Courts and Court Officers (Amendment) Bill 2003: Second and Subsequent Stages. - National Drugs Strategy: Motion.
Wednesday, 12 November 2003
Seanad Eireann Debate
I welcome the Minister. The shocking results of the European school survey project on alcohol and other drugs highlighted the fact that the amount of cannabis use in Ireland among 15 to 16 year olds is double that of 11 other countries involved in the project. The use of other drugs is also more common than average. Inhalant use is twice as common here and a slightly higher proportion than average of respondents reported the use of alcohol in combination with pills.
It has been found that two fifths of the Irish prison population have a history of injecting drugs and nearly half of those continue to inject while in prison. Ireland has the highest levels of ecstasy and amphetamine use in western Europe. A United Nations report recently estimated that 66,000 people aged 15 and over take ecstasy at least once a year and 72,000 take amphetamines or speed. There are an estimated 14,450 heroin users in Ireland, the vast majority residing in the Dublin area. More than 50% of Irish prisoners are drug users, which compares very badly with the UK, where between 15% and 29% of prisoners use drugs.
The cut of 7% to 9% in health board funding in the last quarter of 2003 will particularly affect drugs services. No money has been planned for new services. Community and voluntary groups involved in drug treatment services argue that the implementation of the local drugs task force projects are being blocked at senior departmental level. The young peoples facilities and services fund is being reviewed, with no new initiatives currently being funded. Under the National Drugs Strategy 2001-2008, ten regional drugs task forces were set up in the ten health board regions in 2003, but they have only been given a minimum administrative budget – about €60,000 – in 2003. They have no programme budgets. The regional drugs task forces are expected to publish action plans for the regions which will identify the nature of the drugs problems in their areas and the actions they intend to implement to tackle drug misuse. This is unlikely to happen without funding.
The fulfilment of most of the Government's 100 promises under the national drugs strategy is behind schedule. The Government has yet to establish in the mainstream the projects set up in the local drugs task force areas as a result of the strategy. Most importantly, however, rehabilitation and after-care projects were to be established in every health board by the end of 2002. This has not happened. Instead, the health boards have had their health funding cut by up to 9% in the last quarter of 2003. The strategy set out targets, such as providing immediate access for drug misusers to professional assessment, increasing the number of treatment places and expanding the number of training and employment opportunities by 30% by the end of 2004. With the savage cutbacks already imposed in the last quarter of 2003 in the health board and drug treatment services, it is difficult to see how this can be turned around in 2004.
Fine Gael continues to be supportive of the general principles and objectives set out in the national drugs strategy, which was originally set up by the Fine Gael-led rainbow Government. The strategy is divided into four pillars: supply reduction, prevention, treatment and research. Investment in all four pillars is essential if medium and long term strategies are to be successful. Performance indicators and ambitious targets were set out in the national drugs strategy review. However, targets are only achievable if the energy and will to deliver exists within Government, but there is much evidence to suggest the Government has failed to prioritise and tackle the problems of drug abuse and addiction.
Ireland has the highest levels of ecstasy use in Europe, the third highest use of cannabis, the fourth highest use of stimulants, the fourth highest use of cocaine and the eighth highest use of opiates, including heroin. The problem is serious and despite the resources available to it, this Government has made little impact on the levels of drugs consumed. Unfortunately, the problem has got much worse.
Fine Gael plans to make a difference by prioritising substance abuse and addiction as a crisis in need of management. In the area of drug supply reduction, Fine Gael will bring forward a proposal to increase international and European co-operation on drug trafficking, increase resources allocated to the Garda national drugs unit and local Garda drugs squads in all areas. It is difficult to believe that if gardaí in most rural areas want to carry out a drugs bust, they have to wait up to two or three months for a dog from the local drugs squad unit to be made available. Current Government proposals only plan to increase Garda resources in existing drugs task force areas, i.e. in Dublin and Cork, ignoring the remainder of the country. I am concerned that those areas are open to drug abuse.
Re-assessing policing policies in co-operation with the Garda national drugs unit is a proven method of supply reduction and there is a need to promote fresh approaches. Policies such as Operation Dóchas, Operation Cleanstreet, Operation Mainstreet and Operation Nightcap are aimed at preventing the supply of drugs in nightclubs and suspected trouble areas through undercover and surveillance works. Where positive results can be measured from policies, resources will be allocated to expand mainstream approaches.
Our coastline is far too porous for traffickers. Ports, borders and airports need much tighter monitoring and increased manpower. We should increase investment in staff and equipment for the Customs and Excise drugs unit. This Government has failed to increase the staff numbers in the Customs and Excise drugs team, to continue to finance, promote and expand the Criminal Assets Bureau and to target the proceeds of organised drugs crime. In contrast, the Government has been responsible for the resignation of the key figure and legal adviser to the CAB. It has failed to introduce mandatory ID cards to help tackle a serious underage drinking crisis. Fianna Fáil in Government has failed to introduce a voluntary age card scheme. Even more worrying is the failure to increase the number of gardaí on the beat at night in known hot spots of drug dealing.
We must lead from the front with a hard hitting national drugs awareness campaign aimed at targeting all ages, young and old, across the country. This Government has promised, but failed to deliver, an effective awareness campaign. Measures already being introduced through educational disadvantage will continue to be supported and broadened, where possible, but we need to create closer links between implementation bodies for the national drugs strategy team and other agencies. With assessment and treatment facilities in place, people will be able to access these services immediately. The State must be quick to respond and support persons who have made the choice to cease drug taking. We have to recognise the positive work done in the 13 local drugs task force areas and continue to support the various programmes.
The number of young people experimenting with drugs in our towns, villages and cities is growing at an alarming rate. Unfortunately, this country is moving towards the normalisation of recreational drugs. Drugs are not just available in urban areas; they have been found in the smallest villages and townlands and dealers are prepared to go into any area frequented by young people. We now have 13 and 14 year olds coming into contact with drugs and measures must be put in place to address this.
Drug dealing has gone high-tech with the advent of mobile phones. It is becoming increasingly difficult for gardaí to detect these drug dealers. Two or three years ago it was relatively easier but with the sophisticated technology available now, drug dealers can come from any area. Unfortunately, there is an acceptance of drug dealing among young people. Drug dealers are no longer the pariahs they once were. It part of the social circle. That acceptance is very worrying.
I am aware that in a major town a businessman was approached by a young girl from a middle class background who asked for a loan of €2,000. She explained to him that she wanted to buy ecstasy tablets. She was not looking at it from the perspective of the problem that could cause but as a legitimate business deal. In other words, if she borrowed €2,000 she would have enough money to buy the designer label clothes and accessories and live the so-called high lifestyle of her friends who were already involved in drug dealing. This sickening trend must stop.
Last Saturday night I attended the Roscommon Association dinner dance in Manchester. I have spoken frequently on the scourge of drugs facing our rural areas. One man called me aside and pleaded with me to do something about the scourge of drugs in Ireland before it is too late. He said he did not want to come back to Ireland and witness the scene of an agonising drug culture, which is what is associated with a city like Manchester.
This is possibly the most serious debate this House has had since I entered it. I ask the Minister to pay heed and act and give the Garda the necessary resources. Otherwise the youth in our communities will pay a terrible price in the future.
Ms Terry: I second this important motion. Drug abuse is probably the greatest scourge the country is facing and it is threatening the lives of many of our young people. Either the authorities are not tackling the drug abuse problem adequately or they do not have the resources. One of my colleagues in the Dáil, Deputy Tom Hayes, tabled a question to the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform recently asking him about the number of drugs seizures in County Tipperary since January 2000 until October 2003. The Minister replied that he had been informed by the Garda authorities that there have been 958 drug seizures in County Tipperary since 1 January 2000 to date and that the number of prosecutions that followed was 504. That is just in one county. I do not have the figures for Dublin with me. I dread to think what they are but I intend to secure those figures.
A United Nations survey on drugs and crime published recently found that more young people in Ireland abuse amphetamines and ecstasy than any other country in Europe. That is a terrible statistic to have to read about our young people. What are we doing to tackle this problem? I want to give the Minister of State a few reminders of what his party said it would do to tackle it.
