Dáil Éireann - Volume 586 - 27 May, 2004

National Drugs Strategy.

  Aengus Ó Snodaigh: I wish to raise the increasing belief among local communities and politicians from all sides of the House that the Government is failing to tackle the drugs issue. The Minister has failed on this issue. There is also a belief that drug abuse is no longer a political priority. How does the Minister propose to deliver on the outstanding aspects of the national drugs strategy? The Government should have delivered on the drugs strategy by 2002. Some of the targets are already two years out of date.

The crisis in confidence is clear. The Government produced a national drugs strategy in 2001 to cover the period up to 2008. A crucial [992] number of elements of that strategy should have been delivered in 2001-02, the first year of this grand strategy, but remain undelivered. One element was that additional resources would be given to the drugs teams in the Garda to tackle the drug dealers at a local level. I give credit to the Garda which has had successes and which continues, despite a lack of resources, to target local drug dealers. That element has not been met.

Action 7 mentioned in the strategy specifically promised an increase in community policing resources in local drugs task force areas by the end of 2001. I sit on the Rialto policing forum. We had to have a meeting with the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform to try to extract from him some money to pay for the administration of it, otherwise it would have collapsed as people were refusing to do any more work. Actions 48 and 51 promised that there would be a comprehensive and locally-accessible range of treatments and rehabilitation options by the end of 2002. That has not been delivered. Action 55 explicitly promised greater provision of alternative medical treatment. Again, the health boards have not moved on that.

Astoundingly, no funding commitments have been made to the drugs task forces in the past two year, basically since this Government was re-elected in 2002. This has paralysed drugs task forces. I sit on one, so I know exactly what I am talking about. The Ballyfermot drugs task force is struggling to deal with the huge range of issues which raise their ugly heads and with which we must deal to try to tackle the increasing drugs problem in the area.

The regional drugs task forces outside Dublin have not received any money, which is a scandal. If one looks at the total funding for drugs task forces, it is the equivalent to that given to the horse and greyhound racing fund, €63 million. It is nothing. It means this issue is not a priority and that horses and greyhounds are a bigger priority than tackling the drugs issue.

If the Minister and the Government were serious, they would recognise the growing crisis in regard to cocaine use in Dublin. The drugs task forces are trying their best to tackle this issue but they are waiting on a mandate to develop and provide specific, appropriate and effective programmes to try to help cocaine users and to tackle the problem. This issue demands immediate action and requires resources. If we do nothing, we will have learned nothing from the heroin epidemic and from our failure 20 years ago when people warned that heroin would take hold in this city. We need to ensure projects are funded now and not in ten years. Those who are willing to work in this field must get the training required to tackle cocaine use in Dublin. The only conclusion I can draw is that the Government has exploited the media hype surrounding the drugs crisis. It produced a report and a strategy and promised much, but it has done nothing. It has put the strategy on a shelf.

[993] A group with which I am familiar and which does great work is ARC, Addiction Response Crumlin. It has the same budget now as it had in 2000, four years ago. It is down three workers and is deprived of the services these workers provided. That is a scandal resulting from the fact the Government has not provided additional funding. It has also allowed the health boards to cut the funding to mainstream groups. It is about time the Minister and this Government wised up, got real and understood there is a crisis. Unless they start to tackle it, we will be in the situation we were in in the early 1980s.

  Mr. N. Ahern: Most people would not agree with the Deputy’s comments.

  Aengus Ó Snodaigh: They would.

  Mr. N. Ahern: Over the past two years, I have met drug users, groups, local drugs task forces, etc. I have seen the work they are doing and the projects in which they are involved. The message I continually get is that fantastic work has been and is being done. Of course, people will always say more needs to be done. I assure the House that the Government continues to prioritise the drugs issue and will continue to do so in the future. Much quiet work is being done; it is not about getting headlines in the evening paper each day.

  Aengus Ó Snodaigh: We acknowledge the work being done. It is the Government’s fault.

