday, 30 October, all nine former Ministers of State who have had responsibility for the national drugs strategy called on the Taoiseach to intervene and restore confidence in the partnership framework which has traditionally underpinned our national drugs strategy. We launched that appeal across the road in Buswells Hotel, where seven of the nine former Ministers of State were physically present. We are concerned that there is a real epidemic in respect of the issue of drugs. We do not say that to scaremonger but all of us, having faced individual challenges in our time as Minister of State, are very concerned. When I was Minister of State with responsibility for this area, the big issue was a new national drugs strategy and confronting and dealing with the proliferation of head shops. Every Minister of State has had that problem. On the Minister of State, Deputy Byrne's watch, the problem is partnership. The national drugs strategy has always been underpinned by partnership between the community, voluntary and statutory sectors. I am concerned that partnership is no longer effective.

I do not blame the Minister of State. I have known her for a long time. I know where she is coming from. She is of the community and absolutely understands the importance of community involvement. I believe, however, that she has been let down by her colleagues in Cabinet. This Government has failed to support community initiatives with regard to the national drugs strategy. While I am talking about the community with regard to the national drugs strategy, the community sector wants to have meaningful and effective representation on the national oversight community. It does not want to be there only to rubber-stamp decisions. It does not want decisions made outside of that forum to which it is not party. For that to happen, the sector believes that a senior representative from the Department of the Taoiseach should also sit on the national oversight committee.

In addition, the whole area of funding for local and regional drugs and alcohol task forces needs to be addressed. It is not satisfactory that, for an extended period, projects funded by the task forces have received no increases in funding. As we have seen restoration of funding occurring, this would not be acceptable anywhere in any other Government Department. The Minister of State has been abandoned by her colleagues in Cabinet. Two weeks ago, I noted with interest as the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Deputy Zappone, indicated that there would be a 5% increase in core funding for family resource centres for next year. Despite this, those projects funded under the national drugs strategy that come under the remit of the task forces have received no increases in funding. They have received no increases while their funders, the Department of Health and the HSE, have seen their funding increase from €13.1 billion or €13.2 billion to more than €17 billion. It is appalling that the projects supported by these task forces are in jeopardy. When working effectively, these projects play a really positive role in some of our most disadvantaged communities. I set out clearly that the drug problem is growing. Instead of consolidating the projects we have, we need to establish new projects in areas that have not traditionally had a drugs problem. The problem is now rampant across the country and we need annual funding to be fully restored for projects and programmes funded through the local and regional drug and alcohol task forces.

This issue has affected programmes in every constituency and every part of the country. One of the reasons there are so many people on the Fianna Fáil benches wanting to speak tonight is that they want to show the threat in their areas. I will give them some time at this point.

Photo of Declan BreathnachDeclan Breathnach (Louth, Fianna Fail)
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I commend the motion. The drugs situation in this country is simply out of control. A total of 195 kg of cocaine and heroin were seized in 2018, compared with 27 kg in 2017. That speaks volumes. These figures represent only the seizures rather than what is actually being used. I attended a joint policing committee in Drogheda yesterday. I commend An Garda Síochána on the intensification of efforts in that area to deal with the situation. As the sale and supply of drugs has risen by 220%, a large number of people are appearing before the courts. I wish to mention comments by Chief Superintendent Christy Mangan who, earlier this year, said that, unless action is taken, we are at risk of losing a generation of youth. In that regard, I commend the work of local gardaí and the support given to them by the various national specialist units, including the Garda National Drugs and Organised Crime Bureau.

In a different debate earlier tonight, the Minister made reference to a seizure of cannabis worth €3.2 million in Ballymascanlon, Dundalk. There was also a murder last night. Members of the Garda are working tirelessly but the reality is that Garda drug units have had their resources stripped. In the period from 2011 to 2018, the number of gardaí working in drugs units in County Louth was halved. In this same period, there was a massive surge in drug use and drug offences. We need to get to grips with that or we will lose the generation to which the chief superintendent referred. I commend the various organisations working in the region, including the Family Addiction Support Network, and I ask that they be given greater support.

Photo of Shane CassellsShane Cassells (Meath West, Fianna Fail)
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I commend my colleague, Deputy Curran, on bringing forward this motion and on all his diligent work in this area both now and when he was a Minister of State. I also commend the various Ministers of State with responsibility for the area of drugs from all parties who came together last week to show their solidarity and demonstrate that there is a united front across our Parliament in dealing with this scourge in our land. As a country, we have to ask whether we have lost the battle against this disease or whether we still have the fight in us to take control back from the drug lords who think they hold control of our streets.

It is fair to say that we have always had a problem with drugs in our society but what afflicts our country now is the fact that those who seek to profit from the sale and distribution of drugs are making their criminal presence an even wider danger to life. What is most worrying is how the scum involved in the sale of drugs have now taken to murdering each other as part of the turf wars between gangs dealing in these illicit products. This is now big business for these thugs because of the millions of euro involved in the sale of drugs. The murder of a 39 year old man in Bettystown in County Meath last night, which is a result of the continuing feud in Drogheda, has brought this to new and dangerous levels. Why is that? It is because an automatic pistol was used in this shooting and, of the six shots that were fired, three struck nearby cars in the Castlemartin Drive estate. Innocent people could have been killed rather than the intended target.

Some years ago, when these incidents were starting to gather momentum in the Meath-Louth area, I distinctly remember the then Bishop of Meath, Michael Smith, delivering a homily in which he said that, as a society, we should not be dismissive of the lives of the people who are murdering each other because they are all God's children. I like and respect the former bishop, but I profoundly disagree with his assessment on that occasion. If these maggots want to murder each other, I do not really care. If it pleases God, may they all burn in hell. What I do care about, however, is when their presence results in threats to the lives of ordinary citizens, which it does. It not only presents a threat to life, but results in towns like Drogheda and Bettystown having to be almost shut down to police the impact of these feuds.

Last night we saw how innocent people could have had their lives taken because of the scum and because of that lawlessness. I put it to the Minister that this cannot be allowed to prevail in the State. Let the scum burn. The ordinary decent people in Bettystown and Drogheda deserve to live their lives in safety.

8:40 pm

Photo of James LawlessJames Lawless (Kildare North, Fianna Fail)
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I want to add to the words already spoken by my colleagues and I commend Deputy John Curran on bringing this motion forward. It is a very important motion, as highlighted last weekend by nine former Ministers of State who had responsibility for drugs and who called for urgent and further action on this scourge, which all Members see in their communities. While it is very much an urban issue and while Dublin is at the heart of it, it is not just confined to the capital city. The scourge of drugs affects communities in every corner of the country, not least in my constituency in Kildare North and across all of Kildare. We are fortunate to have the hardworking local drugs and alcohol task force in Kildare which is as effective as it can be with the limited resources available. I commend the Tiglin Centre and Aubrey McCarthy, who won the Kildare person of the year award for his work in rehabilitation and drug relief, of which we are very proud. They have had to make the best of a bad lot, however, given the resources available to them to assist.

Returning to the issue in the city, it is also the case that the blight continues on our capital's streets. I worked in Abbey Street in Dublin city centre for a long time and I have seen our main tourism trails and our main commercial city business districts ravaged by the scourge of addiction and open drug dealing, and with the petty crime, theft and violence that stems from this and spills over to affect passers by, tourists and everybody else. It has to be tackled. Firm action is required.

Photo of Kevin O'KeeffeKevin O'Keeffe (Cork East, Fianna Fail)
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I thank my colleague, Deputy John Curran, for bringing this motion and I acknowledge the good work he has done previously on this. It has to be acknowledged that even though rural Ireland is in decline, with the local pubs closing down, we see a phenomenal increase in the use of hard drugs. That is a fact. For a nominal amount of €20 a person can go out and get a high.

I put it to the Minister of State, Deputy Catherine Byrne, that I was told lately about one of the drink brands that recently conducted a re-evaluation of its market share against other brands. It found that one of the biggest competitors to drink brands is cocaine usage in nightclubs. This has to be a warning for us.

I served as a member of a local drugs task force. I commend and acknowledge the good work they do but we need to give them more funding. Deputy Rabbitte made a good point when referring to the consultation with the former Ministers of State that we need to devolve the power down to the regional task forces and to get their views.

I put it to the Minister of State also that prevention is the big issue that needs to be brought home to people, and especially in our schools. We thought it good enough to bring forward legislation on sex education for fifth and sixth class students. We need to educate them also on prevention and the illegal use of drugs.

Photo of Fiona O'LoughlinFiona O'Loughlin (Kildare South, Fianna Fail)
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I commend my colleague, Deputy John Curran, on bringing this motion forward. Substance misuse and, in this instance, drug abuse is a very complex issue. It affects not only the individuals who take the drugs but it also affects the people around them and the communities that are hugely impacted by drug abuse. Drugs are available everywhere. Drug abuse knows no socio-economic section of society and knows no class. Drugs are available on street corners, outside our schools and, in some cases, inside our schools, and on the Internet. They are available absolutely everywhere. Sadly, the age at which young people start to take drugs is lowering all the time. This is shocking. The use of young people as runners by drug gangs is frightening. The consequences of drug use is devastating, from people who take overdoses to the effects of drug use. For many people taking drugs can lead to a lifetime in mental health services. The impact of drug use is huge on family and friends. I have no doubt that we have all come across families who have been threatened, whose homes have been burned or who have been blackmailed for money owed by their sons, daughters or siblings to their dealers. Drug use leads to anti-social behaviour and to crime, directly and indirectly. Much more needs to be done. We have to tackle our crippling drug problem and we need major reform in our approach. There has been a fall in Garda drug personnel and investment in our drugs task forces has also stagnated. The last round of HSE funding for this area was very disappointing. In an unprecedented move nine former Ministers of State with responsibility for drugs came together last week to tell us as a society and those of us in the Oireachtas that we need to wake up and take urgent action. The issue is phenomenal and huge. We need to listen to that.

