Seanad debates

Tuesday, 13 December 2016

Commencement Matters

National Drugs Strategy

2:30 pm

Photo of Lynn RuaneLynn Ruane (Independent) | Oireachtas source

I thank the Minister of State for her time. Last week, as I was submitting this Commencement matter for debate, it struck me that what I want to discuss is how best the two briefs in the Minister of State's remit can be combined. It is no coincidence that responsibility for communities and the national drugs strategy were placed with the same Minister of State portfolio, as it seems extraordinarily clear that a close and symbiotic relationship exists between the two issues.

The Health Research Board's report shows that in 2014, 697 drug-related deaths occurred, which is a 62% increase since 2004. The community has a clear and vital role to play in how we formulate drug and alcohol policy. I call on the Minister of State to formally recognise this crucial role in the new national drugs strategy and include community as a pillar.The inclusion of a new community pillar in our national response to drugs would place communities at the centre of our drugs strategy in a number of ways. The principal reason that a national drugs strategy exists in the first place is because of the actions of besieged and desperate communities in the 1980s. The slow State response to the heroin epidemic that ravaged our communities in that period empowered them to apply upward pressure and force the State to respond in the form of the Rabbitte ministerial reports and the establishment of local drugs task forces. As a result, communities became responsible for the creation of a strategy and supporting it from the beginning despite their role not formally being recognised.

I am calling on the Minister of State to give that formal recognition now, given the risk of problematic drug use being medicalised and overtly focused on the individual drug user as well as the risk of a new drugs strategy operating without any reference to the social context in which drug use happens. Drug use is entrenched in our communities and, as a result, community participation is central in addressing its multifaceted nature. The strategy's effectiveness would be amplified by unequivocal support for communities on the ground. Community development could be the methodology through which we built bridges between drug users, the wider community and the national strategy. If we do not do this but continue viewing drug use as an issue that only affects the individual, the socioeconomic origins of problematic drug use will not and cannot change.

I hope that the call I am making is a constructive one. It could allow a new national drugs strategy to have a successful and long-term impact. A community pillar is a question of creating equality of conditions in people's lives. A new strategy needs to incorporate how we address the inequalities that result in issues relating to drug use. If the Minister of State wishes the strategy to have a lasting and meaningful impact, we must recognise these inequalities and determine how to can change the nature and patterns of drug use and the conditions in the lives of our citizens that lead to them in the first place. There is a strong and clear relationship between drug use and inequality. A successful drugs strategy needs to recognise this.

The Department has just completed a public consultation on the strategy. While I welcomed the opportunity given to stakeholders to contribute to policy formulation, I was concerned that the relatively short six-week period might have meant that community organisations were unable to make sufficiently detailed and robust submissions. That is why I am raising this matter.

The strategy is nearing completion and a community role would need some time to be developed at a policy level. I call on the Minister of State to include a reference to a community role that would allow her Department and stakeholders to work on the practicalities. I recognise the important work that the Department is doing and there have been several thousand submissions. I wish the Minister of State well in that endeavour and look forward to working with her when the strategy is complete.


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