Seanad debates

Thursday, 23 June 2016

Misuse of Drugs (Amendment) Bill 2016: Second Stage


Question proposed: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

10:30 am

Photo of Simon HarrisSimon Harris (Wicklow, Fine Gael)
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I am pleased to present this Bill to amend the Misuse of Drugs Act 1977. I hope with the co-operation of Senators and Deputies that it will be possible to have this short but important legislation enacted before the Houses rise for the summer recess. The primary focus of the misuse of drugs legislation is the protection of public health through the prevention of the misuse of dangerous substances. This legislation is also an important element of the Government’s arsenal in the fight against drug dealing and trafficking and consequent gangland crime.

I am presenting this Bill as one part of the whole-of-Government approach to dealing with the serious crime situation in the north inner city of Dublin. Following the recent murders in Dublin’s north inner city, the Government decided to expedite the drafting and publication of parts of the Misuse of Drugs Bill originally scheduled for the autumn. Accordingly, the primary purpose in bringing this Bill forward at this time is to aid the law enforcement functions of An Garda Síochána in tackling crime associated with the illegal sale of certain substances. These are dangerous substances if used incorrectly and every effort must be made to prevent their unlawful sale.

The misuse of drugs legislation has two primary purposes. First, the legislation aims to protect the public by controlling access to substances which have a medical and therapeutic value but which are harmful if misused, such as benzodiazepines, heroin and cocaine. The legislation facilitates the safe use of these controlled drugs by means of ministerial regulations and orders but provides that it is an offence to possess or sell these unless authorised to do so under the regulations.

Second, the legislation aims to protect the public by establishing a system of tight control over dangerous and harmful substances with no therapeutic or other legitimate use. Well-known examples of these would be ecstasy or headshop drugs. These drugs are often manufactured by persons who try to stay ahead of the law by making relatively minor changes to the molecular structure and chemical formula of a known drug to produce one which may not be controlled and, in effect, produce one which is legal. Legal, however, does not mean safe. Accordingly, it is important we regularly update our drugs legislation and, where appropriate, include generic definitions which potentially cover a large number of substances, some of which have not yet appeared on the streets.

The substances controlled under the Act are listed in the Schedule to the Misuse of Drugs Act 1977. This Schedule was amended in March last year by emergency legislation enacted following a Court of Appeal judgment. The Court had struck down the section in the 1977 Act under which the Government could make orders declaring substances to be controlled. As a consequence, all substances controlled by successive Governments since 1977 became legal to possess. The 2015 emergency legislation recontrolled all those substances. It also confirmed several ministerial regulations and orders made under the Act, thereby giving these instruments statutory effect as though they were an Act of the Oireachtas.

The State appealed the judgment to the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court handed down its judgment yesterday in which it stated the Court of Appeal judgment should be set aside. This judgment is most welcome, as it means future control of substances under this Act can once again be made by means of Government order. The rationale for the control of substances under this Bill is still sound, given that we did not know when the Court would hand down its judgment until recently, nor could we be sure that the court would uphold the constitutionality of the legislation.

There is a problem in parts of Dublin and elsewhere in Ireland with the on-street sale of prescription medicines. This is especially true for some medicines not controlled under the misuse of drugs legislation, such as zopiclone, a legitimate medicine used for the treatment of insomnia. Although its sale is illegal under medicines legislation, it is nevertheless being traded on the illicit market owing to its abuse potential. There is ongoing co-operation between the law enforcement agencies concerned including An Garda Síochána, Revenue’s Customs and Excise service and the Health Products Regulatory Authority, HPRA, in tackling this illegal trade with operations and searches carried out where unauthorised activity in prescription medicines is suspected. All this work is most welcome and is to be applauded, as many of the unregulated products which are the subject of this trade clearly pose potential serious health harms.

Notwithstanding this, it is still clear we need urgently to strengthen the legislation in this area, in particular to tackle the street trading in some of these prescription medicines which, in tandem with the increased prevalence in polydrug use seen in recent times, has become a feature of the drugs landscape. Some of the most prevalent products being sold on the street, for example, the zopiclone products used to treat insomnia, remain solely under the medicinal products regulations rather than the Misuse of Drugs Acts. It is possible for persons selling prescription medicines to be charged under the medicines legislation. However, this legislation is framed as a regulatory measure to govern the legitimate trade in these types of product rather than as a criminal code. It is clear there are those who are exploiting this for their own criminal gains.

Problems also exist with abuse and on-street dealing of other medicines already controlled under the misuse of drugs legislation, such as benzodiazepines. However, on-street drug dealers often carry relatively small quantities of drugs on their person, which can make it difficult for the authorities to proceed with sale or supply charges. Accordingly, it is proposed to make unauthorised possession of controlled medicines currently being traded in this way an offence. Bringing uncontrolled medicines under the scope of the Misuse of Drugs Acts, along with applying tighter levels of control governing their supply and that of already controlled medicines, was requested by the Garda. The measures being proposed will certainly help our law enforcement authorities in addressing the criminal street trade in these drugs.

While the illicit trade in these substances is not confined to any area, it is clear this trade has been noticeably prominent in Dublin’s north inner city. This problem has been highlighted by community groups and representatives from the local area, as well as by political colleagues, as one of the priority issues to be addressed as part of the Government’s overall targeted response to issues of concern affecting Dublin’s north inner city. In this respect, the Bill forms part of an overall package of initial measures being introduced by the Government as a priority to strengthen further the hands of our law enforcement authorities in tackling those involved in gangland crime, the devastating effects of which have been so appallingly seen in the recent violence in our capital city.

Similarly, the introduction of controls for the new psychoactive substances listed under the Bill is also essential. These products have been identified as being of harm and have been the subject of much public and political concern. A good example in this regard is the synthetic cannabinoid-type substance, known colloquially as clockwork orange, which the Bill will bring under the misuse of drugs legislative framework. Concerns about the availability and use of this substance, particularly its use in the Cavan-Monaghan region, have been prominently highlighted in recent times. Calls for the controlling of this substance under our Misuse of Drugs Acts have been made in widespread media reports concerning this product. This product was also the subject of much attention and concern expressed at a special joint sitting of the health and justice Oireachtas committees held last July where the harms associated with the use of this substance and similar type products were highlighted. It must be borne in mind that such products are being sold by people who are totally oblivious to the potential threats their use presents. They have already been linked with serious adverse effects, hospitalisations and, sadly in some cases, fatalities in Ireland. Obviously, such an illegal and dangerous trade is totally unacceptable.

To make unauthorised possession of substances an offence, there is a two-step process. The first step is to bring under the scope of the Act substances which are not controlled. This will be done by amending the Schedule. The second step is to introduce regulations to tighten the import, export, prescribing and dispensing controls on these substances and on others which are already controlled but not at a high enough level. During the summer months, work will continue in my Department in drafting these regulations. We anticipate there will be a gap of a number of weeks between enactment of the legislation and the finalisation of the associated ministerial regulations and orders required before the controls can be applied.