Photo of Barry CowenBarry Cowen (Offaly, Fianna Fail)
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I thank my colleague for the opportunity to speak on this issue. Such is the extent of feeling on the issue, as my colleagues said, I and others are allowed only two minutes to speak. This is in every town and in every village. It is in my town and throughout every Member's constituency. After housing and health it is the most commonly raised issue at my clinics with regard to anti-social behaviour, the way it affects families and the devastation it causes in communities. As other speakers said, nine former Ministers of State highlighted from their perspective the lack of cohesive and penetrative type initiatives that can yield results, to the extent that they felt it necessary to come forward in the way they did.

In the last election, I was confronted for the first time on the doorsteps in my constituency by people who were looking for help and assistance with programmes to help with drug addiction. It is getting worse. My colleague, Deputy Cassells, spoke about the devastation in Drogheda and the east coast and the murder in Bettystown last night. I have seen this happening at close hand in my constituency, and I had never thought it would be the case. It is the case, however, and is the greatest issue and scourge facing us as representatives and facing those we represent, especially young kids. Students, for example, are looking for help from drugs to help them stay up at night to study. The issue is everywhere. It cannot be ignored. I recognise that the initiative by the nine previous Ministers of State may be the wake-up call we need and that this Government needs to bring about initiatives that can help and assist communities and families because, unfortunately, despite what we hear, this issue is not being addressed.

Photo of Brendan SmithBrendan Smith (Cavan-Monaghan, Fianna Fail)
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Colleagues have said that the scourge of drugs is in every community. At one time we used to think it was only the major urban centres that were afflicted by this scourge. No longer are the problems confined to any particular age group or to persons in any socio-economic sector, they are now causing difficulties in all strata of society. We are all aware of individuals, families and communities that have been devastated by this scourge. The Government's response at present is a totally inadequate. This was very much highlighted by the intervention of the nine former Ministers of State who each had responsibility for the national drugs strategy. My colleague, Deputy John Curran, did an excellent job when he held that brief. The Government and the Minister must take seriously the concerns of the former Ministers of State. They have outlined very clearly their concern about the lack of engagement with community groups and about the centralisation of decision making. This is the exact opposite of what is needed to provide the necessary supports for person with addiction problems. I have been in contact directly with the Minister of State, Deputy Catherine Byrne, on the Cavan-Monaghan drug and alcohol service. It had forwarded the Minister of State a very detailed letter outlining that it would have to wind down operations and dissolve the company by the end of 2020. That organisation has provided excellent support to many individuals and families over the past years throughout Cavan and Monaghan. Garda management at senior level very much values the support this organisation has given to individuals, families and communities. I appeal to the Minister of State again, as I have done through correspondence.

While I acknowledge the Minister of State's prompt reply, we must get a response to the effect that it will get the necessary financial support to continue the good work it has been doing over many decades with some of the most vulnerable people in our communities.

8:50 pm

Photo of Charles FlanaganCharles Flanagan (Laois, Fine Gael)
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I listened with interest to the comments of the Deputies proposing the motion and welcome the opportunity to have a discussion on this important issue. The use and misuse of drugs is an international issue that needs to be tackled in a co-ordinated way and addressed in a global context. I very much share the view of the UN General Assembly's special session on drugs in 2016 which stated:

The world drug problem remains a common and shared responsibility that should be addressed in a multilateral setting through effective and increased international co-operation and demands an integrated, multidisciplinary, mutually reinforcing, balanced, scientific evidence-based and comprehensive approach.

Europe's drug problem is going through a particularly dynamic phase. Analysis by the European monitoring centre for drugs and drug addiction shows that people are using a wider range of substances than in the past. Many are poly-drug users, which increases the risk to their health. Although the use of heroin and other opioids in Europe remains relatively rare, these are the drugs that cause highest rates of fatal overdose in Europe. Europe has also experienced an increase in deaths and other harms from newer types of drugs. Ireland is not immune from these trends with 9% of the population using drugs in the last year.

The national drug strategy, Reducing Harm, Supporting Recovery, a health-led response to drug and alcohol use in Ireland 2017 to 2025, adopts a health-led approach to substance misuse. It commits to treating substance misuse and drug addiction as a public health issue, rather than a criminal justice matter. Together with the Minister for Health and the Minister of State with responsibility for the national drugs strategy, Deputy Catherine Byrne, who is in attendance, I announced recently the introduction a health diversion programme for persons in possession of drugs for personal use. This is a hugely important step in developing this public health approach. I am very pleased that we are delivering on this key commitment in the national drugs strategy. I welcome Deputy Catherine Byrne's work as Minister of State in spearheading the matter within the Department of Health.

In adopting a health-led approach, it is important that we do not send out the message that drug use is acceptable or normal. It is not and never will be. Already this year, the HSE, through its drugs.iewebsite, has developed two campaigns aimed at the student population and festival goers. Next year, the Department of Health is providing additional funding of €100,000 to develop a national harm reduction campaign to raise awareness of the risks associated with drug use. This will include information about club drugs, festival drug use, newer drugs as well as cannabis.

The national drugs strategy represents a whole-of-Government response to the problem of drug and alcohol use in Ireland. It draws on a range of Government policy frameworks in order to reduce the risk factors for substance misuse. It also commits to addressing the harms of drugs markets and reducing access to drugs for harmful use. My Department has responsibility as the lead agency or partner in a number of actions, including keeping drugs legislation under review as the joint lead agency the Department of Health.

Tackling the sale and supply of drugs is a key priority for the Government and An Garda Síochána. A core focus of the work carried out by An Garda Síochána is aimed at tackling drugs and organised clime. The roll out of the new operating model of An Garda Síochána meets a key commitment in A Policing Service for the Future and will increase the number and visibility of front-line gardaí to combat criminal activity, including tackling drugs. This model is the norm in many other countries and I am confident that it will serve Ireland well by providing a agile, localised and responsive police service nationwide.

The operating model is being introduced at a time of record investment in An Garda Síochána. For 2019, €1.76 billion has been allocated to the Garda Vote along with capital investment amounting to €92 million this year. I am pleased to have secured an overall increase of €122 million to increase An Garda Síochána's budget for 2020 to an unprecedented €1.882 billion in addition to €116 million in capital investment. This investment is supporting the ongoing and sustained recruitment of Garda members and staff. We now have more than 14,200 gardaí nationwide, supported by over 2,800 Garda staff. The organisation is still growing and a programme of accelerated recruitment is ongoing with a view to reaching 15,000 gardaí in an overall Garda workforce of 21,000 by 2021.

Additional resources have enabled An Garda Síochána to continue to assign resources to specialist bureaus. These include the Garda national drugs and organised crime bureau, which leads in tackling all forms of drug trafficking and supply of illicit drugs in Ireland. Collaboration at an inter-agency and international level remain key in tackling this issue. The bureau also works with Garda divisional drugs units nationwide in demand reduction and supply reduction at local level. In addition to the 105 gardaí assigned to the Garda drugs and organised crime bureau as of 30 September 2019, the Garda divisional drug unit membership for the years 2017 to 2019 has been stable. Divisional drug unit staff numbers stood at 236,222 and 232 personnel in 2017, 2018 and 2019, respectively.

In addition, An Garda Síochána remains committed to tackling the supply of drugs by supporting local communities through preventative and detection initiatives and engagement with local and regional drug and alcohol task forces, the Garda youth diversion programme and projects, the Garda schools programme, joint policing committees and community policing fora. My Department's budget for Garda youth diversion projects has been steadily increased over the last number of years from €11.3 million in 2015 to €15.3 million this year. This provision includes funding to support the operation of 106 Garda youth diversion projects. These important projects are community-based multi-agency crime prevention initiatives which primarily seek to divert young people who have become involved in crime or anti-social behaviour. Moreover, the Minister of State, Deputy Stanton, is developing a new youth justice strategy with the assistance of an interdepartmental and inter-agency steering group. The new strategy will address the full range of issues relevant to youth justice, including how best to prevent young people getting involved in criminal activity, including drug dealing. Uniquely across EU member states' strategies, drug-related intimidation is also a focus of the new strategy in Ireland.

I listened to the passionate contribution of Deputy Cassells and assure him, as I assured Deputy Breathnach earlier, that I agree these are extremely serious issues in local areas and they need to be dealt with. Drug-related intimidation in communities is a very serious issue which involves the targeting of persons who use drugs or their family or friends in relation to a drug debt. An Garda Síochána will continue to take action in relation to drug-related intimidation, particularly where there is a risk of harm or to the life of a person. A drug-related intimidation reporting programme developed by An Garda Síochána and the National Family Support Network has been in place since 2013 to respond to the needs of drug users and family members experiencing drug-related intimidation. An Garda Síochána and the National Family Support Network have concluded separate evaluations of the reporting programme and jointly agreed a number of actions to enhance its effectiveness through training, knowledge-sharing and awareness raising.

I acknowledge the points raised by Deputies, all of which have been taken on board and noted by the Minister of State, Deputy Catherine Byrne and me. A number of Deputies raised concerns regarding the need to strengthen legislation relating to children involved in drug crime. I have stated previously that I consider the grooming of children by those who control criminal activity to be an extremely serious matter. I have asked my Department to consider an effective response, which may consist of policy, legislative or operational measures or a combination of all three. The national drugs strategy recognises the importance of supporting the participation of communities in key decision making structures so that their experience and knowledge informs the development of solutions to solve problems related to substance misuse in local areas.

In addition the development of the strategy has involved a wide range of stakeholders and interests working together as working collaboratively, we can deliver on its ambitious goals. My ministerial colleague, Deputy Catherine Byrne, will address the House further on the strategy in the course of the debate. However, I acknowledge the initiative undertaken by Deputy Curran, who has some experience in this regard. I assure Members of the seriousness with which the Government is taking this motion and its content.

