Seanad debates

Wednesday, 6 February 2008

National Waste Strategy: Statements


5:00 pm

Photo of John Gerard HanafinJohn Gerard Hanafin (Fianna Fail)

Hardly a family in the country is unaffected by the problems attached to drug or alcohol addiction. I am thinking in particular about the new scourge of drugs. During the heroin epidemic of the 1980s it was probably in Dublin's inner city where we first noticed the worst effects of people dying from drugs. In Dublin's Brunswick Street there is a memorial called Home that contains a flame and an open door. It represents the home the families wished to tell those people affected by drugs was there for them at all times. That is part of the message we are giving here. There is support for people, we wish to do something about it and we want to help. That generation was, in many ways, lost. It would be deeply saddening if it were repeated. Many deaths have been reported from the abuse and misuse of cocaine and the adulteration of cocaine with other substances. On one occasion wet cocaine caused deaths. This is frightening and it is stark for us. There is great commitment, but the question is what we, as legislators, can do about it. We can legislate all we want, but if we build 12 ft. walls, drug dealers will get 13 ft. ladders. The issue must be addressed through our communities. Whatever is necessary, in terms of legislation, will be done by the Government. We will give the gardaĆ­ the support they need, we will listen to our communities and give them the sentencing that is required. However, an effort is required from the entire community.

I am very conscious of young people going out for the night. Like many Members, I have young children growing up and am conscious that they will be going out to discos and so forth in years to come. I would not worry about them when they are in the full of their health because I am certain they would say no to drugs. However, I would worry about them if they have had a few drinks and are at their lowest ebb. The drug dealers, who are ruthless, uncaring criminals, whose only motivation is money, destroy lives. That is what worries me. Children are being introduced to drugs when they are at their most vulnerable, both in terms of their age and their sobriety. They succumb when they have had a few drinks and pressure is put on them to take drugs.

As a community, there is great will to do something about the drug addiction problem. All of us are appalled by the number of drug-related deaths, which seem to keep happening. We must go into the schools and take an holistic approach. We must speak to pupils, teachers and parents to resolve the difficulty. The first part of our message should be about the danger in terms of having a criminal record. No young person wants to have a criminal record. That is one way to deal with the situation regarding recreational drugs, although there is no such thing as a recreational drug. Such drugs are illegal for a reason. They are illegal because they are dangerous if not taken at the prescribed time, under supervision. Having a criminal record can affect young people for the rest of their lives. If they have a criminal record, no matter what job they go for, that record will stand against them. They will not be able to obtain a visa for the United States of America, for example. Their movement will be restricted, as will their employment opportunities. That is not to mention the health problems associated with drugs. How many people have died from what are regarded as heart problems, but which may well be related to the fact that they have a massively increased heart rate because of the abuse of prescribed drugs? I am also conscious that cocaine has become a major problem within the community.

We have good addiction counsellors. In times past, it became acceptable for people to say they had been drinking but were dealing with their problem. Perhaps we should now accept that people will say that they were abusing drugs but are dealing with that problem. The way forward is through the community. I hope it is through the community that we, as legislators, will support the people of the country, on a cross-party basis. I am delighted that the motion is cross-party because we are at one on this issue. We may not agree on the methods to deal with the alcohol and drugs problem, but we are at one in our wish to deal with it.

With regard to alcohol, we now have a particular difficulty with off licences. In times past, it was not very socially acceptable to drink at home. There was an expectation that if one was going to a pub for a few drinks, drinking would be monitored. It was expected that the bar man or the person in charge would make sure that nobody had too much to drink. While I know that did not always happen, surely it was still better than the current situation whereby people are able to consume vast amounts of subsidised alcoholic drink. That is what is happening, I have been told. In the supermarkets, alcoholic products are loss leaders and pallets of cheap drink can become available to young people. It is very difficult to restrict this because alcohol can be sold to a person who is over 18, with identification, who then goes outside and gives it to younger people. That cannot happen in a pub because people must consume alcohol on the premises. We should consider significantly restricting the capacity and opening hours of off licences.

While it may be old-fashioned to say this, the Pioneer Total Abstinence Association has done wonderful work. In the 1850s, Father Theobald Matthew dedicated his life to the problems caused by the excessive use of alcohol. Ireland in the 21st century is a similar country in many ways, because we still have a drink problem. However, it is a land of contrasting fortunes. As the pastoral letter from the Irish Catholic Bishop's Conference, Alcohol: The Challenge of Moderation, notes:

We find ourselves, in a relatively short period of time, as one of the wealthiest nations in Europe. The economy has grown at a rate we never expected. There are jobs for our young people, and no longer is emigration the scourge it was for previous generations. The government finances have improved dramatically, and as a result wealth can be redistributed for the greater benefit of society. There is no doubt that our new wealth has brought enormous benefits.

Materially, the majority of us have never been better off. We are rightly proud of the success that modern Ireland has become. However, there are new stresses arising from the fact that very often both parents in a family are working outside the home and commuting, while the pressure to perform in the workplace is even greater...

We still have pioneers and others among us who, for a variety of motives, remain as total abstainers. We have others who drink in moderation and who find no difficulty in remaining moderate. We have others - perhaps a large proportion of us - with an ambivalent relationship with alcohol, struggling to keep a cap on our consumption.

As I said earlier, there is hardly a family in the country that has not been affected by alcohol. I commend the old, pioneer ways, where people made a commitment not to take alcohol. We, as legislators, have a duty to ensure that alcoholic drink is not freely available to young people and that we assist those in need of support.

Cocaine is a particularly worrying drug, not least because of the obscene amounts of money and the level of crime that appear to be involved in its trade. If only young people could see what drug dealers are prepared to do to protect their own turf. If only they could see the murder, mayhem and torture. Sadly, another murder was perpetrated abroad yesterday. According to news reports, the code is simple. Dealers order the drugs and if they do not pay for them, either they or members of their families are killed. Something must be done. We urgently need to put in place a system with Spain which will ensure the rapid extradition of drug dealers. We must deal with this problem properly. It is not acceptable that such people can live off-shore and enjoy a lifestyle which is totally at odds with the poor people who are suffering here.


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