Seanad Éireann - Volume 151 - 10 July, 1997

Criminal Justice (Drug Trafficking) Act, 1996: Motion.

Mr. Cassidy: I move:

That Seanad Éireann resolves that sections 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6 of the Criminal Justice (Drug Trafficking) Act, 1996 (No. 29 of 1996), shall continue in operation for the period ending on the 31st day of December, 1998.

An Cathaoirleach: Before calling the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, I congratulate him on his recent appointment and wish him well.

Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Mr. O'Donoghue): Thank you for your kind [1133] words of welcome. I reciprocate by wishing you and Members of the Seanad seeking re-election good luck in their campaigns. This occasion is historic on two fronts. First, it is the last sitting of the present Seanad and, second, this is the first time the House has been addressed by a Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform. It is a wide and important brief and I am honoured to have been appointed to it by the Taoiseach. I know Members of the Seanad contributed fully to debates on legislation initiated by the former Minister for Equality and Law Reform, Mervyn Taylor, and join me in paying tribute to the sterling work he undertook in this area.

It is right that at the first opportunity I should assure the House — lest there be any doubt on this score — that in the creation of the new Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform there is no question of any lesser priority being given to matters which were the responsibility of the Department of Equality and Law Reform. I pay tribute in particular to the work done by the staff of that Department over the past few years and I believe that the combined resources and expertise of both the former Department of Equality and Law Reform and former Department of Justice together will be well placed to face and address the formidable agenda ahead of us. I am delighted too that in facing these challenges I will be assisted by the newly appointed Minister of State, Deputy Mary Wallace, who will have special responsibility for equality and disability issues.

I now turn to the important resolution before the House. Certain sections of the Criminal Justice (Drug Trafficking) Act — primarily relating to extra detention powers for the Garda — will, under the terms of the Act, cease to be in operation from 9 September 1997 unless a resolution is passed by both Houses of the Oireachtas extending their operation. The main section at issue is section 2 which allows persons suspected of drug trafficking offences to be detained for up to seven days. The purpose of the resolution is to continue the relevant sections of the Act in force until 31 December 1998.

It is hard to imagine a more corrosive threat to the quality of life in our community than that posed by those who engage in the evil trade of drug trafficking. Their activities have brought about death and destruction on an incalculable scale. Families have been destroyed and communities placed under siege. There is probably no greater fear among parents rearing children today than that their children will fall prey to drug abuse.

This Government is committed to tackling drug abuse in a comprehensive way. We will take steps to reduce the demand for drugs through education and community based initiatives. We will offer services to those who have become addicted to drugs to help them break their habit. We clearly recognise that a criminal justice system on its own cannot comprehensively tackle the problem of drug abuse. The criminal justice system, [1134] however, has a vital role to play in curbing the activities of drug traffickers. This Government will ensure that role is played fully and relentlessly.

One message should go clearly from this House today: there will be no let up in the fight against drug trafficking — instead that fight will be intensified. The full resources of the State will be deployed in this area and where those resources need to be enhanced I guarantee they will be.

Over the past year or so there has been considerable progress in taking on drug traffickers but there is no room for complacency or defeatism. It is generally accepted that the proceeds of crime legislation which I introduced in the other House last year on behalf of Fianna Fáil, and which was taken on board by the then Government, has greatly assisted the Garda and other agencies in literally ensuring that crime does not pay. I place on the record — and I am sure Members will join me in this — our appreciation of the work which has been done in this regard by all the agencies involved and particularly by the staff of the Criminal Assets Bureau.

Our ultimate aim is not to seize the profits of drug trafficking but to put drug traffickers out of business altogether. To achieve this we need to ensure that the Garda has the powers to enable it to investigate fully drug offences. It is in this context that the resolution before the House is being brought forward. The fact that this sitting is taking place indicates the importance Senators attach to the issue. I thank Members for their co-operation in this regard.