9:00 pm

Photo of Dessie EllisDessie Ellis (Dublin North West, Sinn Fein)
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I move amendment No. 1:

(a) To insert the following after “drug-related harm consistently clusters in communities marked by poverty and social inequality”: “ , however, such harm is not exclusive to disadvantaged communities and is a problem that is evident across society;” (b) To insert the following after “calls for:”: “— the restoration of local Garda Drugs Units;

— an increase in the number of adult and adolescent residential and medical detoxification beds;” and (c) To insert the following after “a major education and information campaign to be undertaken on casual drug use”: “ , with a special focus on the establishment of early intervention programmes to be made available in all schools and third level institutions beginning at primary level."

I dtús báire ba mhaith liom tacaíocht a thabhairt don rún seo ó Fhianna Fáil agus ón Teachta Curran. I also seek support for Sinn Féin's amendments which enhance this motion. It is important that as public representatives, we discuss such an important issue, particularly in the context of the statement issued last week and signed by several former Ministers of State with responsibility for drugs expressing their concern that the national drugs strategy is failing. While shocking to hear, this is not news to most of us who have spent years working with local and regional drugs task forces. I, along with my colleagues in Sinn Féin, have highlighted this fact on several occasions in the Dáil and we said as much in a similar Private Member's motion last March.

There has not been a noticeable or substantial change in the drugs crisis for many local communities. The recent budget was an opportunity to turn this deepening crisis around. However, the Government's priorities lay elsewhere and not with those areas most affected by the drugs crisis. It was also an opportunity for Fianna Fáil to press for additional funding for the task forces, which it failed to do.

While the drugs crisis affects every demographic across communities, it is felt most severely in disadvantaged areas and by vulnerable communities that have had many services and supports cut by this and previous Governments. The local drugs task forces established in the mid-1990s were a response to pressure from communities devastated by drugs and addiction. Drugs task forces became central to combatting the drugs crisis in our communities. They liaise with statutory agencies and local public representatives and help oversee strategies that help to develop responses to the various aspects of local drugs problems. They are responsible for many local initiatives to help people affected by drugs problems.

Task forces have developed many projects to address areas such as prevention, education, treatment, rehabilitation and so on. More recently, tackling the alcohol crisis has been added to their remit without corresponding funding or any additional resources. Drugs task forces have had their funding cut every year between 2008 and 2014, while funding has been frozen since 2014 without consideration of inflation. We are losing experienced and talented people from the task forces and from the various projects they run. It is detrimental to the fight against drugs.

Many local and regional task forces provide a focal point for the community and community representatives, thereby allowing discussion to take place on drugs issues. They provide a crucial link to tenants' organisations, youth workers, An Garda Síochána, statutory agencies, community projects, public representatives and many more. Such interactions help task forces set and identify priorities and help to co-ordinate the implementation of plans and agreed actions Task forces are important in identifying and responding to the needs of those affected by the drugs problem.

In the past, I asked that funding be reinstated to 2008 levels with a comparative increase in funding to reflect the additional remit of alcohol. I ask again that this funding be reinstated. We need to keep the knowledge and experience the staff in task forces and community-based drug and alcohol projects have acquired over decades. To do this it is only reasonable to ask that those who work in these projects should have their pay restored and those who are entitled to increments should also have them restored.

Communities devastated by drugs problems are also being terrorised and intimidated by those involved in the drug trade. Families are also concerned about the increasing use of children, some as young as eight years, who are being groomed to be used as drug couriers.

Task forces need to be able to operate and function independently of the HSE. They should continue to draft and implement local strategies in consultation with the community. Other measures can be taken in conjunction with increasing the funding for the task forces. We need to re-establish the emergency needs fund and the young persons facilities and services fund. We need an inter-agency approach to tackle the drugs problems and such task forces must be supported by State and Government agencies, including the HSE, the Garda and local authorities. The national drugs strategy has created a disconnect with the communities most affected by the drugs crisis. Isolating or marginalising groups such as the drugs task forces will only exacerbate the drug problems, not help solve it.

Photo of Maurice QuinlivanMaurice Quinlivan (Limerick City, Sinn Fein)
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I am disappointed that the Minister for Justice and Equality has left the Chamber because I wanted to respond to some of his comments. He spoke of the drug-related information reporting programme and referred to analysis that would be done and reported back to him. He does not need that; it has failed completely. No one in communities will ring that number or will engage with it as they have no confidence in it, unfortunately. It has not worked and he should save his time in respect of an analysis. The Minister should have stayed to listen to what people are saying. Deputies are making honest contributions on what is going on in their local communities.

I have been a member of the Mid-West Regional Drugs and Alcohol Forum for about ten years. I am both a community representative on it and a director of it. Our funding was cut in 2008 by the then Fianna Fáil Government and it has not been reinstated. Any tiny increases have been wiped out by inflation. People who work in the projects we support have not had a pay increase since 2008. The Northstar Family Support Group, which I have supported and of which I am a long-time member, recently held a service of hope to remember those who died in our communities. The message of that service is always one of hope but it is a stark reminder of the number of people who we have lost in recent years.

I commend the Minister of State, Deputy Catherine Byrne, who did a good job of going out to the communities and talking to people but whether it is her colleagues, or perhaps the Minister of State herself, someone has failed miserably to deliver the funding that is needed to make it a success. I said that to the Minister of State at the time and I think it is my sixth time stating it in the House. I wish they would work but I have no confidence they will, because we have not delivered any of the money.

I wished to raise some comments with the Minister for Justice and Equality but he has left the Chamber. Limerick has a brilliant CCTV system by which we can see exactly what is going on. We know exactly where people are dealing drugs from, who is moving the drugs and who is buying them. We see the taxis in queues outside houses, while people wait to go in and buy drugs. The guys who operate the CCTV tell me one even can see the colour of a person's eyes from the footage, yet these people are not being prosecuted because there are not sufficient gardaí to so do. Recently, an inspector in Limerick told me that it takes eight to ten months to come back with an analysis of drugs and no charges can be brought until those results have been received. As those people know they will be charged, they deal morning, noon and night because they expect to receive the same sentence at the end. That is something we must examine urgently. It is a huge problem in Limerick and the whole area. As a member of a drugs task force, I speak to my colleagues across the State. The same issues arise everywhere, namely, lack of funding or support. They are left to their own devices and families are left with drug debts, with people coming to their doors demanding money. Families do not know where to go, and the Garda is totally under-resourced. In Limerick in 2007, when a massive gangland war was going on, John Fitzgerald came in and said we needed an extra 100 gardaí for the four regeneration areas alone. They were never delivered and we now have fewer gardaí than in 2007 during that crisis. Drugs are becoming more prevalent in every community across the State. We are seeing a huge increase in the use of cocaine, especially among younger people. Cocaine is everywhere and I estimate that 70% to 80% of people in any nightclub are taking cocaine. Those are not my figures. I expressed these concerns at a recent joint policing committee meeting, where the chief inspector of the Garda in Limerick said cocaine was the biggest problem facing the force there.

Without funding, we are on a hiding to nothing. The Government needs to step up and deliver the funding in order that drug and alcohol forums can do the work they need to do, that is, dealing with the issue of drugs as a health issue, while taking out those people who are profiting from their use.

We can see them in communities driving around in fancy cars, living in fancy houses and putting two fingers up to the rest of us because they know there is little sanction for them. We need urgent funding for those areas.

9:10 pm

Photo of Seán CroweSeán Crowe (Dublin South West, Sinn Fein)
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It is a lucky family that has not been affected by the drugs crisis. We all need to accept that the crisis is out of control. Somebody has already mentioned the number of drug deaths, which stands at its highest ever. This relates to the amount of drugs being seized and the open drug dealing in our communities. I went on the first anti-drugs march in Dublin 37 years ago. At that time I was involved with Concerned Parents and the Coalition of Communities against Drugs, COCAD, was the group that emerged a number of years later. I have been on the drugs task forces since their establishment but I have never seen the problem as bad in my area and in the city as a whole in all that time.

I agree that alcohol addiction measures must form part of the work but the Minister should explain to the House how resources can be cut while we expect the same positive outcomes. It is a big question. We also need to be told what we will do differently, what new supports will be made available to communities and what additional resources will be forthcoming.

Through my years attending drug task force meetings, I have seen how representatives from the voluntary and community sectors attend in abundance. They attend every meeting. However, those who are supposed to support the pillars in the drugs strategy are not usually seen around the table. In many cases, we might not have a representative from the Departments dealing with justice, social protection or education. All those elements are supposed to push the strategy but they are not around the table to discuss it while members of the community, including politicians in many cases, are doing so. We need to do things differently so if the Minister of State is to speak about being a driver for change, it is something simple that can be done tomorrow. She could instruct the Departments, which are key to rolling out the strategy to support the communities, to attend task force meetings.

We are 37 years on and the problem persists. The Minister spoke about drug-related intimidation, which is getting worse. People want support and answers in this regard.

Photo of Aengus Ó SnodaighAengus Ó Snodaigh (Dublin South Central, Sinn Fein)
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Like some of the other Deputies, I want a bit of honesty in the debate. Like Deputy Crowe, for many years I have been involved with community organisations and the local drugs task force. At this stage we must admit the national drugs strategy is failing and not delivering what it should. It will continue to fail unless proper resources are put into it and there is proper engagement by some of the statutory agencies. For far too long on many task forces, certain statutory agencies could not be bothered to take part. The representatives just sit there but will not partake. Sometimes, it is the Department of Education and Skills but it is the HSE in most cases. Unless such parties engage, much of the work that should be done by local drugs task forces will not happen in the holistic manner in which it should.

That is why community and voluntary organisations have all been involved with task forces over the years and it is why I got involved. When I joined, there was a vibrancy or energy in the task forces and people wanted to help and look after their communities. Now a task force meeting is dominated by drudgery and strangled by bureaucracy. The people in the community can see day in and day out what the scourge of drugs is doing to those communities and their families. They understand the issues; if we ask, they will give the details, chapter and verse. The Minister of State knows this. I am not criticising her but rather bureaucracy, the Civil Service and a Government that has continuously failed to properly resource the drugs task forces and a strategy to tackle one of the worst scourges in society. It is not just in working-class communities but it is right across the spectrum. We can see it clearly on the streets of Ballyfermot, Inchicore and the south inner city.

