I spoke in Dáil Eireann on the Fianna Fáil Private Members Motion in relation to the need to provide adequate financial support to community based task-forces to deal with the scourge of drugs.
At present the response from Government is totally inadequate. Confidence must be restored in the national drugs strategy and the partnership approach that has been the hallmark of this strategy over many years must be protected. I know that An Garda Síochana value the work done through local services.
I highlighted the difficulties facing the Cavan and Monaghan Drug Awareness Programme if adequate financial support is not forthcoming and time for the Minister and Government to listen to these services who are providing essential and much needed support to persons with addiction difficulties.
Below is an extract from my contribution in Dáil Éireann. Also below replies to Parliamentary Questions I tabled on these important issues.
Colleagues have said that the scourge of drugs is in every community. At one time we used to think it was only the major urban centres that were afflicted by this scourge. No longer are the problems confined to any particular age group or to persons in any socio-economic sector, they are now causing difficulties in all strata of society. We are all aware of individuals, families and communities that have been devastated by this scourge. The Government’s response at present is a totally inadequate. This was very much highlighted by the intervention of the nine former Ministers of State who each had responsibility for the national drugs strategy. My colleague, Deputy John Curran, did an excellent job when he held that brief. The Government and the Minister must take seriously the concerns of the former Ministers of State. They have outlined very clearly their concern about the lack of engagement with community groups and about the centralisation of decision making. This is the exact opposite of what is needed to provide the necessary supports for person with addiction problems. I have been in contact directly with the Minister of State, Deputy Catherine Byrne, on the Cavan-Monaghan drug and alcohol service. It had forwarded the Minister of State a very detailed letter outlining that it would have to wind down operations and dissolve the company by the end of 2020. That organisation has provided excellent support to many individuals and families over the past years throughout Cavan and Monaghan. Garda management at senior level very much values the support this organisation has given to individuals, families and communities. I appeal to the Minister of State again, as I have done through correspondence.
While I acknowledge the Minister of State’s prompt reply, we must get a response to the effect that it will get the necessary financial support to continue the good work it has been doing over many decades with some of the most vulnerable people in our communities.
I listened with interest to the comments of the Deputies proposing the motion and welcome the opportunity to have a discussion on this important issue. The use and misuse of drugs is an international issue that needs to be tackled in a co-ordinated way and addressed in a global context. I very much share the view of the UN General Assembly’s special session on drugs in 2016 which stated:
The world drug problem remains a common and shared responsibility that should be addressed in a multilateral setting through effective and increased international co-operation and demands an integrated, multidisciplinary, mutually reinforcing, balanced, scientific evidence-based and comprehensive approach.
Europe’s drug problem is going through a particularly dynamic phase. Analysis by the European monitoring centre for drugs and drug addiction shows that people are using a wider range of substances than in the past. Many are poly-drug users, which increases the risk to their health. Although the use of heroin and other opioids in Europe remains relatively rare, these are the drugs that cause highest rates of fatal overdose in Europe. Europe has also experienced an increase in deaths and other harms from newer types of drugs. Ireland is not immune from these trends with 9% of the population using drugs in the last year.
The national drug strategy, Reducing Harm, Supporting Recovery, a health-led response to drug and alcohol use in Ireland 2017 to 2025, adopts a health-led approach to substance misuse. It commits to treating substance misuse and drug addiction as a public health issue, rather than a criminal justice matter. Together with the Minister for Health and the Minister of State with responsibility for the national drugs strategy, Deputy Catherine Byrne, who is in attendance, I announced recently the introduction a health diversion programme for persons in possession of drugs for personal use. This is a hugely important step in developing this public health approach. I am very pleased that we are delivering on this key commitment in the national drugs strategy. I welcome Deputy Catherine Byrne’s work as Minister of State in spearheading the matter within the Department of Health.
In adopting a health-led approach, it is important that we do not send out the message that drug use is acceptable or normal. It is not and never will be. Already this year, the HSE, through its drugs.ie website, has developed two campaigns aimed at the student population and festival goers. Next year, the Department of Health is providing additional funding of €100,000 to develop a national harm reduction campaign to raise awareness of the risks associated with drug use. This will include information about club drugs, festival drug use, newer drugs as well as cannabis.
