Dáil Éireann - Volume 673 - 29 January, 2009

Priority Questions. - Drugs Task Forces.

Deputy Brian O’Shea asked the Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs if he has plans to increase the number of local drugs task forces; if there were calls for a county-based task force during the recent public meetings; his views on such a strategy; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2820/09]

  Deputy John Curran: A total of 14 local drugs task forces, LDTFs, are in operation, 12 of which are [78] located in Dublin while the others are in Bray and Cork. The rest of the country is covered by ten regional drugs task forces, RDTFs. I have no plans to increase the number of LDTFs.

From time to time during the extensive public consultation process undertaken in connection with the preparation of the new national drugs strategy, reference was made to the extent of the areas covered by various RDTFs. However, the issue of county-based drug task forces was not raised to any significant degree at the public consultation meetings I attended. I am informed this was also the case at other such meetings. As the House might remember, I was not a Minister of State during all of the consultation process. The regional structures, which are still relatively new, are starting to make a real impact on the ground and should be given the opportunity to fulfil their potential in the coming years.

The development of a new strategy presents an important opportunity to examine the structures through which it is delivered and to consider whether there are different and more effective ways of achieving our goals. Should the steering group, which is developing proposals in this regard, recommend any changes to the geographic areas covered by the drugs task forces as part of its deliberations, I will consider them at that stage.

  Deputy Brian O’Shea: I thank the Minister of State for his reply, from which I am to understand that no extension of the drugs task forces is intended in the new national drugs strategy. Initially, the task forces were set up in areas where there was a prevalence of heroin misuse. Unfortunately, hard drugs have spread across the country. A viewpoint exists in certain counties at least that this requires a much more intensive approach and that the regional structures are too large. Something is needed that reaches out more effectively to towns and villages outside the large urban areas.

I take the Minister of State’s point that this was not raised to any great extent at the consultative meetings. However, the trends are very worrying. Does he agree that the structure that currently exists for dealing with reductions in supply and, more importantly, demand is just not adequate and we are losing the battle?

  Deputy John Curran: To reiterate, I inherited the situation and the public consultation was half over before I took up my position. I checked and it did not arise as a significant issue.

The Deputy will be aware that while we have regional task forces, in some cases there are sub-committees on a county by county basis. If there were to be more task forces, we might lose sight of what we are trying to deliver. In other words, our administrative capacity could grow and the channelling of funds and resources to front line services would be diminished. When one looks at the various components and partners within a task force, it could mean meeting after meeting without achieving real objectives.

That issue did not arise, but I have an open mind on it although it has not been brought to the steering group as a significant issue. The structures that were in place were thought to be relatively new. They were only bedding in and it was generally believed that they should be afforded the opportunity to achieve their full potential. Given the current economic environment, where we are seeking to streamline organisations while ensuring that resources are delivered to front line services as much as possible, the creation of other agencies and boards is, I believe, unlikely at this point.

  Deputy Brian O’Shea: Regarding attendances at these consultative meetings, how representative were they? Would many of the people involved have a stake in the current set up and, [79] perhaps, not be disposed towards considering that proposal? The fact that it was not raised widely might not signify that it does not have wider support.

I take the Minister of State’s point about not setting up more structures or talking shops, etc. However, we are talking about a hands-on approach that effectively delivers services. In my view, this needs to spread beyond the existing structures.

  Deputy John Curran: The Deputy is right. At the public consultation meetings, the average number present was about 100, although I do not have the precise figures. Many of those attending obviously had an interest. They were either involved in providing the services, had family links or there was an area of particular interest for them. However, the process went further than just public consultation. We met with all the other providers, statutory and otherwise, and that did not arise as an issue. If it was to be on a county by county basis, as has been suggested, there would be many meetings in some and perhaps very little delivery of service. At this time, it is felt that the regional structures, which are relatively new, are bedding in and they allow for local sub-committees to operate on a county by county basis under the remit of a regional structure. In the case of Limerick, for example, there is a specific sub-committee for that particular area. I do not believe we should restrict the activities of the regional task forces. They can organise internally as they see fit, at county by county sub-committee level, but no proposal to establish independent local drugs task forces, as suggested, has arisen during the consultation and is not being considered at this stage.