Seanad debates

Wednesday, 27 February 2008

7:00 pm

Photo of Frances FitzgeraldFrances Fitzgerald (Fine Gael)
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I welcome the Minister of State at the Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs with responsibility for drugs strategy and community affairs, Deputy Pat Carey, and thank him for taking this Adjournment matter regarding the need to outline the reason the benchmarking pay award has not been paid to some staff who work for local drugs task forces.

It has been brought to my attention that employees of the Clondalkin drugs task force, which is in my constituency, received a Labour Court decision in 2005 that, for the purposes of pay, they should be aligned to HSE grades and for that reason should be eligible for benchmarking payments. Subsequent meetings held between the Department of Finance and IMPACT on behalf of the employees resulted in an agreement by the Department that the payments should be awarded to the staff members. However, the HSE, as one of the main funding sources for drugs task forces, has proved unwilling to seriously engage in terms of facilitating the award. The resulting uncertainty among groups which are trying to address the issue of drugs can be imagined. It means that people who do valuable work in the community are leaving certain projects for other employment and it is a complete disincentive for recruitment. Unease has arisen because colleagues are being paid different rates for effectively doing the same job and a number of people are on lesser salaries than more recently recruited staff. These anomalies are creating uncertainty and unhappiness for staff of the drugs task forces.

I attended a meeting at which people working on a variety of projects came together to consider their next steps. I hope the Minister of State will be in a position to inform the House whether he hopes progress can be made. If the Labour Court ruled that the payment should be made and if the Department of Finance, unusually, concurred with that view, there is no reason for a State body such as the HSE to stand in the way. I urge the Minister of State to intervene with the HSE to facilitate the payment of the award to the relevant employees.

Photo of Pat CareyPat Carey (Minister of State with special responsibility for Drugs Strategy and Community Affairs, Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs; Dublin North West, Fianna Fail)
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Members will be fully conversant with the background to the establishment of local drugs taskforces, LDTFs, as a result of the Rabbitte report. Staff were seconded to the task forces from the health boards and development workers and other staff were recruited. At the end of the first round, some projects were mainstreamed into Departments and Government agencies. That is the point at which the anomalies began to arise. The situation has developed in that regional drugs taskforces, RDTFs, are in place throughout the country. An attempt has been made to ensure the anomalies which arose in the early days are not replicated.

LDTFs were established in 1997 in the areas considered to be experiencing the worst levels of opiate misuse and are an important element of the Government's overall response to tackling drug misuse. Twelve areas in Dublin were identified and Cork city and Bray were added in 2000. The work of the LDTFs is an important element of the overall national drugs strategy. Their role is to prepare and implement local action plans which aim to identify existing and emerging gaps in services in respect of each of the pillars of the strategy and to support a range of measures for treatment, rehabilitation, education, prevention and curbing local supply. In addition, the LDTFs provide a mechanism for the co-ordination of services and strategies in these areas while at the same time allowing local communities and voluntary organisations to participate in the planning, design and delivery of services. The measures being implemented by the LDTFs are designed to complement and add value to the range of interventions being delivered through State agencies.

Membership of the LDTFs comprises representatives of all the relevant agencies, including Departments, the Health Service Executive, the Garda Síochána, the probation and welfare service, relevant local authorities, elected public representatives, the youth service, FÁS, voluntary agencies and community representatives. More than 440 community based projects, including those under the emerging needs fund, have been established across the 14 LDTF areas, with employment of more than 300 people. The type of projects being supported range from delivering services such as advice and support for drug misusers and their families, community drug teams offering treatment, outreach and crisis intervention services and drug training programmes for community groups. The 2008 current allocation for the LDTFs is €22 million and they can also avail of capital funding under the premises initiative.

The ten RDTFs were set up in 2003 to cover all parts of the country not covered by an LDTF and thus achieving full coverage of the country. Following extensive consultation processes, each RDTF prepared a strategic plan and the implementation of these plans is now progressing. With the increased level of activity at RDTF level, I am satisfied that drug task forces are making considerable progress across the country in regard to the problems of illicit drugs.

