That Dáil Éireann: recognises:
— the scale of the problem of addiction throughout Ireland and the increasing demands on services;
— that poly-drug use has increased significantly due to the increase in the accessibility and range of dangerous substances, both illegal and unregulated;
— the increased risk to individuals using substances and lethal combinations of substances with respect to overdose, fatality and long-term ill health;
— the numbers of drug and alcohol related deaths each year are more than twice that of the numbers of deaths on our roads;
— the strong association between drug/alcohol abuse and suicide, and also accidental death;
— the increased use of technology in accessing harmful substances;
— the continuous on-street dealing in disadvantaged communities, the levels of intimidation and fear because of violence by drug gangs and the availability of firearms;
— that alcohol has been identified as a contributory factor in 90% of public order offences as recorded under the Police Using Leading Systems Effectively (PULSE) system and alcohol related crime costs the State almost €1.2 billion a year;
— that alcohol and drug related illness costs the health system a further €1.2 billion yearly;
— the link between economic and social disadvantage, including early school leaving, unemployment, housing conditions and problem drug/alcohol addiction and crime;
— the number of children with need for child protection because of families’ problems with drug and alcohol addiction;
— the links between mental health, homelessness and addiction; and
— the unacceptable levels of drug abuse in our prisons;
— the work of the statutory, voluntary and community sectors, the partnership model, the pillars of treatment and rehabilitation, supply control, prevention and research and family support;
— the role of the Young People’s Facilities and Services Fund in targeting those most at risk of drug abuse in funding services and facilities in many areas, particularly to those most vulnerable;
— the work of the Community Policing Forums in promoting collaborative work between the communities, local authorities and Gardaí to resolve local drug related and antisocial behaviour issues;
— the work of the various groups, government departments and agencies, the community and voluntary sectors and others in producing the National Substance Misuse Strategy Report;
— the work of the community and voluntary sectors in engaging those in addiction and in recovery from addiction in services; and
— the improvement in best practice and the range of treatment, rehabilitation and recovery for those in addiction; and supports the Government in its determination to tackle the issue of substance misuse and addiction through:
— continuing to support local, regional and national structures of the National Drugs Strategy involving community, voluntary and statutory services in the coordinated delivery of responses at individual, family and community level to the benefit of those most affected by problems of addiction;
— taking measures to strengthen the effectiveness of Drugs Task Forces;
— taking progressive measures, such as expanding the provision of needle exchange services around the country;
— continuing to implement the Irish Prison Service’s Drugs Policy and Strategy, ‘Keeping Drugs out of Prison’, to develop drug treatment services and enhance supply reduction measures across the State’s prisons;
— supporting the continued efforts of An Garda Síochána in tackling organised crime and those involved in drug dealing at local level in our communities; and
— its intention to bring forward a co-ordinated National Substance Misuse Strategy.”
-(Minister of State at the Department of Health, Deputy Alex White).
Deputy Brian Stanley: First, I compliment the Technical Group for bringing forward this motion. It is timely, as a new Minister of State has been appointed. I offer him comhghairdeas and wish him well in his new position. He has responsibility for the implementation of the national drugs strategy. I hope he gives it more attention than some of his predecessors, who did not give it sufficient attention.
Drug use is, first and foremost, a problem for the individual user. Most drug use is dealt with privately. Some people go on to lead long, healthy and productive lives but, sadly, for many others this is not the case. Unfortunately, we have a drugs problem in many communities again. It becomes a problem or the problem is compounded as a result of high unemployment, poor housing conditions, low level of secondary education completion, the availability of a wide range of drugs in the community, drug related intimidation and criminal activity. We accept there are no easy answers for tackling the drugs crisis, but experience shows that the responses we develop to tackle communities' drugs problems must be holistic, integrated and partnership based. The approach must be community based and involve the people most affected by the problem in finding solutions that work for their communities. They must be adequately resourced.
If we understand that communities' drugs problems developed from an array of problems and other socioeconomic issues, the responses to the drugs crisis must also work to strengthen communities in tackling these related problems. It is imperative that the problems in local areas are responded to through the involvement of those most affected, that is, the drug users, their families and their communities. The core of previous successes was the partnership approach. This has been eroded by the budget cuts last year and the disengagement on the part of Government Departments and some of the statutory agencies.