The Schedule to the Bill will replace parts of the existing Schedule to the Misuse of Drugs Act. It contains substances controlled by means of the emergency legislation last year, as well as the substances to be controlled under this Bill. These are prescription medicines, or so-called z-drugs, namely zopiclone and zaleplon, used in the treatment of insomnia, as well as lisdexamfetamine, an amphetamine-type medicine authorised for the treatment of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, ADHD. The Schedule also lists two substances found in products selling as clockwork orange, as well as substances which Ireland is required to control under our obligations as a member of the EU and as a party to the United Nations Convention on Narcotic Drugs 1961 and the United Nations Convention on Psychotropic Substances. These are new psychoactive substances known as 25I-NBOMe, 25C-NBOMe, MT-45, 4,4'-DMAR and benzodiazepine phenazepam. A synthetic cannabinoid known as MDMB-CHMICA currently under risk assessment at EU level is the final substance on the list to be controlled. Such new psychoactive substances have already been identified as being of harm, including where their use has been implicated in a number of hospitalisations and, in some cases, fatalities in Ireland and elsewhere. As previously mentioned, listing the substances in the Act is the first part of a two-step process. Regulations are required to regulate the legitimate use of these substances and subject them to the appropriate level of control. Accordingly, the Bill provides for the revocation of the existing regulations. This will enable new regulations to replace them so as to take account of the new substances and regulate their import, export, supply and possession.

The Bill provides for a number of updated definitions of midwives, nurses and practitioners, all of which are consequent on the enactment of the Nurses and Midwives Bill 2011 and the commencement of a new register of nurses and midwives under that legislation. This will ensure references to these persons in the regulations to be made will be up to date.

The Bill provides for the amendment of two sections of the Act to allow for commencement of section 7 of the Irish Medicines (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2006 which provides for the transfer of responsibility for the issuing of licences under the Act from the Minister for Health to the Health Products Regulatory Authority. The proposed amendments will mean that all references in the Act to licences will correctly refer to the authority. While unrelated to the primary purpose of the Bill, it was considered an opportune time to make these amendments so as to finally allow the completion of the transfer of licensing functions from the Minister to the HPRA. While the authority will be responsible for the issue of licences, the Irish Medicines (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2006 provides that it will comply with any directive or guideline issued by the Minister to it in respect of policy on controlled drugs.

The final provision in the Bill is a standard one to provide for a collective citation and that the Bill and preceding misuse of drugs legislation can be construed as one. Significantly, this provision also allows different sections in the Bill to be commenced at different times, thereby allowing the necessary flexibility to revoke confirmed regulations and orders and update them on a phased basis.

Of course, drug supply measures which is what these provisions represent form only one aspect of our overall response to the complex problem of drug misuse. I want to be clear on this because Senator Lynn Ruane and I discussed the matter in a recent Commencement debate. This is not the Government's response to drug addiction; that is to come in the second misuse of drugs (amendment) Bill which is due in the autumn and the new national drugs strategy led by the Minister of State, Deputy Catherine Byrne, which will be published this year. We must continue to prioritise and resolutely address all aspects of the problem which is so corrosive for our society. In that respect and as I previously stated in the House, the Government intends to deliver on the commitment in the programme for Government to having a health-led rather than a criminal justice approach to drugs use. It includes legislating for injection rooms, as I am happy to confirm again. Accordingly, I intend to publish a second misuse of drugs Bill in the autumn to provide for supervised injecting facilities for chronic drug users. I have heard incorrect commentary that we are moving away from that commitment and I am very pleased to correct the record. I know that this will be welcomed, in particular, by Senator Aodhán Ó Ríordáin who advocated for these changes during his recent tenure as Minister of State with responsibility in this area.

A further programme for Government commitment concerns the development of a new national drugs strategy. The strategy is within the remit of my colleague, the Minister of State, Deputy Catherine Byrne. A wide range of stakeholders in the statutory, community and voluntary sectors have been working hard under an independent chairman to oversee a comprehensive review of the current strategy and develop proposals for the future to address this complex human and social problem. The Minister of State, Deputy Catherine Byrne, will take the rest of this legislation through both Houses of the Oireachtas. We will have an opportunity to hear ideas from Senators and Deputies on this and future Bills.

There is significant debate, both nationally and internationally, on the issue of decriminalisation and-or alternative approaches to the current criminal justice approach to the simple possession of small quantities of illegal drugs for personal use. The issue is also live here as part of the ongoing discussions on the drafting of a new national drugs strategy. The development of the new strategy will include a public consultation phase which will provide an opportunity to have a constructive and wide-ranging public dialogue on our current policies and approaches to the issue. It is expected that the steering group will present its report to the Government towards the end of 2016.

By introducing import and export controls and an offence of unauthorised possession for personal use or the supply of these medicines, it is intended to assist the Garda in dealing with the public on-street dealing in these medicines. The Garda is supportive of the legislation. In introducing it we are also taking the opportunity to control a number of dangerous psychoactive drugs, including clockwork orange and drugs from the N-BOMe family.

The Bill is not about targeting addicts but about disrupting gangs and giving An Garda Síochána the power it needs to do so. I hope all Senators will consider backing the Bill to help to ensure its smooth and speedy passage through the Oireachtas before the summer break. I look forward to the more detailed debate on drugs policy, the national drugs strategy and injecting rooms that will take place in the autumn.

Photo of Lorraine Clifford LeeLorraine Clifford Lee (Fianna Fail)
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I thank the Minister and the Minister of State for being present in the House for this debate. I particularly thank the Minister, Deputy Simon Harris, for his helpful explanation of the amendments involved.

Having spoken to community activists from many communities blighted by drugs, in particular, activists in the north inner city, we, in Fianna Fáil, feel compelled to support the Bill. There has been a sharp rise in the number of people presenting with addiction problems associated with these drugs and who have overdosed on them. The fact that they can be sold with impunity and yet have the same effect as other illegal drugs such as heroin, cocaine and cannabis has driven this growth.

I am informed by a community activist in the north inner city that Summerhill is now known as "the sleepy mile", given the prevalence of zopiclone in the area. It is a psychoactive drug with a hypnotic agent often used in the treatment of insomnia. It was linked with 51 deaths due to poisoning in the north inner city in 2013 alone.

The sellers of these prescription drugs arrive in the area at 8 a.m. every day and by the time children are walking to school less than one hour later they are stepping over empty blister packs and witnessing individuals under their influence of these drugs. During the Easter break one community group of residents in the north inner city ran an anti-bullying programme specifically to stop children from being pressured into being lookouts and couriers for dealers while off school for Easter. Activists have widely voiced their view that the trade in zopiclone is now bigger than that in heroin, cocaine and cannabis.

