Seanad debates

Thursday, 11 March 2010

Head Shops: Statements (Resumed)


1:00 pm

Photo of Denis O'DonovanDenis O'Donovan (Fianna Fail)

I welcome the Minister of State to the House. I do not have a prepared script but I have a significant interest in this area. I encourage the Minister of State to tackle this appalling vista as soon as possible. I do not know where we are going in our lives. I felt like quoting something from Thackeray but I thought I would bore the House. There seems to be a phenomenon about getting high and getting over those highs. We also read much about threats to the head shops and a number of arson attacks have taken place, including two in Dublin. One wonders whether these are the work of concerned citizens or irreputable drug dealers who see the shops as eating into their ill-gotten gains. As a parent it is of concern that these head shops have sprung up almost unnoticed throughout the country. As far as I am aware, in my constituency of Cork South-West, which is remote although I know we have made a name for the importation of large quantities of drugs off our coastline, four or five of them have opened in towns.

Recently, I came across a constituent who, because business had gone quiet, closed a particular office and wanted to let out the premises to a legitimate small retail unit. Lo and behold he had to deal with all types of planning and restrictions and the Valuation Office re-rated the property even though very few changes were made, perhaps just a new front window and internal alterations. Is it appropriate that people selling hallucinogens or drugs of any description in chemical format can obtain permission for planning or change of use without any application? Do the enforcement sections of local authorities, be they the urban councils of old, county councils or city corporations, have any input on such properties or licensing? Is it possible to impose stricter controls on these? I am sure a person opening a chemist's shop would have to deal with regulations from the pharmaceutical industry and the profession on such shops being opened.

Recently in Limerick, and I do not doubt the rights or wrongs of the issue, a large public debate took place about somebody who opened a shebeen. It also happened in Donegal. Those responsible were brought to court for selling intoxicating liquor. Based on my life to date, the highs, or lows, experienced from imbibing a few drinks would not match the alleged intensity of hallucinogenic drugs taken primarily by young people who are the target market. Home distilleries for brewing the mountain dew, poitín, are like the dodo, nearly extinct. There are laws to deal with such activities.

I note the strong views of the Minister of State, Deputy Curran, who has responsibility for the area. He has expressed, in the House and outside of it, his deep and serious concerns on head shops. We should use a more appropriate name. The name head shop brings to mind a head massage or psychotherapy to clear one's thought processes. I do not welcome such outlets under any guise. The Minister of State explained previously that if one bans 25 types of drug or chemical components, within a year or two the drugs reappear under a different name with a slightly different composition. Given the situation, it is impossible to play catch-up. To use a fishing analogy, the approach to take would be to throw one's trawl deep enough and wide enough so that such shops should be licensed and require proper planning. They should not be allowed at all. Unfortunately, for various reasons, many in society need to go to pharmacists and doctors for drugs, perhaps to come down from a high.

I record my deep concern about the situation that exists which is uncontrolled and unregulated. It is about time the Minister of State grasped the nettle to deal with these atrocious outlets that drive primarily young people, many of whom are teenagers, around the bend. It is a concern for parents and we should tackle it with the greatest vigour. I have no doubt the Minister of State will do that. I have great faith in his ability to deal with the matter and his desire to tackle it head on.


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