Seanad debates

Wednesday, 6 February 2008

National Waste Strategy: Statements


5:00 pm

Photo of Terry LeydenTerry Leyden (Fianna Fail)

I join others in welcoming the Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children, Deputy Pat the Cope Gallagher, to the House. When I was Minister of State at the then Department of Health in 1987, I was made national chairman of the drugs action committee. It was a revelation to me, coming from a rural constituency, to see the amount of drugs being used at that time, especially in inner-city Dublin. There was not as much knowledge or concern because the problem was very much contained within the inner city. Heroin was one of the most commonly used drugs at that stage and was more connected to the AIDS epidemic than it was to the question of drugs. Drug use led to the exchange of needles, which led to the spread of HIV-AIDS. That was our issue at the time. I recall being advised on that committee by prominent, hard-working people, including clergy, and it was a matter of bringing forward the needle exchange programme, which was radical at the time but we had no choice because HIV was being spread by the exchange of dirty needles. It was radical but it was as far as we could go at the time.

I recall also that we examined ways of making young people more aware of drugs but the danger was that we would heighten the attractiveness of drugs to young people. We could highlight the dangers of the different drugs but the difficulty was in trying to explain that abusing any drug, whether it is alcohol, cocaine, cannabis or any other drug, was the slippery slope. It is appropriate that today, Ash Wednesday and the start of Lent, we would debate this motion and recognise the epidemic of alcohol and illegal drug abuse in our society.

It is my experience that this problem was very much contained at that time. It had not spread from within the deprived areas of Dublin. One might say the problem did not have the same attention in Government as it has now and we realise it has spread into every county. Most towns have access to drugs including speed, cocaine, cannabis and so on.

I compliment the Garda Síochána, the national drugs task force and the Revenue Commissioners for their excellent work in seizing one tonne of cannabis in County Kildare worth approximately €10 million. That puts in context the value and size of this trade. They were brought in to the country in 40 foot trailers, probably on the route from Morocco into Spain and through the ports. It is difficult to man this area.

I record our appreciation and admiration for the work of the Garda Síochána who detected the drugs today and who have made many seizures over the years in different locations, including the coast of Cork where a massive amount of cannabis was dumped from a ship. We have a long and difficult coastline to police. It has been shown consistently that smugglers of illegal drugs have the resources to keep up with and surpass the authorities in respect of the technology and techniques of smuggling, no matter how professionally and enthusiastically the Garda and other forces fight the importation of illegal substances. It is clear, therefore, that any strategy to combat the epidemic of drug abuse in our society must reduce and eliminate the demand for illegal drugs. If the demand is eliminated, the supply and suppliers will suffer and there will be a reduction in other crimes associated with the drugs trade. That is a significant point because there is no doubt that it is a demand-led industry.

A counter drugs strategy must do more to raise awareness of the health implications of illegal drug use and of the misuse of controlled drugs. In this respect I commend the work in recent years of the local drugs task forces, the health promotion unit, which the Minister, Deputy Gallagher, is in charge of, the community and voluntary groups and many charities.

However, we must also raise awareness of the moral repercussions of illegal drug use. We must make potential victims of the scourge of drug abuse fully aware of the human rights abuses, criminality, violence and exploitation which is a direct result of the drug trade the users' demand maintains. At every step of the delivery of drugs, from the field or factory to the user, crime is committed, rights are trodden on and lives are endangered. The spread of prostitution and other criminal activities are mostly linked to the illegal drug trade.

We read every day of the gang warfare here and elsewhere in Europe, resulting in the shooting in Spain in the past few days, which arises from the drug trade. That is only the tip of the iceberg. Awareness campaigns must inform people of the practices such as exploitation of minors in the supply chain of illegal drugs. Any awareness campaign which will turn potential users away from the so-called drug scene is a weapon in the struggle against substance abuse and will complement education about the direct dangers of drugs. I make that point in respect of all drugs. Some would advocate the use of cannabis. It is the gateway drug for users of illegal drugs. Equally, alcohol is a gateway drug.

I am aware the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform has received the recommendations of a committee and he will consider the limitation of the sale of alcohol through filling stations and large multiples who sell alcohol at cut prices. This Christmas and last Christmas, alcohol was probably cheaper than it was ten years ago in many cases. There are many special offers. One only has to see the number of people carrying crates of beer from off-licences. A large number of people have house parties now as opposed to drinking in a bar or hotel where there was control by the licensee.

There are a large number of people who succumb to drug use as a result of their economic and-or social circumstances. The elimination of such circumstances is an ongoing part of the quest for a better society and such efforts must continue. When I was in the Department the methadone treatment programme was at a very early stage. I recall representations being made to me on one tour of inner Dublin for a particular individual who wanted to use the methadone method to keep him on the straight and narrow.

The problem of drugs in gaols is very difficult to control. Despite constant supervision by the Garda authorities and the prison officers it is difficult to eliminate the problem in our prisons. It is clear, therefore, that recognising the epidemic of drug use is an important statement but it is just a first step. We must continue to crack down directly on everyone involved in the drug trade but our approach could broaden to incorporate real education about the nature of the drug trade.

The National Drugs Strategy 2001-2008 established an inter-departmental group to oversee the implementation of the strategy and as that strategy draws to a close we must redouble our efforts in this area. Despite the current worrying trends, in general Ireland has a relatively good record on illegal drug use but it must be remembered that in a successful, healthy, First World country, one death from drug use is too many.

The recent high profile deaths drew this problem to the attention of the public but we should renew our efforts to eliminate the importation and distribution of drugs. The undercover Garda surveillance is vital in that regard. There is a supply chain in operation for people who are very mobile, and I will say no more than that, but it is evident to me that this is the case. I ask the Garda Síochána and the new Commissioner to take a heavy hand in this regard and try to eliminate the availability of drugs in our towns and cities and among our young people.


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