Having had the honour to be appointed Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform by the Taoiseach, I have a full agenda. We will have many opportunities in the new Seanad to debate all the issues involved. Obviously, it would not be appropriate or possible during this short debate to deal with criminal justice matters generally in great detail. However, in the context of the debate it would be useful to inform the House that I hope to bring forward a criminal justice Bill in the autumn which will contain a series of strong measures which will tighten the vice further on drug traffickers and, indeed, other serious criminals.

I intend that the Bill, as one of a number of measures to speed up trials, will include provision for the abolition of the preliminary examination system. There will be improved procedures for pursuing the assets of people convicted of drug trafficking offences by allowing a court to initiate an asset inquiry. It will also deal with tougher sentencing so that those convicted of serious drug trafficking offences will know they will inevitably face sentences of ten years or more.

I turn now to the technical details of the resolution. Section 11 of the Criminal Justice (Drug Trafficking) Act, 1996, provides that section 2, dealing with powers of detention, section 3, dealing with the amendment of the Criminal Justice (Forensic Evidence) Act, 1990, section 4, dealing [1135] with rearrest, section 5, dealing with the application of provisions of the Criminal Justice Act, 1984, and section 6, dealing with regulations regarding officers of customs and excise, shall cease to be in operation at the expiry of 12 months from the date of their commencement unless resolutions are passed by each House of the Oireachtas continuing their operation. All provisions of the 1996 Act were commenced by ministerial order on 9 September 1996.

Section 11 of the 1996 Act also provided that before such resolutions may be passed the Minister for Justice must cause to be laid before each House a report on the operation of the sections in question covering the period ending not more than 21 days before the moving of the resolution. Before leaving office my predecessor laid such a report covering the period up to 16 June 1996. However, in light of the 21 day's requirement, I arranged last Monday to have a second report covering the period up to 27 June 1997 laid before the Oireachtas.

When the 1996 Act was going through the Oireachtas last year it had widespread support. It followed a Misuse of Drugs Bill I introduced which would also have allowed for seven day's detention in drug trafficking cases. It was agreed that, given the strong detention powers which the measure contained, it was right that it be regularly reviewed by the Oireachtas. It is against this background the House is being asked to continue the relevant provisions in operation until 31 December 1998.

While they are available in the report I mentioned, it may be useful for the purposes of this debate to give some statistics provided by the Garda authorities on the operation of the provisions in question covering the period 9 September 1996 to 27 June 1997. The total number of persons detained under section 2 was 145. Of these, 48 were held for a period not exceeding six hours, 50 between six hours and 24 hours, 26 between 24 and 48 hours, ten between 48 hours and 120 hours and 11 between 120 hours to 168 hours. Of the 145, 97 were released without charge and 48 were charged. Of the 48, three were convicted, four were acquitted and 41 cases are pending. It might be worth reminding the House that, under the terms of the section, detention for periods up to 48 hours can be approved by members of the Garda Síochána of specified rank; periods greater than that have to be authorised by the courts.

I also specifically mention section 6 which enabled the Minister for Justice, following consultation with the Minister for Finance, to make regulations providing for the attendance of an officer of customs and excise at, and the participation of such an officer in, the questioning of persons detained under the provisions of the Act. As the report points out, work is proceeding on the preparation of regulations under the section which will be the subject of consultations with the Minister for Finance and the Garda authorities.

[1136] The Garda authorities have indicated that the provisions of the Drug Trafficking Act have proved beneficial to the force in their investigation of drug trafficking offences. The operation of the relevant sections of the Act for the relatively short period in question has made a substantial contribution to the fight against the drugs menace. The continuation in operation of these sections, with other strong measures which I propose to take, are necessary so that we can continue to tackle head on those who engage in drug trafficking. That is why I commend this important resolution to the House.

Ms Cosgrave: I welcome the Minister, congratulate him on his recent appointment and wish him the best in what is probably the most challenging portfolio in the Oireachtas.

Any serious debate about law and order in modern society must focus on effective responses by the State. These must be legislative and structural to allay the concerns felt by ordinary people, families and communities. No matter where one lives in Ireland of 1997, urban or rural, people live in fear.

