Seanad debates

Thursday, 11 March 2010

Head Shops: Statements (Resumed)


1:00 pm

Photo of Frances FitzgeraldFrances Fitzgerald (Fine Gael)

It is similar to such a menu. Rather than food, however, it advertises the various products on offer at the shop. It also contains the nonsensical declaration that products will be supplied only to those over 18 years of age and that photo ID will be required. That is a complete farce. Furthermore, the flyer lists information relating to delivery times, delivery charges and the fact the home delivery service applies to all areas of Dublin.

Parents are very concerned about this and I would like to know whether any action can be taken. What issues arise with regard to the distribution of and the information contained in the flyer?

I am sure that, like me, the Minister of State has been contacted by many concerned parents. I received a letter from a woman who lived in Spain at a time when the sale of blocks of cannabis resin through tobacco kiosks was legalised. She explained that the experiment was abandoned after two years as drug dealers undercut the kiosks and offered higher highs. She stated that it has taken Spain years to claw back from the social harm and questions whether it has done so. She expressed concern for her children because of the flyers coming in the door. It is a very particular issue.

The flyer describes a list of products available. People know the meaning of these products and the question of what is in the products and the dangers they may cause is very serious. We received a number of reports from hospitals and my colleague, Senator Buttimer, put on the record what was happening in hospitals in Cork. He mentioned that over one weekend five young people were examined in the Mercy University Hospital following adverse reactions to legal highs. The risks to young people posed by these shops are very serious. Doctors from accident and emergency units in Dublin and elsewhere have discussed the health effects of some of these products.

Flyers being delivered to homes raises issues about the availability of and access to these products. It heightens the concerns of parents particularly. It seems to be as easy to order products from these shops as it is to order a takeaway pizza. I have a number of questions on which everybody wants further information and clarity. What is the timeframe for the legislation to restrict the sale of these products? Does the Minister of State believe it can be done? What element of cross-departmental work is being done to pull together the various elements of addressing this issue? Issues are raised on planning, health, education and safety. Will the Minister of State provide an update to the House on the work being done to address the availability of these products at EU level? How does Ireland compare at present? What does the Minister of State consider will be the type of controls we will be able to put in place? Does the Government intend to work with local authorities to provide planning regulations to restrict the opening of these shops, limit where they can locate and restrict their trading hours? My colleague in the Dáil, Deputy Reilly, suggest that the Finance Bill might be used in an approach to license these shops, with a very high licensing bar put on them. He wondered whether this would be feasible to discourage the opening of more of these premises.

Issues are also raised for the Department of Education and Science. Teachers get very concerned when we ask schools to do even more but it is clear that schools are already very concerned about the use of drugs and alcohol and students presenting under the influence of these products in various ways. This is another issue in which there is a role for the Department of Education and Science.

It would be helpful for us to know about the actual health impact of what is being sold. How much data does the Minister of State have on this at present? Is there enough data available on it? There is much speculation and discussion on the products and what is in them and we have heard medical evidence that they have effects, but do we have much data available at either an EU level or in Ireland? Is the Garda Síochána clear that the products being sold are legal?

To deal with the issue, a multifaceted approach is needed. I do not think a vigilante approach is the right one but communities are concerned and have expressed their views on the establishment of these shops. The best way for the Government to act is to ensure all relevant stakeholders, namely, the Garda, health professionals, educationalists, the Government, local authorities, business communities and communities themselves are brought together, understand the approach, and are clear about the threats, what can be done and what the Government is doing to manage the issue. The availability of premises to open such businesses is also a factor.

Is it possible for the legislation to be brought forward? Is the Minister of State confident it will come through in June? Will he outline his response to the other issues I raised which impact on this matter? If we see action in planning, licensing, education and justice, the anxieties people have can be reduced. Will the Minister of State also address the matter of the flyers being distributed? Is it possible to do something about them or are the people involved cleverly getting around the law as they did in establishing the shops? I look forward to hearing what the Minister of State has to say about the Government's progress in tackling this very current issue.


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