Private Members' Business. - Misuse of Drugs Bill, 1996: Second Stage (Resumed).

Wednesday, 7 February 1996

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 461 No. 2

First Page Previous Page Page of 109 Next Page Last Page

Question again proposed: “That the Bill be now read a Second Time.”

Mr. Flood: Information on Chris Flood  Zoom on Chris Flood  I congratulate Deputy O'Donoghue on bringing forward this timely legislation and appreciate that the Government has accepted it. It speaks well of the House that parties co-operate in this fashion and follows the tradition properly established by Fianna Fáil.

The Bill is crucially important. If we are to make appreciable progress in the fight against drug abuse we must be prepared to surrender some of our freedom and put up with the inconvenience caused by the operation of this legislation. As a society we should be prepared to make such sacrifices. In our fight against drug abuse, we can seek to reduce supply and demand. The drug godfathers and pushers must be hit hard. This can be done by seizing assets and imposing long jail sentences without remission. Drug abuse is playing havoc with young people's lives and pushers [588] must pay the price. No country acting alone can fight this menace. We must co-operate with our EU partners and drug producing countries in an organised and formal way. Recent large drug seizures make us aware that many drugs are smuggled into the country undetected. It is estimated that seizures represent 10 per cent of the total amount of drugs imported into this country. We must amend the law. Part I of the Bill deals with detention after arrest. There is a serious problem with “stuffers” and “swallowers” who import drugs at the various points of entry to the State. I am glad the Deputy deals with that issue.

If we wish to reduce the demand for drugs we must educate our children from the earliest age, in the home and at school, against the misuse of drugs. We must be prepared to speak out about it, name and show the drugs to young people and encourage them to say “no” when they are offered them. For many that first time use of drugs leads to tragedy.

We must deal with socially deprived areas. I am not saying that drug abuse is confined to such areas but in some urban areas there is a great problem with drug abuse. We must adequately resource schools in such areas and provide recreational, employment and training facilities. The Garda must continue to work and develop relationships in those communities and help the people in their fight against drug abuse.

We do not have proper treatment facilities, residential places or day care facilities in terms of methadone treatment and counselling. Addicts must go on waiting lists and queue for long periods at clinics. That is not the way to tackle the problem. Society must be prepared to pay for services. At the end of the day drug abuse leads to an appalling level of crime. If we were in a position to remove drugs from society we would dramatically reduce the level of crime.

Mr. Ring: Information on Michael Ring  Zoom on Michael Ring  I wish to share my time with Deputy Boylan. I compliment Deputy O'Donoghue for bringing in this Bill. Hopefully the Government will [589] bring forward its Bill in the near future. Drug abuse is no longer an urban problem. Drugs are now available in every town and village in the country and it is time to take on the drug barons. There is nothing worse than to see young people taking drugs. Last year there were a number of drug seizures with major finds in Galway and Clare. When we take over the EU Presidency I ask the Taoiseach to make tackling drug abuse a major issue.

Last year I suggested in the House, at county council and urban council level, that the Garda should have check points along the Connacht border. I was told that was not possible. Now such checkpoints have been put in place and they have worked. It proved to criminals that the Garda are serious and reassured the elderly.

The lighthouses around our coasts are empty. We have community and neighbourhood watch schemes. Why not have a lighthouse watch manned by the unemployed? They could watch the coastline and observe ships plying the seas. The Government could pay them to do this and it would be well worth it if it prevented the importation of drugs. I ask the Minister to raise at Government level the question of coastal policing. It is a serious proposal that should be considered. The Naval Service does a good job policing our coast but it has enough to do in protecting the rights of our fishermen from the Spaniards and others who cull and rob fish, depriving our fishermen of their livelihood. I call on the Minister to request the Garda and the Army, whose people are trained to use guns, to work together to tackle the drugs problem. Much time is wasted by the Garda Síochána collecting fines. The courts should work in conjunction with the Department of Social Welfare to ensure fines are paid, perhaps on a weekly basis. It is not the job of the Garda Síochána to collect fines; its job is to protect the people.

I welcome this Bill and hope the Government introduces its Bill soon. The greatest problem facing the country is drugs. The people to blame are those [590] who bring drugs into the country. The place for them is Spike Island or some other such place. These people must be dealt with immediately.

Mr. Boylan: Information on Andrew Boylan  Zoom on Andrew Boylan  I thank Deputy Ring for sharing time with me. I wish to share my time with Deputy Derek McDowell.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Seán Treacy  Zoom on Seán Treacy  I am sure that is satisfactory.

Mr. Boylan: Information on Andrew Boylan  Zoom on Andrew Boylan  It is not often I support the Opposition but I commend Deputy O'Donoghue for introducing this important Bill. The root of the drugs problem is drug trafficking. Effective measures must be introduced to deal with drug barons or drug lords, as they are described. It is of great frustration to the Garda and annoyance to many people that lenient sentences are meted out to these people. The excuse has been given that there is no legislation to deal with them. There is sufficient legislation in place but it is improperly applied. I call on Judges at District Court and Circuit Court level to hand down the maximum sentences in these cases. Curtailing sentences for good behaviour and imposing concurrent sentences on persons who have committed a number of crimes is unacceptable. The penalty must fit the crime and the people involved must be put away for a sufficient period so that they learn a lesson. The Garda has sufficient information on drug barons and with the support of the courts it can succeed in taking these people off the streets.

That is not the full solution to the problem. It is very easy to blame the Garda and those in authority, but in many cases parents do not act responsibly. It is unacceptable that children of nine, ten and 11 years are allowed to attend discos unsupervised. There are many good parents but unfortunately there are many who do not meet their responsibilities. Children up to the age of 16 or 17 years need supervision. Parents have come to me complaining that the gardaí or proprietors of certain venues are not doing their job properly, [591] but in many cases it is the parents who are not doing their job. They should control their children and teach them about the dangers of drug abuse as well as alcohol abuse and smoking. That would curtail the problem to the extent that drug dealers would not have such a big market for drugs.