Clockwork orange is another one of the drugs being discussed. It is a head shop drug and a particular problem in countiesd Cavan and Monaghan where it has been associated with two recent deaths. Despite being banned in Ireland since 2010, it is being sold legally in the North and brought to the South for sale. It is designed to mimic the effects of cannabis. Users of the drug have had problems with delusions, hearing voices and suicidal thoughts.

In January this year a number of students in Cork were hospitalised following a house party. They admitted to taking psychoactive substances which the Bill seeks to make illegal. Clearly, there is a huge concern about these drugs and the effect they are having on individuals and communities. However, we, in Fianna Fáil, are very concerned about the cut in the number of gardaí who are working to prevent and investigate drug crime. Areas in Dublin saw a severe reduction in resources for dedicated drugs squads in recent years. The entire Cavan-Monaghan Garda district has no Garda drugs unit and this is the area which has been particularly affected by clockwork orange, as I mentioned. I appeal to the Minister for Justice and Equality to increase substantially Garda numbers in the dedicated drugs units without delay to ensure the Bill, if passed, is to have any meaning

We also call on the Government to invest substantially in the provision of treatment services for addicts of both drugs and alcohol and to ensure services are available across the country, in both urban and rural communities. We cannot simply make these drugs illegal and expect the problem to go away. Making the them illegal is just the first step which needs to happen in conjunction with having properly resourced addiction services, as well as the other essential health, local government and social services. It needs to happen across the country.

Withdrawal symptoms from zopiclone, in particular, are similar to those from heroin and include cramps, nausea and fits, the particular reason many drug treatment centres will not accept users who want to detox as they are not equipped to deal with them. However, detox supervision is necessary, given the risks involved. This often leaves addicts with no safe detox option, which is completely unacceptable.

Last week the Fianna Fáil motion on homelessness was passed unanimously by the House. Contributions made by various Members highlighted the increased poverty levels and the extremely difficult housing problem faced by tens of thousands of people. This reality cannot be divorced from the rise in the level of abuse of prescription drugs. In particular, zopiclone users are primarily homeless. Users have reported that they use the drug to kill the hours of the day and make them forget the reality of their housing problem. In addition, addiction cannot be overcome if housing is overcrowded, inadequate and not permanent. I, therefore, call on the Government to act immediately to resolve the housing crisis and tackle in a meaningful way the problems associated with it such as addiction.

Photo of Colm BurkeColm Burke (Fine Gael)
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I welcome the Minister of State. I congratulate her on her appointment and wish her every success in her new role.I welcome the Bill. Earlier, on the Order of Business, I referred to the Supreme Court judgment which set aside the Court of Criminal Appeal judgment. The reason I referred to that matter was the delegation of powers in respect of bringing in regulations or statutory instruments to add to existing legislation in the drugs area. The drugs available change by the day. It is important, therefore, that the Minister of State and the Department respond in a timely manner. That is what occurred until the Court of Criminal Appeal decision, which held that the SI 551 of 2011 was not constitutional and, therefore, that the conviction in a particular case was not in order. The State appealed the decision to the Supreme Court. It was right to appeal the decision and the judgment issued yesterday clearly sets out that the State was correct in its arguments and that we, as legislators, cannot legislate for every simple detail in respect of what happens on the street every day but we can give an overall view of how we can manage our affairs and then delegate the responsibility to the Minister and the Department. That is what the 1977 Act does and this Bill also does that. The Minister is setting out clear guidelines in respect of the management of the drugs sold illegally and making sure the necessary powers are in place for the Garda and other authorities to deal with them.

This demonstrates how the drugs culture changes by the day. A number of months ago, a 16 year old in transition year was in my office in Dublin and he advised me that he had worked with a GP in a methadone clinic in the Dublin area. He outlined that the blue light system, which was used in many public places to prevent people injecting, is null and void. People purchase small sachets of lemon juice to put into the syringe in order that if they do not hit a vein, the lemon juice will react to their tissue, giving a sting. They know this whether they are hitting the vein. As a result, the blue lights in toilets no longer have the same effect as they had previously. A 16 year old was able to update me on this issue. It goes to show how the matter changes so fast. The importance of this legislation is to make sure we likewise can react quickly and we are not relying on legislation to address every detail that needs to be changed. The Minister of State is correct to bring this legislation forward because we need to respond.

A number of colleagues highlighted the issue of the slowness to respond to the challenges that affect some areas. This issue is not confined to Dublin. Some people may be under the impression that Dublin is the only place with this problem. However, every place in the State is affected. The availability of drugs and the misuse of them is an increasing problem and it will continue to increase. We will have to work through a process to make sure adequate resources are available to the Garda and the health services to deal with this.

I welcome the legislation. It is important to support the Minister of State and to make sure new regulations are introduced in a fast and efficient manner. Yesterday's Supreme Court decision highlighted the fact that when SIs are laid before the House, we have the right, as legislators, to amend them if we feel they exceed the powers of the legislation. There are, therefore, controls and checks and balances in place. Sometimes we forget that we have an important power to challenge regulations brought forward by Ministers or Departments and laid before the House. It is important that the legislation should pass at the earliest date and the subsequent regulations and statutory instruments are brought forward in a timely manner in order that the relevant powers are given to the authorities to deal with the illegal trading of drugs and other substances and limits and controls are put in place to make sure the problem does not continue to expand in the way it has over the past two years. I thank the Minister of State for bringing the Bill forward.

Photo of David NorrisDavid Norris (Independent)
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I was interested to hear what the Minister of State's predecessor had to say. I particularly welcome Deputy Byrne because Part 2 provides for public consultation on relaxation of the criminalisation of all drugs. This is an important matter, which I fully support. It is sad that so many in our society feel it necessary to obliterate their consciousness and to remove themselves from contact with reality and with society. I recall the phrase used in the 1960s: "Tune in, turn on and drop out". We all thought it was a bit of a laugh but this is far from a laugh. Almost 30 years ago, I advocated the decriminalisation of drugs in the House. I did so not because I was in favour of pushing drugs and so on, although I have no problem whatever with cannabis. It is a recreational drug and I do not see any great problem with it, as it much less harmful than alcohol. However, I was not advocating the taking of drugs but I was looking at the situation simply from an abstract point of view.

Money is driving the drugs epidemic. There is a financial incentive and if that is removed and the impetus that drives people towards selling drugs destroyed, a large part of the problem would be obviated.