In 1997, the Fianna Fáil manifesto said it would give priorities to a broadly based war against crime and that it would adopt a zero tolerance policy on all crime. That statement rings hollow today. The manifesto also stated that Fianna Fáil in Government would withdraw gardaí from routine civilian work and traffic duties and give those duties to local authorities. In 2002, the Fianna Fáil programme for Government stated that it stood for a society in which all people can feel safe in their communities, businesses and homes. The Taoiseach, in his Ard Fheis speech in March 2002, said Fianna Fáil had promised to cut crime by getting tough on criminals, and that it had done that. How can the Taoiseach stand over that statement? We can see that Fianna Fáil has not got tough on crime or on criminals. Twenty murders have been committed so far this year. Firearms were involved in most of those murders. How are criminals getting their hands on the firearms? While one does not want to prejudice any of these cases, drugs are at the root of much of this crime with which we have not got to grips.
In its 2002 manifesto, Fianna Fáil said it would commit even more resources to tackling crime and that it would recruit an extra 2,000 gardaí and target them against street crime and drugs. It said it would complete the current expansion of the Garda Síochána and increase recruitment so that the numbers would increase by a further 2,000. What action has been taken on foot of these commitments? We have not seen any action, hence the level of the drug trade.
The programme for Government stated that the Government would target the assets of all persons involved in drug dealing and, in particular, middle ranking criminals and that it would continue to target drug dealers at local level by making additional resources available to existing drugs units and for the establishment of similar units in areas of need. It said the Government would establish a co-ordinating framework for drug policy in each Garda district to liaise with the community on drug-related matters and act as a source of information for parents and members of the public. The programme for Government also stated that the Government would ensure that each Garda district and sub-district would be required to produce a drug policing plan to include multi-agency participation in targeting drug dealers.
The 2002 Fianna Fáil manifesto stated that by the end of 2002, it would publish a plan to completely end all heroin use in Irish prisons and provide for the introduction of compulsory drug testing of prisoners, where appropriate. Instead, reported serious crime is up 22% while drug offences are up 23%. I could go on and mention all the other increases but I am trying to limit my comments to drug activity. The number of murders is up 33% in 2001 on 2000. According to The Irish Times, the allocation to the Garda for 2003 only went up 2%, which is below the rate of inflation. This Government, particularly Fianna Fáil, has not lived up to the promises and commitments it made.
How do we address this issue? I will try to give a few short examples. We have consistently called for an increase in the presence of gardaí on the street with their deployment informed by rapid and continual analysis of street crime. We need to establish local partnerships which will enable rapid responses to public disorder, public drinking and the distribution and taking of drugs. We need to establish the commission for the gardaí urgently. The provision of additional gardaí is essential and it is something the Minister must do. Garda numbers are not increasing. Many gardaí are retiring and Garda numbers are not even keeping up with the numbers at the beginning of the year.
I have more information, which I would have liked to outline. I support this motion and hope it will be supported by all sides because it is an issue that must be tackled by the Government. It has not done that so far – in fact, it has failed to live up to the commitments given to the people before the last election.
“confirms its support for Government policies to tackle drug misuse through its ongoing commitment to, and implementation of, the National Drugs Strategy 2001-2008 and the 100 individual actions contained in the strategy which are being implemented by a range of Departments and agencies.”
I welcome the Minister of State. The national drugs strategy is tackling not only a national issue but a worldwide phenomenon of an increase in the supply and misuse of drugs of all kinds. Huge channels of supply have been opened up around the world, mainly from areas such as Afghanistan, Colombia and Far Eastern countries. There is also a never-ending number of people willing to supply drugs. The USA spends billions of dollars each trying to tackle the drugs problem. We have to continue to fight these trends. The strategy put in place in 2001 goes a long way towards tackling those issues. There are examples of successes to date, including the number of ecstasy seizures which have quadrupled in the last year from 250,000 tablets in 2002 to almost one million so far this year. Drugs are available throughout the country; it is not just a Dublin or an urban issue. The gardaí, in particular, have had great successes in recent times thanks to investment in and enhancement of the drugs squads. This is a security issue not only for this country but internationally.
I agree with Senator Terry regarding so-called gang-related killings. I would call the killings which have taken place recently drug-related killings. Co-operation between the gardaí and law enforcement agencies around the world is ongoing. Any worker in the area of drug treatment or any user of illegal drugs will say there will always be a market for drugs. Our objective and that of the strategy is to reduce those markets and to prevent new ones opening up.
I would like to highlight some recent developments. There have been a couple of tragic cases recently involving young men suffering the consequences of the use of what are called snowballs or ice – a new methamphetamine that has huge potential to cause great damage, and has done so in other countries. It is described as a subtle drug but it is actually cheaper than ecstasy and has stronger psychological addiction qualities than heroin. There has also been an increase in the use of cocaine and crack cocaine.
A previous speaker mentioned the four pillars of the strategy. Prevention has always been a matter of education. A percentage of young people will always want to experiment and we were all young once. However, the national awareness campaign has raised awareness in schools, particularly in the area of alcohol, which we must also recognise as a drug. Co-operation between schools, local task forces and gardaí has reaped benefits. Programmes in schools, such as the social, personal and health education programme, which was introduced in all schools in September, contains an element of education on drugs. Another relevant programme is On My Own Two Feet.
In the area of treatment, we must recognise that drug addiction is one of the most difficult to overcome. Detoxification and stabilisation are only the first steps. Ongoing support and counselling are even more important. In this area, waiting lists have been drastically reduced. There are almost 7,000 treatment places available. Under the strategy, there is a focus on the number of people under the age of 18 presenting for treatment. There is an ongoing debate on the methadone protocol. I have talked to people working in the treatment area and the general consensus is that methadone works for some people but not for others. There are problems with methadone and the dispensing of it. In some cases, it is sold to buy other drugs or it is mixed with drugs. There are questions on the consequences for the health of people who are on methadone. This area is subject to ongoing debate and it should be reviewed.
In terms of research, we need to have a greater understanding of why people misuse drugs. Most Members of the House will have stories of the devastation caused to families and communities. There must be an ongoing evaluation of all programmes in the strategy. I welcome the fact there will be a full review of progress by the end of 2004, which will give us a good idea of where we are going, where we have come from, and what is needed to continue the work. Indeed, the national advisory committee carries out ongoing research and evaluation in this area.
The investment that takes place through the national drugs strategy, in particular in the young people's facilities and services fund, amounts to €59 million, allocated among 350 projects to date. Even in my own area there are five or six projects which have proved to be hugely beneficial in preventing the misuse of drugs, particularly with young people. Under the national drugs strategy, the young people's facilities and services fund also supports the Irish Sports Council through the sports capital programme. This again has proved to be hugely successful, particularly with local community groups, many of which have been ring-fenced for funding and have been supported by community employment and jobs initiatives schemes. There has also been huge progress in reducing the availability of drugs in prisons, and local prison liaison groups have been included in this effort.
There are no easy solutions to this problem. It is a worldwide phenomenon. We need to continue to invest in, and support, the national drugs strategy, which will continue to be rolled out over the coming years. There will always be more to do and we must continue to take responsibility in this area. We have listened to those communities and families that have suffered the consequences of drug abuse and will continue to support them as much as possible.
Dr. Henry: I welcome the Minister of State to the House. I wish to concentrate on that part of the motion calling for a reversal of what it terms “the savage cutbacks” in community employment and jobs initiative schemes and which have reduced the capacity of the voluntary and community sector. Sometimes I wonder if the right hand of the Government knows what the left hand is doing, as there seems to be cutbacks in an area where great successes have been achieved and where departmental reports recommend that such community efforts should be supported. It is sometimes very difficult to see the point of producing some of these reports when it is unclear if the Government, when making its decisions, takes any notice of them.
From my contacts in places like Carmichael House, the voluntary organisations will find the loss of community employment workers to be a serious matter. The Minister knows how important are these organisations to the parts of the city they serve. I understand that at present, approximately 1,000 people on community employment schemes are involved in drugs treatment programmes, counselling or various initiatives, which it is hoped will support the national drugs strategy. I ask the Minister of State to promise that these jobs will be definitely ring-fenced. It is ridiculous to promote the strategy while at the same time removing capable workers who have been shown to be doing a good job.