If fear is a product of crime, then drugs are the main evil raw materials which help create crime in modern society. Gangs are running sophisticated criminal organisations in our cities and towns. Long ago they recognised the value of these raw materials and have woven an elaborate and despicable web which feeds drugs to petty criminals, often children and juveniles, who in turn yield big profits for their overlords. This evil business strategy has at its sick heart a vicious cycle of drug induced youths, the operatives on the shop floor feeding their habits by engaging in petty crime. The more desperate the habit becomes, the more vicious their criminal actions and the more terrifying the effects on ordinary innocent citizens. People cannot venture outside their front doors after dark today without feeling vulnerable.

In rationally examining this issue, we need to look closely at the factors which contribute to the climate of fear and concern on the streets of the cities and elsewhere. One factor about which the incoming Government made a veritable three ring circus during the general election was the level and density of policing. While it has improved, there is still an insufficient Garda presence on our city streets. This is a major contributory factor, not so much to the prevalence of crime as to the absence of order. Any serious attempt to tackle increased crime cannot rely just on laws but must also involve a reinstatement of order and the necessary personnel to enforce the law. For example, in dealing with the complexity of modern crime, one must not only lock up the perpetrators of heinous crime or personal assaults on innocent victims, but also take stock of the small criminal. Even petty crime, which seems relatively harmless in the greater scheme of things, nourishes and nurtures small criminal acts [1137] which eventually develop a mentality allowing for the acceptance of any crime.

Victims of crime suffer further injustice in a system which concentrates most of its resources on the criminal and his rehabilitation. Those victims are invariably the weaker in our society, the old, the young and invalids. Without exacting revenge, they must be treated with dignity, genuine concern and compassion. Crime is without question the biggest social problem in society today. Its victims are the minorities and we must recognise this and be proactive in dealing effectively and not rhetorically in tackling this issue.

Mr. Mulcahy: I welcome the Minister and congratulate him on his appointment and Deputy Mary Wallace on hers as Minister of State. Never has a Minister been so well prepared for the job as Deputy O'Donoghue because it is on the record of the Oireachtas that he published a historically high number of Private Members' Bills while in Opposition. He put much thought into them and proposed legislation. He will bring that research and thought with him. He will perhaps accept that, sometimes in the frantic activity of ministerial office, it is not easy to have a long period in which to think in a broad, philosophical way on how to tackle problems besetting society. It is good for every Minister that they have a period before they come into office where they can gather their thoughts and prepare their actions. I wish the new Minister for Justice the best as he has a huge job ahead of him to which I am sure he is equal. I also welcome Senator Cosgrave and wish her every happiness in this House or any other for as long as that may be.

The Minister rightly pointed out that the 12 monthly review of the Criminal Justice (Drug Trafficking) Act, 1996, is essential. To tackle the crime crisis brought about by drug trafficking it has been essential to curb one of the most fundamental liberties of people — the right not to be arrested. When one is arrested for a period of seven days it is a substantial infringement of civil liberty. It would be a shame if, for a prolonged period, this state of affairs had to exist and it would be a shame if the ordinary citizen was under threat of such action because of the activities of a small minority of thugs.

Having said that, the scale of the drugs crisis necessitated the bringing into being of this Act. It was essential that section 2 of the Act, which allows for an arrest for seven days after the courts have been consulted, was brought into being. The then Minister stated that the existing period of detention was not long enough to carry out investigations, many of which were on an international basis. The Minister will agree that many drug traffickers have been operating on an international basis and it is only over a period of seven days that international inquiries can be made of foreign police authorities to ascertain whether persons arrested are engaging in drug trafficking. Section 2 and other sections are essential in the fight against drug trafficking.

[1138] I welcome the Minister's determination to carry on the fight against drug trafficking. He is zealous about this, and so he should be. The Garda, the Customs and Excise and the Criminal Assets Bureau have scored many notable successes and as a result many of the drug cartels operating here are in a much weakened position. However, drugs are being widely trafficked, sold and distributed throughout Ireland. We cannot close our eyes to that reality. I am delighted the Minister said that any resources required will be made available and that he will personally guarantee that it will not be for the lack of resources that the drug trafficking problem is not tackled. This is a priority.

