Wednesday, 25 January 2017
Drug and Alcohol Task Forces
I welcome the Minister of State and thank her for coming to the House to address the lack of a co-ordinator post within the South Inner City Local Drugs and Alcohol Task Force. I hope she has good news for me in order that the issue can be resolved today to the benefit of the community.
The staff of the task force had intended to be present for this debate, but they were unable to come because of the pressure they were under. I hope I will be passing on the good news to them immediately after the debate.
Two years ago, following the retirement of the long-serving co-ordinator of the South Inner City Local Drugs and Alcohol Task Force, the co-ordinator post was removed without notice by the HSE. It should be noted that the co-ordinator post was filled by the sole staff member of the project. This unfair and apparently deceptive action has had a detrimental effect on the needs of the local community. The continuing failure of the authorities to provide an explanation, reason or rationale for this decision makes it all the worse.
For the past 24 months, volunteers have been attempting to administer and co-ordinate the task force on a part-time basis. They have staggered and stepped. They have put in extra hours and many of their own resources, but the lack of the post has not been addressed. I applaud them for their work, in the absence of which the entire task force would have been stood down by this point. When some of the people concerned met one of the Minister of State's colleagues in September 2016, they were led to believe steps would be taken to recruit a co-ordinator within a reasonable timeframe, but that has not happened. I need the Minister of State to clarify a number of points. Why was the post removed in the first place? Who made the decision? Will the Minister of State outline the steps that have been taken since the meeting with the group in September last year to ensure the co-ordinator post will be reinstated? Will she confirm that the post will be reinstated? What timeframe can we expect for the recruitment of a co-ordinator?
Some funding was provided on a piecemeal basis for the task force to support the work it was doing. This was like putting a band aid over the gaping wound in the area. This money was stripped from other front-line services which cannot afford to lose any more money, having previously lost money which had been ring-fenced for various projects. Other task forces in the area have had extra staff supplied to them recently. I am not trying to act in a tit for tat manner when I mention that task forces which already had staff were given extra staff, while staff were removed from the South Inner City Local Drugs and Alcohol Task Force. The addition of alcohol to the ambit of the drugs task forces some years ago placed an even more significant onus on one person whose job has been taken away. I appeal to the Minister of State who is responsible for the Public Health (Alcohol) Bill to reconsider this aspect of the matter in the context of that legislation. This has become an onerous job since responsibility for alcohol issues was merged with the work of the drugs task forces.
I am concerned that there is no one to lead the promotion of health, well-being, diversion, improvement and rehabilitation from the scourge of drugs and alcohol in communities. Will the Minister of State explain why the post of co-ordinator of this service which is based in Ballyfermot was removed without notice? Will she reassure me, the staff and the clients of the service that the post will be reinstated? I would like the issue to be addressed comprehensively because it is having a direct effect on my constituency and that of the Minister of State, Deputy Catherine Byrne, Dublin South-Central. I ask the Minister of State to outline her plan to resolve the matter. I am aware of her grá for the Public Health (Alcohol) Bill, as I mentioned. All of this ties in for the well-being of the country, especially communities that have been devastated by alcohol and drug issues.