My Department has started taking the initial steps that will lead to the drafting of a new national drugs strategy for the period 2009-16. I have established a steering group comprising representatives of the key statutory, community and voluntary players to make recommendations to me on a new strategy. Its work will include extensive consultation with various interested parties and the public at large. Advertisements appeared in yesterday's national newspapers inviting submissions on the scope and direction of the new strategy by 4 April. However, we will be happy to accept submissions from organisations subsequent to that date. I encourage Members and everyone else with an interest in this area to take the opportunity over the coming months to make an input into the new strategy.

All the LDTFs have undertaken a strategic review and planning process which is a stocktaking exercise on the needs to be addressed in their areas. This process will help to form a view as to the extent to which current service provision meets the identified needs under the pillars of the NDS, inform partnership-collaborative working for the delivery of essential local services and determine future priorities. In this way, the knowledge, experience and expertise of the LDTFs will continue to be acknowledged and will help shape the national drugs strategy 2009-16.

I turn to the issue the Senator raised. My Department has been working closely with the Department of Finance, IMPACT, the local drugs task force in question and other project representatives and liaising with the national drugs strategy team on the salary adjustment process for workers on interim funded LDTF projects.

A productivity, flexibility, modernisation and verification template has been agreed by all the parties I mentioned. Adjusted scales, payment of arrears and application of the Towards 2016 increases that may become due in March and September 2008 are conditional on the template being signed up to by each interim funded project.

The template identifies four areas to be delivered on by the projects, such as quality service delivery covering, among others, measures such as agreeing and implementing a customer charter and a customer complaints procedure. Under performance management, job descriptions, key competencies and objectives with target dates and performance measurement indicators would be drawn up with a commitment to increased flexibility in regard to working arrangements. The effectiveness audit and value for money element relate to a process of ongoing review of services delivered to confirm their continued relevance to customer needs and whether they represent the best use of resources. Promote Partnership Working promotes working across agencies and projects to better meet the needs of the customers.

The LDTF in question has completed the template. In association with the Department of Finance and the NDST, my officials are examining the arrears claims for the workers involved and when they are satisfied the information provided is in order, the appropriate payments will be processed. I expect this process to be finalised shortly.

A number of other issues arise in the context of the way this process has developed over the past ten years or so. Not all of them are at the stage of final resolution. The national drugs strategy team, the officials in my Department and in the Department of Finance and the union concerned are extremely anxious to reach a solution in respect of all the outstanding matters. I am very committed to ensuring they are resolved. We will not be in a position to roll out the next phase of the strategy unless outstanding issues, such as this, are put to bed.

The Senator referred to the HSE and other organisations in which projects have been mainstreamed. I do not want to anticipate difficulties but I do not anticipate an easy resolution to some of the issues. In so far as we can, we will be able to resolve most of them.

Photo of Frances FitzgeraldFrances Fitzgerald (Fine Gael)
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The Minister of State said the LDTF has completed the template.

Photo of Pat CareyPat Carey (Minister of State with special responsibility for Drugs Strategy and Community Affairs, Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs; Dublin North West, Fianna Fail)
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I do not have a copy of it with me.

Photo of Frances FitzgeraldFrances Fitzgerald (Fine Gael)
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Does that mean it is not dependent on all the other drugs task forces completing the template? Can the Minister of State deal with the issue as each drugs task force completes the template?

Photo of Pat CareyPat Carey (Minister of State with special responsibility for Drugs Strategy and Community Affairs, Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs; Dublin North West, Fianna Fail)
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Ideally, I would like everyone to sign up to everything as soon as possible. However, we are anxious not to leave workers, who are dependent on these arrears and on the security of their positions, swinging. We are anxious to resolve the issue, even on a case by case basis.