Experiments were conducted in England and Holland through which heroin was made available free of charge. One was conducted by a priest and a doctor in Liverpool. They were closed down eventually, even though they reduced crime levels by 80%. There has been a huge change in this country since I was a child. I am aged 72 now but when I was a child, I never heard of drugs. I would see some boozing around the docklands area and so on but there was no such thing as drugs. I am fed up as a resident of the north inner city at the way this area of our capital city is treated by the city authorities and by Government. It has been stripped of every decent institution and facility but drug treatment facilities and so on have been dumped in residential areas. It is absolutely outrageous. The people living in the north inner city are never considered.

This type of legislation is not a legitimate response. The explanatory memorandum states it is an important element in the Government's arsenal in the fight against drug dealing and trafficking and consequent gangland crime. There may be a marginal impact but I have lived there for 40 years and I have witnessed this area being systematically starved of investment, except on the occasion my late friend and colleague, Tony Gregory, was in the other House campaigning on the issue and secured the Gregory deal. I recall people squealing about the deal and saying, "That is not politics". What else is politics? They were objecting that some little snotty nosed person from the north inner city was doing the deal. That is what got up their noses but I rejoiced in that fact. A long-term solution, not a short-term solution, is needed with massive investment in the north inner city in housing, employment and education.That is the only thing that will stop it. When we see a fleet of consultants and surgeons coming from Summerhill and driving around in their sports cars, we will have the proper role models. Third generation unemployed persons have no hope. They look around and see those involved in selling drugs driving their big cars, with their Spanish villas and so on and who, of course, become role models.

Things have moved on in the 30 years or thereabouts since I made the suggestion that we decriminalise. There are now many laboratory-created psychotropic drugs available. They pose the real danger because we do not really know or understand what they do to the brain. That is one reason I was always careful to avoid the subway in New York after 6 p.m. because one never knew if the person sitting opposite had swallowed something that made one look like a six-headed beetle with hammers and saws instead of arms and legs. They would have been perfectly justified in doing someone in.

On the Bill, the regulations will be laid before the House, but I ask the Minister of the State if the House could be alerted to them because often regulations go through on the nod without being discussed. One does not see them at the back of the Order Paper. Will the Minister of State arrange to have the House alerted when the regulations are placed before it in order that we can have a proper debate on them?

Also, there will be a hiatus between the abolition of the existing regulations and the introduction of new one. Is the Minister of State concerned about what might happen within that period and will she give an indication of how long that period will be?

I would welcome a debate on decriminalisation and so on, but I refer to the possession of small amounts of drugs for personal use. I gather that, officially, there is a fairly relaxed attitude towards this, but how does it square with the statement at the conclusion of the contribution by the Minister, Deputy Simon Harris, that "by introducing import and export controls and an offence of unauthorised possession for personal use..."? What is that about? I thought we were moving towards a position where unauthorised possession for personal use of small amounts would be tolerated to a certain extent. Perhaps that is because drug pushers carry only small amounts of drugs and go to a third person to obtain big amounts. I seek an assurance that the provision will not be used against what I describe as ordinary civilians who just want to smoke a joint on a Saturday night, something many of us have done.

Photo of Kieran O'DonnellKieran O'Donnell (Fine Gael)
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I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Catherine Byrne, and wish her well. She has a great personal interest in this issue, to which she brings a wealth of experience.

I have never smoked a joint.

Photo of David NorrisDavid Norris (Independent)
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The Senator should try it. It would brighten him up.

Photo of Kieran O'DonnellKieran O'Donnell (Fine Gael)
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I thank the Senator. I do not agree with him in saying he does not have a problem with the use of cannabis. I have to say I have a major problem with it. The drug treatment centres tell us that in the past year there has been a huge increase in the numbers of students referred to them for cannabis rather than alcohol use. Cannabis use can lead to a person taking harder drugs. That is what I am hearing as the scientific evidence and as the parent of teenagers, I would not like to see them using cannabis. The Senator was being jocose, but this is a very serious issue. If it is now the norm among students to take cannabis which possibly can lead to the use of harder drugs, it cannot be condoned in any way or allowed to become the norm because it has consequences.

I come from Limerick city which has suffered from gangland crime during the years. The Garda has done tremendous work in dealing with it. It is primarily drugs-related and a problem we have to tackle.

I welcome the legislation, with one caveat. I agree with Senator David Norris on a technical point. We have to make sure the new regulations are in place before the legislation is enacted because if people need to use a drug for legitimate medical reasons, we must ensure a lacuna will not be created whereby, effectively, we will have legislation in place which outlaws its use.

Where people are exploiting the system in creating drugs that are neither legal nor illegal, the legislation and the regulations will fill the void. Furthermore, the Garda can continue to fight crime. We cannot compare people who smoke cannabis at a dinner party for social recreation purposes with those living in poor areas who, in many cases, move on to using heroin. I would not like to see drug use, be it cannabis or some other drug, glamorised, but in some of the comments he made Senator David Norris did this. It is an issue about which I feel very strongly and one we must treat with great care. If students sitting examinations come to a drug treatment centre as a result of smoking cannabis due to stress and it is affecting their academic achievement, there are other issues that need to be dealt with, but telling people to smoke a joint because it will sort out their problems is not the answer. I have a major problem with this.

There was a flippant attitude to the use of drugs during the economic boom when various commentators spoke about taking cocain at dinner parties as if it was the norm. It is not. The Minister of State will know from her experience the devastation drugs wreak. There is no glamour in seeing people walk like zombies down a main street not knowing where they are and who are a danger to themselves and others. Drugs use is not glamorous. Cannabis use is not glamorous.

I very much welcome this legislation and ask the Minster of State to introduce it speedily. The key element is ensuring she works with her officials to bring forward the regulations governing legitimate use as quickly as possible.

An Garda Síochána, in particular, is at the cutting edge in dealing with this issue. I am aware of the fantastic work being done by Superintendent Dave Sheehan and his colleagues in Limerick, but the fight is continuous. The drug lords are making excessive amounts of money on the backs of very poor and disadvantaged individuals, some of whom end up having very short lives, which is not acceptable.

I commend the Bill to the House and look forward to the Minister of State coming before the House again with the regulations. I wish the her well in her brief. People speak about this being a serious debating Chamber. Cannabis use is not good for anyone. I disagree with Senator David Norris on the wider implications of drug use for society and, in particular, individuals.

Photo of Maire DevineMaire Devine (Sinn Fein)
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I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Byrne, to the House and thank the Minister for Health for his statement.

I am not sure whether Senator Kieran O'Donnell carries out research on his claim because it conflicts with his assertions about cannabis. I have dealt with induced psychosis from cannabis but that has more to do with somebody's pre-morbid personality. The matter has nothing to do with this debate today.

Photo of Kieran O'DonnellKieran O'Donnell (Fine Gael)
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I responded to a comment made by Senator Norris.