I was amazed to read in today's newspaper that children of six or seven years are subjected to sunbed treatment by their parents so that they will have a tan on their Communion day. To subject children to such treatment is outrageous. They are at risk of getting cancer because of the irresponsible actions of their parents, who should be ashamed of themselves. If in future I see a child with a suntan I will tell the parents to get their act together and be more responsible. It is unacceptable for parents to blame those in authority for their children's drink or drugs problems. It is time parents took their responsibilities seriously. It is easy to blame the Garda and the Minister for Justice. With the support of the courts the Garda can succeed in tackling the drugs problem, but judges must hand down sentences that fit the crime.

Mr. D. McDowell: Information on Derek McDowell  Zoom on Derek McDowell  I wish to share the remaining time with Deputy Kathleen Lynch.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Seán Treacy  Zoom on Seán Treacy  I am sure that is satisfactory.

Mr. D. McDowell: Information on Derek McDowell  Zoom on Derek McDowell  My constituency colleague, Deputy Callely, is in the House and I have always remarked that he tans very well. From Deputy Boylan's revelations the explanation is clear. It must have a great deal to do with what happened around the time of his Confimation.

I commend Deputy O'Donoghue for bringing this Bill before the House. It addresses many useful points and gives us an opportunity to consider the problem of drug trafficking and drug use. I am concerned at some of the contributions on this matter, particularly [592] those which concentrated on the drug issue as if it were purely a criminal justice issue. There is a criminal side to the problem and people who traffic in drugs must be put away as quickly as possible, for as long as possible and as effectively as possible. To achieve that we have a duty to marshal the forces of the State, the Army, the Naval Service, Customs and Excise and the Revenue Commissioners.

There is, however, another side to the problem which perhaps is less sexy in terms of soundbites, but which must be the subject of detailed study and on which money must be spent. For many communities in Dublin the phrase “drugs crisis” has a hollow ring to it. There are communities, including some in my constituency, who have experienced a drugs problem since the early 1980s. For them the current drugs problem is not a crisis or a temporary explosion; it is a problem that has existed for a long time and for which there are no quick fix solutions. Their experience has shown us that any attempt to address the structural problem of long-term chronic drug abuse must take place on several different levels. The health and education services must play a central role in what we are trying to achieve. Deputy O'Donoghue's Bill, and measures like it, fail to give an overall view of what we must do. It perpetuates the belief that the drugs problem can be addressed only by increased security measures. The Bill deals entirely with supply reduction. Deputy O'Donoghue is to be commended for the effort he put into preparing this Bill, but the Government's forthcoming criminal justice Bill which will deal with trafficking is probably a better means of bringing into effect more comprehensive laws to deal with this area.

Legislation is only one facet of the fight against drug dealers. Despite Opposition claims that the Minister for Justice has been slow to respond to this [593] issue, any objective analysis would suggest the contrary. She is to be commended on the reforms she implemented to tackle drug barons.

I hope the recently signed memorandum of understanding between the Garda and Customs and Excise and the joint task force to be established on foot of this will be an important operational reform that will co-ordinate the efforts of both services. Deputies and the general public have been concerned by reports that those two elements of the State apparatus have not been pulling in the same direction at the same time. I hope that memorandum will clear up any misunderstanding there may have been in the past.

The establishment of a Garda national drugs unit and the additional powers to be granted to the Naval Service will help to combat drug trafficking at sea. They are commendable measures and, as part of an overall package, I hope they will be effective.

Along with those measures the Minister for Justice indicated a report on the level of co-operation between the Garda and the Revenue Commissioners will be submitted soon. That is welcome, overdue and I hope it will help the Revenue Commissioners pursue thugs who live lavish lifestyles on foot of their earnings. Nothing galls the public more than people enjoying lavish lifestyles paid for out of criminal earnings and drawing the dole.

The issue of bail has exercised the minds of the public during recent weeks. I am on record as changing my mind on this issue. People involved in drug trafficking or drug abuse who are brought before the courts, and have no obvious means of feeding their habit other than by crime, should be refused bail by the judge. Judges should be allowed that discretion where there is an overwhelming likelihood that an offender will commit crime while on bail and, if necessary, the Constitution should be amended in a carefully delineated fashion to make that possible.

I welcome the Minister's announcement about prison places. The transfer [594] of paramilitary prisoners to Castlerea will provide an additional 105 prison places in Portlaoise. That measure, together with the planned refurbishment of Mountjoy Prison, Limerick Prison and the Curragh Detention Unit, will bring on stream an extra 223 prison places this year. This use of our prison facilities demonstrates the Government's commitment to tackling the revolving door syndrome, a practice that sickens many people outside this House and has bedevilled our criminal justice system for a long time.

I am not a constitutional lawyer, but I wonder whether a system which allows the Minister, on foot of a recommendation from the governor of Mountjoy Prison, to effectively negate a judicial decision within hours of it being made could be open to constitutional challenge. It would seem to be a straightforward clash between the Executive making a decision which overturns one made by the Judiciary.

While I welcome the provision of additional prison places, I urge the Minister to pay particular attention to the recent report of the Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment which details some serious breaches of discipline by certain members of the Garda and prison service. I accept those incidents are not widespread and I do not want to give the impression that they are typical of the behaviour of members of those services. Nonetheless, I am disturbed that disciplinary action has not been taken following those incidents. The Minister would be well advised to consider the opinion of the governor of Limerick Prison who stated that the lack of any sanctions in these cases led a small minority of prison officers to believe they are invincible and immune from any instruction from management. That is a cause of concern and cannot be tolerated in the prison system. I urge the Minister to examine measures to prevent that situation developing, particularly in new facilities that will be brought on stream during the next 18 months or so.

[595] These legislative and administrative reforms are part of the Government's overall package to tackle the drugs problem. They are important and I hope they will be effective. They draw on a wealth of research produced by professionals dealing with the drugs problem here. To complement this research it would be helpful if the Minister or a committee of this House were to examine the experience of some of our European partners who implemented other policies designed to tackle chronic drug abuse.

