Seanad debates

Wednesday, 6 February 2008

National Waste Strategy: Statements


5:00 pm

Photo of Jim WalshJim Walsh (Fianna Fail)

Human addiction of any sort is a serious affliction and while the motion deals with the misuse of alcohol and illegal drug use, I would be inclined to add to that the consumption of cigarettes which in itself is injurious and now fully accepted as a serious health hazard. Today, Ash Wednesday, is the appropriate day to talk about that because we all know people who, because of their addiction to cigarettes, make numerous attempts to give up the practice of smoking but find they are unable to do so because of their addiction to nicotine, even though they know it has an adverse effect on their health.

That is interesting because whether we are talking about drug barons, cigarette companies or whatever, they are all driven by profit. In some of the emerging democracies in eastern Europe, and in the Far East, the smoking of cigarettes is at a much higher level because the cigarette companies target economies such as those. I wonder if any analysis was done of the socio-economic groups who suffer from various cancers as a result of smoking cigarettes because until recent years advertisers were allowed sponsor various sporting organisations. We must be more in tune with the need to deal with the supply and demand issue, as identified by Senator Leyden. It must be tackled at both levels. Regarding supply, advertising and other practices of these companies should be prohibited. In the run-up to the budget, the Irish Cancer Society and other bodies call for the imposition of higher taxes on these products. I accept that price has an impact on the level of use.

Everything in moderation is acceptable, certainly in respect of alcohol. We have a serious drink culture in this country. A friend in the hotel business was reminiscing about going out for a drink in our younger days. He said that one never went out to get drunk. If one happened to have a few bob more than normal, one might have got drunk. He now sees young people coming to his premises and other establishments with the intention of getting stoned. The effects of this on their health, and on the health of others, is very serious.

I recall a project many moons ago in junior chamber, which identified alcohol as the fourth major cause of death in this country. We do not fully realise the health issue of alcoholism, apart from the adverse health effects of too much consumption. We allow these organisations to sponsor events that target the youth. We must be much stricter if we are serious about the issue. As is the case with all addictions, our education system must place greater emphasis on the dangers, risks and consequences of becoming addicted.

We respond to headlines in the newspapers. The Opposition benches would not be empty if this debate took place one month ago because a number of young people lost their lives due to the drugs situation in this country. It was topical at the time but, when that fades from the media, it is important that our intent and determination to tackle the issue is as strong as at the time of the publicity. It is sad to see so many young lives lost or blighted by the use of illegal drugs.

I do not know how we should tackle this. If we - I refer not just to the Government or Ireland but every state across the globe - continue to deal with it in this manner, Members will sit in this Chamber debating the same problems 50 years from now. We need new initiatives. I do not know enough about the topic to advocate examining the legalisation of some drugs. We cannot do that on our own but it strikes me that there is merit in the issue being examined at a European level, perhaps at the level of the Commission. This must be examined in a co-ordinated fashion.

Many young people tell me that any drug is available in any town or village within hours. Often, the public and the authorities know the players in criminal activity in the drug field. In recent days we have seen people involved in this trade fall foul of each other and murder each other. They are known to people in the media and gardaí in this city but they are free to operate. This is true of cities in Holland as well as of Dublin. It seems our criminal justice system allows this to happen. Much of this is driven by ensuring that human rights conventions and entitlements are not transgressed. From society's point of view, it seems illogical. If one was starting again, writing a code of laws, I doubt if one would allow known criminals, who bring such devastation on society - particularly on the younger generation - to be known and yet to be free. There is a contradiction in this and the whole area on the supply side must be examined.

When such major profits can be made we cannot continue to tackle it in this way. Despite the best efforts of the Garda Síochána the recent €10 million and €5 million drug hauls are the tip of the iceberg that is the multi-billion euro industry of the drugs trade. We can talk until the cows come home but we need action. We must examine this global criminal activity in a cohesive way across the globe. If we fail to do so, we will be discussing this issue many decades from now. If we combine a different approach on the supply side with tackling the demand side through greater focus on education and families, we can hope to improve on the current situation.


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