Thursday, 11 March 2010
Head Shops: Statements (Resumed)
Nicky McFadden (Fine Gael)
I welcome the Minister of State to the House and thank him for his keen interest in this matter. I believe he has adopted a hands-on approach and is highly attuned to this serious issue. I raised this issue in the House approximately two years ago. I recounted how a mother had told me that her 14-year-old son had been about to take his own life in the River Shannon when she, for a reason she cannot explain to this day, decided to ring him. While this is the reason he is still alive, he ended up in intensive care in Portiuncula Hospital, Ballinasloe, and it took him months to recover from the induced psychosis arising from the substances with which he had tampered from such head shops. I am sure other Members can identify with me when I note that other parents of youngsters have approached me about this issue subsequently.
A number of such head shops operate in the Mullingar and Athlone areas. It is something of a myth to suggest this phenomenon is Dublin-based, as head shops exist throughout the country. As Senator Glynn has correctly observed, it is a huge revenue-generating business. Consequently, a double standard is in operation whereby the Government is prepared to take money from shops that Members simultaneously are castigating. This issue probably should be addressed, if possible. A disturbing feature is that head shops now remain open late into the night. They wait until after the closure of nightclubs and perform delivery services. I wonder whether it would be possible to use the planning laws to close them down. Another frightening fact is that scientific developments have enabled the manufacture of products which replicate heroin and cocaine. Although the packages in which such substances are sold are marked "unfit for human consumption", the vendors are getting away with it. Legislation should be put in place on this issue as a matter of extreme urgency. I believe that regulation is insufficient and that head shops should be closed down. They sell paraphernalia such as pipes and all sorts of equipment that can be used to smoke or inject illegal substances. Moreover, such products are being blatantly advertised in the head shop windows. Gardaí are wringing their hands in absolute frustration. They have expressed to me their frustration regarding the devastation such head shops are causing. One must wake up and acknowledge this blatantly is going on and, in the Athlone area at least, has been going on for years.
Another issue concerns the present vigilantism in respect of head shops. I notice the arson attacks on head shops in Dublin in which premises were burned down. Only yesterday in Athlone, the entire main street was closed down because two incendiary devices were placed outside head shops. This is a highly worrying trend because it appears as though the public now are beginning to take the law into their own hands. Alternatively, as a colleague noted in the House last week, drug barons may be responsible. The latter are losing their position because rather than going to drug pushers to get heroin and cocaine, young people are availing of the substances stocked in head shops. I believe such people are responsible. Moreover, the incendiary devices found in Athlone yesterday were not hoaxes but were life-threatening mechanisms and it was lucky that no one was killed. As for the siege-like conditions in Athlone yesterday, the question is whether drug barons or concerned people were responsible. I assume the former. Yesterday, I appealed to the people of my local area not to take the law into their own hands but to leave the issue to the legislation and to the Garda. This is the reason I believe it is incumbent on the Minister of State to urgently put in place legislation that will ban these people once and for all and will put them out of business.
I have nothing further to add except to thank the Minister of State for his concern and for the time he has spent in meeting people who are down on their luck, as some people think there is nowhere to turn, except to such substances. I appreciate the Minister of State's concern and involvement with those who are down on their luck.