One of the great values of the community employment schemes was not only that they gave employment, but that those employed frequently came from the community, thus giving them an insight into the situation within communities which outsiders might have lacked. It is most fortunate that the unemployment rate is as low as 4.4% and I praise all those in industry, the Government, the trades unions and beyond who have played an important role in this achievement. However, we need to be careful that, having provided employment opportunities to the long-term unemployed, we do not take action which returns them to a state of unemployment. In view of this, I hope some effort has been made to consider those caught in this situation on a case by case basis. Given their involvement in their communities and their employment experience, they have frequently played an important role in reducing problems in their own community areas. The Minister of State will be aware that the long-term unemployed tend to come from the same parts of the city.
Earlier I questioned if the right hand of the Government knows what the left hand is doing. On 29 October, the National Economic and Social Forum launched its most recent report on the value of social capital and how it can help local communities to better tackle socio-economic problems. If drugs and drug related crimes are deemed not to constitute socio-economic problems I do not know what kinds of activity would do so. The chairperson of the forum, Dr. Maureen Gaffney, in her press release, stated:
Since the publication of Robert Putnam's work on social capital in 1995, there has been growing national and international interest in the concept. Social capital is defined as the social networks that, together with shared norms, values and understandings, facilitate collective action and co-operation within and among groups. Social capital can take many forms, having regular social contact with other people, trusting other people, feelings of mutual obligation, a willingness to reciprocate, engagement in your community, volunteering, a shared sense that you can effect change in your community, participating in the political life of your community, having trust in institutions.
These are the kinds of initiative we would wish to foster, yet the Government is cutting back on the very people who are involved in voluntary organisations within their communities and who would be promoting these efforts.
There is growing evidence that there is a high level of social capital within Ireland and that there are significant benefits for individuals, families and communities. At community level, a high level of social capital is associated with economic growth, social equality and quality of public governance. In such high social capital communities, young people are less likely to commit suicide, drop out of school early or get involved in crime or anti-social behaviour. These are the things the Minister is trying to promote. At the level of the individual it promotes physical and psychological health, well-being and life satisfaction.
We are well aware that young people frequently become involved in drugs because they have poor self-esteem and have dropped out of school. They see this as the only kind of path that will give them satisfaction in life. It was good to see from this report that, internationally, the country scored well on the level of social capital. Ireland is above average in most areas by comparison with its European counterparts. Irish people have a high membership of community and voluntary organisations – 65% compared with 48% across 32 countries. Rates of membership of sports and recreational organisations are at 28%, which is particularly high when compared with the European average of 16%. In this regard, credit must be given to the GAA and other organisations. Participation in unpaid voluntary work in Ireland, at 14%, is almost double the European average of 7%. Involvement in youth work, local community action groups and women's groups is also higher than the European average.
Overall, there is a very good spirit in the country, as demonstrated during the Special Olympics. In view of this, why is the Government doing things like cutting back on the community employment schemes, which have been so important for many voluntary organisations? I speak of professional organisations as well. We have been able to take on extra workers in Cherish, for example. Why are these being cut back in such a drastic way when the Government has received a report which shows their great value in situations where drug abuse can be promoted? The people who are trying to work on the ground are being deprived of the help they need to do even better work within their communities.
Mr. Morrissey: I welcome the Minister of State to the House and I thank Fine Gael for tabling this motion, which allows the Minister of State to put forward the Government's proposals for dealing with the drugs problem.
The level of drug taking is, in some part, due to the prosperity we have witnessed in the last number of years. With that prosperity has come a level of spending by our young people never before witnessed. We cannot overlook this fact. Recently, I was shocked to hear a national broadcaster, Eamon Dunphy, boast about his drug taking activities on a national television channel.
Mr. Morrissey: What type of message does that send out to our young people? Is this the type of activity in which they should be taking part? I am surprised that Mr. Dunphy's statement was not more roundly refuted by everyone involved in this area.
Drug taking is devastating for any young person, his or her family and the wider community. We have often seen communities refusing to facilitate services for dealing with the problem and forcing them to move elsewhere. We must welcome treatment centres in our communities if that is where the problem is.
I am surprised by the suggestion in the Fine Gael motion that a better community employment scheme and more gardaí would solve the problem of drug abuse. Recruiting 2,000 extra gardaí will not solve this problem. Indeed, before we recruit 2,000 extra gardaí we should have a major overhaul of Garda management to ensure that its structure is more responsive. We have become a more urbanised society in the last few decades and with this has come an increased level of crime. I would like to see this overhaul progressed and I know that the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform intends to do this.
The Minister has announced extra resources of €2 million to help deal with gangland activity in Limerick and elsewhere. This amount has been decried by many in his House and further afield but it represents 55,000 Garda overtime hours. At the end of December, it will be interesting to see whether those overtime hours have been used up by the Garda Síochána. If they have not and if the money has not been targeted at the area for which it was given, it will be a salutary tale for all of us when we return to the House in January.
Community employment was introduced in 1994 as a labour market programme and this has remained its primary focus. However, it is now accepted that community employment has become a multi-functional programme which continues to satisfy its labour market requirements but also provides essential local services and, in some instances, is the only employment opportunity for some categories of long-term unemployed and people with disabilities. There is widespread acknowledgement of the valuable role played by community employment and the job initiative participants in delivering local community services.
In 1994, the percentage of long-term unemployed was 2.6%. It is now 1.4%. At the end of 1999 there were 36,500 participants on CE schemes. The average participation on CE programmes in 2003 is expected to be in the region of 22,500, with a projected year end participation of 20,000. The number of CE projects has reduced from 2,274 to 1,503. In many cases projects have amalgamated into new entities, allowing the activity to continue on a smaller scale. The jobs initiative programme will have an average participation rate in the region of 2,466 during 2003 and a year end participation rate of 2,200. Participants exiting jobs initiative schemes may avail of the higher support process, which is designed to provide a flexible response for persons experiencing barriers in progressing from unemployment to employment in the open labour market and they may also avail of the FÁS local employment services with a view to securing further training and employment.
Community employment projects are prioritised based on the services provided. Drugs task force activity and child care services are ring-fenced from any reductions and projects in the RAPID areas are given priority. Current progression rates to employment do not generate confidence in the effectiveness of the CE programme as an active labour market programme and a review is called for. I do not see why, in a community centre in which I am actively involved, a CE scheme should be used to supervise people taking part in a bridge session. This is not an essential service and the Government should not provide a CE scheme participant for that kind of work. I would rather see schemes ring-fenced for the areas we are discussing tonight. That is what the Government is doing.
Mr. Ryan: I support the motion introduced by Fine Gael. However, I am always concerned by the huge emphasis placed on illegal drugs. I work in the third level education sector. For every third level student whose life is damaged by illegal drugs, ten are probably damaged, psychologically or physically, by alcohol. I say this as a lead-in to supporting the Fine Gael motion. As one who is more than partial to taking occasional drops of alcohol, I am acutely aware that alcohol will devastate more families and more people than all the illegal drugs put together. There is overwhelming evidence of this.
There is an increasing rate of admissions of people under 25 to psychiatric hospitals because of alcohol. We must examine the general question of mood altering substances. I am not suggesting liberalising the law on any substance but to pretend that we can make a distinction between legal mood altering substances like alcohol and illegal mood altering substances is to retreat from the extremely important fact that we appear to have an increasing number of people in our society who will use mood altering substances knowing that the quantity and intensity of their usage, whether they be legal or illegal, will damage them physically and mentally.
Apart from the legitimate issues that are raised in this motion about the appalling breach of promises by Government, there can have been few more headlined promises than that of 2,000 additional gardaí on the streets. The cynical retreat from this is worthy of the most unequivocal condemnation. The little phrase, inserted at the end of the manifesto saying everything was subject to economic conditions, has been repeatedly used by the Government to justify the multiplicity of broken promises. The difference between Government and the Opposition at the election was that the Government had information at its disposal before the election that made clear its promises were indefensible. They knew what was happening to tax revenue yet issued a manifesto and inserted a little get-out clause, the substance of which they knew to be true. One of the promises was the 2,000 additional gardaí.