Photo of Maire DevineMaire Devine (Sinn Fein)
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Yes. Perhaps the matter needs a further conversation.

The Misuse of Drugs Act 1977, as amended in 1984 and 2015, and the Criminal Justice (Psychoactive Substances) Act 2010, are Oireachtas Acts that regulate drugs in this State. These Acts define the penalties for the unlawful production, possession and supply of drugs.

Sinn Féin has voted to support both sets of legislation in both 2010 and 2015. Our party believes that the misuse of drugs should be treated as a public health matter rather than being about the criminalisation of addicts. We favour a holistic and health-based approach to addiction. It is effective and needed.

I want to make it crystal clear that my party has many reservations and severe misgivings about this amendment. We believe it should be taken in isolation rather than being part of a suite of measures issued before us for consideration.

Within the Misuse of Drugs Act substances are scheduled in accordance with this State's obligations under international conventions. Where there is evidence that they cause significant harm to public health in Ireland then we must act. The list of scheduled substances has been kept under review. Action is taken in cases where evidence emerges that substances are being abused and causing significant harm. This is what we are here to debate. As legislators, we must have due regard to any review and the action being requested. The purpose of the Government's amendment is to include prescription drugs, that are commonly known as benzos or Zs, a certain headshop and designer drugs, such as Clockwork Orange, to the existing legislation.

Drugs have a devastating impact on our communities, families and the unfortunate addicts. As suggested by Fianna Fáil, these drugs have overtaken heroin in their usage. There is no difference between dealing in these drugs and dealing in heroin. Drug addiction can be found in every county. Parts of inner city Dublin have been described as an open air supermarket for drugs with dealers feeding on the pain, needs and wants of addicts created by them in the first place. Mams and dads throughout the inner city of Dublin and in my area of Dublin south-central, can stand at the gates to their houses and see young children and adults being used as runners for the drug barons who remain hidden but make a fortune. Parents are afraid to let their children out of their homes. They are fearful that their children will be influenced by what they see on the street. Parents try to shield their children from this reality but that is often impossible. This scourge of drugs is intolerable and unacceptable.

There is an onus on the Government to provide the Garda with powers to tackle the supply of drugs, including the abuse of prescription drugs, and to resource agencies and community groups to tackle drug taking in the community. The Government must also support addicts and users along their road to recovery, not hinder them. When communities get together civic pride takes over and people realise that their place matters. Some of them clean up their areas on a seasonal basis. The bags of debris that are collected contain piles of empty blister packets that once contained benzos such as diazepam, zimovane and zopiclone. Communities are disheartened by their discoveries. People pick up the empty packets and recycle them but the problem remains. Children may pick up the discarded empty packets and think the contents must be special. People are afraid their children will be attracted to the buzz generated by such drugs. Children are especially at risk of emulating the behaviour of younger adults who are involved in this trade.

The Bill on its own will not tackle the scourge of drugs and put the major drug dealers out of business. The Bill is only targeted at a small section of the problem. Proscribing drugs will have no impact unless it is backed up by resolute action to tackle dealers. Communities must receive investment because they have been alienated by successive Governments and the problem has been allowed to fester. The Bill will fail in its aims unless it is matched with additional investment, resources and services.

Sinn Féin, after careful consideration, will vote in favour of the legislation on Second Stage in order to allow it proceed to Committee Stage. At that time we will table meaningful amendments, as is necessary, to strengthen the legislation in line with the vision we set out in a policy document A Better Health Policy for All.

Photo of Lynn RuaneLynn Ruane (Independent)
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I apologise before I start speaking because I am extremely angry and disheartened at the legislation's short-sighted vision for tackling gangs. The legislation is an attack on the addict and does nothing to dismantle the drug trade at a high level. If one went out onto the street right now one will meet people with benzos in their pockets. It is dealing with the person lying in the doorway, the person in the hostel and the young man in an estate. Arresting such people will not bring down the drug trade. This legislation will create a logjam in the prisons and in the courts system. This legislation is the weakest link in the chain. It is simply a reaction to make it look like we are doing something about the north inner city and the drug trade.

I shall outline what happened to drug services over the years. When a drug was banned and when the economy changed, people moved from one drug to another. When heroin disappeared crack cocaine came in. When the economy improved cocaine usage increased. The types of drugs used keeps changing and the services cannot keep up.

We have had a benzo problem for the past 15 years and the services are only just beginning to realise that we need extra beds and equip ourselves to deal with the likes of benzo fits. Now we are going to try and further force benzos out of the market but addicts will shift to another drug. It will take another ten or 15 years for us to cop on to what that drug is and how to deal with it through drugs services. Only a handful of beds are available for addicts coming off benzos. There are a couple of beds in Beaumont Hospital but they have a waiting list of several months. Again, this legislation attacks the addict. Attacking the supply of benzos will lead to addicts suffering benzo fits that may occur in a hostel or at home if they cannot get a hold of drugs.

Empty blister packs were mentioned. People in this city walk across empty bottles and cans every day. My child would not look at an empty blister pack when walking down a road because it is a piece of litter. Drawing attention to empty blister packs is completely irrelevant in this argument. We should be happy that the blister packs are empty and not full because then they would be harmful.

Drug laws have completely failed. Removing drugs at a low level simply plays into the hands of drug dealers. Low level drug dealers will have drugs taken from them. Do Senators think that drug debt will just disappear? No, low level dealers will have to sell a larger quantity of drugs the next time to make up for the quantity that has been taken off them on the street in order to pay the drug dealer that these laws will never reach.

I call on Senators to reconsider what they are doing here. I urge them to have conversations with users of these drugs. Of course, we need to keep them safe and understand what is in these drugs. This legislation does not do that and drives the problem further underground. I am really upset that we are taking 1 million steps backwards in terms of addressing addiction. We can keep saying that this legislation is not addressing addiction and that we will address it as a health matter, but this legislation is an attack on addicts. The legislation will affect injecting rooms at some level. Even if people are allowed to have drugs on them within a certain vicinity of these injecting rooms, if gardaí can arrest people for having zopiclone in their pocket, do Senators think they will not use the fact that there is an injecting room in the city to stand so many feet away from a user in order to make an arrest? If gardaí are seen anywhere near the city centre then users will not avail of the injecting rooms. Known drug users will be afraid to use the injecting rooms for fear of being arrested for the possession of drugs.

I was hopeful at the beginning that Sinn Féin would support my stance but it decided not to do so. I shall table amendments next week but today I ask Senators to reconsider their views before trying to push this legislation through.I am really confused that people cannot see that this does not hit the intended target and that it has unintended consequences of which people are not aware. On this morning's Order of Business I urged that anybody planning to support the Bill should take five minutes to come to talk to me to understand its implications, but nobody did, which was disappointing. Between now and next week when the Bill goes through, I ask that I bring Senators to talk to the people these amendments will affect. The hostels will gladly open up to Senators. Nine out of ten people there are strung out on zopiclone and this affects them because the next time they go to buy something and have a small amount in possession they are at risk of being arrested.