The Minister should visit some of the areas worst affected by drug trafficking, especially in Dublin city and other urban areas. As I speak, there are flat complexes in Dublin where drugs are being openly trafficked. The Minister should arrive unannounced in some of these areas and see for himself, as I am sure he may already have done, how drugs are being trafficked in these complexes.

The Criminal Assets Bureau has been successful. However, the public would like to know more about this success. Some of the assets seized may already have been published in Iris Oifigiúil. Justice must be done and be seen to be done. It would give the public hope if large advertisements setting out the assets seized by the Criminal Assets Bureau were published in our newspapers. The public wants to be confident that drug trafficking is being tackled head on.

I join the Minister in praising the work of the outgoing Minister. We supported her on many Bills in the Dáil and in this House. On several occasions she took on board Bills drafted by Deputy O'Donoghue and Deputy Ryan and we commended her for this. There were times when we were critical of her but that is the stuff of politics. By and large, she was well intentioned. We had some serious disagreements but this is not an easy task. I thank the Minister for proposing this resolution. We support it and I am sure the Opposition will do likewise.

Mr. Norris: Is it possible to share my time with Senator Henry?

An Leas-Chathaoirleach: Yes.

Mr. Norris: I welcome the new Minister; it is a pleasure to see him here. He is a man of clear, forthright and vigorous opinions and he does not hesitate to express them. I like that even though I do not always agree with him. It is appropriate that someone with his professional expertise in law should be in that Ministry.

The Minister was very gracious in his remarks about Mervyn Taylor and I share those views. However, I do not share his enthusiasm for merging the Department of Equality and Law Reform with the Department of Justice. In the harsh reality of political life that can only mean a downgrading [1139] of equality and law reform as a priority. I do not mean that this Minister has any less a sense of urgency about it but it must mean that equality and law reform will be placed on the back burner unless a special effort is made. Perhaps Deputy Wallace will be given special responsibility in this area. She is an excellent person with whom I served on the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Women's Rights. I hope this new Ministry will give a sense of urgency to these matters as did the previous Government.

One of the litmus tests will be the speed with which the new Government reintroduces, in amended form, the Employment Equality Bill and the Equal Status Bill. We warned the Government that certain sections might be unconstitutional but it did not listen and we have been proved right. It is important that these Bills are reintroduced properly amended. Fianna Fáil speakers, including Senator Mulcahy, spoke effectively on this measure when we were on the same side. I hope we remain on the same side.

Mr. Mulcahy: The Senator should join us.

Mr. Norris: That is the best offer I have had all day. However, I shall resist the Senator's blandishments. With regard to the Bill, everyone is against the havoc wreaked by drugs. However, we should be realistic. We are not going to solve this problem. The fight is not being successful nor is it anywhere near being so and anyone who imagines it is is living in cloud cuckoo land. There is no way on earth to prevent the spread of drugs except one — and this measure cannot be taken by this Government or country alone — that is the massive deregulation of controlled substances on a Europe wide, if not a global, basis. I have said time and again in this House that until one destroys the financial incentive which lies at the base of the drug cartels one will never stop drug trafficking. Burning tonnes of cannabis resin, which is a harmless substance, is an utter waste of time. Nobody robs, murders or breaks into premises for cannabis. The problem is heroin which is the most highly addictive of the opiates. Chasing pot smokers is an utter distraction.

When we were discussing this Bill, I attempted to include a section which would redistribute the moneys taken from drug barons to the most vulnerable areas. I was told this was not possible. Why not? I do not believe that. The principal parties were involved in an idiotic Dutch auction about how many prison places they were going to build, as if that was the answer to anything. It is a waste of money building prison places. The £128 million earmarked for prison places would be better spent on the north inner city of Dublin and would prevent many people becoming drug abusers. Building prisons is not the answer.