Numerous international gurus, based on the studies they have undertaken, have told societies that police on the beat do not necessarily reduce the incidence of crime. The presence of gardaí is required not just for the reduction in the quantities of crime, but because of the reassurance their presence gives people. Many of the crimes that most upset people in their communities are not those that even make the Garda statistics. Walking home through many of our housing estates and running into youngsters who are intoxicated or affected by some other substance and who are abusive and threatening is what frightens and worries people. While these youngsters do not necessarily beat up people, although some of them do, they make life miserable for everybody living in the area. This misery is compounded by the belief of people that gardaí are invisible in their community. If the same incident happened occasionally and people knew there was a continuous Garda presence in the area, they would not feel as threatened or that their world was undermined. This is the way people in many communities feel.
While speaking about people being undermined, the way the Government has tried to pretend the community employment scheme as it was introduced at the height of an unemployment crisis is the same as how the scheme works now is astonishing. It was fashionable in the 1980s to talk about the middle way, neither public nor private. Community employment schemes fit firmly into that. Of course it was true that in many cases the scheme did not result in a higher uptake of jobs in what the Progressive Democrats would term the “real economy”.
I know a man from Cork city who worked all his life and injured his back. He found a satisfying job he loved in a community employment scheme. His job was ended because a guru decided this labour market intervention was not producing the desired consequence of putting him into the real marketplace where he could not work because of his injury. He despaired and committed suicide because what had given him his own worth was taken away from him. Do not let me hear about labour market intervention measures. The community employment scheme has long ceased to be that. It is a system of providing employment for people who, for reasons of physical or other handicap, are no longer capable of working in a competitive economy. To close those schemes on the basis of economic analysis is to fly in the face of reality.
It also takes away support from all sorts of group. I have no objection to a person on a community employment scheme helping people to play bridge. To my certain knowledge, the overwhelming bulk of people who play bridge are elderly. Among other things, bridge gives them a chance to get out, meet people and do things that they would otherwise not be capable of doing. It is a wonderful thing to spend taxpayers' money to give our old people the chance to get out into the community at night and meet each other in a place where they feel secure. It is astonishing that a Member of this House would think otherwise.
Mr. Kett: I welcome the Minister of State. As someone who cut my teeth with him around the streets of Drumcondra in our early political days, it is a pleasure to see him in the position he now holds. I wish him luck and congratulate him on the fine work that he has done so far.
The Fine Gael motion asks the Government to do something about the escalating drug culture. I counter that by congratulating the Government on the fine work it has done in tackling this dreadful disease. The drugs strategy was ambitious and was probably the most comprehensive attempt ever made in this country to deal with the issue. This was correct given that drug use had risen to epidemic proportions at that time. The strategy clearly set out its aims and aspirations for the various Departments and agencies charged with the responsibility of conducting the process. Key to this was the implementation of the 14 drug task forces set up in Dublin, Cork, Bray and Galway.
The development of those task forces has been tremendous. I can speak for the task force in the north inner city of Dublin, the area represented by Senator Brady and me. Drugs have scourged the north inner city. The work of the local community voluntary groups, working in tandem with State agencies, has made tremendous strides in tackling drugs in the area. No one is suggesting for one moment that the problem is solved. However, positive signs are emerging from areas where the strategy is in place that work is being done and improvements are being made. Much of this is down to the additional resources that have been given to the ERHA for the expansion of its services. Someone mentioned that in 1995 there were 1,400 methadone treatment places. Tonight the Minister will tell us that there are now 6,800 places, 300 more than the target the strategy had set for the current time.
The number of treatment locations has also risen. This is despite the fact that there was quite an amount of selfish behaviour by some communities when the health board attempted to locate treatment centres in their areas. By and large, I blame the health board for this. At that time the board had a propensity to purchase buildings, develop them and then leak to the community what the houses were going to be used for. Naturally, the reaction of communities was that they did not want such facilities located at their back doors. Therein lay the problem. I do not blame the communities totally for this. While there was a certain selfishness involved, I criticised the health boards at the time for the way in which they went about this.
While treating those in our communities who are scourged with the habit of drug use is important, prevention is the most important thing. I know we are looking at an ideal world if we talk about cutting off supply.
However, we should try to cut supply in every way possible. The Garda Síochána and customs officers are to be congratulated for their efforts in this area. Senator Brady alluded to that earlier when he gave evidence of recent seizures of €23 million worth of cannabis, €1.5 million worth of cocaine and €500,000 worth of ecstasy. These seizures are evidence that this country is being targeted in a major way by these drug barons. Current thinking is that as the Garda make progress in identifying the routes used, the drug barons are moving on to new ones. Africa and Afghanistan are often called mule routes in that regard. Credit must be given to the customs officers and the Garda Síochána.
Organised crime is a new phenomenon in this country. It began to raise its ugly head in the 1980s and has its origins in illegal drug trading. The Government's response to it has been hard hitting as evidenced by the volume of legislation put through both Houses in recent months. I attended a meeting of the Select Committee on Justice, Equality, Defence and Women's Rights when discussing the Criminal Justice (Illicit Traffic by Sea) Bill 2000 which had at its core the tackling of drug barons who brought their drugs here by sea. Our coastline is more than 3,000 kilometres long, a difficult coastline to protect. In attempting to protect it we also introduced the Criminal Justice (Joint Investigation Teams) Bill 2003, the purpose of which was to bring about an association with various countries, liaising with each other in a cohesive and incisive way to tackle drug barons on the ground. The friendships and liaisons that have developed between our communities as a result of that legislation will benefit us greatly in the war against these individuals.
The scale of drug trafficking was brought home to us last year when a seizure valued at €25 million on its way to this island, North and South, was intercepted in Belgium. It was, apparently, on its way to paramilitaries whom we are advised are earning in the region of €8 million to €12 million in any given year. That is something to behold. It further indicates the seriousness of the challenge with which we are faced.
I am sorry Senator Ryan is not here. I listened to what he had to say about the promises made in the Fianna Fáil manifesto regarding the provision of extra gardaí. I am sick of hearing that. It is spouted out that Fianna Fáil promised 2,000 extra gardaí in year one of its term in office. That is not so. Fianna Fáil promised to recruit 2,000 extra gardaí in the lifetime of the Government. The Government is only in situ 14 months. It is disingenuous to say the Government is making false promises when it is not. I have no doubt the Government will fulfil those promises. The previous Government increased the numbers in the Garda Síochána by more than 900, up to the level of 11,700, during its term in office and it will honour its commitment to increase that number further.
The number of gardaí on the street is not always what matters. Deployment plays a major role in this. I was recently told a story about a young girl and her two friends who were attacked following birthday celebrations in Temple Bar. They walked for 20 minutes before finding a garda to whom they could report the incident. On the same night a friend of mine was stopped by the gardaí in a spot check for tax and insurance. Those gardaí would be better deployed in trouble spots than in stopping individuals to check if their cars are taxed and insured.
The motion before us implies that sufficient resources are not being committed to the drugs issue. Nothing is further from the truth. Only a small proportion of money seized by CAB is linked to drug seizures. That is, in any event, once-off money and one could not conduct any kind of policy on the basis that one may or may not have money at a given time. The Constitution requires and Government accounting principles provide that any public moneys spent are voted upon and approved by the Dáil. Any changes in that regard must be made by statute. I do not see a way forward in this regard and do not agree we should do so.
I am involved in working with disabled people. CE schemes have been a God send in that area. Even though I have heard there are to be cutbacks, I have received no indication of that happening in the disability sector. Senator Brady said more than 1,100 drug users are currently working in CE schemes. All that has been said on this side of the House compliments the Minister of State on what he has achieved to date.
Mr. Bannon: I welcome the Minister of State to the House to debate this important motion which would not be before us if law and order was top of the Government's agenda. I am surprised to hear Senator Kett supporting the breakdown of law and order by saying the Garda Síochána should not erect check points on the quays to identify those who have not paid tax due on their vehicles.
Mr. Bannon: Some 83 people in Dublin died last year from drug overdoses. That is equivalent to one fifth of all deaths from road traffic accidents around the country. No matter how the Government tries to get around those statistics, they will not go away and will not be tackled by broken election promises. They cannot be ignored.
Mr. Bannon: The Leader assured us yesterday that the Minister of State would give us a commitment to provide the extra gardaí before the end of this Government's term in office. Perhaps this is a record in terms of pre-election promises. Perhaps it sets a precedent for a deferral system whereby the promises prior to one election can be held over until the next one. In the history of the Government's delivery on its promises, this is probably not unusual or as deserving of a place in the Guinness Book of Records as it may seem.