We can also see it when people arrive in taxis dressed in suits who go off to snort cocaine and the like. They are as responsible in this as those who deal the drugs. Without them feeding their habits, the money would not go to the drug gangs that wreak havoc in communities. We saw again last night some of the consequences of that. Unless we get real in tackling the issue properly by putting in the required resources, we will leave another generation in misery. The Minister of State should please see this as the urgent matter that it is.

Photo of Alan KellyAlan Kelly (Tipperary, Labour)
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I welcome tonight's motion from Fianna Fáil and I know Deputy Curran is passionate about the area. I appreciate that the motion has been put forward with real sincerity.

I was very much struck by a headline last month in The Irish Timesindicating that the average consumer of cocaine is a farmer or a nurse. I am from Tipperary, which is a pretty rural county with many small and medium-sized towns. As a public representative and Deputy from Tipperary, I can tell the Dáil that it is an absolutely accurate statement because cocaine is available anywhere now. The comment came from a garda and I suppose it was made to have an effect, which it had. I am not saying every nurse or farmer in Tipperary is doing cocaine but this demonstrates how far the problem has gone that drugs are so freely available. This is not just an urban problem and it is very much a rural problem now. Even when out or about in a social setting in Tipperary, one can feel the problem. We do not even have to physically see the drug being taken as we can sense it by seeing how people act when they have taken drugs. This is in small rural villages and other Deputies from Tipperary can verify what I am saying. It is happening in towns and the most rural of areas. It is a measure of how widespread is the issue.

I and other Deputies from Tipperary met the Garda Commissioner recently about the decision, which we all feel is wrong, to move the divisional headquarters from Thurles to Ennis. At the meeting, a number of us made the point that there has been a major increase in social policing across the county, whether it is right or wrong. This relates to drink-driving and related matters, which is fine. However, this has led to a negative impact on the volume of gardaí trying to root out who is pushing or delivering drugs and ensuring those drugs are so widely available in the county. I would like this balanced so we can see the impact the Garda can and should have with the proper resources in dealing with those who are pushing this drug into my village and every other village across Tipperary.

The drugs unit in Tipperary does not have the required resources. All of us in public life in the county know this. Everybody at a joint policing committee meeting knows the manpower is not there but we keep saying it. We do not have the capacity to deal with these matters. Members of the Garda will say to our faces that they know about the scale of the problem. To be honest, many of us even know who is dealing the drugs but we cannot do anything about it.

If the resources were available to An Garda Síochána, those responsible would be able to deal with it. That is one point I really want to get across in this debate. First, I want to emphasise that this is not simply an urban thing; it is very much a rural thing. Second, I wish to get across the point that the resources required in rural areas need to be targeted and specific not only because of the wider geographical area but because the impact is as devastating as anywhere else.

The next issue is the type of drugs available. It is not only cocaine. I am saying as much representing my county. Speed, ecstasy, methylenedioxymethamphetamine, and even the veterinary medicine, ketamine, are all available. What is more, we know deaths associated with drug-taking are on the rise. The statistics have been stated unilaterally here.

We all know what the problems are, so it is really a case of how we are going to deal with them. We all know about the criminal gangs and how they are funding this lucrative business as well as the contract killings.

We know that addiction is a medical problem and a mental health problem that needs expert medical intervention. In that context I welcome the health-led approach to addiction in the Government's new drugs and alcohol addiction strategy, Reducing Harm, Supporting Recovery. Yet, two years on there are clearly significant gaps. I respect the bona fides of the Minister of State on this issue above all issues as well as her passion for it, but it is really a question of resources and making an impact.

My former colleague, Mr. Pat Rabbitte, led the first ministerial review into drug misuse which led in turn to the establishment of the drugs task force. Across all politics I imagine people would acknowledge how that was a positive move. Based on the motion before the House, we probably need to relook and refresh our whole attitude towards this area. That is the spirit in which many of us are here.

The impact of drugs task forces inside communities across many years has been striking in some cases more than in others. As other speakers said, it tended to depend on the people who actually got involved, the way the relevant agencies got involved and the spirit in which they got involved. In many cases the effects were highly impactful. From the outset the task forces involved community leaders who convinced people of the benefits of having services and supports on hand. In the vast majority of cases they were welcomed in their areas because someone was finally doing something about this major problem.

The drugs task forces also joined the dots in terms of economic reality. People in the poorest communities were more vulnerable to illegal drugs, especially heroin. They have now moved on to a wide range of drugs and the problem does not only affect the poorest people. The task forces not only dealt with addiction but with childcare, education, training and community employment, although often that aspect is less highlighted. The idea was to help people not only to deal with addiction, mental health issues and so on but to actually pull everything together in a holistic way and get their lives back together.

In recent years a far more centralised approach has been taken by the HSE to the funding and governance of community-led addiction services. To a degree this has made them more semi-detached from the local task forces and the links to the community. That division is a problem. Addiction services have been put into a medical model. Community-based training and job services, which I referenced earlier, dealing with the social and economic aspects of addiction have been sidelined by the HSE in favour of purely medial services. We believe strongly this is a failure to see the whole problem holistically and all the issues. It is not only about addiction. It is about peoples' lives, the components of their lives and the multitude of services needed to deal with this complex issue.

The remit of the task forces has been expanded to include alcohol. Yet, there has been no increase in funding since it was cut in 2008. We have the additional issues relating to the whole curse of alcohol addiction on top of the issues we spoke about but no additional resources. Is it any wonder it has gone into a silo that is HSE-led or medical-led without dealing with the whole problem? This means little or nothing can be done in terms of new projects or services because no more money is available.

I will sum up. First, this issue is no longer simply an urban issue; it is a rural one, as I stated clearly. Second, it is an issue in respect of which we need to restate our objectives. Third, we need to refuel the drugs task forces and reorient them to a more holistic model of dealing with all the issues in people's lives as well as addiction. Fourth, it is obvious that the whole funding model needs to be looked at again.

9:20 pm

Photo of Mick BarryMick Barry (Cork North Central, Solidarity)
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I intend to share time with Deputy Gino Kenny. I will speak briefly and Deputy Kenny will make the main points.

In 2016, there were more than 700 drug-related deaths in the State. In fact, the figure was 736. The number of people who died on our roads that year - the number of road fatalities - was fewer than 200. The figure was 186. Thus there were almost four drug-related deaths for every fatality on the road. At the same time, the budgets for the drugs and alcohol task forces were slashed. The budgets were cut by 80% for some local drugs task forces and 90% for others in the period from 2008-2014. They were cut by a Fianna Fáil-Green Party Government and a Fine Gael-Labour Party Government. The budgets have been effectively frozen since then.

The motion and the comments from the Government are only hypocrisy unless it commits to reversing those cutbacks immediately. In fact, we need more than that. We need an increase the budget from 2008 levels to take account of the fact that we no longer have simply drugs task forces but drugs and alcohol task forces. We need to take account of the fact that there have been real demographic changes and major increases in the population in the interim. The rest is in large measure only talk unless we see action. This is not the only action needed - not by a long shot. However, a significant point is that the funding for the task forces must be reversed. Sin é.

Photo of Gino KennyGino Kenny (Dublin Mid West, People Before Profit Alliance)
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I welcome this important debate on the issue. It has been debated numerous times since I became a Deputy. The drugs industry is one of demand and supply and the demand will always exist in society whether we like it. The recent debate on decriminalisation of drugs for personal use was beneficial but it did not go far enough. Anyway, that is probably for another debate. Policy change in recent times favours a health-led approach rather than a criminal justice approach and that is welcome.

The drugs task forces have been around for the past 20 years. Those involved have been at the coalface of dealing with issues relating to drugs in communities. There is a major concern among those involved in the drugs task forces that their involvement is being overlooked in favour of a more centralised approach. I believe this would be a retrograde approach.

9 o’clock

Another aspect of this is class. Working class communities have been disproportionately affected by drug use. When I was growing up in Clondalkin, I had many friends at school who began to dabble with drugs when they were teenagers. That led to devastation for individuals, families and communities and the legacy lives on today. The scale of the devastation can only be measured in terms of the destruction of lives. The policy of using the criminal justice system to tackle drug use has largely failed.

I wish to express an opinion about drugs with which people may disagree. We must have a completely different approach to drug use and how we deal with people who use drugs. Some people use rather than abuse drugs and live perfectly happy lives. There are people who use drugs recreationally who have both jobs and families. As Deputy Kelly said earlier, the level of cocaine use at the moment is incredible. The demand for cocaine is incredible and all the laws in the world will not stop people supplying drugs to those who want them, including cocaine. Recreational drug users exist. There are many people in every sphere of life, from every class and background, whether rural or urban, who will use drugs but they are not criminals and should not be criminalised. It is their choice to use drugs and they should not be morally judged for doing so.

We need to have a major discourse about the deregulation of all drugs. That is probably not palatable to some people but the prohibition on certain drugs has largely been a failure. The drug laws in this country are completely out of date. Cannabis is a widely used plant and drug that should be regulated, taxed and legalised. This would take it out of the hands of criminal gangs. We should regulate, tax and control it as other countries, like Canada, have done. New Zealand is to hold a referendum on the regulation of cannabis. Certain states in the USA have regulated and legalised it and the sky has not fallen in. We must have a debate on the legalisation of cannabis because anything that takes people out of the criminal justice system is worth considering. The vacuum of prohibition and non-regulation has created an alternative economy where vast profits can be made by criminal gangs who use absolutely grotesque violence and intimidation against their own communities. That is the vacuum in which we live, where illicit drugs, which are illegal, are still readily available and people are using them. There is something wrong here and no law under the sun can tackle this.

We need to look at taking a radically different approach in terms of the law, health and society itself and public opinion is ahead of politicians on this issue. Ireland has matured and is more liberal in its outlook, particularly with regard to the use of drugs. I am not trying to glamorise this in any way because I have seen from my own family how drugs can destroy lives but we need a completely different approach. It is not necessarily going to be nice because there is a dark side to all of this but we need to do something different. Legalisation is not a panacea by any means but if it saves one life, then it is worth doing because at the moment, we are losing the war on drugs.