I approve heartily of the Criminal Assets Bureau. I raised this issue in the House several years ago. I do not claim any originality. I went to somebody who really knew about the problem [1140] and I strongly recommend the Minister to go to somebody who knows about the problem. He will not have far to go. Deputy Gregory is an excellent representative in my area. He knows about drugs. He suggested the Criminal Assets Bureau and a proper co-ordinated response between Revenue, Social Welfare and the Garda Síochána. He was not listened to until Veronica Guerin was tragically killed. I suggest the Minister talks to people like Deputy Gregory and the kind of acolytes surrounding him, for example, Seanie Lambe who lives in Sheriff Street flats who knows the drugs scene from the inside, Mick Rafferty, the North City Community Action Group and the ICON people. They can give the Minister a reading from ground level as to the best way to approach this problem.

I would also like the Minister to look at other addiction problems. In my area there are four appalling boozing joints which continually break the law. Alcohol is a more destructive drug than marijuana. Six months ago I warned that if something was not done to stop these pubs there would be murder on the streets. I was attacked twice and I rescued someone from being beaten to death. There have been five murders since I spoke about this issue in this House and each murder can be traced back to these late night boozing joints which operate until 3 a.m. If a fight breaks out both parties are ejected from these bars into the street so they can continue fighting without spattering the nice carpets with blood. I would like something done about this. The Garda should oppose licences for these late night bars who flagrantly breach the law and cause social problems.

I have a hot tip for the Minister for Justice. A pub at the bottom of North Great Georges Street into Parnell Street which was formerly known as The Step In and now known as Lowes public house is for sale. My information is that one of the leading drug barons has frightened off any opposition in order to acquire it for himself. Will this be allowed? When people put up massive sums of money to acquire public houses and other assets to launder their drug money is no attempt made by the Inland Revenue etc., to ascertain where this money came from? As far as I am concerned this will be another litmus test. I will be bitterly disappointed if I find any drug barons striding around my area owning pubs.

I would also like the Minister to look at syringe attacks. I am not sure if blood filled syringe attacks are classified in law as attempted murder. If not, they should be. Unlike a clean gunshot wound a syringe attack leaves its victim agonising over the threat of HIV infection for a long time.

Deregulation of drugs would knock out a financial incentive. If Ireland did it on its own we would become a magnet for every lunatic drug addict in Europe and we cannot allow that. It should be done at European level. Deregulation knocks out the financial incentive, thereby destroying drug empires. People would get quality controlled substances so they would not die [1141] from drug impurities. Drug users would receive clean needles and there would be no motivation to mug old people. If this could be done at a European level I guarantee the crime rate would be halved throughout Europe. Lives would be saved and the spread of infection would be curtailed. As a matter of principle it is not up to the State to act as a nanny. People should be allowed to float off into outer space using psychedelic drugs if they want to.

An Leas-Chathaoirleach: Senator Henry has six minutes.

Dr. Henry: I thank Senator Norris for sharing his time with me. I welcome the Minister for Justice and I know his great commitment to trying to deal with this serious problem. Drug trafficking is a major international business. As Senator Norris stated it would be extraordinarily difficult for us to tackle the problem on our own but I am sure the Minister will be liaising with his counterparts throughout the European Union and elsewhere to deal with this vile trade.

There are two publicly funded areas which tackle drug trafficking. The first one which was discussed today is the side which prevents the entry of drugs to the country and the conviction of those involved in bringing them in. I would be glad if the Minister could tell me the relative cost of this in comparison to trying to reduce the demand for drugs which is the main reason it is so profitable to be involved in this international trade. There is an enormous cost involved in policing the ports and the airports. We have a very long coastline which makes it extremely difficult to deal with the importation of drugs to this country and which costs a lot of money. The long-term garda surveillance of drug traffickers is also costly. We also have the cost of court cases and the imprisonment of drug traffickers. It is essential to imprison the major drug traffickers. Unfortunately, in many cases the people we imprison are very minor players in the drugs world. Some of these prisoners are drug abusers who may want to kick their habit. Often these people with convictions for drug trafficking have been hardened addicts since their teens. The prison system is unsuitable for them. It is important this area is dealt with as soon as possible. Treating them in prison is not enough.