As we all know, the Government's record has been dismal. It is the sick, the needy, the innocent victims of crime and the elderly and vulnerable who have borne the brunt of this Government's duplicity.
Mr. Bannon: Will these prove to be empty words yet again? Real power and real action need the necessary executive budgets to bring them to fruition. As we know this Government is bordering on bankruptcy. The Minister of State's Department stated: “The Government is committed to a national drugs strategy.” The statistics speak for themselves. A 2002 UN report estimates that 9.4% of Irish people aged 15 years and over took cannabis at least once a year, ranking Ireland joint first with the UK on a list of 23 western European countries in terms of prevalence. Ireland ranks ahead of all countries, including the UK, in terms of the use of amphetamines, otherwise known as speed and ecstasy, with prevalence rates of 2.4% and 2.6% respectively. On cocaine, Ireland ranks third, with a prevalence rate of 1.3%. On opiates, including heroin, it ranks joint tenth, with a prevalence rate of 0.3%. The national drugs strategy is great in theory but lacks any basis in effect or preventive action. The Government is totally unable to deal with the drugs problem or the attendant growth in organised crime. Contrary to popular belief, organised crime is not confined to Limerick, and many in our capital city live in deadly fear of the crime barons. We have similar problems in all our towns in the midlands. It is common knowledge that Dublin gangs are targeting surrounding rural areas on nightly raids. I have evidence of that, not merely from my own county, but my own parish.
It has been said over and over again, and certainly bears repetition, that funding for local authorities for basic crime prevention measures such as adequate street lighting could go a long way towards thwarting and frustrating the criminal activities of those gangs. The collapse of the recent Keane murder trial was the most serious threat to our justice system since the murder of Veronica Guerin. The Minister's response has been robbing Peter to pay Paul, diverting €2 million in funds from another area in his Department to fight a vicious generation of crime lords that has emerged under a more than inadequate watch.
Fine Gael is now outlining a series of responses, the most essential of which requires the Taoiseach to take a lead in rebuilding the trust between the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy McDowell, and the gardaí. Numerous actions and statements from the Minister have undermined and impinged upon the integrity of the force. Following that, the gardaí must be asked what resources they need to tackle the current extreme problems, and a special organised crime unit must be established. That unit must have the resources, manpower and firepower necessary to take those gangs off our streets. The law-abiding citizens of Limerick, Dublin and the rest of the country need to see a positive, if somewhat belated, response.
Whether that response is best served by prison closures is debatable. If and when the gardaí get the necessary resources to combat crime, can the Government guarantee that there will be sufficient prison capacity to contain those criminals or will they escape a custodial sentence or gain early release owing to overcrowding? What sort of message will that send out? Perhaps it will reinforce what every criminal in Ireland already knows, namely, that organised crime is already effectively subverting our criminal justice system, and as it stands, the sky is the limit.
The Minister may think he is winning the fight against crime but I suggest that he is in a minority of one. The Minister must immediately and without prevarication review the protection provided to witnesses in murder trials. He must establish an organised crime unit with the capability and specialisation to tackle violent criminal drug gangs, provide an urgent capital injection to expand the complement of the Garda Síochána, expand the emergency response unit, and hold all gangland trials in the Special Criminal Court. The Government has failed to prioritise Ireland's growing drug problem. It has slashed €7 million from the national drugs programme. Most of the programme promised is behind schedule.
The Criminal Assets Bureau has seized approximately €44 million from suspected criminals since it was set up by the rainbow coalition in 1996. That money is disappearing into the bottomless pit of the Exchequer. It should be ring-fenced for drug treatment and drug-related offences. Under the current legislation, money seized by the CAB in any given year can be released only seven years later. Fine Gael proposes that the waiting period be amended to three years to speed up the provision of a desperately needed service. It is not only those who can afford to live behind security gates who deserve protection. All our citizens have an inalienable right to live in their homes and walk the streets in safety, and I ask the Taoiseach to intervene and give people security in their property.
Minister of State at the Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs (Mr. N. Ahern): I am happy to speak on this motion on behalf of the Government and to have the opportunity to refute categorically many of the claims made by the Opposition this evening. Whoever is in the Fine Gael research office is extraordinarily negative and can quote and misquote statistics to beat the band. Admittedly, a recent UN report was compiled from the data of the European school survey project on alcohol and other drugs, or ESPAD. That is conducted in schools among 15 and 16 year olds, and we all know that that is not the most scientific method, since there is a little peer pressure, and everyone wants to claim that he or she is on everything.
The report totally ignores the national population survey, which is very detailed and in-depth and has been conducted on an all-Ireland basis with the authorities in the North. It came out a few weeks ago, showing that, on an overall population basis, only 19% of people had ever touched any kind of drug, even once in their lives. That survey was conducted in line with best international practice. There were three basic questions, namely, whether respondents had ever, even once, touched an illegal drug, whether they had done so within the previous 12 months and whether they had done so within the previous month. That showed that only 19% of people had ever touched an illegal drug, even once in their lives. That was a very in-depth survey across people from 15 to 64 years of age. Contrary to what everyone is saying – that everyone is on illegal drugs – it clearly showed that four out of five people in the country had never been tempted by an illegal drug, even once in their lives.
I ask people to get real. Of course we have a problem. There are 14,500 heroin addicts in the country. While the last survey showed that numbers had dropped slightly in Dublin, I will not allow myself to get carried away by those hopeful signs. We concede that we have a problem, but for God's sake let us speak factually. Exaggerating figures simply to prove a point serves no purpose.
The Government has a strong and ongoing commitment to tackling drug misuse – indeed, to tackling the broader problems of social exclusion – through the many programmes and initiatives it operates in disadvantaged areas. Tackling drug misuse remains one of the Government's key priorities. My Department co-ordinates the implementation of the national drugs strategy, which was launched in May 2001. The strategy brings together all elements of drugs policy in Ireland into a single framework, with responsibilities clearly assigned. As mentioned, it contains 100 separate actions across the four pillars of supply reduction, prevention, treatment and research, to be carried out by a range of Departments and agencies. Objectives are clearly laid down and reported on to the interdepartmental committee which I chair. Progress is monitored on an ongoing basis through regular meetings of the interdepartmental group on drugs, as well as through six-monthly progress reports to the Cabinet Sub-Committee on Social Inclusion, chaired by the Taoiseach. If we do not achieve great success at interdepartmental level, the Ministers are held to account by the Taoiseach in the Cabinet sub-committee.
One of the key recommendations in the strategy is that regional drugs task forces, or RDTFs, be established throughout the country. The strategy proposes that RDTFs be established in each of the ten health board areas to develop appropriate policies for the regions. The RDTFs will be based on the local drugs task force model, which has been successful, mainly here in Dublin, for the last six or seven years. Members will be aware that local drugs task forces are operating in areas experiencing the highest levels of drug misuse, particularly heroin. They facilitate—
Mr. N. Ahern: I am sorry, but that is incorrect. The allocation for the local drugs task forces increased by 16% in 2003. Inflation is just 3%. I think the Senator will agree that there was a considerable increase. The Estimates, which will be published tomorrow, will show that all our programmes are more than properly funded.
Mr. N. Ahern: Fine Gael's spokesman in this area received a document on the matter during the year, which he unfortunately continues to misread. It is obvious that he has passed it on to his colleagues. Fine Gael keeps misreading things.
Mr. N. Ahern: I have answered questions asked by Deputy O'Dowd on this issue several times, but he continues to give inaccurate information. He has got six months out of it, so fair play to him, but the publication of the Estimates tomorrow will necessitate an updating of his speech.
The local drug task forces facilitate the delivery of a targeted response to the drug problem. They bring together the key organisations in the statutory and voluntary sectors to work with the local community and elected representatives in developing responses appropriate to local circumstances. A key aspect of the local drug task forces is that they are not preaching down from on high. They are not telling people how to operate at local level. A good partnership arrangement exists between the Departments, the statutory agencies and the communities. The good work that has been done by local drug task forces in recent years has been properly funded.