9:30 pm

Photo of Maureen O'SullivanMaureen O'Sullivan (Dublin Central, Independent)
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It is very positive that we are having another discussion in Private Members' time on drugs. This debate follows on from a motion tabled by Deputy Joan Collins previously and one I tabled prior to that. I wish to acknowledge the work of Deputy Curran on this motion and his work on a strategy for drugs in a previous Government. This debate is opportune because of the CityWide event that took place last week where the urgent need to restore confidence in the national drugs strategy was stressed, particularly because of the threat to and undermining of the partnership approach that was at the heart of drug policies and strategies since the mid-1990s. The drugs problem started in the north inner city when heroin appeared in the late 1970s and early 1980s. It was no coincidence that heroin first appeared in an area of poverty with very poor facilities, low progression in education and high unemployment. It was the community that led the response, whether it was to supply by way of marches on the homes of known drug dealers or to treatment. The consequence was that many community led and community driven projects were set up in the north inner city and out of that came the drugs task forces. It is the north inner city drugs task force that I know the best but all the task forces have in common an inter-agency, partnership approach with voluntary, statutory and community voices at the table. The approach was very much bottom-up which was really important for the communities because they were the ones who were living with the drugs problem. It was their families and friends who were caught up in addiction, in the criminality that is associated with drugs and in trying to find recovery. We are all aware of the number of drug-related deaths in communities and that number is increasing.

What is happening now is that decision-making is being taken away from the partnership structure. Now the Department of Health and the HSE are making the decisions in a top-down manner. I am not disputing the decisions but am questioning the way they are being made. It is getting to the point where the drugs task forces are almost irrelevant but it is the task forces which have everybody at the table. I went back to the national drugs strategy and in the foreword recognition is given to the importance of community experience and knowledge in terms of reducing harm and supporting recovery and it is vital that we get back to that. We must consider the extent of the public consultation that contributed to the strategy, including six regional events and all the questionnaires that were filled in. The strategy is very clear on what needs to be done. The vision is clear, as are the values which include compassion, inclusion and partnership. The goals are very clear, with a national oversight committee to give leadership and direction and to measure performance. What is being stressed is the health-led, person-centred approach. I reread chapter 10 today in advance of this debate. It sets out the action plan, the lead agency and the partners who are to deliver. We know what to do, why we are doing it and how to do it. It is really important that we get on with it and at the core of that is the inter-agency, partnership approach. It is not just about community participation but about communities being at the heart of the decision making.

It would be most unusual for somebody presenting to an addiction service to have only an addiction issue. It is estimated that between 50% to 80% of those who present to addiction services will also have a mental health issue. Therefore, an holistic approach is absolutely vital in treatment. The work is challenging but the integrated approach is more cost effective in the long run in terms of recovery. The recent opening of the Inclusion Health Hub in the north inner city was a very positive development in that context.

Drug-related intimidation is a reality for many communities. I attended an interesting conference last year entitled Lives without Fear hosted by the North Inner City Drugs and Alcohol Taskforce. At the heart of intimidation was fear and the role of the community policing forum was so relevant in that context. It provided a space for communities to bring their fears to the co-ordinator who could then liaise with gardaí and Dublin City Council. We have lost our community policing forum in the north inner city. It needs to be reformed and a new funding stream needs to be found for it. The community policing forum is much more effective than the joint policing committee, JPC, system.

Prevention and education was a heading under the strategy. It was always the Cinderella of the strategy but it is vital that we work with young people. We have done that in the north inner city and have produced two reports based on discussions with young people entitled Just Saying and Let's Get Specific. More recently, a programme was rolled out in one of the schools. An outside group came in and worked with the school through the SPHE stream. While country-wide well-being is very good, those areas where there are serious drug problems need something extra.

Photo of Joan CollinsJoan Collins (Dublin South Central, Independent)
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I welcome the Private Members' motion which has prompted this discussion. As has been said, a number of different Private Member's motions have been tabled on this issue recently. The last one was in March of this year when myself and my Independents 4 Change colleagues tabled a motion with the backing of CityWide which was concerned at the direction in which the drugs task forces were moving.

That motion was overwhelmingly supported by everyone in the House. I accepted amendments from Fianna Fáil, Sinn Féin and the Labour Party. The Minister said she would be willing to debate the issues raised at the health committee. I submitted that motion to the health committee on 4 April to put it on the agenda and have heard nothing since, besides an acknowledgement that it had been accepted. I ask everyone on that health committee to raise this and ask why we are not debating the issues raised in more detail. We should put it to the Minister in a more direct way at a committee, in order that the way the task forces are developing can be made more robust and answerable.

I was delighted that Citywide Drugs Crisis Campaign called a meeting in Buswell's Hotel last week, and that nine previous Ministers have raised concerns about how the task forces are developing. When the new strategy came out the task forces welcomed and supported it. I am a member of a drugs and alcohol task force in my area, and over the last two years it has become absolutely obvious that the HSE and the Department of Health are becoming more dominant. This does not represent the interagency, bottom-up model that was set up in 1997. The task forces were set up in 1997 because it was recognised that the statutory bodies did not know what was happening on the ground. The communities knew what was happening on the ground and were able to utilise the interagency forces, as my colleague, Deputy Maureen O'Sullivan, mentioned in her contribution. That is absolutely crucial.

Rather than debating this for an hour and a half in the Dáil Chamber, I would like to bring this issue before a committee where we can hear a detailed analysis of what is going on with the task forces. The motion I previously moved on this issue called for the Government to "cease the Health Service Executive reviews of drug and alcohol task forces, with immediate effect, as these reviews are being carried out without any discussion or consultation with the national NDS committees that are responsible for supporting and monitoring the task forces, and it is incompatible with the interagency partnership approach that underlies the NDS for one agency to carry out a review and present it as afait accompli". A review was carried out on the drugs and alcohol task force I am on, the result of which was confidential. However, that report has led to one of the projects closing down. We are losing very good community activists with great experience in the community. The projects discussed it with the task force, and asked why the evidence in the report was taken outside of the Irish context. It was not within the Irish context. They also asked how the marking system was formulated and implemented, and raised the issue of confidentiality. The report could not be challenged. It is just accepted as afait accompli and no one can appeal it. In the task force I am on, it was recognised that the approach to the report was very hurtful to the projects. This has to stop. Murtagh and Partners is going on to another drugs task force and are doing another few already. These issues must be raised with the committee, because it is undermining the task forces and the interagency approach the task forces should be taking.

9:40 pm

Photo of Mattie McGrathMattie McGrath (Tipperary, Independent)
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I too compliment an Teachta Curran and Fianna Fáil for bringing forward this very important motion. The numbers involved are truly staggering. As the motion indicates, individuals, families and communities throughout the country have been devastated by illegal drugs. Drug-related deaths in Ireland are at their highest ever, increasing from 431 in 2004 to 736 in 2016. The value of drug seizures has also increased from €29,706,000 in 2016 to €71,859,000 in 2017. We all know of communities blighted by this scourge. The Garda and the health services do not have adequate resources or personnel to deal with the crisis. What is going on is shocking. A man was recently arrested in Tipperary after €110,000 worth of cocaine and cannabis were found in his car. He was travelling in the vehicle on Wednesday in the Kilcommon area when gardaí stopped the car before discovering cocaine and cannabis estimated to be worth €70,000 and €40,000, respectively. There is no doubt that this is just the tip of the iceberg.

Our society and culture are in free fall. Young people and many more ordinary people are now living in a culture where casual drug use is normalised and even expected. We have allowed a perception to be created where if people do not drink or take drugs there is something wrong with them. The European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction's 2018 report on Ireland observed the following:

Available data suggest that drug use has become more common among the adult general population aged 15-64 years in Ireland over recent years. Fewer than 2 in 10 adults reported use of any illicit drug during their lifetime in 2002-03, but this figure increased to approximately 3 in 10 in 2014-15.

The most recent survey from 2014-15 confirms that cannabis remains the most commonly used illicit drug, followed by MDMA, ecstasy and cocaine. All of these statistics indicate that urgent action needs to be taken to pursue a robust anti-drug strategy. What is going on is shocking. Deputy Cahill and I sat with the new Garda Commissioner for three and a half hours last week and he closed his eyes to all of this. He says that there is no problem. There are six gardaí on the drugs task force in Tipperary. We would need six in Clonmel alone, and 60 for the county.

This is an epidemic. Deputies such as Deputy Martin Kenny say drugs are social and recreational. They are trying to sanitise this epidemic. It cannot be sanitised because it has devastating impacts. People want to legalise all sorts of drugs, which the Deputy has in a list here. People think this is lovely, sexy and dandy, but it is not. It is wreaking havoc on our communities up and down the country and a blind eye is being turned by this Department. Seven or eight of the Minister's predecessors got together last week and expressed horror and shock at what is going on. I have worked closely with some of them, such as former Minister Pat Carey. The Garda is not turning a blind eye to this, but it does not have the numbers, resources, or wherewithal to deal with it. I am not blaming the Minister but he is in charge. Three and half years into its term, the Government has allowed this to mushroom and take hold because of the posh boys in the Government. I will not say what I was going to say, but the posh guys think that everything is fine and dandy. They say "Let them eat cake in the country", while Rome burns.

We are devastated. I have children and grandchildren who have just been born and I am proud, lucky and privileged to have them. What are they born into? What is going on with the drugs, the corruption, the money, the deprivation and the bullying is devastating. We do not have gardaí in my own town in Clonmel in Tipperary, or in Carrick-on-Suir. I gave the rosters to the Commissioner last week. I even gave them to the Minister and the Taoiseach recently. They do not care or want to know. They say things are fine down in Carrick-on-Suir, and it does not bother them. It is disgraceful that ordinary tax-paying, law-abiding citizens are left to deal with this. There have been suicides, threats and intimidation because of this. Bullying also happens because of small drug debts. Families come to my clinic on a weekly basis whose loved ones are in their graves, and they are being bullied and threatened to pay their debts. It is all going on under the radar and everyone thinks it is all fine. It is not fine. It is an epidemic that is going to engulf us and drag us down.