That was a complete rant because I am actually just angry.

Photo of Aodhán Ó RíordáinAodhán Ó Ríordáin (Labour)
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I welcome the Minister of State and wish her well in her endeavours. It is a positive to have a Minister of State with responsibility for the national drugs strategy with the background that she has, and also that she has no other responsibilities and that this will be her main focus.

The Bill arises from the High Court case of March 2015. So we have been waiting for this legislation for over a year. I agree with Senator Ruane's overall remarks in that this legislation flies in the face of what every other western democracy seems to be moving towards, which is to decriminalise the addict, the user, and to focus the attention on the pusher and those who benefit and profit from the drugs trade. I do not believe that having legislation that criminalises someone for possession of an illegal substance does anything for that individual.

In today's debate I have heard words such as "zombies". Other words are used in media to describe people in addiction. A number of months ago two individuals died from heroin overdoses within a couple of hundred yards of each other, one in the toilets of Connolly Station and another man who was found after a number of nights exposed in the open air. These individuals did not make the news. There was no march, petition, public outcry or media interest. At some level collectively, we seem to have decided that addicts are the authors of their own misfortune and, therefore, that their deaths are somehow self-inflicted. If we continue to go along with that type of narrative, we are destined to repeat the failures of the past. I do not believe it should be a criminal offence for a person to be caught in possession of something to which he or she is addicted. I am of the view that it is a waste of Garda time.

I also do not believe this legislation should separate out the issue of injecting centres. In my previous role as Minister of State with responsibility for this area, I felt I had gone a long way down the road of getting cross-party agreement on the part of the Bill relating to injecting centres. It had been passed by Cabinet and was due to be included in this Bill. With the best will in the world, I do not understand why the injecting centre part has been separated to be dealt with at a later stage. It does not make any sense.

My suspicion is that the responsibility of Government to react to the High Court case of March 2015 is foremost in the minds of those in the Department, the Minister of State and the Government, and that any progressive, forward-thinking way of tackling the drugs issue has to take second place. I am concerned and I hope the Minister of State can dampen those concerns and reassure me that the Government will give the same level of priority to the injecting centre model as it is giving to this legislation. However, it is very disappointing that it has separated it out.

If we reinforce what we always done, we will always get what we have always had. People have always taken drugs and it is quite likely they always will. To demonise and criminalise someone who has an addiction problem is in many respects to criminalise marginalisation. A disproportionate number of those who engage in drug misuse come from areas of social disadvantage and are people with disabilities, members of the LGBT community, migrants and Travellers. Statistically, it can be proven that the further people are disconnected from the mainstream of Irish society, the more likely they are to get sucked into addiction. When we criminalise possession of substances for personal use to feed a drugs misuse issue and to feed an addiction, we are criminalising marginalisation. That is effectively what we are doing.

I invite the Minister of State to go to the drug court, if she has not done so already. It is a good initiative with some limited success. Effectively, what one sees there is a bunch of sick people sitting in a courtroom. Sick people do not belong in a courtroom; sick people belong in a medical facility. It is pointless in the extreme to continually suggest that the solution to the drugs issue in Ireland is a criminal justice one. It is not; it is a health solution. We will eventually will come to the conclusion that what has been done in Portugal is a much more humane and potentially successful approach because it puts the needs of the addict at the centre of public policy and does not dehumanise that addict by using words such as "zombie" or terminology that others in the media use openly and without censure, effectively categorising them as being little more than junk.

While my party and I are happy to see this Bill progress to Committee Stage, I am disappointed at the separating out of the injecting centres. This move feeds my suspicion about the commitment to that not being as strong within this Government as it was in the previous one, notwithstanding the Minister of State's personal commitment to the issue. I have no difficulty with controlling substances and continuing to control substances that are causing intense harm. However, if we continue to criminalise the possession of substances to which people are addicted because their bodies are crying out for them, we will continue along the road that has caused so much hurt.

There were 679 drug and alcohol-related deaths in Ireland in 2013. Not all of them were drug-related incidents. Many were traffic-related incidents and many were suicides. Everybody in this Chamber should ask why they did not hear about those two individuals who died of heroin overdoses in a toilet in a train station and a few hundred yards away on Foley Street only three months ago. It may be because we continually blame the person who is the victim.

Photo of Colette KelleherColette Kelleher (Independent)
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I lend my support to the points made by Senators Ruane and Ó Ríordáin in advising the Government against this. My credentials in this matter are based on my experience in working for Cork Simon Community for eight years. There is nothing in the measure before us that would help any person with an addiction such as those I would have worked with. The new legislation has been driven by criminal justice and An Garda Síochána, not by health. As Senator Ó Ríordáin said, people in this situation do not need another summons,. they need help.

I want to share with the House the story of a young woman, Tara, which is not her real name. She is in her 20s - the same age as my daughter. She is what we would call in the clinical world a polydrug user. In other words, she uses many different drugs. I came across her in my time with Cork Simon and we still have a chat and exchange banter. I know her as a person with great spirit and fight. However, she is in serious trouble with housing and her addictions. Her mother died on the streets in Cork in dreadful circumstances. What Tara needs and what her mother before her needed is not another summons, not a widening of the net that brings her into closer proximity with the criminal justice system, but help with her addictions.

I fully support Senators Ruane and Ó Ríordáin in saying this is foolish legislation which will not help that person or all of the other people who die anonymously in dreadful circumstances about whom we never hear.I would, therefore, advise in our role as Senators against this legislation.

Photo of Catherine ByrneCatherine Byrne (Dublin South Central, Fine Gael)
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I am delighted to be present and it is nice to be in the Chamber. I sat here during the health sub-committee hearings on the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Bill for a number of weeks. The atmosphere in the Chamber was sombre because we were dealing with people's lives. Today we are doing the same.

The former Minister of State with responsibility for the national drugs strategy, Senator Ó Ríordáin, made it clear that identifying people who are addicted to drugs, legal or illegal, is something we do on a daily basis in our communities. One of these people was, unfortunately, found dead not far from my home recently. I agree with the Senator that those who have been addicted and who are tarred because of their condition are looked on like our second cousins in the corner whom we never want anything to do with.

My role as Minister of State with responsibility for the national drugs strategy is to listen to what people have to say. We are in the process of putting a strategy together and there will be public consultation. I will ask all those who contributed to the debate, the many people I have met in communities down through the years, some of whom I have spoken to, and Deputies to make sure that when the process is under way, they all fully participate in it because it is about people's lives. It could be ours sons, daughters, grandchildren or someone from our extended families who, unfortunately, become trapped in one of the worse scourges facing society. There is not proper legislation to address many of the drugs used by young people. The Bill partly addresses that and makes sure that in the future, drugs cannot be allowed to come on to the market and allowed to fester. This happened in one part of the country where young people died.