The Government has allocated over €65 million in the last six years for the implementation of approximately 500 projects in the 14 drug task force areas. In addition to the moneys available under the action plans, capital funding has been made available under the premises initiative. This initiative is designed to meet the accommodation needs of community based drugs projects, the majority of which are in local drug task force areas. More than €11 million has been spent on meeting the accommodation needs of 38 capital projects. The Government has spent almost €60 million on the youth facilities and services fund because it recognises that telling young people not to fall into the trap of drugs is not enough. Alternative and healthy lifestyle options must be provided in many disadvantaged areas. Young people are encouraged to engage in sport or arts projects. Some €59 million has been spent in recent years on the fund, which continues to do good work.
The Government has decided to extend the task force model because it recognises that the drug problem now affects many parts of the country. While it is proposed to apply the same principle – an area-based co-ordinated response founded on partnership between the various sectors – it is recognised that adjustments will have to be made if the model is to be successfully replicated at regional level. The regional drugs task forces will operate from a wider geographic base than the local drugs task forces in Dublin. The regional task forces will serve diverse communities in urban and rural areas. The establishment of the regional task forces represents an innovative approach to tackling the drug problem on a regional basis.
The role of the regional task forces will be to research, develop and implement a co-ordinated response to drug misuse. The partnership approach that will be used will involve the statutory, voluntary and community sectors. The regional drugs task forces will assess the nature and extent of drug misuse in their areas, provide information on drug-related services, identify and address gaps in service provision with regard to the available evidence on the extent and specific location of drug misuse in the region and prepare action plans to respond to regional drugs problems. I am glad that virtually all the task forces are up and running and are meeting regularly. When I met representatives of a number of the forces in Portlaoise recently, they seemed to be quite happy with the progress being made. As a first step in the development of action plans, the task forces are mapping out the patterns of drug misuse in their areas and the level and range of existing services. Good work is being done in that regard.
It should be noted that the national drugs strategy team is consulting the national alcohol strategy task force about the establishment of effective links between drug and alcohol policies at national, regional and local levels. I do not mean to belittle the dangers of alcohol. Fine Gael's motion recognises that drugs are illegal and that alcohol is legal. The abuse of alcohol is a serious matter. The Labour Party tried, as it often does, to confuse the matters by saying, more or less, that drugs are not so bad after all. I accept that Fine Gael realises that drugs are illegal. A great deal of the Government's energy and emphasis is on trying to crack down on the criminal nature of drugs. We are trying to link the drugs strategy and the alcohol strategy at the preventative level. The strategies overlap at certain levels, particularly at the preventative level. When we speak to younger people, it is important that we try to link the preventative aspects of these matters. We should provide information and knowledge about both issues.
I expect that the action plans for the regional drugs task forces will be developed in 2004. The task forces will then submit for approval their plans to the national drugs strategy team and, ultimately, to the Cabinet Sub-committee on Social Inclusion. We will then be able to consider putting funding in place for them.
Senator Kett mentioned earlier that the number of methadone treatment places has increased hugely in recent years. A great deal of emphasis has been placed in that direction. The number of places is just over 6,700 and many of the problems on the ground have been solved. That it is now easier to get a place on a methadone programme means that the methadone black market has been severely reduced. Approximately 50% of drug addicts are now on methadone. We have almost reached the limit of those requiring the service.
Mr. N. Ahern: The first phase of the campaign was very general but the second phase, which is due to be rolled out in the coming months, will specifically target parents. Guidelines to assist schools in developing a drugs policy have been developed and were issued to all primary schools in May 2002. A great deal of progress has been made in other areas, by the Customs and Excise and others. Good progress has been made in the coastal watch programme which has been launched. More than 1,100 recovering drug misusers are participating in the special FÁS community employment schemes. I have mentioned the all-Ireland survey of drug use and the prevalence of opiate misuse in Ireland. I recommend that all Members read the survey to ascertain the facts, rather than what they might hear from others.
I want to address the issue of Garda numbers. The Government is committed to ensuring that the Garda Síochána is provided with the necessary resources, in terms of personnel and equipment, to enable it to deal efficiently and effectively with the challenges it faces. There were 10,800 gardaí when the Government took office in 1997, but that figure has since increased to 11,900. The Government is on target to increase the number of gardaí further to 12,200. The Garda training college at Templemore is operating at full pace. There are problems at present because many gardaí have reached retirement age. Perhaps the Opposition parties recommend a watering down of the—
Mr. Finucane: The Government recommended that there should be 14,000 gardaí, but it did not weigh up the logistics. How will the Government increase the figure to 14,000? The Minister of State should get on with his job instead of criticising us.
Mr. N. Ahern: It is important that we keep the training college at full strength. I understand that 690 Garda trainees have been taken into the Garda college this year and that a new Garda recruitment competition is under way. I was in Norway recently and I asked how many policemen were in the country. I was told that there were only 8,000, yet it has a population of 6 million and a land mass that must be 20 or 30 times that of Ireland. Our Government is committed to having more gardaí but I wonder if the people are more law-abiding in other countries or whether those countries manage to make better use of their police forces.
On community employment and the jobs initiative, the average participation rate on CE schemes is expected to be in the region of 22,500 during 2003, with a projected year-end participation rate of 20,000. It is true that there were reductions voted through during the year and we can only await the next Estimates to see what will occur in this respect next year. Some years ago we all recognised that there was a lot of fat in some of the CE schemes, which I feel is now more or less gone. I hope this indicates that the numbers have stabilised because many of the schemes do a lot of good work at local level.
It is important to state that drugs task force activity, child care service provision and projects in RAPID areas are prioritised based on the services provided. As Senator Kett stated, CE places in the health sector—
Mr. N. Ahern: I sincerely hope that the good work being done under many of those schemes will be retained. The Estimates will be available tomorrow and we can only wait to see how circumstances evolve. There are many interdepartmental committees looking at different aspects of CE schemes at present. We all recognise that there was some fat some years ago but it is almost gone.
I wish that the positions would be prioritised because some of the schemes, which I have witnessed at first hand, are doing some good work. Can I give Senator Brian Hayes a guarantee that tomorrow will be a dry day? No.
Mr. N. Ahern: The Government is very much aware of the important contribution CE schemes and the jobs initiative have made to the development of services for local communities over the years. In this context, some reviews are currently under way.
Senator Henry spoke about community groups and CE schemes and mentioned one body in particular. Opposition Members can be very selective. We announced what we call the White Paper money, the federations and networks money, during the year and gave it to a number of voluntary groups. A sum of €5 million or €6 million is to be paid out over the next three years. Senator Henry referred to a group that received money through one fund but not both. People seem to ignore the good work that has been done during the year. It is arguable, in the case of the group Senator Henry mentioned, whether it should be funded as a community group because many of the groups that are in the premises are under the Department of Health and Children, from which some receive good funding. If we can help them we will, but they should try to manage their own affairs as well.
Ring fencing of Criminal Assets Bureau moneys was mentioned and was also raised in the Dáil recently. I accept that the Opposition spokespersons on this subject are reflecting what is said in the community, where there is a desire that Criminal Assets Bureau money be ploughed back into the areas it is perceived to have come from. It is important to state that the majority of assets frozen to date under the relevant Act did not come from the activities of drug dealers, and there is no logical link between those assets and drug programmes.
Implementing a policy of ring fencing moneys obtained by the Exchequer and reallocating them for specific purposes runs contrary to the normal Estimates process. The Constitution requires and Government accounting principles provide that public moneys be spent only as voted or approved by Dáil Éireann. Of course, if I were to get money to spend in disadvantaged areas I could spend it.
Mr. N. Ahern: Equally, the sums available from the Criminal Assets Bureau might vary from year to year and might not be certain. Frankly, I do not care where the money comes from once it is given to us by the Department of Finance. If one builds up an ELS or a programme, one can count on the funding received year after year. Relying on a source like the Criminal Assets Bureau might be dicey and might not be guaranteed in the longer term. However, I agree that the Opposition is reflecting a demand from the community in this regard.
Tackling drug misuse remains a key priority for the Government. The very considerable resources, the numerous initiatives and the ongoing prioritisation of the issue bear testament to that. Much good work has been done and many good programmes are in place. I go out and about and witness this good work. The Government cannot solve the problem of drugs. It can help but the problem is international. One can certainly try to make people more aware of the dangers and give people information and data. People make their own choices and young people have to be aware of the dangers to themselves. They are ultimately responsible for making their lifestyle choices. A lot of good work is being done. I thank the Members for some of the good remarks that have been made on this motion and I recommend the amendment to the House.