The so-called liberal left - I will not call them loony lefties - want to legalise these drugs. They do not know what they are playing with. They have problems here in Dublin but we have them as big down the country and they are getting bigger. It is going to get worse than the plague. It is a plague. There are gangs terrorising people in Clonmel and no one can touch them because they have ethnic status. People are terrorised but the Garda cannot touch them. Even worse, when the Garda go to raid them after several pleas from people to do so, the gangs have already been tipped off. It is a dirty, murky underworld. The Ceann Comhairle can tell me to calm down if he likes. It is going on in front of my eyes. I am living through it, and we are going to suffer the consequences. Nobody can challenge these marauding gangs of thugs and bullies with their sulkies and bikes, and the Garda does not have the resources to tackle them. It is the same in every other town and village in the country, where one finds gangs, warfare and money.

It is all about power. If we do not deal with it very soon, there will be no way to deal with it.

9:50 pm

Photo of Seán Ó FearghaílSeán Ó Fearghaíl (Ceann Comhairle; Kildare South, Ceann Comhairle)
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In his contribution Deputy Mattie McGrath said the Garda Commissioner was turning a blind eye.

Photo of Mattie McGrathMattie McGrath (Tipperary, Independent)
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I did.

Photo of Seán Ó FearghaílSeán Ó Fearghaíl (Ceann Comhairle; Kildare South, Ceann Comhairle)
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The Deputy did not mean that I am sure.

Photo of Mattie McGrathMattie McGrath (Tipperary, Independent)
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I did mean it. I spoke to him last week. I sat with him for three hours and he told me that he had enough resources.

Photo of Seán Ó FearghaílSeán Ó Fearghaíl (Ceann Comhairle; Kildare South, Ceann Comhairle)
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I thought the Deputy did not mean it.

Photo of Mattie McGrathMattie McGrath (Tipperary, Independent)
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I did mean it. He told me that he had adequate resources to deal with it.

Photo of Seán Ó FearghaílSeán Ó Fearghaíl (Ceann Comhairle; Kildare South, Ceann Comhairle)
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That is okay. I thought the Deputy did not mean it.

Photo of Mattie McGrathMattie McGrath (Tipperary, Independent)
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I did mean it.

Photo of Danny Healy-RaeDanny Healy-Rae (Kerry, Independent)
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I am glad to have a small amount of time to talk about this very important matter. I thank Deputy Curran and the Fianna Fáil Party for giving us the opportunity to discuss the drugs problem because it is a fact that drugs are available in every town and small village in County Kerry. I am sorry that I have to admit it, but it is a fact. It is also a fact that we are losing the battle and many families are affected, as it has resulted in many suicides and deaths. The closure of Garda stations on both sides of Kenmare Bay is an issue I have raised several times as it has given drug gangs endless opportunities to bring drugs into the county. Garda stations have been closed along the Beara and Iveragh peninsulas. In places like Sneem and Laraugh vast tracts of water are open to bring in drugs. They have to be brought in somewhere and they are. The closure of local Garda stations has denied gardaí the opportunity to accumulate the information they were able to accumulate in previous years. Gardaí in patrol cars are working to the best of their ability, but the loss of gardaí in local areas has been immense and had a disastrous effect.

I do not believe cannabis or any other drug should be legalised. I am disappointed with the Deputy who suggested they should because they should not be. The Minister for Health has relaxed some rules. Individuals who are apprehended for the first or a second time for drugs now have to be let go by gardaí, which is absolutely ridiculous. No one in the Chamber asked for this, yet the Minister for Health introduced that policy. We are very disappointed with him. If a young person is stopped in Killarney today, how will gardaí know that he or she was let go somewhere else? How do gardaí know how many times the same person has been caught and released? It is a joke. Thugs are being let go. I feel for young parents today who are raising children because they have a serious task ahead of them.

Photo of Séamus HealySéamus Healy (Tipperary, Workers and Unemployed Action Group)
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I welcome the opportunity to speak to this very important motion and commend Deputy Curran for bringing it forward. I support both it and the Sinn Féin amendment.

There is no doubt that drugs are to be found in every town and village across the country. I hesitate to say this in case there might be an inference that it is normal or acceptable. Of course, it is not and it is being driven by criminal elements. I support the Sinn Féin amendment which states the harm caused is not exclusive to disadvantaged communities. It is clear that it is a problem that is evident across society. There is drug dealing openly taking place on the streets, in nightclubs and outside and, in some cases, inside schools. Families and communities have been devastated. There is major bullying and intimidation and assaults and deaths have happened. As others said and as most Members in the Chamber and I are aware, even after a death drugs dealers do not stop intimidating bereaved families into paying outstanding debts. That is terrible and it is happening on a regular basis. In 2016 there were 736 drug-related deaths, four times the number in road traffic accidents. We do not seem to have an effective deterrent or strategy for dealing with the problem. In fact, in recent years the budget to tackle it has, unfortunately, been cut. For a number of years the budget has effectively been frozen, having been cut in previous years.

The numbers of gardaí in local drug units have been reduced. There are six gardaí in the unit in County Tipperary, which is unbelievable but true. County Tipperary is 120 miles long and that number of gardaí is simply not adequate to deal with the problem. Unfortunately, the partnership model for dealing with it is under pressure and at risk. It is quite clear to everybody that this epidemic can only be dealt with through co-operation between voluntary, community and statutory organisations. I commend all of the voluntary and community organisations involved, not just in my constituency but jalso across the country because they do Trojan work.

Mental health and the level of homelessness are impacted on by drugs. Mental health services are under pressure. This is an area in which mental health and homelessness services simply do not cope well with. To some extent, they consider they are not able to or do not have the resources to cope with it.

Like other public representatives in County Tipperary, I met the Garda Commissioner at the meeting of the JPC in Thurles last Friday. Having attended the meeting, I am not confident that the absolute necessity to deal with this issue is appreciated at senior Garda level. We were given generalised promises and little or no specific data for this or any other issue.

It was indicated that this is happening, that it should not be happening and that the Garda is dealing with it. Unfortunately, it is not dealing with it. I was also concerned at what I believed was an indication from the Commissioner that the community policing service, which is absolutely vital in dealing with drugs, drug misuse and alcohol abuse, would not get the priority it deserves into the future. I am worried about those areas.

This issue needs community policing, partnership between the community, voluntary and statutory agencies, more financial resources and more manpower. I hope this debate will at least start a discussion, a debate and some action on this area because what we are doing now is simply not working and we are simply not doing enough.

10:00 pm

Photo of Jackie CahillJackie Cahill (Tipperary, Fianna Fail)
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Tackling the country's crippling drug problem requires major reform of our approach. Every day we hear stories of individuals, families and communities around the country that have been devastated by drugs. It is a problem in every village, town and city in the country and, at this stage, every crossroads, yet the Government's response is inadequate and underwhelming. According to the latest report by the Health Research Board, cocaine use in Ireland increased by 32% in 2017 and, unfortunately, that trend has continued on an upward curve since.

Commissioner Drew Harris attended the Tipperary JPC last Friday. He commented on the large number of drug seizures in my county of Tipperary in recent months, pointing to Garda successes. These are welcome but also point to the vulnerability of Tipperary, which has the largest motorway mileage of any county in the country. Coupled with over 5,000 km of national roads, mostly rural, this makes policing very difficult and offers easy access to those who profit from drug distribution. This is why I have expressed my deep concerns to the Commissioner about the recent amalgamation of Tipperary and Clare into one Garda division. The Commissioner is adamant his new plan will work. However, there is an onus on us all to be vigilant and to ensure that policing on the ground improves following these changes. To effect real change in drug crime, we require gardaí on the ground and the resources and technology to support them. In Tipperary Town, for instance, the detective with responsibility for drugs is without a squad car. We have only six gardaí in Tipperary in our drugs squad. This is a real David v. Goliath situation.

Mental health issues among our youth are made even worse because of drug use, and there is a complete lack of resources in Tipperary to deal with this issue. Mental health clinics are understaffed and, unfortunately, lack of access to specialised psychiatric courses is the norm. This must change. It will require extra Garda resources and, significantly, extra resources for counselling and education for those battling addiction.

Photo of Niamh SmythNiamh Smyth (Cavan-Monaghan, Fianna Fail)
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I congratulate Deputy Curran on bringing forward this very timely motion on drug problems, which we see right across the country. It is with a very heavy heart that I stand before the Minister of State to concur with everything that has been said tonight and to tell her that my rural constituency of Cavan-Monaghan, which includes parts of north Meath, faces the same crippling drug problems and challenges we have heard about all evening. Only last night I chaired my local Bailieborough community alert committee meeting, at which we discussed local matters. The elephant in the room is the blatant drug dealing that is happening daily, in broad daylight, in towns right across Cavan, Monaghan and north Meath, including my little town of Bailieborough. People think that a lot of these things happen in the big urban areas, but there is a real concern because they are a regular, daily occurrence, and we are only fooling ourselves saying otherwise. This is in the top three issues that are raised at my clinic. Parents are very frightened about what the future holds and what they see before them in broad daylight. They are very frightened to go to the authorities and to say they saw such and such delivering a package. They are afraid for their own safety and their children's safety and unwilling to go to the authorities with the information because of that.

I commend the work of Superintendent Gordon Englishby and Detective Michael Kearney, who work in the drugs unit in Cavan-Monaghan. These are exemplary people doing a wonderful job against a backdrop of very limited resources. They are fighting a raging scourge of drug dealing across Cavan-Monaghan and Meath. Of course, this drug dealing leads to anti-social behaviour and communities being literally under siege from these thieves who are stealing the lives of young people and their parents and families. The bottom line is resources. My district of Bailieborough - I do not believe I am wrong or inaccurate in saying this - is one of the most under-resourced in Cavan-Monaghan. I would like the Minister of State to come back to me on this and bring it to the Minister's attention. How in the name of God can one of the most under-resourced divisions fight this scourge?