The national drugs strategy represents a whole-of-Government response to the problem of drug and alcohol use in Ireland. It draws on a range of Government policy frameworks in order to reduce the risk factors for substance misuse. It also commits to addressing the harms of drugs markets and reducing access to drugs for harmful use. My Department has responsibility as the lead agency or partner in a number of actions, including keeping drugs legislation under review as the joint lead agency the Department of Health.
Tackling the sale and supply of drugs is a key priority for the Government and An Garda Síochána. A core focus of the work carried out by An Garda Síochána is aimed at tackling drugs and organised clime. The roll out of the new operating model of An Garda Síochána meets a key commitment in A Policing Service for the Future and will increase the number and visibility of front-line gardaí to combat criminal activity, including tackling drugs. This model is the norm in many other countries and I am confident that it will serve Ireland well by providing a agile, localised and responsive police service nationwide.
The operating model is being introduced at a time of record investment in An Garda Síochána. For 2019, €1.76 billion has been allocated to the Garda Vote along with capital investment amounting to €92 million this year. I am pleased to have secured an overall increase of €122 million to increase An Garda Síochána’s budget for 2020 to an unprecedented €1.882 billion in addition to €116 million in capital investment. This investment is supporting the ongoing and sustained recruitment of Garda members and staff. We now have more than 14,200 gardaí nationwide, supported by over 2,800 Garda staff. The organisation is still growing and a programme of accelerated recruitment is ongoing with a view to reaching 15,000 gardaí in an overall Garda workforce of 21,000 by 2021.
Additional resources have enabled An Garda Síochána to continue to assign resources to specialist bureaus. These include the Garda national drugs and organised crime bureau, which leads in tackling all forms of drug trafficking and supply of illicit drugs in Ireland. Collaboration at an inter-agency and international level remain key in tackling this issue. The bureau also works with Garda divisional drugs units nationwide in demand reduction and supply reduction at local level. In addition to the 105 gardaí assigned to the Garda drugs and organised crime bureau as of 30 September 2019, the Garda divisional drug unit membership for the years 2017 to 2019 has been stable. Divisional drug unit staff numbers stood at 236,222 and 232 personnel in 2017, 2018 and 2019, respectively.
In addition, An Garda Síochána remains committed to tackling the supply of drugs by supporting local communities through preventative and detection initiatives and engagement with local and regional drug and alcohol task forces, the Garda youth diversion programme and projects, the Garda schools programme, joint policing committees and community policing fora. My Department’s budget for Garda youth diversion projects has been steadily increased over the last number of years from €11.3 million in 2015 to €15.3 million this year. This provision includes funding to support the operation of 106 Garda youth diversion projects. These important projects are community-based multi-agency crime prevention initiatives which primarily seek to divert young people who have become involved in crime or anti-social behaviour. Moreover, the Minister of State, Deputy Stanton, is developing a new youth justice strategy with the assistance of an interdepartmental and inter-agency steering group. The new strategy will address the full range of issues relevant to youth justice, including how best to prevent young people getting involved in criminal activity, including drug dealing. Uniquely across EU member states’ strategies, drug-related intimidation is also a focus of the new strategy in Ireland.
I listened to the passionate contribution of Deputy Cassells and assure him, as I assured Deputy Breathnach earlier, that I agree these are extremely serious issues in local areas and they need to be dealt with. Drug-related intimidation in communities is a very serious issue which involves the targeting of persons who use drugs or their family or friends in relation to a drug debt. An Garda Síochána will continue to take action in relation to drug-related intimidation, particularly where there is a risk of harm or to the life of a person. A drug-related intimidation reporting programme developed by An Garda Síochána and the National Family Support Network has been in place since 2013 to respond to the needs of drug users and family members experiencing drug-related intimidation. An Garda Síochána and the National Family Support Network have concluded separate evaluations of the reporting programme and jointly agreed a number of actions to enhance its effectiveness through training, knowledge-sharing and awareness raising.
I acknowledge the points raised by Deputies, all of which have been taken on board and noted by the Minister of State, Deputy Catherine Byrne and me. A number of Deputies raised concerns regarding the need to strengthen legislation relating to children involved in drug crime. I have stated previously that I consider the grooming of children by those who control criminal activity to be an extremely serious matter. I have asked my Department to consider an effective response, which may consist of policy, legislative or operational measures or a combination of all three. The national drugs strategy recognises the importance of supporting the participation of communities in key decision making structures so that their experience and knowledge informs the development of solutions to solve problems related to substance misuse in local areas.