Mr. O'Toole: I am thankful for the opportunity to contribute to this debate. We have debated this problem on many occasions over the years and nobody has the answer. In the developed western world there is more and more use and misuse of drugs, and hard drugs have become recreational drugs for many and have become part of their lives.
We have to think differently about how we approach the question of drugs, although I do not think this will happen. I want to raise some issues that need to be addressed and challenged and do not expect anybody to agree with me. We should be absolutely honest about some of the issues involved. The first thing we should do in most of our advertising is concede the fact that tobacco is more addictive than heroin. I have never seen any public statement to this effect but it is the reality. All studies have proven this and those who were addicted to both will confirm it. It is harder to kick a tobacco habit than a heroin habit.
We need to remember that heroin does not necessarily kill people. Heroin addicts who die tend to die not so much from heroin but from dirty needles and the kind of lifestyle and life of crime that accompany drugs misuse.
The biggest problem being created by drugs today is the associated crime. It is absolutely hypocritical for anybody to stand up in the House and say he is driven by constituents who are worried about drug abuse. The people who drive us, telephone us and write to the newspapers do so because of the crime associated with drugs misuse. This is the reality and we should examine it.
We are wasting time dealing with cannabis, which is less dangerous than tobacco. One can like this fact or lump it. I am not in favour of having another drug of choice by making cannabis available – this is not my point – but we should recognise that it is less dangerous and addictive than tobacco and that we are wasting huge amounts of resources in this area.
In one sense, the problem is in our hands. Demand for heroin is the reason for crime and we all know that the money involved in the heroin trade drives the crime attaching to it. It does not take a great mind to arrive at that conclusion. If we were to do something daft and stupid tomorrow morning, namely, make heroin freely available to anybody who wanted it, the crime wave would effectively end. Admittedly, people would kill themselves using drugs, addiction would continue and we would have a subculture of people in society with whom it would be impossible to deal. Nevertheless, there would be no crime if there was free access to heroin – people would not break into old people's homes, no one would be shot for carrying drugs and half the Garda Síochána would not be chasing drug dealers.
While I am not suggesting we should take this approach, I am suggesting we should bear it in mind when trying to address the problem. Even if one could not make heroin freely available, one could do certain things. The Minister of State referred to methadone treatment. Making heroin available is only a small step from making methadone treatment available. Successful experiments have been carried out in this regard, including one in Wirral near Liverpool a few years ago in which the British state made heroin available to registered heroin addicts through doctors. The impact of the programme was that participants were able to live normal lives in that they worked and did not commit crime. The programme worked well and also allowed the doctors administering the drugs to try to wean drug addicts off heroin.
A similar programme should be introduced here. The reason this will not happen is that if the Minister were to make such an announcement tomorrow morning, people would say the Government had gone mad and was feeding junkies. Leadership requires that we take bold steps. Handing out heroin is no different from handing out methadone. The difference, however, would be that it would snooker the suppliers, the drugs trade and the criminals and allow the State to consider innovative, novel approaches to resolving the problem which would reduce crime, bring the drug addicts under the influence of medical professionals and allow people to make choices and move on. This has happened elsewhere and could happen here. I am sure the Minister of State has read as much about these experiments as I have.
Mr. O'Toole: There is no question that this would happen and that one would encounter many problems. Can the Minister of State indicate a problem greater than those we currently face, where people are being shot, killed, robbed and tortured? I may have considered all these issues when I organised a pan-European drugs conference in 1986 on behalf of the Council of Europe and the European Community, but I do not purport to be an expert. I am proposing an approach we have not yet tried. The Minister of State's response should not be to list all the problems associated with my proposal, including the negative publicity it would attract, as I am already aware of them.
Somebody will have to do something different on this issue as it will not be resolved by the current approach. Drugs use and misuse is increasing rather than decreasing for which, incidentally, I do not blame the Government because all Governments would face the same problem. Despite the important points raised as regards policy towards the Garda Síochána, nobody knows the answer to the drugs problem.
At least by decriminalising drugs and making heroin and hard drugs controlled substances, my approach would afford us an opportunity to take a brand new approach to it. While I do not expect many people to agree with me, this approach has been tried and has worked. If we could finally snooker the criminal element, we could at least begin to deal with addiction and the medical and other issues associated with it. As long as drug prices are maintained at high levels because dealing in and taking them is a criminal activity, the industry we have created for unscrupulous drug barons will thrive. We know where the current approach is leading us and while I do not pretend to know the answer, I would like new ways of thinking to be brought to bear on the issue.
Ms Ormonde: I welcome the Minister of State and thank him for his informed contribution, which contained a great deal of information and has given me much to consider. While working as a teacher and counsellor in an extremely disadvantaged area between 1993 and 1997, I received no support. The Fine Gael Party was in Government during that period. When drug related problems arose in my school, I was left to handle them as best I could. At least this Government has instituted a strategy.
I agree with Senator O'Toole that there is no fixed solution to the drugs problem. It is a colossal problem which goes deep into society. The fundamental question is why is it happening. Does it say something about the type of families we now have? Do we need to question the level of prosperity we now enjoy or examine how children are being brought up? When I was growing up I was not allowed out of the house and had to account for every movement I made. Is this happening today? Young children now go out from the ages of eight, nine and ten years. I welcome the Government's efforts to tackle this fundamental issue as money is not always the answer. We need an integrated approach, such as that taken by the local drugs task forces, which involve everyone concerned, namely, the community at large, community leaders, educationalists, the Garda Síochána and, above all, parents.
Many fine programmes dealing with drug misuse and prevention are in place in schools. While they are in school, children listen but forget what they have learnt once they move into their environment. Parents must play a major role in this regard. The Government has made a commitment that the drugs issue is one of its top priorities, which is as it should be. As Senator O'Toole stated, there are no fixed answers and this will be a long process. It is wrong of the Fine Gael Party to suggest the Government is doing nothing when nothing was done between 1993 and 1997. It should give us credit for trying. We may not have a success story—
Ms Ormonde: We have introduced support programmes in schools and while the back-up currently in place is not yet perfect, at least the Minister and the Government are trying their best to put some shape on it. It will work in time provided parents and the community at large play their part. Money is not always the solution.
Mr. Hanafin: I welcome the Minister of State to the House. I will address specifically the issue of community employment schemes. The marginal additional cost of such schemes – 10% compared to unemployment assistance – is insignificant in terms of the benefits accruing to the community from them, notwithstanding that an individual who loses a place on a scheme may find himself on unemployment assistance which tends to result in higher costs in terms of health and associated costs. The basic principle of community employment is excellent. I am fully cognisant that the economy is growing, partially due to the world economy but principally as a result of Fianna Fáil Party policies over many years, which created economic success recognised throughout the world. Up to 20,000 work permits are required every year but there is still a demand for community employment schemes. I welcome the fact that a number of reviews of community employment schemes are underway. I have spoken at Fianna Fáil Parliamentary Party meetings, attended by the Taoiseach and Ministers, about the cuts in these schemes and I am hopeful that my concerns will be addressed.
Wholesale cuts in community employment and jobs initiative schemes in deprived areas could lead to increased feelings of marginalisation. As a Government party, Fianna Fáil will discharge its responsibility and address such issues in a compassionate manner. The jobs initiative and community employment schemes are similar in that they aim to bring people, euphemistically described as “distant from the labour market”, back into that market. Run by FÁS, they are managed locally and offer work and training in sheltered environments to people who have few skills or have not worked for many years.
The jobs initiative scheme is full time and open to anyone over the age of 35 years who has been unemployed for more than five years. Participants are paid €298.40 per week. The community employment scheme is part time and open to anyone over 25 years who has been unemployed for more than a year. Participants receive €149.20 per week, plus allowances for dependants. The cost of running the scheme is approximately €25 per person more than the provision of social welfare. Widely regarded as having been enormously successful, the schemes have directed thousands of people, some of whom would have been regarded as unemployable, back into the workforce. They generally operate in non-profit operations that provide community services, such as home helps, meals on wheels, child care and environmental and heritage programmes.