The other thing I would like to bring to the Minister of State's attention is Cavan-Monaghan's CDA Trust, which I know wrote to her on 11 October about the fact that it is considering winding down its operations and is having to dissolve the company after years without any increase in funding. It actually cannot continue. I am sure the Minister of State has this letter in front of her too. These are the people who are faced with the scourge of drugs and the families trying to do something about it and to address it. Not only do we have gardaí with no resources but we have no sign of the new Garda station in Bailieborough, which was promised to be started last September. As the Minister of State knows, the Minister, Deputy Flanagan, and the Government rolled out CCTV to huge fanfare, but my information is that Ballyjamesduff, which put in an application for CCTV many months ago, still has not had that application ratified. I know myself from working on the Bailieborough community alert scheme that it takes months. There is huge bureaucracy and paperwork involved and there is the stalemate as to who will hold on to the data - will it be the Garda or the local authority? My understanding is that it is the role of the local authority, but perhaps the Minister of State could confirm that for us tonight.

I cannot talk any longer. I have lots more I could say on the issue. Cavan-Monaghan is no different from any other constituency. The bottom line is resources.

Photo of James BrowneJames Browne (Wexford, Fianna Fail)
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I welcome this Fianna Fáil motion on the very serious and debilitating issue of drugs and our drug problem and compliment my colleague, Deputy John Curran, on bringing it forward. The number of gardaí committed to drug units across the country has fallen significantly since 2011, and this is having a very real impact on enforcement. Extra resources are badly needed. In Rosslare Europort, in my county of Wexford, drug seizures are a regular occurrence. Additional gardaí are needed to deal with this scourge. It also highlights the vulnerabilities around our country. Rosslare Europort still bases its activities on paper. It shows the weakness in our justice system, port system and enforcement system that the second-busiest passenger port in the country still operates on a paper-based system. It is totally unacceptable because, as I understand it, it really impacts our ability to enforce our borders in terms of drug importation. It is a real vulnerability.

I also wish to touch on the issue of dual diagnosis and mental health. There is a real issue in this country of a lack of understanding of drugs and mental health issues and the links between them. Research has shown that there is a very serious connection between substance abuse and mental health issues, but this country is simply not taking that matter seriously and not protecting the most vulnerable people who are addicted to drugs.

I will hand over to Deputy Butler.

Photo of Mary ButlerMary Butler (Waterford, Fianna Fail)
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Drugs are a reality and, because the crisis is so prevalent, nine former Ministers who have held responsibility for the national drug strategy came together this week and called on the Taoiseach to intervene to restore confidence in the strategy. Figures published recently show that the most significant increases in recorded drug crime nationally are occurring outside Dublin, leading to warnings that the country is undergoing a drugs boom, most of it centred on regional towns and cities. In Waterford, offences for possession and intent to supply have risen by one third in the past year, which is a very worrying trend. Towns in County Waterford are no exception. CSO data show increases in controlled drug offences in Dungarvan, where the number of offences rose by 142% between 2015 and last year. The equivalent figure for Tramore was 144%.

Recently 30 publicans gathered in a co-working space in Waterford for a masterclass on drugs.

The meeting was held as part of the Waterford safe city and purple flag initiative. It was attended by Sergeant Sheehan from the divisional drugs unit who went through the signs that drugs or dealers were on the premises. The questions asked included what the most popular drugs were, how drug use on premises could be minimised and what should be done in the event of an overdose. Sergeant Sheehan was able to tell the publicans present that coins left in the toilets or on the sides of washbasins were signals to potential customers that a dealer was on the premises. Publicans heard that cocaine use had almost become like having a packet of Tayto crips with a pint. Publicans are operating a zero tolerance approach, but, unfortunately, there is no typical drug user. An increased Garda presence on the streets and high levels of engagement between the force, the community and business owners are crucial in tackling the issue. Much good work is being done by the Garda, but it is rowing against the tide as the problem continues to grow at an alarming rate.

10:10 pm

Photo of Catherine ByrneCatherine Byrne (Dublin South Central, Fine Gael)
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There was a wish to have more time and I have the same desire, but, unfortunately, my time is also limited. I will, however, try to be brief and cover some of the issues which have been raised.

I acknowledge all of the speakers who have raised concerns with great passion regarding the scourge of drugs in their communities, not only in towns and villages but also in communities throughout the country. I commend previous Ministers of State for the work they did during their time in this post. I know many of them, including former Deputy Pat Carey and Deputy Lahart.

I welcome the opportunity Deputy Curran has given me to speak about the national drugs strategy, Reducing Harm, Supporting Recovery. I do not, however, agree with his assessment that as a Minister of State, I have been abandoned by my colleagues. Nothing could be further from the truth. In response to many of those who spoke about Garda issues, the Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Flanagan, was here earlier, but, unfortunately, he could not stay. I acknowledge all of the issues raised andwill bring the details back to the Minister. I also disagree that the national drugs strategy has failed.

I acknowledge the work of the drugs policy unit, the people who work in it for their commitment to it and the work done throughout the years. I also acknowledge some of the Deputies who spoke. I am glad that Deputy Maureen O'Sullivan spoke about the review of the north inner city task force. Deputy Collins spoke about the reviews happening in task forces in communities like my own. The reviews are within the remit of the HSE and carried out in partnership with the task forces. I know that some problems have arisen in the reviews completed of some of the task forces. The HSE is working constructively to resolve the issues in some of the projects that have not reached their potential. I acknowledge the difficulties in some task forces and I am not objecting to reviews being carried out. There is accountability for the moneys being spent on task forces. It is the public's money. I also refer to governance and accountability and how task forces are managed, which is also important.

I am pleased to address the House on the very important matter of the national drugs strategy, Reducing Harm, Supporting Recovery: A Health-led Response to Drug and Alcohol Use In Ireland 2017 to 2025, and to take the opportunity to reiterate my commitment and that of the Government to the strategy which was launched by me, the Taoiseach and the Minister for Health, Deputy Harris, in July 2017. It has support at the highest levels and represents an important shift in public policy on drugs towards a health-led and person-centred approach. It centres on prevention, harm reduction and recovery. At its core are the values of compassion, respect, equity, inclusion and partnership, values also mentioned by Deputy Maureen O'Sullivan. The vision of the strategy is to create a healthier and safer Ireland and its 50 actions, up to 2020, will contribute towards improving the health, well-being and safety of the population in the coming years.

From the day I first took up the position as Minister of State with responsibility for the national drugs strategy, I have been steadfast in my commitment to addressing the serious issue of substance misuse, to delivering a new strategy in partnership with communities and to implementing the important actions it sets out. Coming from a community development background and having had experience of working at local level with community groups, I do not for one moment underestimate the important role of communities and the need for partnership at every level. From my regular visits to projects throughout the country, it is crystal clear to me that working together is vital in bringing about real and positive change for those affected by drugs and addiction. In working together, however, it is crucial that we all respect one another and, where differences occur, that we resolve them in a constructive way. There is a saying, "give respect, get respect". That is a motto by which we should all live.

The national drugs strategy promotes the idea of partnership between statutory, community and voluntary sectors to deliver better health outcomes for those who use drugs. Just this morning, I had the privilege of opening the second annual national drugs forum. Under the strategy, Reducing Harm, Supporting Recovery, we are committed to organising a yearly national forum on evidence-based and effective practice in drug and alcohol education. It provides an opportunity for all stakeholders working in the sector to come together, network, share their knowledge and experience and, most of all, listen to each other. I was very encouraged by the attendance at last year's event and delighted to see another 200 delegates attending this morning from across all sectors who were listening to and learning from one another, me included. It is a real example of working in partnership.

One of the key goals of the strategy is to support the participation of individuals, families and communities. Action 39 of the strategy commits to promoting and supporting community participation in all local, regional and national structures. There are 11 community and voluntary representatives in the oversight structures of the strategy who give leadership and direction in the implementation of the strategy. The national oversight committee which I chair has representatives from all relevant Departments, State agencies, drug and alcohol task forces and voluntary organisations, as well as community representatives. I assure the House that progress under the strategy has been reviewed on an ongoing basis during 2019 through the national oversight committee and the standing sub-committee. This has enabled all of the relevant stakeholders to account for and report on individual and shared key actions outlined in the strategy. The Department of Health also reports periodically on progress under the national drugs strategy to the Cabinet committee on social policy and public services which is chaired by the Taoiseach.

Next year, if I am still around, I hope to launch a mid-term evaluation of the strategy. It will allow all stakeholders the opportunity to reflect on progress in implementing the strategy and identify the new actions that may be required in period up to 2025.

On funding, I am pleased to report that expenditure on HSE addiction services increased from €94 million in 2016 to over €100 million in 2018. The funding is used by the HSE to deliver on a wide range of national policy objectives as outlined in the national drugs strategy. It includes a focus on early intervention, treatment and rehabilitation. This, in turn, helps people with substance misuse issues to achieve better health outcomes. In addition to the €100 million allocated by the HSE for addiction services in 2018, my Department provided €28 million for drug and alcohol task forces through various funding channels, including the HSE. The funding supports over 280 community projects in local areas and communities throughout the country to support initiatives to tackle drug and alcohol use and misuse. One of our main priorities is the continued expansion of community-based healthcare services to minimise the harm caused by misuse of substances which are said to promote rehabilitation and recovery in line with the Reducing Harm, Supporting Recovery document.

I was delighted to secure additional funding of €1 million in 2019 to strengthen implementation of the national drugs strategy. It included an additional €20,000 for each of the 24 task forces this year, €10,000 of which will be provided on a permanent recurring basis. It also helps to fund 13 strategic health initiatives identified by task forces to respond to emerging trends in substance misuse and improve access to services for people with complex needs. The new health initiatives reflect regional priorities agreed between the HSE community health organisations, CHOs, and the drug and alcohol task forces and ensure resources will be targeted at the groups most in need.