  Mr. N. Ahern: This is evident through the work and the financial commitment made by the Government to this issue in recent years.

As the Deputy said, the national drugs strategy covers the period 2001-08. It brings together into a single framework all those involved in drugs misuse policy. It arose out of an extensive consultation process and in recognition of the complexity of the issue. As we know, there are four main pillars to it and 100 separate actions.

With such a strategy, it is important to have structures and processes in place. I chair the interdepartmental group on drugs which meets every month or six weeks. It comprises representatives of the different Departments and agencies dealing with the problem. In addition, every six months we send reports on the progress of the drugs strategy and the 100 commitments in it to the Cabinet sub-committee, of which I am a member. Good progress is being made and a number of the commitments have been achieved. We are behind on a few but——

  Aengus Ó Snodaigh: The important ones.

  Mr. N. Ahern: ——by and large, significant progress is being made on a number of them and few have been slow out of the starting gates. We recently published a critical implementation path [994] for the strategy which was required. Work is already under way on a mid-term review of the strategy which is to be completed before the end of this year. That will give everybody involved in the issue the opportunity to make new submissions.

  Aengus Ó Snodaigh: More bureaucracy and less action.

  Mr. N. Ahern: It will also give us the opportunity to alter the emphasis, if necessary. A review steering group has been set up and a public consultation process will be undertaken shortly.

The Deputy mentioned the Garda. The number of drugs seizures has increased considerably. Some €49 million worth of drugs were seized in 2002. Provisional figures for last year show that approximately €100 million worth of drugs were seized. In addition, the Garda has a number of good projects in place, such as Clean Street and Nightcap. The Department of Education and Science has brought in guidelines for drugs policies in schools. Substance misuse prevention programmes were introduced in schools in the local drugs task force areas initially and then in all schools.

The number of methadone treatment places is now over 6,900. There has been a considerable increase in the provision of treatment in that area. The protocol for the treatment of under 18 year olds will be finalised shortly. Different phases of the national awareness campaign are ongoing. The Prison Service has recruited additional staff to implement the report on prison-based drug treatment services, including prison nurse officers. In addition, over 11,000 recovering drug misusers are on a number of FÁS community employment schemes.

The drugs task forces are crucial and I am glad to hear the Deputy is a member of one. I was a member of one at one stage. Great work is being done by them. The strategy allows a little flexibility. There is no point comparing the situation now with that eight or ten years ago. The task forces are in place and are funded by Government. If the drug problem changes or evolves or if there is a move from heroin to cocaine, the structures are flexible enough to allow people to tackle it. Some of the people involved need a little upskilling, which we can provide. However, that does not mean we must set up a new task force. The Government is committed. The groups are in place, as is the finance.

  Aengus Ó Snodaigh: It is not.

  Mr. N. Ahern: It is.

  Aengus Ó Snodaigh: The money is not in place.

  Mr. N. Ahern: There are 14 local drugs task forces and €65 million has been put into them.

[995]   Aengus Ó Snodaigh: It is the same amount that was put into the horse and greyhound racing forum.

  Mr. N. Ahern: I do not know why some Deputies raise matters if they do not want to listen.

Some €11 million is being spent under the premises initiative. We are providing alternative lifestyles. Some €72 million has gone into the young people’s facilities fund. Recently, we announced major recreation facilities even in the Deputy’s area where €5 million has gone into St. Catherine’s centre in Marrowbone Lane. In [996] addition, a considerable sum of money has gone into Teresa’s Hall on Dunore Avenue. There is progress on all fronts.

  Aengus Ó Snodaigh: Not on all fronts.

  Mr. N. Ahern: Money is being provided and the commitment is there. I realise some people thinking of 11 June want to stir things up and pretend nothing is being done. The money is being provided and the commitment is there.

  The Dáil adjourned at 5.30 p.m. until 2.30 p.m. on Tuesday, 1 June 2004.