Wednesday, 6 February 2008
National Waste Strategy: Statements
Brian Ó Domhnaill (Fianna Fail)
I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Hoctor, to the House. It is good to see her present for this important debate on the issue of drugs in society. I spoke last week about alcohol and, briefly, about drug abuse. I did not have time to make a few proposals about the national drugs strategy. A number of regional drug task forces have been established under the strategy, which is running from 2001 to 2008. The task force in the north west is doing much good work in conjunction with the Health Service Executive. It is combatting drug abuse by working with community groups and organisations. It has funded an alcohol awareness initiative in my home parish and two neighbouring parishes. The initiative, which takes the form of an alcohol-free challenge, began today because it is the first day of Lent. A great deal of good work is being done.
As I said last week, the problem of drugs in society is becoming increasingly alarming as the weeks and months go by. Prior to Christmas and over the Christmas period, a number of well-known personalities admitted to using drugs. Some high-profile fatalities occurred as a result of drug use around that time. Such events focused our minds on the prevalence of drugs on every street corner in this island and not just in our major cities as was the case a number of years ago. The Departments of Education and Science and Health and Children need to take control of this situation by implementing a clear and physical drugs education programme in secondary level schools throughout the Republic.
Responsibility for the programme should not rest solely with secondary school teachers, however. Teaching is a demanding job which involves staying up to date with the various elements of the education sector, for example. We should not put an additional burden on teachers. Specifically trained guidance counsellors should go to schools to liaise with principals and teachers and drive the message home to second level pupils, from first year to sixth year. Such a programme needs to be rolled out as quickly as possible.
The Department of Education and Science has done great work in rolling out the Walk Tall programme under the social, personal and health education curriculum. The programme provides for elements of drugs awareness to be taught within the primary and secondary curricula. We need to drive the message home by having a focused and clear curriculum as part of the educational dimension of our approach to this problem. People should visit schools to show students the harmful effects of dabbling in drugs, in particular, and alcohol. I recently picked up a sample of the material being used by a college in Dublin as part of its efforts to inform its students about the dangers of drug use. It gives details of common Irish drugs and highlights the risks and harmful effects of some of them, including cocaine. We need to encourage outside people to visit schools and use material of that nature to help teachers, for example, in giving practical advice to young people and illustrating the damage drugs can do to society and individuals.
I ask the Minister of State, Deputy Hoctor, to ensure the officials in the Departments of Health and Children and Education and Science maintain the ongoing interdepartmental work aimed at tackling the scourge of drugs. As a public representative, I believe people on all sides of both Houses of the Oireachtas should work together to deal with this issue. Rather than making it a political issue, we should make it a real issue. We must work together to try to eradicate drugs. While we will probably not achieve full success in that regard, we must work on the basis that we will. We all have to work together. We should commit to making available the resources which are needed to deal with this problem.
I want to drive home the point that there needs to be an educational dimension to our approach to this problem. While work is ongoing on the two programmes I mentioned, we need to raise the bar if we are to drive it home to students that the harmful effects of drugs can be real. We learn daily when we read newspapers and watch television of the problems associated with drugs. The consequences of drug use are evident in other parts of the world and in our country. The message must be driven home at local level. That can only be done in secondary schools. I hope it occurs sooner rather than later.