In some countries a distinction has been drawn between so-called hard drugs, such as cocaine and heroin, and other substances which have a less devastating personal and social effect. It is ironic and bizarre that we find the use and abuse of alcohol socially acceptable while we condemn and insist on legal sanctions against drugs which appear less personally or sociably damaging. The distinction made in other countries has allowed the authorities there to concentrate their efforts on the pursuit of individuals and gangs involved in the hard drugs trade. It would be of value to this debate to ascertain what effect those measures have had in other jurisdictions.

Any strategy to tackle the drugs problem here cannot rely solely on supply reduction measures. The grip drug abuse has on sections of our society has produced many victims. Foremost among those are the thousands of people whose young lives have been blighted by the tragedy of chronic drug addiction. Any policy that treats those people soley as criminals and incarcerates them in prison for drug use where, despite the best efforts of the prison authorities, drugs are freely available is destined to failure. The resources of the Departments of Health and Education must be channelled into helping those who are chronically addicted to opiates and other substances.

The State must make serious inroads into reducing the demand for addictive drugs. The scale of the problem and the [596] misery associated with it are so serious that resources must be invested in treatment and rehabilitation programmes. Currently the drug satellite clinics run by the Eastern Health Board at Baggot Street, Ballyfermot and Amiens Street, together with the drug treatment centre in Pearse Street and the Merchants Quay project, have substantial waiting lists. The services provided by those centres, such as methadone maintenance, needle exchange, HIV testing and counselling, are vital in tackling the drugs problem. The waiting lists for those facilities must be reduced considerably and the remit of those centres widened to treat young people who, although not currently taking opiates intravenously, wish to undergo addiction treatment.

The extension of the current number of drug satellite clinics is central to this programme. As a Deputy representing an urban constituency, I understand the concerns of many people who react with shock when they hear such a clinic will be situated near where they live. Most of this concern revolves around the belief that their locality will become a Mecca for drug users from all over the city. It is essential that the health boards co-ordinate and synchronise the establishment of such clinics. That would enable local residents to know the number of people who would use such clinics and the exact catchment area such a clinic would be designed to serve.

Satellite clinics must have the support of community drug teams. Such teams operate at community level in identifying the extent of the drug addiction problem, establishing a relationship between the individual drug addict and treatment services and monitoring the drug addict after treatment. They can use the skills of trained professionals, such as Outreach workers, juvenile liaison officers and social workers to address the needs of those who want to come off addictive drugs. Currently there is a lack of such a system. In my constituency a local youth project, that does not receive adequate resources, is [597] providing such a service to the best of its ability.

If we are serious in our efforts to tackle it this intolerable situation cannot be allowed to continue. The drugs trade is a nasty business, motivated by greed, sustained by poverty and controlled by fear. It is vital that the anger generated within the community at this scourge does not cloud our judgment. Though they may help in its resolution, measures such as those included in this Bill will not solve this complex problem. While additional powers may assist the authorities in their battle against drug barons the real fight against drugs must take place within our communities and include the treatment and rehabilitation of those addicted to drugs. It must involve treating drug addicts not solely as criminals but as patients suffering from a chronic disease.

Only when strategies along these lines are in place, properly funded, can we hope to prevent a new generation of young people falling into the living hell of chronic drug addiction.

Kathleen Lynch: Information on Kathleen Lynch  Zoom on Kathleen Lynch  Members' contributions to this debate over the past week or so — to which I have listened — are an indication of the diverging views held on the misuse of drugs as it relates to crime, any two being totally different. I predict that mine will fall midway.

Judging from the comments over the past week on the upsurge of crime we should be very worried at people's perception of its solution, if not their perception of the problem itself, as some solutions advocated are very dangerous and worrying. Legislation enacted in times of crisis leaves behind a residual problem far greater than the original it set out to tackle.

Last evening an elderly farmer was gunned down in Stephenstown, Rosegreen, Cashel, County Tipperary, not that far from where I live, while his wife and daughter were tied up in another room. Last night's outrage was the latest in a series of atrocities which has stunned the public and caused people [598] inside and outside the House to search frantically for answers, many of which ventilated over the past couple of weeks were simplistic and, in some cases, downright dangerous. Deputy O'Donoghue made a valuable contribution to the current debate in introducing this Bill.

I should like to deal with the more extreme statements made by some public representatives in recent weeks from which no doubt Deputy O'Donoghue and other Members who have contributed to this debate will distance themselves. I do not believe that the rising rate of crime, or levels of violent crime, will be solved through the reintroduction of birching, flogging or hanging, remedies advocated over the last few weeks by people who should know better and who, when they make such statements, should be fully aware they will be noted.

I do not believe that prison should be viewed as a place of containment rather than rehabilitation or that arbitrary preventative detention is the answer. If that is what we believe, we might as well all hang up our hats, turn out the lights and go home. I do not believe either, as one of my colleagues on Cork Corporation said, that the simple provision of three square meals a day amounts to a life of luxury for prisoners. His solution on how we should treat prisoners was to cut down on one of their meals. I have never yet seen a prisoner refuse to leave prison because life outside was much worse; prisons are not luxury hotels. I invite anybody who believes they are to visit them.

Many statements made by those jumping on the crime bandwagon in recent weeks have been reminiscent of the type of rhetoric engaged in at a Tory Party Conference before the main act; those who do not join in the general chorus of “hang them all” are automatically labelled as soft on crime, which is why it is very difficult to raise one's voice from time to time.

I want to make it quite clear that Democratic Left is not soft on crime or its causes, a fundamental difference. We [599] are not soft on the social disintegration that has marginalised whole communities and helped foment the type of urban restlessness witnessed last Hallowe'en. Neither are we soft on sentencing policy which at times appears to be arbitrary, or on a temporary release policy which allows convicted criminals out of prison having served just a few months to make room for more convicted prisoners who, in turn, will be released early, thus making room for more. The sentence should fit the crime, be served in its totality and, whenever temporary release is considered, should form part of a rehabilitation package rather than a convenient instrument deployed by the Department of Justice to relieve pressure on prison places.