I suggest the Minister looks at today's copy of The Irish Medical Times in which the visitors committee's new report slams medical conditions in Mountjoy jail. The article addresses psychiatric care within the prison stating that Dr. Charles Smith has said that 5 per cent of prisoners in Mountjoy jail have valid psychiatric illness and that at least 100 prisoners should be in a psychiatric setting outside prison. This is very important. Is it legal to have people suffering psychiatric illnesses in prison? We must remove these people from prison into a psychiatric sector. It is recognised these prisoners are not receiving adequate psychiatric treatment within the prison.

[1142] The situation in the Central Mental Hospital in Dundrum is so serious that no more prisoners can be transferred to it. I think some patients in Dundrum are less seriously ill than those people who are left within the confines of Mountjoy. I hope the Minister will address this urgent matter. A considerable number of these patients are also involved in drugs, either hard drugs or psychotopic drugs, prescribed to the general public. It is important we recognise there is trafficking in these drugs too. Patients have informed me where to get the most reliable supplies of psychotopic drugs, analgesics and other drugs within the city. I have not checked this for myself but we must recognise it is a problem.

The other area which costs the public purse a great deal of money is that of trying to reduce the demand for drugs. The survey by Dr. Paul O'Mahoney of prisoners in Mountjoy Prison who are involved in drug taking, which was recently produced by the Department of Justice, shows they come from areas of socio-economic deprivation, mostly three postal areas in Dublin. It is very important to do all we can to reduce the demand for drugs in such areas where many children begin to take drugs before they are 12 or 13 years old.

It is also important to provide more funding for diversionary tactics and education. I would like to know the relative allocation of funding — probably only 10 per cent goes to reducing the demand for drugs rather than to the more high profile prevention of drug trafficking. In common with Senator Norris, I find it difficult to understand why the proceeds of the Criminal Assets Bureau cannot be specifically diverted to these areas. Apparently, items which are part of the public purse cannot be named as being specifically for certain areas. However, the Minister should, at least, encourage the spending of these funds within those areas.

For years I have been approached by Sr. Marie Joseph from Dolphins Barn. She is a very fine lady who asks me for only small sums of money — £3.5 million for a sports centre on the Player Wills site on the South Circular Road. If such sums could be found to help parents who are doing their utmost to keep their children from becoming involved in drugs it might result in a better end product.

Almost all the women prisoners in Mountjoy Prison are drug addicts. It is fine to provide treatment while they are in prison if they are agreeable to that, but there is a grave shortage of good follow-up programmes and hostel accommodation when they are released from prison. This means that those who would like to stay away from their previous friends when they are released have very little chance of so doing. Instead, they return to the same milieu and within weeks about 90 per cent of them are back to their previous lifestyle, regardless of whether that is what they want. Given that it costs £45,000 a year to keep someone in prison, this is very poor value for money. Far more funding should be allocated [1143] to reducing the demand for drugs and helping those who wish to stay away from drugs than is the case at present.

Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Mr. O'Donoghue): I thank Senators for their contributions and their kind words of congratulation. I specifically thank Senator Mulcahy for his tremendous work as the Fianna Fáil spokesman on Justice in this House which I deeply appreciated. I found his co-operation and experience as a lawyer invaluable during my period as the Fianna Fáil spokesperson on Justice in the Dáil.

There will be fuller opportunities in the autumn to discuss the complexities of tackling the problem of drug abuse. The debate on the Criminal Justice Bill, to which I referred earlier, will be one of those opportunities. My priority, as Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, is the supply side of the drug problem. However, measures in this regard must be accompanied by effective measures on the demand reduction side. In this context, I am sure the House welcomes the appointment announced earlier this week of the Minister of State, Deputy Flood, as head of the national drug strategy team. He has considerable experience, having served previously as a very successful Minister of State at the Department of Health.

It is regrettable that it is necessary to have provision on our Statute Book for detention of up to seven days. However, it would be far more regrettable if the State did not take all action open to it commensurate with the threat which drug traffickers pose to the community.