I assure Senator Ó Ríordáin that I have no intention of allowing the clean injection centre proposal to fall off the table. When I was spokesperson on drugs policy for Fine Gael in opposition, it was one of the ten points I included in the document I put together. It was second on the list, with the first being detox beds, particularly for people aged under 18. I have no intention of letting it fall off the table. It is due back in the autumn and I will do my best to make sure the first pilot clean injection centre will be in place next year.

Last week on Merchants Quay I had a meeting with the residents of St. Audeon's Terrace who on a daily basis encounter discarded needles. I spoke to them about the clean injection facilities and not one person opposed them, no matter where they will be located. We need to step up to the mark. For too long, addicts have been seen as misfits and people who do not belong to society. Last week, I celebrated the lives of those who have died from addiction and suicide in St. Matthew's Church, Ballyfermot, and the Church of St. Agnes in Crumlin. I am always reminded when I attend the celebrations for these people, both young and old, that the beautiful framed pictures could be of one of my children, nieces or nephews or grandchildren. I am always taken aback by the community's response to people who are less fortunate than ourselves and who get up caught in drug and alcohol addiction.

Senator Norris is correct that we have neglected parts of our society for too long. He hit the nail on the head. Parts of Dublin city and the country have been neglected not because of a lack of funding but because of a lack of infrastructure to deal with people who live, in particular, in social housing and council complexes. I spoke at length when I was Lord Mayor and in the Dáil about councils across the country having a responsibility to look after their tenants. I visit flat complexes in my own area and see excrement, urine, needles and other paraphernalia discarded on the steps. I would not like my family to have to climb 75 steps past all this to the third or fourth floor of a flat complex on a daily basis. Councils across the country and Dublin City Council, in particular, need to step up to the mark. The council has allowed complexes in the inner city to become uninhabitable and derelict. People do not want to return to them even when they are refurbished. Bricks and mortar are not the solution; it is much more complex than that.

I am happy that Members have said they will support the Bill, particularly Senator Clifford-Lee. I agree entirely with her remarks. I come from an area that has been devastated by drugs and I have been dealing with the issue since I was a voluntary youth worker locally in the early 1970s. One of the problems with addiction is that addicts who have entered their 30s or 40s could be wiped off the list because they have gone so far that it would be difficult to bring them back. We need to focus on young people from the day they are born in these communities and bring them through a process with their families and communities that emphasises that education is the sole way to make sure they have a life ahead of them. I am very much in favour of using the national drugs strategy to deal with under 18s who are addicted at the moment. They find it difficult to enter a detoxification programme. That is key to helping young people.

Senator Norris said money fuels the drug culture in our society but greed is also a factor. When young people see somebody down the road who does not have a job and who left school early driving around in a BMW, they see that as the easy option and that is what they go for. It is a sad option and we need to stop it.

I do not want to criminalise anybody who takes drugs because of addiction but decriminalisation is a complex issue and it has to be worked out properly before we can say people should not be criminalised for carrying drugs in their pockets. When I reflect on the pictures of all the young people in the church in Ballyfermot the other night - brothers, sisters, cousins, nieces and nephews - they were remembering relatives whose lives were torn apart because somewhere along the way somebody handed them a pill from his or her pocket. We have to look into this. No decision has been made on decriminalisation but we need to examine this in great depth in conjunction with the Department of Justice and Equality. If we decriminalise addicts, we need to consider how that will affect other people. It is being looked at and I would not like Members to think otherwise.

Senator Devine mentioned children being used as mules and gophers. I had a call from a woman three weeks ago who told me the day her child made her communion, she was asked to bring a package of drugs across the road. That was the day the child was standing in her communion dress outside a church. That is a reflection on the lengths these people will go to. They do not care who they use or how young or old they are.

A number of Members raised the issue of what happens until the legislation is enacted. We will stay with the regulations until this is enacted and, therefore, there will not be a gap. I am delighted to thank all of those who contributed on this debate. I wish to conclude Second Stage with a few remarks on the importance of the Bill and to assure Senators of my commitment and that of the Government to addressing the problems associated with drug use. Let us remember what the misuse of drugs legislation is about, namely, preventing the misuse of dangerous substances. The Bill aims to minimise those risks by regulating the possession, supply, manufacture, import and export of these substances. No one would argue with these aims. Every drug user is a human being with a family, neighbours and a community. Drug users are schoolchildren, students, mothers, fathers, aunts and uncles. They may be in paid employment, unemployed, living at home, homeless or rich, although the majority are poor. Some misuse drugs that have a legitimate use and others use drugs that have no legitimate use. Some drug users are what we might term recreational drug users whereas others have become trapped in their drug habits. This is an important point. It is as if they are in a tumble dryer with no way out of their addiction unless proper services are on the ground to help them. What they have in common is a drug use that impacts to some degree or other on their lives and that may negatively affect their relationships with their families, friends and neighbours and the wider community and society.

The proposed amendments to the Misuse of Drugs Act, and the regulations to be made subsequently, will introduce controls on substances that are open to abuse and are being openly and unlawfully traded. The aim of the Bill is to assist the law enforcement authorities in dealing with the scourge of the unlawful availability of substances that are harmful to health. As the Minister stated, policy will be led by concerns about people's health, not criminalising them. No one could argue with these points.

Undoubtedly, problem drug use continues to be one of the most significant challenges facing our country. I am aware of the trust placed in me by the Government to lead in addressing these challenges, but it is not all down to me. It is for all Members in this Chamber, as human beings living in our communities, to ensure that young children are protected against people who have no sense of age or difference when leading others down the road to drug addiction. It is a challenge for everyone. Directly or indirectly, every community is affected by drug abuse and addiction. All communities deserve our protection through the control of the unlawful supply of dangerous substances and through access to treatment and other services when needed. I have spoken with some Members of the Oireachtas about access to services. Services on the ground in my community do their best to do a good job, although many could do much better. There are too many services. We must consider what services are being supplied to addicts and their families and ensure that quality rather than quantity is our approach. We must have quality services in communities instead of services being splintered everywhere. Addicts and families in trouble should not be running to ten different services. This matter will form part of the national drugs strategy, into which we will all have an input.

I would like to address some of the Senators from areas outside Dublin. As the House knows, I am from Dublin and many Senators come from across the country, but this issue affects people everywhere, not just those living in Dublin. It affects people living in Cork, Mayo, Donegal and Letterkenny. I am getting calls and e-mails from people in every little town and village claiming that they do not have services and asking what they should do when they find their children starting to take recreational drugs. We need to expand a service into communities and draw people together regardless of how small or large those communities are. This is in line with the programme for Government's commitment to a health-led rather than a criminal justice approach to drugs use.