Once again, I urge the Minister to examine the establistment of a parole board promised in the programme, A Government of Renewal.

The attitude of Democratic Left to drugs is similar to that outlined by Deputy Derek McDowell, 80 per cent of so-called petty crime is thought to be drug-related — muggings, handbag snatchings, opportunistic break-ins, while deemed petty, are anything but petty in the eyes of their victims. Anybody who has been mugged, burgled or terrorised while walking along the street will be appalled at being treated as a mere petty crime statistic. Equally, those who commit such crimes should be pursued with the full rigour of the law. After due consideration, if it is felt that the law in this area needs to be strengthened, so be it.

We need to catch drug addicts at the beginning of their abusing cycle, which is where the knee-jerk reaction comes into play. Some statements lead one to believe the present crime rate is a product of last week's mismanagement whereas it is a product of mismanagement over decades.

We need to be extremely careful about any legislation we introduce in this area; sometimes quick-fix solutions can leave problems in their wake that can remain long after this or any other [600] serious crime wave will have been reduced to no more than a headline.

Mr. Callely: Information on Ivor Callely  Zoom on Ivor Callely  I would like to share my time with my colleague, Deputy Batt O'Keeffe.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Seán Treacy  Zoom on Seán Treacy  I am sure that is satisfactory and agreed.

Mr. Callely: Information on Ivor Callely  Zoom on Ivor Callely  I congratulate my colleague, Deputy O'Donoghue, on having introduced this Bill, when he may have felt somewhat like a drug pusher, wondering how he could get an Opposition Bill accepted; how far could he go in putting the rainbow Government on the spot, what measures would they accept? Given the opportunity, I have no doubt that Deputy O'Donoghue would have drafted even tougher provisions for presentation to the House. I support the view that we should be tough in the overall fight against misuse of drugs. This crime wave has not resulted within the short space of time to which Deputy Kathleen Lynch referred; all Members are aware that drug-related and violent crimes have increased dramatically over a considerable period. Thus we must gear our efforts to fight the general drugs scene.

I am disappointed that many questions I posed to the Government on this matter to date have been fudged, the clear reality is that drug dependency has had detrimental effects on the very fabric of our society, absentee drug barons getting away with murder, indulging in luxuries, enjoying their financial gains while targeting the vulnerable, in particular, the young. Because of the cost of addiction drug abusers have been known to engage in criminal activities to acquire cash to satisfy that addiction. Over the years we have seen changing trends, fashions and costs in the types of drugs abused and, as sure as night follows day, the future will bring further changes. However, there is one certainty: drugs will, if permitted, continue to devastate our society.

The last speaker referred to knee jerk reactions and recent trends. Statistics [601] suggest that the misuse of hard drugs did not materialise as a serious problem until the late 1970s. With the arrival of the drug barons, we experienced a ten year growth in use between 1978 and 1988. Since 1989 the drugs problem is out of control and has placed a heavy burden and strain on all our services. What has been the Government response to date? In the early years, special committees and working groups were established. In 1983 a special Government task force looked at the question of drug misuse. We have had its recommendations as well as a series of legislative measures, specialised Garda drug units, the introduction of modern technology and communication systems, and the establishment of a national co-ordinating committee on drug abuse to advise the Government on general issues regarding the prevention and treatment of drug misuse. I acknowledge attempts to address the escalating problems and pay tribute to all those involved in the delivery of our services, particularly the voluntary groups and Outreach workers.

We should now clearly recognise that these measures have failed. We need to reconstitute and strengthen services. In 1991 we published a Government strategy to prevent drug misuse. We recognised that there is a problem and that it is complex and difficult. We have a multi-disciplinary approach. We identify areas requiring action as well as the areas of supply and demand reduction and access to treatment and rehabilitation programmes and combine this with a comprehensive co-ordinated structure geared towards effective implementation.

Since 1991 there has been a further escalation of drug misuse. We are not different from any other country. Governments all over the world are continually grappling with the problem of drug misuse and its associated problems. It is vital that this House deals with this dreadful problem. The buck stops in this House. The drug barons and pushers have had free rein and we [602] have failed to meet the challenge in the escalation of drug abuse.

Our communities have been savaged by drug barons and pushers. Tonight there will be more savagery and again this weekend. Night after night and day after day communities are under siege and the nightmare continues. We have a crisis that must be confronted. Even the paramilitaries are offering to come in and clean up. Communities are entitled to real Government commitment to tackle this dreadful problem. They have put up with more than enough. We have an organised ruthless criminal underworld which resorts to murder, violence and intimidation without compunction. Statements of intent by Government are no longer acceptable. We need a comprehensive plan of action now and we need to build confidence in the criminal justice system.

I have listened to the debate knowing what people would say depending on the side of the House from which they spoke. It is regrettable that this is the case. This is an important issue which warrants us coming clean, recognising that successive Governments have failed to address this problem and standing back from any political gain.

We must ask what is in it for the absentee drug lords. There is an enormous financial benefit from drug dependency for the drug lords. It makes the issue a difficult one with no easy solution. It will take guts and radical measures to stop drug pushing and, at this stage, it is too late to eliminate the drug problem. Fashion drugs cannot be eradicated completely and they will continue to exist as long as they give people the required satisfaction.

The general public have had enough. They are prepared to travel the extra mile, explore new measures and see the efficacy of them. We should recognise the size of the problem and encourage registration of addicts. It may be a thorny subject but, if necessary, we should supply hard drugs free of charge. This will take the financial gain to the [603] drug lord out of the equation. We must rehabilitate the drug addict to remove the demand. We need special squads to confront changing trends and we must improve our education and detoxification facilities. We require a “hands on” community approach adapted to meet the needs of the community in dealing with those at risk and helping those addicted. Most importantly we need mandatory ten year sentences for people found in possession of drugs in excess of the amount required for their own consumption. We need prison places and a clear message should be sent out to the abuses of our criminal justice system.