The rationale behind the cutbacks was that there was less need for the scheme with the economy on the upturn. However, there might always be a need to provide these types of schemes. FÁS is seeking to implement significant cuts in the level of participation in these schemes, which provide an essential service in many marginalised and socially deprived areas. Important services, such as child care, meals on wheels and school maintenance, will be affected by cuts. The Minister of State, Deputy Fahey, told The Irish Times in the first week of October that he was cognisant of the pain the cuts in community employment and jobs initiative schemes were causing and that he had brought proposals to Cabinet on revamping the community employment scheme.
Tremendous work has been done through community employment schemes in County Tipperary. Villages have been enhanced by the construction of stone walls, the planting of flower beds and the renovation of old buildings, among other things. These might never have been done otherwise and we should not cease our commendation of that work. The benefits of these schemes far outweigh any small cost savings for the State brought about by their abolition. Even at a time when we give between 20,000 and 30,000 work visas, there still appears to be a need in the economy for these schemes. Their benefits far outweigh their cost.
Mr. Higgins: As has been pointed out forcibly and articulately by my colleague, Senator Feighan, whom I commend on bringing this timely and opportune motion before the House, the twin scourges of modern society in Ireland are alcohol and drugs. The report on the European survey, which I have read in detail, is excellent in its critical analysis and its recommendations. There have been numerous reports, including two ministerial reports, but the situation is getting progressively worse.
Look at the figures for possession offences. In 1996, there were 355 possession of cannabis offences; in 1999, that number trebled to 904. The figures for possession of cannabis resin were 1,441 in 1996 and 3,281 for 1999; for heroin the figures were 432 in 1996 and they rose to 887 in 1999. In 1996 there were 340 seizures of ecstasy and in 1999, there were 1,223, another trebling of the figure. There is a huge market and it is growing all the time. There have been 18 gangland killings, each of which, including the murder of a 24 year old on waste ground at the back of a pub in Mulhuddart last night, is directly related to drugs.
The quantities of drugs seized are frightening. In 1996, 2.4 kg of cannabis were seized; in 1999 the quantity was 66 kg. In the case of cannabis resin, the respective figures were 1,993 kg and 2,511. In the case of ecstasy, 19,000 tablets were seized in 1996; in 1999, a massive 229,191 tablets were seized. Our prisons are infested with drugs. If somebody who is not a drug addict is sent to prison, they generally emerge as an addict. There is no proper treatment centre or accommodation. There is no policy to clean out the prisons. Nobody should be let out of prison unless they are clean from drugs.
Look at the number of deaths that have occurred. It is frightening. I commend the drugs squad on doing an excellent job but it is not being given sufficient manpower or monetary resources. I love to hear on “Morning Ireland” that there has been another massive seizure of drugs but the drugs squad cannot continue to operate with its hands tied.
An excellent suggestion was made by our spokesman in the Dáil, Deputy O'Dowd, but the Minister of State did not address it tonight. The Government will not accept it. Deputy O'Dowd suggested that the period within which the money that is seized under the Criminal Assets Bureau legislation can be made available should be shortened from seven to three years. Second, all that money, €44 million per annum, should be spent on drug treatment.
We are losing the battle. I am not critical of the Government for that, although I am critical of it in terms of resources and the number of gardaí. We must tackle and beat the drug barons and the pushers. Above all, we must be effective in providing treatment. Drug problems thrive in areas of social deprivation and, as Senator Ormonde pointed out, that is the root problem. Those areas must be tackled but we are not doing so effectively at present.
Mr. Finucane: I wish to focus on the conflict in Limerick city, which has been in the news in recent days. The level of family feuding there is unparalleled in other parts of the country. Why has this happened? It is due to drugs.
The Programme for Government spoke about providing resources to deal with the drugs issue. There is an acute problem in Limerick with the provision of resources. A total of €7 million was promised to provide adequate facilities in the main Garda station in Henry Street. There is no incident room in that station. There is an incident room in the Mayorstone sub-station but although the station covers about 40% of the population of Limerick city, it is only open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. from Monday to Friday and for a short time on Sunday. The image it projects, therefore, is wrong. The gardaí have not worked an hour of overtime since last July and they are investigating a series of murders. There have been 38 murders in the Limerick area since 1997.
There is a great deal of fear in the area. There is also fear among the gardaí, that they might be followed by people. They are fearful for themselves. The fear results from the number of assaults that have occurred, the stone throwing attacks on Garda cars and the fact that, in many cases, checkpoints are not manned by armed personnel. Armaments are rife in Limerick and that generates fear.
The root cause of the problem is drugs. It all comes down to resources. The GRA representative in the area said that all Garda resources are dealing with criminal activities and cannot get involved in ordinary routine work and patrol duties in the Limerick city area. There is something wrong with that. I have seen debates on television in which the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform and the Minister of State at that Department have said there are ample resources. However, the GRA and the people on the ground say something different. Unless we get to grips with the issue of resources and the drugs problem in Limerick, this family feuding will continue.
It must be acknowledged that a climate of fear prevails in the city. It ultimately results from drugs. The Minister spoke exclusively about drugs and what the Government is doing about it but he made no reference to the criminal activities fuelled by drugs. That is the problem in Limerick. The sooner proper resources are provided to tackle the problem, the better.
Mr. B. Hayes: This has been an excellent debate. I wish to make four brief points. I am a member of my local drugs task force in the Tallaght area and, knowing that this debate was taking place, I was asked to put some points to the Minister of State with responsibility for this issue. The first point relates to the community employment scheme. Community treatment programmes depend on CE. The people in my area want a commitment from the Minister of State, which we did not get in his speech, that there will not be any reduction in CE places for drug treatment schemes and programmes in the community. We did not get that solid guarantee from the Minister of State, which is worrying in light of his comment about tomorrow's Estimates. If there is any reduction in CE places, which other Government colleagues have promised will be ring-fenced, those communities will have to face the scourge of drugs they have been trying to counteract in the city. I ask the Minister of State to ensure there is no reduction in CE places for drug treatment programmes.
Most of the people fighting the drugs problem in Dublin want CAB money ring-fenced for their communities because this is a huge psychological issue. The drug barons have ravaged some of the most deprived communities in the city as a result of plying their drugs trade. The people want the money back in their communities because they want to tell the younger children that the drug barons are in prison and that the money they got from their equestrian activities, their fine houses and their jewellery has been pumped back into the community. It has as much to do with psychology as with money. I make no apology for saying that an illuminated sign should be placed in the communities which receive CAB money stating that it represents a commitment from the Government and that the community is screwing the money from the people who screwed it for many years. I ask the Government to look at my party's proposal in that regard, which has the full backing of the communities that are fighting the drugs scourge in the city.
Mr. Feighan: I thank all those who participated in this enlightened debate on a subject I fear we are not addressing. Senator Brady outlined the availability of ice, which is cheaper than speed, and its highly addictive qualities. The Senator made his case eloquently. It is a serious problem facing many communities.
Senator Henry mentioned the great success of the drugs initiative projects. She asked if there was a point in producing studies and reports when more than 1,000 workers are involved in CE drug related projects. The Minister of State has not given us an assurance that these jobs will be saved. We have all spoken about drug-related crime. It was stated that many of the horrible deaths are not gangland related, but drug related. Many young people are becoming involved in these crimes.
Senator Morrissey named a leading celebrity in Ireland who openly admitted taking drugs and who made it seem sophisticated. However, it is not sophisticated; it is damaging. Alcohol is a legal drug. Unfortunately, however, people take an extra ingredient which causes them to become violent. I live in a small town where 20 years ago people came out of pubs having consumed a lot of alcohol. However, there is now a more sinister threat from speed and other such addictive substances, which we must tackle.
As regards the deployment of resources, someone said that an extra 2,000 gardaí will not make any difference. I believe they would be a big help. When the Government made that promise at the last general election, the electorate expected that the extra gardaí would be recruited immediately. No one told the people about the problems in Templemore. They were told that 2,000 gardaí would be put on the streets to deal with crime and drugs, but that has not happened. Will we be told before the next general election that extra gardaí will be put on the streets and that more people will be put on CE schemes? People will not believe that.
This is an important subject. Some areas of Dublin have been tainted by the blight of drugs, while other areas are drug free. Time is of the essence. We cannot allow this drug culture to take root because if that happens, we will spend more money trying to eradicate the problem.
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