There are, of course, appropriate safeguards built into the legislation. The statistics which I earlier outlined go a long way towards answering the fears expressed by some people last year that the seven day powers would be used excessively. In fact, of the 145 people detained, 98 were held for a period not exceeding 12 hours. That period of detention was already permitted under the Criminal Justice Act, 1984. Only 21 people were held for more than 48 hours.

This is the first opportunity for the House to consider the operation of the sections on the basis of the report laid before it. The statistics in the report are in the form in which they were made available to me by the Garda. I am open to suggestions regarding information which might be contained in future reports.

I assure the House there is no question of the Department of Equality and Law Reform being downgraded. Deputy Mary Wallace, who has made a considerable impression in the Dáil, has been appointed Minister of State at the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform with special responsibility for Equality and Disability. Throughout my public life I have always had a tremendous interest in assisting the disadvantaged and marginalised. I assure them they will have a very strong voice, not just in Government [1144] but in the Houses of the Oireachtas, in me as Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform. I have an abiding interest in the subject and anybody who doubts that will be pleasantly surprised.

The question of bringing forward the Employment Equality Bill and Equal Status Bill will be considered by the Government at a very early date. I hope to deal further with these very important issues in the not too distant future.

During my period as Opposition spokesperson on Justice I met with various groups, individuals and communities who are interested in tackling the drug problem and I will continue to do so. My door will always be open to them.

I am resolutely opposed to the legalisation of any drugs. There is no question of controlled substances being legalised. The international experience has been that the legalisation of drugs leads to a far greater problem than it could ever resolve.

In regard to Senator Norris' statement on criminal activity, I am sure if he has specific information he will be happy to pass it on to the Garda for investigation. He also referred to syringe attacks. When I was in Opposition I introduced a Private Members' Bill to deal effectively with syringe attacks. The then Minister for Justice subsequently produced a Bill which was largely based, as far as syringe attacks were concerned, on the Bill I published. The previous Government enacted legislation which carries heavy penalties for such attacks equivalent to those for attempted murder.

Senator Mulcahy requested that I visit the places worst affected by drugs and publish a list of frozen assets. As he is aware, I have visited areas badly affected by drugs and I am amenable to further visits. With regard to the publication of a list of frozen assets, the hearings do not currently make provision for that but we will monitor the situation very carefully. I compliment the Criminal Assets Bureau on the great work it has been doing on behalf of the State.

The fact that the House is sitting today is a measure of the importance Members attribute to the fight against drug trafficking. Several Members mentioned the importance of tackling the assets of people living in opulence with no apparent means of legitimate income. The purpose of the proceeds of crime legislation which I introduced on behalf of Fianna Fáil in the Dáil was to touch those who believed they were untouchable. I provided that, irrespective of whether an individual was convicted or charged, their assets could be frozen if shown to be illicit as a matter of probability and that after a period of years they could be disposed of by the Exchequer or alternatively returned to the source from which they came if that source was found to be legitimate. The objective was to tackle those involved in dealing or holding illicit assets and the legislation has been very successful in this regard. The consequential establishment and operation [1145] of the Criminal Assets Bureau has been very successful.

In future those who deal or traffic in illegal drugs will face the prospect of having their assets frozen and subsequently disposed of. They will also face the prospect of lengthy terms of imprisonment.

I thank Senators for their co-operation in this extremely important matter. I realise they are engaged in an election and it is a tribute to them that the House is sitting to deal with a matter of such considerable importance to society. The good of the people is being put before the election concerns of Senators. I wish Members well in the Seanad elections and look forward to seeing them all in the House after the election.

Mr. Fitzgerald: Ba mhaith liom fáilte faoi leith a chur roimh mo chara dílis, an tAire, go dtí and Teach agus mo comhghairdeas a ghlacadh leis. It is an historic moment for me that my good friend and colleague, Deputy O'Donoghue, is here in his capacity as Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform. The Minister applied the slogan of our own party, namely people before politics, to the Members of this House.

The motion before the House is very important. From the Minister's speech and his commitment, it is clear that he means business and we are grateful for that. I wish him a successful term of office. Without wishing to pre-empt those on the Opposition benches, this House has always been positive in its approach to fighting crime.

Question put and agreed to.