I tabled a question to the Minister for Justice on today's Order Paper. It was:

To ask the Minister for Justice if she supports the view that the perpetrators of crime should be given a clear message that they will go to prison, stay there until they have paid their debt to society and an example must be made of those who are convicted by the courts to others who may be of like mind; and if she will make a statement on the matter.

I am more than disappointed with the Minister's response. She fudges the question to the very end stating that she has no doubt that the public interest is best served when a range of effective alternatives to custody are employed to the full and prisons are only used as a last resort. Will the Minister of State tell the Minister that this is not what the public wants? The public wants convicted criminals behind bars paying their debts to society.

The public does not want to hear the answer to a question I asked the Minister for Justice about recreational facilities. The answer was:

There is a wide range of recreational facilities... These include a fully-equipped, supervised gymnasium and an outdoor exercise area. [604] The gymnasium is widely used by the inmates for a range of activities including exercise classes on a group and individual basis. Supervision is provided by a qualified instructor. The outdoor facility is used for basketball, netball and other activities. In addition, the prisoners have access to television and video facilities.

Many families in our society are paying through the nose, trying to survive by working hard, paying their taxes and cannot avail of these facilities but our prisoners can. The answer continues:

They also engage in crafts activities and have access to a fully stocked library. They are also encouraged to avail of a varied educational programme under the guidance of teachers from the Vocational Education Services.

I asked if any special arrangements had been made for recreational facilities. It disappoints me to say that the final line of the answer was: “Recent initiatives in respect of recreation for female prisoners include swimming lessons on a weekly basis at a facility in the community. It is disgraceful, sickening and a scandal.

As I indicated there are no easy solutions. The measures I mentioned would create the necessary impetus to smash the drug scene. This is one area where initiative and action must be taken and real progress must be seen. We must learn from our past.

Mr. B. O'Keeffe: Information on Batt O'Keeffe  Zoom on Batt O'Keeffe  Heroin seizures were up by 200 per cent in 1994. Cocaine seizures were up by 300 per cent and ecstasy seizures were up by 1,300 per cent. One would say it was an extraordinary success if one was not aware that this country is awash with drugs. It was a problem in our cities — Dublin, Cork and Limerick — but unfortunately drugs are now available in every town and village desecrating our young people and causing terrible [605] social problems for parents and children.

The Minister promised to do something about the control of drugs when she assumed office but nothing has happened. She was prompted into action by the activities of Deputy John O'Donoghue through his pronouncements here and the introduction of Bills of this nature. I say shame on her, because only 10 per cent of all drugs coming in are seized. We are all aware of the oversupply. Three years ago ecstasy cost £35 per tablet, now it can be bought on the streets for anything from £3 to £5. This is an indication that they are readily available and everybody knows that. Untold misery is caused when my child or anybody's child is caught up in the drugs scene. Many deaths and much trauma have been the result of the misuse of drugs. We owe it to parents and young people to take serious note of this problem. I congratulate Deputy O'Donoghue on his initiative in introducing this Bill which indicates that we on this side of the House are serious about dealing with this morass.

I congratulate the State solicitor in Cork, Mr. Barry Galvin, on the fearless approach he has taken by naming individuals in court who he said were involved in drugs and racketeering. He opposed the granting of a licence to that public house. This is an example that could be followed throughout the country. I wish there were many others who had the same courage as that demonstrated by Mr. Galvin on the Cork scene.

I have heard references here to the memorandum of understanding signed last week by the Customs authorities and the Garda Síochána. This will allow Customs officials to seize drugs, to preserve the scene and then to hand it over to the Garda. Later those involved will be charged under the Customs Act. Will the Minister say if there is a properly integrated approach between the Customs authorities and the Garda? Is she [606] satisfied we have the necessary co-ordination of activities to ensure that those who are importing drugs cannot get away scot free?

I ask the Minister to check in her Department the number of hours the national drugs team spend in the detection of drugs on the Waterford to Kerry coastline which extends for hundreds of miles. My information suggests that those involved work from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. five days a week. In the Cork area there is no overtime working or rostering to take note of what is happening in that area. I believe the major drugs intake is in that area, yet we are not willing to provide the necessary resources to ensure it is properly monitored. Because of the lack of resources, our drugs team has asked the local fishermen to report suspect activities. That is laudable but it is not the answer to the problem and it is not the type of resource we would like to see in place.

My understanding is that the maritime unit in the Cork area is practically grounded because of a lack of resources. My information suggests that in Waterford the maritime unit has been taken out of the water because of a lack of funding. Is that the type of commitment by the Government that is needed to seriously tackle the scourge of drugs importation?

Another speaker referred to the Revenue Commissioners and their role in tracking down the drug barons who are not officially employed but who own big houses, Mercedes cars, property, hotels and bars. When the chairman of the Revenue Commissioners, Mr. Mac Domhnail, was before the Committee of Public Accounts I was surprised to hear him say: “Our function is to collect revenue. If we have evidence which suggests an undercharge of tax, we get the tax that is part of our normal activity but nothing else”. Effectively, what we heard from Mr. Mac Domhnaill on that occasion was that it is the duty of the Garda and Customs officials to track [607] down the drug barons and give us the information. I concluded from that episode that the type of co-ordination which is absolutely necessary in this instance may not exist. It is time there was proper integration and co-ordination between every unit involved in drug seizures, drug prevention and treatment of victims and that they came together to share their experiences. There should be no lack of resources to combat the importation of drugs.

I had a motion down to the Southern Health Board last Monday relating to ecstasy. The reply I received and the response from the press conference which the Southern Health Board held this week was that the parents were the missing link. There are hundreds of thousands of leaflets explaining the drugs problem produced by voluntary groups who mean well and want to do a proper job. Will the Minister say if there is a co-ordinated effort between the Departments of Education, Health and Justice in terms of the education of parents and children in schools? The private alcohol centres, the Garda the health boards and the schools all have their own programmes but it is a hit and miss endeavour. There is not a co-ordinated approach. There must be co-ordination to ensure we make some impact on the massive amounts of drugs being imported. I wish to share my time with Deputy Quill.