The State was to the fore in its approach to tackling the drugs crisis in the 1990s. I give credit to the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources, Deputy Pat Rabbitte who, as Minister of State in 1996, published his report which led to the first national drugs strategy. He put structures in place that were rooted in the communities most affected and which had links through to the Department of the Taoiseach. The approach was globally unique - a Minister of State with responsibility for the national drugs strategy and local drugs task forces developing strategies and accessing funding from the national drugs strategy team. Unfortunately for local communities, in recent years the drugs crisis has slipped down the Government's agenda and has become an afterthought in the programme for Government, with services and resources cut back to the bone in many cases. Whole communities have been abandoned, like in the 1980s and 1990s. It is vital that the Minister re-prioritises the drugs crisis and I appeal to him to do so.
The evidence is clear. There is an increased level in gangland crime. So far this year the number of people shot dead exceeds by two the figure for all of 2011. Within the last couple of weeks the violence has reached my constituency of County Laois with the shooting of Gerard Eglington in Portarlington on 25 September. He was shot dead in front of two young children. A measured and mature response is required, not the hysterical response one sees from some people and to which we have grown accustomed in the past. The Garda, drugs services and communities need resources urgently, but all the Minister and the Government have offered is reviews and cuts. We do not want excuses; this must be resourced now.
The cut in public spending between 2008 and 2012 is 2.82%, but the budget for drugs initiatives was slashed by 29%. This has put enormous strains on drugs services. More people are presenting with poly-drug use, yet there are fewer services and resources to respond to this. My constituency of Laois-Offaly is part of the midland regional drugs task force. Its funding has been cut from €1.07 million in 2010 to €870,000 this year. More cuts are expected next year. The cuts should be reversed with immediate effect. They do not even make economic sense because everybody knows this problem has a huge economic cost. For maximum benefit, this funding must not be spread across whole regions because there are pockets that are more affected than others. It must be directed to the communities where there is the greatest need.
The Minister of State's predecessor, Deputy Róisín Shortall, reviewed the structures of the local and regional drugs task forces. The review appears to be hidden somewhere in the Department. The time for reviews is long past. We must see the report. Sinn Féin will continue to work with communities and continue to highlight in fora such as this House the drugs crisis and the problems it is causing. Communities are demanding a response from the Minister of State, Deputy White, and the Government.
Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin: I commend Deputy Maureen O'Sullivan and the other Deputies who brought forward this comprehensive motion on the serious but neglected issue of drug addiction in this country. I recall and pay tribute to the courageous efforts of our deceased colleague, former Deputy Tony Gregory, to address this scourge in his community. They were, and are, rightly acclaimed. I agree with the call in the motion to prioritise addiction as a health issue, not primarily as a criminal issue, and to ensure the necessary allocation of resources.
Experience shows that economic recessions are usually followed by a drugs crisis. It is therefore essential that the Government makes a significant investment in the fight against drugs. It is economically prudent to do so. In fact, it cannot afford to not do so. Failure to properly invest in and fully implement a comprehensive drugs strategy gives rise to mammoth costs for the Exchequer. The drugs crisis incurs huge costs, including for prison places, crime fighting and accident and emergency departments, not to mention the human cost to individuals, families, communities and society.
In 2009, Sinn Féin launched its priorities for the national drugs strategy for 2009 to 2016. We believe they are still very relevant today. Cuts in funding to local and regional drugs task forces which have taken place in recent years are nothing short of a disgrace and an abandonment of the State's duties to its citizens. These task forces are the front line in the battle against drugs. They have been abandoned by the State in the face of increased intimidation from drug peddlers peddling new and ever more addictive drugs.
The main priority in any approach to tackling drugs must focus on early intervention and prevention. The communities and families at risk from drugs are easily identifiable, and this is where resources must be targeted. Approximately €14 million were seized under the proceeds of crime legislation between 2006 and 2010. We have asked the Government on numerous occasions to retain this money for community development purposes. This is the money taken from drug dealers and criminals who are profiting from the communities they are decimating.
Source: http://debates.oireachtas.ie, 04/10/12