In addition the development of the strategy has involved a wide range of stakeholders and interests working together as working collaboratively, we can deliver on its ambitious goals. My ministerial colleague, Deputy Catherine Byrne, will address the House further on the strategy in the course of the debate. However, I acknowledge the initiative undertaken by Deputy Curran, who has some experience in this regard. I assure Members of the seriousness with which the Government is taking this motion and its content.
For Written Answer on : 05/11/2019
Question Number(s): 562 Question Reference(s): 44689/19
Asked by: Brendan Smith T.D.
To ask the Minister for Health if urgent consideration will be given to a request in relation to the delivery of services by an organisation (details supplied); and if he will make a statement on the matter. (Details Supplied) email sent 24/10/19 at 16:05
The correspondence provided by the Deputy identifies two key issues:
- Delays in the transfer of funding from the HSE.
- Communication difficulties between the HSE and the North Eastern Regional Drugs and Alcohol Task Force.
Officials in my Department have requested a report from the HSE in relation to these issues.
The Deputy is advised that the Department of Health is providing an additional €190,000 over a three year period (2019-2022) for Young People’s Substance Use Support Services in Cavan and Monaghan. This strategic health initiative will improve access to health services for young people whose lives are affected by problematic use alcohol and substance use in the two counties.
I would encourage the organisation referred to by the Deputy to engage with the North Eastern Regional Drugs and Alcohol Task Force and the HSE as to how it can participate in the Young People’s Substance Use Support Services.
For Written Answer on : 05/11/2019
Question Number(s): 670 Question Reference(s): 45265/19
Asked by: Brendan Smith T.D.
To ask the Minister for Health the measures he proposes to implement to restore confidence in the National Drugs Strategy; if his attention has been drawn to the fact that the decision making authority is being taken away from the partnership structures of the strategy and being centralised in his Department and the HSE; if his attention has been further drawn to the fact that necessary consultation is not taking place with communities; if his attention has been drawn to the fact that the strategy at local and regional level is perceived as being undermined; and if he will make a statement on the matter.
Maintaining a partnership approach between statutory, community and voluntary bodies is a core value of the national drugs strategy, Reducing Harm, Supporting Recovery – a health-led response to drug and alcohol use in Ireland 2017-2025.
In addition, Action 39 of the strategy is to support and promote community participation in all local, regional and national structures. In line with this, 11 community and voluntary representatives are included on the oversight structures of the strategy, which give leadership and direction to support the implementation of the strategy.
I am the chair of the National Oversight Committee which has a cross-sectoral membership from the statutory, community and voluntary sectors. The Committee meets every three months and held its most recent meeting on 20th September 2019. There is also a standing sub-committee which promotes coordination between national, local and regional levels.
Drug and alcohol task forces that play a key role in assessing the extent and nature of the drug problem in local communities and in ensuring that a coordinated approach is taken across all sectors to address substance misuse based on the identified needs and priorities in their areas. Again, the task forces are made up of community, voluntary and statutory representatives.
The Department of Health provides annual funding of €225,000 to support, develop and facilitate the involvement of communities in the local and national structures for implementing the national drugs strategy. This includes supporting community representatives on Drug and Alcohol Task Forces, organising a national community representatives’ network and participating on the national oversight structures for the national drugs strategy.
The Task Forces oversee an annual budget of €28m from the Department of Health and the HSE. This funding supports over 280 community projects, in local areas and communities throughout the country, to support initiatives to tackle drug and alcohol use and misuse.
Additional funding of €1m has been provided in 2019. This included €480,000 to provide an additional €20,000 for each of the 24 Task Forces, €10,000 of which will be on a permanent recurring basis. It also funds 13 strategic initiatives to respond to emerging trends in substance misuse and to improve access to services for people with complex needs. The funding was allocated following a national consultation with the 24 Task Forces and 9 community healthcare organisations. I am confident the new strategic initiatives will have a positive impact and make a difference to people’s lives as they journey to recovery.
I am committed to working in partnership with statutory, community and voluntary sectors in implementing the national drugs strategy.