Miss Quill: Information on Máirín Quill  Zoom on Máirín Quill  In the brief time at my disposal I congratulate Deputy John O'Donoghue for displaying initiative and expertise in bringing forward this Bill. I am encouraged by the attitude of the Minister for Justice in finally agreeing to take this Bill on board. I was disheartened on the opening day of the debate when the Taoiseach said the Government could not accept the Bill. His reason was that there were issues of civil liberties that might be infringed if [608] the Bill were accepted. It is an indication of the power of public opinion that there was a major shift in attitude between the morning and the evening. That is a healthy sign. More concern is shown for the perpetrator of crime than the victim. That is the hallmark of a sick society. I am glad the Government has seen the light and is not opposing this Bill.

I make a strong appeal to the Minister to introduce the long promised juvenile justice Bill and steer it through the House without delay. The Government cannot claim with credibility to be concerned about the drugs problem on the one hand and on the other to continue to drag its feet in the introduction of proper, up-to-date and enforceable law to deal with juvenile justice issues. Drugs are part of youth culture. How can we successfully tackle the drugs problem if we continue to operate with legislation enacted in 1908?

It is almost four years since an all-party committee painstakingly prepared a report on juvenile justice which was to form the basis of legislation. We are still awaiting its introduction. In the meantime there has been a rise in the incidence of juvenile crime not to mention the damage the most vulnerable of our young people have done to themselves by getting caught up in the drugs culture.

The Government stands condemned — it amounts to criminal negligence — for its failure to introduce the juvenile justice Bill considering that much of the work was done by the all-party committee. It is of overriding importance to prevent a child from slipping into a life of crime and very often nowadays drugs are the gateway.

Not alone must society be protected, young people have a right to a legislative framework under which they can be protected. There is a need for good crime prevention strategies and early intervention programmes to save young [609] people who dabble in crime from getting trapped in its net and, in the process, doing irreversible damage to their health and life prospects. Seán O'Casey once described Ireland as an old sow that eats its farrows. When I consider our failure to enact proper legislation to protect our young people, this is about to come true. There is no justification for delaying and dragging of feet on this issue.

It is well known, as illustrated by Deputy Batt O'Keeffe, that Cork is vulnerable because of the length of its coastline. Despite this there are 24 fewer gardaí on duty in Cork city than there were four years ago. When the Progressive Democrats left office in 1992 there were 537 gardaí on duty in the city. Today there are 513, despite the rise in the incidence of crime and drug taking.

Will the Minister introduce the juvenile justice Bill and steer it through the House without delay and restore the number of gardaí on duty in Cork city to the 1992 level? After parents, gardaí are the next line of defence in the fight against crime and the protection of society.

Minister of State at the Department of Justice (Mr. Currie): Information on Austin Currie  Zoom on Austin Currie  I join other Members in paying tribute to Deputy O'Donoghue for the work he has put into this Bill. As the House will be aware, the Government is not opposing it on Second Stage, but when replying to Deputy O'Donoghue last week the Minister for Justice made it clear that the Government intended to introduce its own Criminal Justice (Drug Trafficking) Bill. I am pleased to inform the House that yesterday the Government approved the text of that Bill and it will be published tomorrow. As the Minister for Justice mentioned during debate, speedily progressing that measure through the House is likely to prove the best way to put effective laws [610] on the Statute Book in this area as quickly as possible.

The debate on this measure has at times strayed from its direct contents to more general criminal justice issues. I cannot respond to all the points made, but it is worth emphasising that the Criminal Justice (Drug Trafficking) Bill is only one of a number of important criminal law measures which will be introduced this year. I will mention but a few.

A non-fatal offences against the person Bill will replace with modern provisions much of the Offences Against the Person Act, 1861. A Criminal Law Bill will abolish outmoded distinctions in our criminal law and provide the Garda Síochána with a modern statutory code dealing with the powers of arrest and entry to premises. A Criminal Justice (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill will free up gardaí from spending much time in the courts rather than on the prevention and detection of crime.

The House will understand that, given my special responsibilities in relation to children, I am anxious to introduce a juvenile justice Bill — the Children Bill — as quickly as possible. Deputy Quill was unfair to me. She said the Government stands condemned for its failure to introduce this Bill and that this amounts to criminal negligence. She said that I was dragging my feet——

Miss Quill: Information on Máirín Quill  Zoom on Máirín Quill  I said the Government was.

Mr. Currie: Information on Austin Currie  Zoom on Austin Currie  The Deputy is aware, having played her part at an earlier stage, that updating the 1908 legislation is a major exercise. She is also aware that successive Governments since the 1970s have failed to reach agreement on serious core issues. I am glad to say that in less than 12 months matters with which successive Governments have been grappling have been worked out, that the general scheme of the Bill which consists of 240 sections has been [611] approved by the Government and that substantial progress has been made in drafting it. Considering that we have been waiting since the 1970s the Deputy can wait a little while longer for the process to be completed. Perhaps she will take the first opportunity to be fair to me.

Miss Quill: Information on Máirín Quill  Zoom on Máirín Quill  I will cheer on the Minister of State when the Bill is introduced and buy him a coffee in the restaurant.

Mr. Currie: Information on Austin Currie  Zoom on Austin Currie  I look forward to that. The question of bail was raised by a number of contributors. The Minister for Justice has explained fully to the House on a number of occasions the position on it. Examination of the Law Reform Commission report on the law of bail is at an advanced stage in the Department with a view to putting proposals before the Government as quickly as possible.

The Minister for Justice pointed out in her response to the Bill that there were a number of substantial problems with it. We will all be interested in how Deputy O'Donoghue addresses these points in his reply to the debate. In particular, does he now accept that there are well-founded concerns that this Bill would be likely to give rise to constitutional difficulties, fall foul of our obligations under the European Convention on Human Rights and prove unworkable in practice?