I have a list of the initiatives. If I have time, I might go through them.

The strategy initiatives have been targeted at the following groups, across the nine CHO areas: young people affected by substance misuse; women who use drugs and alcohol; families and services users; and homeless and others with complex needs. I am confident these new health initiatives, which are aligned with the objectives of Sláintecare, will have a positive impact and make a difference to people's lives as they journey to recovery. It is not correct to say that task forces are not being supported nor is it correct to say that funding is not given to them.

On awareness campaigns, a core objective of the national drugs strategy is to promote and protect the health and well-being of our population by delaying the use of alcohol and other drugs among young people.

10:20 pm

Photo of Seán Ó FearghaílSeán Ó Fearghaíl (Ceann Comhairle; Kildare South, Ceann Comhairle)
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The Minister of State must stop there because her time is up. We move now to-----

Photo of Catherine ByrneCatherine Byrne (Dublin South Central, Fine Gael)
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Am I finished?

Photo of Seán Ó FearghaílSeán Ó Fearghaíl (Ceann Comhairle; Kildare South, Ceann Comhairle)
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The Minister of State's time is finished anyway.

Photo of John LahartJohn Lahart (Dublin South West, Fianna Fail)
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No, the Minister of State's speech is finished.

Photo of Catherine ByrneCatherine Byrne (Dublin South Central, Fine Gael)
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I did not get to the important bits.

Photo of Seán Ó FearghaílSeán Ó Fearghaíl (Ceann Comhairle; Kildare South, Ceann Comhairle)
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Deputy Rabbitte is sharing with Deputies Lahart and Curran.

Photo of Anne RabbitteAnne Rabbitte (Galway East, Fianna Fail)
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I thank my colleague, Deputy Curran, for bringing forward this Private Members' motion and affording me the opportunity to speak on it. I listened with great interest to the Minister of State's speech and I will read the rest of it later on. The Minister of State is well intentioned but, unfortunately, her party has abandoned her on this. In abandoning the Minister of State, they have abandoned the parents and children of the country.

In my speech, I will focus on three little parts. The first is my own personal experience of two weeks ago in Loughrea when I dropped my child off to a disco. What I experienced in relation to drugs and alcohol on the streets of Loughrea between 8.30 p.m. and midnight was unforgiving. Those children were exposed to alcohol and drugs and they were all under 16 years of age. The fear that parents have in this day and age is unbelievable and we do not feel that we are supported.

Mr. Joe Treacy from the HSE spoke last week on the Ivan Yates show. He was asked about drugs in the west of Ireland and he said that we have a blizzard in Galway. He also spoke about the fact that we do not look at dual addiction. Deputy Maureen O'Sullivan addressed that earlier on. Normally when people present, be it with alcohol or drug addiction, there are other underlying issues and those are mental health issues. Unfortunately, we do not resource the HSE to address both of those aspects of it.

As a member of a joint policing committee, my view is we do not have enough gardaí on the ground. We need to have more community policing to assist. All the funds the Minister of State, Deputy Catherine Byrne, is investing are no good unless we have the boots on the ground to address it. We also need to have social workers going into the schools because there must be a three-pronged approach on this. There must be the gardaí and social workers and we must have the addiction services. If we can combine all that together and support the parents, we might have a healthier future.

Photo of John LahartJohn Lahart (Dublin South West, Fianna Fail)
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I thank my colleague, Deputy Curran, for bringing forward this Private Members' motion. I have heard the Minister of State, Deputy Catherine Byrne, speak here on many occasions on this and many other topics. I have no doubt about her personal commitment to this, and her own personal experience and background in it. I echo the Minister of State's comments in relation to her officials who no doubt work tirelessly on this. What is missing is leadership. There is clearly no appetite on the part of the Government to invest the kind of resources that are necessary to not only solve this problem but to assist and support those who are trying to address it and those who are trying to make better the lives of those who are affected by it, be it either the drug users or alcohol users themselves, and their families who are subject, as the Minister of State will be aware, to everything from debt intimidation to all the anti-social and other associated issues that come with being connected with drug misuse.

When can the Ceann Comhairle, who is here much longer than I, remember nine previous Ministers for anything coming together to combine and make a statement expressing their deep disappointment at the Government's approach to the drugs issue? It is not a personal issue about the Minister of State, but I refer to nine previous Ministers with responsibility, including my colleague, Deputy Curran, and at least two other former Fianna Fáil Ministers of State, but by no means exclusively former Fianna Fáil Ministers of State - a former Labour Party leader was among them. What is crying out to me is that the Government does not take it seriously.

I am a member of my local drugs and alcohol task force in Tallaght. I note Deputy Curran is in Clondalkin and our colleague, Deputy Darragh O'Brien, is in Fingal. We see the work of the projects and the groups and how they are the glue that holds the little fabric of their communities together in terms of the supportive work they do. The Minister of State will be very familiar with them. There is no Government representative sitting on the Tallaght drugs task force attending meetings. There are five Deputies and three of us attend. There are two Government Deputies but they do not attend Tallaght drugs task force meetings, and they never have.

Time is so limited. If there are even a few members of the public watching, I would say to them that one of the difficulties with Dáil speaking time is that while all my colleagues would like to expend a great deal more time on this debate, we are limited by the structures of the Dáil that enable Members from smaller groupings make more extended speeches on it.

I will focus on two issues. I commend all the work that those associated with the Tallaght drugs task force do in my community stretching from Tallaght to Whitechurch. As well as the drugs squads, I commend the local gardaí in Tallaght who have made significant findings.

I will focus on a couple of figures. The north-inner city area gets close to €2.5 million in funding. The south-inner city gets more than €2 million. Tallaght, which has a population of 150,000 and is the size of Limerick, gets half of what those drugs task forces get. The Ballyfermot drugs task force, which is in the Minister of State, Deputy Catherine Byrne's constituency, gets €300,000 more than the Tallaght drugs task force. Can the Minister of State explain that for a town the size of a city, somehow these other areas are more important proportionately in terms of the funding that they receive? That is a question the Minister of State and her officials need to dwell on.

Bray in the Minister for Health's constituency is a fine town. I know not what its population is, but it is nowhere near 150,000 and it is not a city. It gets €200,000 more per annum than the Tallaght drugs and alcohol task force. I ask the Minister of State to reflect on that, and maybe take some action to address it.

Photo of John CurranJohn Curran (Dublin Mid West, Fianna Fail)
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I thank all my colleagues and the Members of the House who contributed to this debate, and the Minister of State, Deputy Catherine Byrne, and the Minister, Deputy Flanagan, for their attendance. The Minister of State will have to recognise the fact that so many Members wanted to contribute to the debate. There is a real issue there. I set out at the beginning the growth of this problem, and the evidence behind it, both in terms of illicit drugs and those trying to access services. One can see it quite clearly.

There are a number of issues I want to refer to quickly. The Minister, Deputy Flanagan, stated that next year, the Department of Health would provide additional funding of €100,000 to develop a national harm reduction campaign. It is not large enough. We need to think much, much larger.

Deputy Barry from Cork indicated correctly, in terms of the drugs-related death index, that 736 people died in 2016, four times as many people as in road fatalities. That is monumental the damage drugs are doing to our communities and our public education and information and awareness campaigns need to be of that scale.

The Minister, Deputy Flanagan, mentioned that previous speakers spoke about children being used and said he was open to legislation in that regard. I would encourage him to move on that. It is a new feature that we have seen in recent years, that young children are being used to either sell or distribute drugs. I would encourage the Minister to move in terms of a legislative solution or we, on this side of the House, will do so and, hopefully, the Minister would support us. This has happened and we need to deal with it.

The Minister, Deputy Flanagan, concluded by stating that working collaboratively, we can deliver on the ambitious goals of the strategy. That is exactly what the community sector wants. It wants partnership and a collaborative approach. I have asked parliamentary questions and received the replies so I am aware that frequently the statutory agencies are not attending in a meaningful way the meetings. I have asked the question, Department by Department. It is not happening.

It is not correct to say that there is additional funding. In 2019, each task force got an additional €20,000 after years and years of the figure remaining the same.

10 o’clock

Next year, they will get only €10,000 of that. It is insufficient. The Minister of State heard the two Deputies from Cavan-Monaghan, Brendan Smith and Niamh Smyth, plead with her to ensure additional funding was made available to keep projects alive. Every Deputy who spoke meets regularly in his or her community to discuss projects and programmes that are just about surviving. At the same time, the Minister is saying we have to have governance and oversight. I agree with that but she is measuring organisations having starved them of funding. They are on their knees. They need realistic support in terms of financial support.

10:30 pm

Photo of Seán Ó FearghaílSeán Ó Fearghaíl (Ceann Comhairle; Kildare South, Ceann Comhairle)
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Thank you, Deputy.

Photo of John CurranJohn Curran (Dublin Mid West, Fianna Fail)
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This debate was not just about a funding issue. It is a real plea from Members. I stated at the outset that I do not doubt the Minister of State's sincerity and integrity but I observed that with the exception of the Minister for Justice and Equality, her colleagues did not come into the House to support her. She has been let down in terms of the budgetary process. They have not received the funding but the community sector very much wants to work in partnership and collaboration. That needs to be done.

I ask the Ceann Comhairle to indulge me for one final moment. I will conclude on this point. Deputy Joan Collins made a point with which I agree. She said this debate should continue at committee, which we tried previously. I would welcome and support that. I thank the Ceann Comhairle for his tolerance.

Photo of Seán Ó FearghaílSeán Ó Fearghaíl (Ceann Comhairle; Kildare South, Ceann Comhairle)
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We must first consider amendment No. 1 in the name of the Sinn Féin Deputies.

Photo of John CurranJohn Curran (Dublin Mid West, Fianna Fail)
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I am sorry, a Cheann Comhairle. I should have said during the debate that we are accepting the amendment.

Amendment agreed to.

Motion, as amended, agreed to.

The Dáil adjourned at at 10 p.m. until 10.30 a.m. on Wednesday, 6 November 2019.