The emphasis on health-led policy is not new. The National Drugs Strategy 2009-2016 aims to tackle the harm caused to individuals and society by the misuse of drugs through a concerted focus on the five pillars of supply reduction, prevention, treatment, rehabilitation and research. The strategy aims to encourage problem substance users to engage with and avail of such services. Treatment is provided through a network of statutory and non-statutory agencies using a four-tier model of service delivery. This model is based on the principle that drug treatment is best provided at the level of complexity matching the patient's need and as close to the patient's home as possible. It is all about tackling the problem within the community. Under the strategy, the HSE has reoriented addiction services so that they are capable of dealing with all substances. This recognises that polydrug use is endemic among people attending drug treatment and makes treatment even more complex.

The provision of harm reduction measures such as needle and syringe programmes and methadone maintenance treatment reduces drug-related harm and facilitates recovery by providing a pathway into services. Our focus is to move people on to drug-free lives where that is achievable. I have listened to statistics down the years about the number of people who are on methadone. People in my life, in my community, talk on a daily basis about how they will work on taking methadone. Some have been on it for eight or ten years. I do not accept this. It is wrong. They should have been moved on a long time ago. That approach must form part of our considerations on the drugs strategy. Addiction is not a choice - it is a health care issue. This is why I believe that it is imperative that we approach our drug problem in a more compassionate and sensitive way.

I have attended the funerals of young people whom I knew closely and who died due to addiction. Some came from good families where there were no problems but who, for some reason or another, found themselves getting sucked into the tragic belief that if they only took a small amount of drugs, they would not become addicts and move on to heroin and other lethal substances. I am sure that Senators can reflect on the many funerals that they have attended because of suicides or drug addiction. Most striking is how the families have become lost in anger at themselves over not being able to do anything about what happened. After I speak with them, I often leave believing that, besides the child who has passed away, we must help the families. They are lost in a black hole when their loved ones are taken away and they do not have the answers. Many people who commit suicide do not even leave notes explaining why they did it, so their families do not know why it happened. The funerals are for young people, some as young as 12 or 13 years of age, whose lives were only beginning. As a public representative and citizen of this country, I have an obligation to do my best to help such young people.

The programme for Government contains a commitment to legislating for supervised drug injecting facilities, and it is my intention to publish a Bill in the autumn to deal with this issue.This move is in line with the findings in a recent report from the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction, which found that supervised drug consumption facilities can be an effective intervention in harm reduction and a means to encourage drug users to enter treatment. This is what we all want. Many Senators will be familiar with the Merchants Quay Ireland facility, which is in my constituency. I might as well be honest - it is the best facility of its type in Ireland. It deals on a daily basis with people with whom others in society are not prepared to deal. Those who go to Merchants Quay Ireland are not just looking to avail of its needle exchange service; they also want to be able to go into a programme. Many of those who use the Merchants Quay Ireland facility are brought into a programme and are helped. That is what safe injection facilities should be about as well. I have to inform Senator Ó Ríordáin that I have not visited one of these facilities. I have been asked to visit them, but my big problem is that I would have to go away to do so and I am afraid of my life of flying. I intend to visit one of them because I believe they work. That point has been made clearly by the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction. We need to look at that. I guarantee the House that I will do my utmost. The facilities in question have been shown to be effective in engaging populations of drug users who are difficult to reach. This is especially the case for marginalised groups, such as the homeless and those who use drugs on the streets or in other risky and unhygienic conditions. I am nearly finished. I apologise for moving away from the Bill.

Photo of Paul CoghlanPaul Coghlan (Fine Gael)
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No, no. The Minister of State can finish.

Photo of Catherine ByrneCatherine Byrne (Dublin South Central, Fine Gael)
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A key commitment in the programme for Government in relation to drugs policy is the development of a new national drugs strategy, which will take effect from January 2017 when the current strategy expires. The steering committee that has been established to oversee this process is representative of key stakeholders. It will provide guidance and advice to me on how the new strategy should address the problem of drug use, the structures through which this might be done and the incorporation of key performance indicators to measure the future effectiveness of the new policy. It is important for people to contribute to the open public consultation programme. It is envisaged that a health-led approach to drug use will be among the range of issues to be considered by the steering committee in the course of developing the new strategy. This will help to ensure people with drug problems are put at the centre of our drugs policy. This, in turn, will assist such people in leading the lives they want and aspire to in their communities.

Many of us who know people who are addicted to drugs are aware that such people often become outcasts in their communities. Their communities do not want to know them, even though they are sleeping in streets and gardens at night. If we are to give any hope to younger people, in particular, who find themselves caught up in the trap of addiction, we must change the attitudes that cause them to become outcasts in many communities. I emphasise that people can come back out of this dark hole. In many cases, they return to their communities and have children of their own. Last week, I attended an awards ceremony in Ringsend for people who have gone through addiction and availed of addiction services. A young man in his early 30s spoke about his experiences as someone who had been an out-and-out addict. There is no other way to describe it. He was on the ground. He said he was ashamed of the things he had done in his life. He said he would not have got to where he is today if services had not been provided to help him back out of the hole he was in. I do not think there was a dry eye in the house when he finished the passionate speech he made to the approximately 200 people who were in the room. He then introduced us to his 11 day old child, whom he had brought along to show us how much his life had changed. I mention this to show that there is hope for drug users.

I am keen to ensure there is a broad, comprehensive and inclusive consultation process that provides opportunities for public participation, particularly in communities that are affected by drug problems. It is intended to launch the public consultation process by the end of July. In line with the commitment in the programme for Government, it is expected that the steering committee will be in a position to submit its final report to me for consideration at the oversight forum on drugs in December 2016. I hope to receive the report in early December. I do not want to get it on Christmas Day or Christmas Eve. I want it early in December. I reiterate my commitment as a citizen, as a public representative and as Minister of State with responsibility for the national drugs strategy, and the commitment of the Government, to addressing in a balanced and effective way the challenges posed by drug misuse to individuals and their families, neighbours, friends and, above all, communities. I thank everybody who contributed to this debate. I think will be back here for a few hours next week. If Senators want to propose amendments, I will be more than happy to address them.

Question put and agreed to.

Committee Stage ordered for Tuesday, 28 June 2016.

Photo of Paul CoghlanPaul Coghlan (Fine Gael)
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When is it proposed to sit again?

Photo of Colm BurkeColm Burke (Fine Gael)
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At 2.30 p.m. next Tuesday.

The Seanad adjourned at 2.15 p.m. until 2.30 p.m. on Tuesday, 28 June 2016.