I will refer to just a few of the specific issues which arise. Does the Deputy accept that the definition of the offences to which the Bill relates is too narrow? Is it not the case that providing under section 1 that court hearings would be ex parte, irrespective of its constitutionality, would be likely to breach the European Convention on Human Rights? Will the Deputy explain what he has in mind in that section when he refers to “substantial” and “serious” offences? How would the courts be [612] expected to deal with those concepts? What is the rationale behind applying some but not all the provisions of the Criminal Justice Act, 1984 to persons detained under the Bill? There is no provision in the present Bill which would allow gardaí demand the name and address of the person being detained.

The Deputy will be aware of the many other points raised by the Minister for Justice about his proposals and I am sure he will address them in his reply. There is broad agreement in the House about the type of measures necessary to deal with the scourge of drug trafficking. To a large extent this debate — which has been a useful one — is about how best to bring those measures about.

The Government's drug trafficking Bill attempts to address the issues in the Deputy's Bill which would give rise to difficulties. The Government's Bill will be published tomorrow and its speedy progress through the House will place the most effective laws in this area on our Statute Book. When Members have had an opportunity to consider that Bill I am confident they will reach a similar conclusion.

I commend the Deputy for the work he has put into preparing this Bill and I thank the Members who participated constructively in the debate.

Mr. O'Donoghue: Information on John O'Donoghue  Zoom on John O'Donoghue  I thank Members who contributed to the debate, many of whom made kind remarks about the Bill.

The Minister last week and the Minister of State tonight criticised it on a number of grounds, one of which was the fact that it excluded a reference to an offence under section 21 of the Misuse of Drugs Act, 1977. The Minister for Justice challenged me to explain how this Bill would pass the constitutionality test. She referred, in particular, to the right of access to a solicitor and stated that this was not referred to in the Bill. [613] This was a deliberate omission based on sound legal argument and reason.

At the time of the passing of the Criminal Justice Act, 1984 the courts had not clarified the exact status of a right of access to a solicitor. At that time it was unclear whether it was a legal or a constitutional right. It does not give me pleasure to say that the Minister's comments demonstrate that she does not understand the difference between a legal and a constitutional right or the jurisprudential development of the right of access to a solicitor which was ambiguous for a long time. That ambiguity was resolved by the Supreme Court in the case of the Director of Public Prosecutions v. Healy, reported at page 73 of the 1992 Irish Reports, where the right of access to a solicitor was held to be a constitutional tright, not a legal right or a right conferred by statute. As it is a constitutional right it need not be included as a statutory right in this or any other legislation. To do so would be meaningless and superfluous to requirements.

The Minister's criticism demonstrates a lamentable lack of understanding of the criminal law. She might as well have criticised the Bill for failing to accord a detained person the right to bodily integrity or life, which is also absent from the Bill. That is a constitutional right and does not depend on any statute for legitimacy; it derives from the Constitution as interpreted by the Supreme Court. The Minister's suggestion that to exclude a constitutional right from a Bill would increase the risk of it being found unconstitutional is nonsense, even from the perspective of the most biased of observers. That suggestion does not have a legal basis and was made to the Minister by somebody who has as little understanding as she of the criminal law.

The Minister also demonstrated a comprehensive lack of knowledge of the case law that has arisen from the provisions of section 4 (5) of the Criminal [614] Justice Act, 1984 which requires that a person be charged where there is enough evidence to do so. If the Minister had examined the law in detail she would know that decisions of the Court of Criminal Appeal in The People v. O'Toole and Others and in The People v. Hannon and Reddan permitted detention following sufficient evidence to charge, if it is necessary for a proper investigation of the offence for which the person is arrested. All detention under the Fianna Fáil Bill would be to enable proper investigation of the offence for which the person is arrested. To detain for any other reason would be unlawful and unconstitutional and would add nothing to the Bill.

I reserve my strongest criticism of the Minister's contribution for what she described as this Bill's “most serious flaw”, the fact that any application to detain a person beyond 48 hours would be made ex parte. She objected to this and stated it was illegal and unconstitutional. From my perspective and from the perspective of anybody with a knowledge or interest in this area, it is obvious that the Minister envisages that for a period of detention to be lawful it must happen subsequent to the arrested person being afforded a right to be heard at a hearing. In other words, before a person could be detained there would have to be a hearing. If that is the criterion, why is the member in charge of a Garda station permitted to detain a person under the provisions of section 4 of the Criminal Justice Act, 1994?

Why is a superintendent entitled to extend that detention ex parte? Why is a member of the Garda entitled to arrest and detain a person under section 30 of the Offences Against the State Act, 1939 without giving the person the right to be heard? Why is a chief superintendent entitled to extend that period on an ex parte basis? The Minister for Justice, in asking questions of me in relation to ex parte detention, raised [615] more questions about herself than about my Bill.

One of the reasons the Minister gave for this power of detention being necessary was that there is often an international dimension in these cases. That is true and one of the main reasons for the proposed detention is to ensure that the gardaí have time to ascertain the evidence available internationally in regard to a suspected drug trafficker. I can understand how gardaí could arrest and detain a person as part of an ongoing operation, but the Minister suggested that after a period of ex parte detention, which can be extended to 48 hours, the gardaí would have to go to court and divulge before the world all the information they have on the suspected drug trafficker. This is one of the most nonsensical suggestions ever made in this House. On what legal basis did the Minister make such a suggestion? She must be unaware that on every day of the week gardaí, in the proper exercise of their duty, obtain orders at ex parte hearings which affect the rights of others. Hundreds of search warrants are issued each year at ex parte hearings. Thousands of arrest warrants are obtained each year at ex parte hearings. What legal basis does the Minister have for determining that detention for up to 48 hours on an ex parte basis is lawful but that detention beyond that time on an ex parte basis is unconstitutional? That does not make any sense.

The criticism the Minister made of my Bill shows, unfortunately, how much she is at sea in relation to this problem. Has she contemplated the consequences of the type of hearing she suggests as being necessary? The detained person would have to be given adequate notice of the hearing and told of the intended Garda evidence. We are talking about a suspected drug trafficker peddling in death. He or she would have to be given an opportunity to consider the evidence and prepare a defence. He or she could [616] call evidence and be legally represented. For cases with an international dimension, the Minister proposes disclosing the entirety of Garda information in relation to the alleged drug trafficker in open court. The Minister might as well have gone the whole way and require the Garda to publish the up-to-date state of confidential information in Iris Oifigiúil, the national newspapers or on the electronic media. That is nonsensical and nobody can deny that.

I repeat my question to the Minister: what magic occurs after 48 hours that requires ex parte detention to become detention on foot of a contested hearing? If the Minister believes her objection to be valid, how does she contend that the existing detention provisions are valid? The answer is that these are spurious objections raised in an attempt to justify the Minister's failure to introduce this legislation to date.

The Minister, in as transparent an attempt at obfuscation as I have ever seen, suggests that a court would be unable to ascertain what a substantial offence is and that that is a valid reason for criticising the Bill. To my surprise, the Minister of State joined in that criticism tonight. Courts are presided over by experienced lawyers capable of understanding ordinary language. The canons of construction of statutes require words to be given their ordinary meaning. Can the Minister understand the concept of a substantial offence and, if so, and I am not suggesting she cannot, it would be fair for her to presume that the Judiciary can understand it as well. If she cannot understand it, she should abandon all hope of understanding criminal law and managing its reform.

In relation to the power to issue search warrants contained in the Bill, the Minister has again misunderstood the fundamental import of the section. The provisions of section 26 of the Misuse of Drugs Act, 1977 are law; they do not need to be re-enacted in this Bill. [617] They form part of what the Minister described in her contribution as, “the huge corpus of criminal law”.

I will avoid using the word “criticism” in relation to the Minister's comments but as she frankly admits she does not understand the effect of the section in relation to section 4, it is strong testimony to the fact that she has little grasp of what she is dealing with. Customs officers are persons in authority. They currently do not have any statutory power to question; if they do so, they must be governed by the judge's rules as are other figures in authority such as agricultural officers. This section gives them the necessary powers and sets the conditions so that what is said may be admissible in evidence. It is a necessary power and if the Minister examines the most fundamental aspects of the law of evidence, she will see that this section was necessary too.

In relation to Part II of the Bill, the Minister mentioned unspecified concerns about the way in which it was drafted. She seeks to justify the continued presence of this unconscionable provision of the 1977 Act by virtue of the fact that it is desirable that a decision be made at an early stage as to whether there is a case to answer. Has the Minister any idea as to the number of cases thrown out at preliminary examination stage? If she did, she would not have made this rash, irrational and ill-considered statement. This area of law is in need of reform and the Minister has no idea how it should be tackled.

The final failure by the Minister to understand the extent and scale of public dissatisfaction is the speed with which she pushes the revolving door. I am not surprised that once a measure intended to introduce transparency into the prison system is brought forward, the Minister voices her opposition. The legislation to be published tomorrow had to be dragged out of the Minister for Justice in the same way as reform of [618] our bail laws will have to be dragged out of her.

Everybody will agree that no domestic cause in modern Ireland is deserving of greater support and encouragement than the fight against crime. No Government will have a better opportunity to confront crime and plan the future of its criminal justice strategy than this Government, confronted as it is with the opportunity of accepting one of the most enlightened measures ever to come before this House. I acknowledge the Government will not vote down the Fianna Fáil Bill but I urge the Minister for Justice and the Government not to bury it for eternity either beneath their own Bill or in some committee of the House but to have it discussed immediately by the Select Committee on Legislation and Security with a view to enactment into law.

In the light of yet another horrific murder last night, the time has come for the message to go out from this House that we are all united in bringing acceptable levels of criminality in our society to an end. We on this side of the House are open to all and any reasonable amendments from the Government but neither we nor the Irish people are prepared to accept indifference, indolence or incoherence which would be tantamount to political opportunism from this or any other Administration. The Government, through this Bill, has the unique opportunity of sending out a clear message to hardened criminals that the net is closing in and that it will not in future reject appropriate tough measures, irrespective of their source be it political or otherwise.

Recently we have witnessed horrific killings and other vicious criminal offences committed by unscrupulous and brutal criminals. For these and many other reasons, people are entitled to be satisfied that this House has grasped the fundamental fact that a coherent criminal justice strategy is a [619] necessity and not a luxury. Any Government which rejects that glaring truth will do so at its peril. The matter has become far too serious for even a hint of political opportunism. The rainbow coalition Government must now answer the hard question: is it prepared to commence a unified fight against vicious, cruel and depraved criminals?

The Minister's proposals to be published tomorrow are contained in this Bill. Part I gives legal effect to the three statutory amendments of the criminal law which the Minister announced in her initiative last July. We improve upon those proposals in Part II of the Bill by providing for a fast track approach to certain drug offences by eliminating the preliminary examination phase. Furthermore, in Part III of the Bill we amend the law in relation to temporary release by prohibiting the release of prisoners convicted of certain drug offences and provide that certain information regarding prisoners on temporary release be published in Iris Oifigiúil.

We have been constructive in Opposition. When the Minister announced a referendum on bail we supported it when others, far closer to her, were less than forthcoming. When the Minister said she would proceed with Fianna Fáil's plans to build new prisons at Castlerea and Mountjoy, we endorsed her proposal but her partners in Government ignored her. When the Minister proposed tough legislation to help put away drug traffickers, we were the first to support her. Where we saw a need to voice the concerns of citizens, we did so. Where we saw deficiencies, we moved to rectify them. Where we saw a need to criticise in order to force the Government's hand, we were obliged to do so.

The vast majority of our legislative and practical proposals have been ignored by the rainbow coalition [620] Government. Even this crucial legislation has been greeted with vague and begrudging interest. Such a response is no longer sufficient. Political expediency must be replaced by magnanimity. This is the very least the public expect and to which they are entitled.

Question put and agreed to.


Last Updated: 21/05/2011 14:30:20 First Page Previous Page Page of 109 Next Page Last Page