Dáil Éireann debate –
Thursday, 16 Jul 2020
Topical Issue Debate
Drug and Alcohol Task Forces
I thank the Ceann Comhairle for selecting this important matter for debate. I wish the new Minister of State, Deputy Feighan, well in his work, which is so important for many individuals, families and communities throughout the country. I have worked with the Minister of State on the Joint Committee on the Implementation of the Good Friday Agreement and on the British-Irish Parliamentary Assembly over the years. We both saw at first hand the value and importance of going out and meeting with groups and communities and hearing at first hand the issues of concern to people.
I say that in the context of the value that I believe the Minister of State will derive from going out and meeting with groups delivering services to people suffering through substance abuse. It is important that the work of the Minister of State is informed of the core issues through the departmental briefing and also through the work of the service providers. As I have done in previous Dáil debates, I wish to highlight the particular challenges facing the Cavan Drug Awareness, CDA, Trust, which provides drug and alcohol rehabilitation services in Cavan and Monaghan.
It has received financial support over the years from the North Eastern Regional Drug and Alcohol Task Force. The current funding model is fundamentally flawed in that it is static for existing projects. For more than eight years, the funding provided to the CDA Trust has been static. This is a reduction in funding in the face of costs increasing constantly. Some additional funds were made available for new initiatives, but the projects that already operate must do so on a continually diminishing budget and this is not sustainable.
The CDA Trust project in Cavan and Monaghan has had to raise additional funding to remain operational. This is not sustainable, particularly with the difficulties in fundraising now. As a society, we cannot afford to lose such important services. I am very familiar with the work of the CDA Trust and I have visited the centre on many occasions. I know and appreciate the commitment and dedication of the manager, Tim Murphy, and his staff colleagues, as well as the commitment of Padraig McBreen, the chairman of the board, and all his voluntary committee colleagues.
I know many people who have benefited from the services provided by the centre. Unfortunately, many others need that support now and the suffering caused by drugs will not end tomorrow or the next day, sadly. Those community service providers need increased financial support and a new funding model. In society, there are more and more addiction problems and in many areas the only support service providers are community-led groups. We need to build on the expertise of these providers and meet the growing demand for such services. Without increased funding for such projects, they will fail and that will mean a huge loss to many communities.
The task forces are becoming increasingly sidelined. The local partnership model has been eroded and the community and voluntary response to drug and alcohol issues is becoming increasingly HSE-led. I believe this is a negative development. We all know the HSE has more than enough challenges. Why should we not utilise to the greatest extent possible the partnership and voluntary approach, which was the model that was put in place? I appeal to the Minister of State that in reviewing the whole area of the provision of services to help with addiction problems that he will put the task force at the centre of the decision-making process and bring those task forces back to the role originally envisaged back in the mid-1990s. I again wish the Minister of State well in his work
I thank my friend and colleague, Deputy Brendan Smith, for raising this very important matter. Deputy Smith and I have had some very interesting meetings over the years in the context of the Good Friday Agreement and the British-Irish Parliamentary Assembly. The work that he has done with all the other Members of this Parliament, the Oireachtas and all the stakeholders has been vital. I look forward to meeting people on the ground. The Deputy is right in that there is nothing better than going out and meeting all the various organisations and stakeholders and seeing at first hand what is happening on the ground.
As the newly-appointed Minister of State with responsibility for the national drugs strategy, I take this opportunity to reaffirm the Government’s commitment to implementing that strategy. Measuring the overall effectiveness of the response to the drug problem is an important objective of our drugs policy. As the Minister of State with responsibility in this area, I believe that State resources should be directed towards interventions and strategies that are most likely to lead to a reduction in problem substance use and an improvement in public health, safety and well-being.
I advise the Deputy that the Department of Health allocates about €28 million annually via drug and alcohol task forces to support 280 community projects aimed at tackling problem drug and alcohol use throughout the country. I am aware that the CDA Trust provides a range of valuable services to individuals, families and the wider community affected by drug and alcohol use and misuse in Cavan and Monaghan. Funding of €937,800 is provided to the North Eastern Regional Drug and Alcohol Task Force annually. I understand that the task force recommended funding of €212,000 to the CDA Trust in 2020.
The HSE has advised that the CDA has been provided with a full-year allocation as per the service-level agreement.
The CDA Trust also received funding from the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection to provide a drug rehabilitation community employment scheme.
I will respond to the Deputy’s particular concerns. I understand the CDA Trust has entered negotiations with Merchants Quay Ireland to place the service provision under the MQI governance structures. These negotiations had to be delayed due to the Covid-19 pandemic, but I can advise the Deputy that the HSE now expects an update on progress in September 2020.
In 2019 the Department provided funding of €190,000 over 36 months until mid-2022 for a strategic initiative to improve access to health services for young people in Cavan and Monaghan whose lives are affected by problematic alcohol and substance misuse. This is for young people substance misuse support services.
The HSE has provided additional funding to addiction services in the Cavan-Monaghan area in 2020 to enhance service provision to the adult and under-18 age groups. The adult services have been provided with funding for an additional counsellor, a nurse and administrative resources. The under-18 service has been provided with funding to recruit a clinical nurse specialist and a counsellor to enhance the tier 3 multidisciplinary addiction team for those under 18 years.
I thank the Minister of State for his response. I welcome that the Minister of State is taking up my suggestion to visit and meet the groups and practitioners who are literally at the coalface. I hope the Minister of State will be able to visit Cavan and meet that group early in his Ministry. I expect the Minister of State would be highly impressed by their work and commitment. There are people working there who went through the service and who are now helping to deliver services to people who have addiction problems.
I am familiar with the negotiations between the Cavan project and Merchants Quay Ireland. I know from reading some of the material produced by Merchants Quay Ireland that the organisation is exceptionally good in its analysis of what needs to be done in this country.
I welcome the funding for the new initiatives. We must ensure, however, that annual funding for projects that have been in existence for some time, delivering results for so many individuals and families, is not being reduced in real terms. Let us consider the Cavan project. It has received practically the same funding for the past nine years. In view of increased costs in every respect, this means a reduction in the level of funding available annually. That is not sustainable. Those involved have been under extraordinary pressure to keep these important services going. They have raised money through the usual fundraising avenues. We all know, however, that the fundraising mechanism is not available at present. It has not been available since mid-March. There are serious difficulties for organisations and service providers that depend increasingly on raising funding in the community. It is important that the Minister puts the regional task force back at the centre of the provision of these necessary services.
The model was a good one when it was initially developed. It has worked well over the years. It needs to be rejuvenated and regenerated while working alongside the HSE. We have the expertise and there is a proven track record by service providers. Let us build on that expertise, keep the partnership and keep the voluntary ethos. I know the people on the board in the Cavan project, who are providing services to persons in Cavan and Monaghan, give so willingly of their time, knowledge and expertise. When the Minister of State has an opportunity to meet that group, he will see at first hand the value of this project and the need to ensure it survives and provides the services that are so needed by so many individuals.
I thank the Deputy for raising this important issue. As the programme for Government acknowledges, drug and alcohol task forces play a key role in implementing the national drugs strategy and increasing access at local level to harm reduction initiatives. They also ensure that a co-ordinated approach is taken across all sectors to address substance misuse based on the identified needs and priorities in their areas.
I will examine how the Department of Health can continue to support task forces in identifying local need in communities and support targeted initiatives to address drug and alcohol misuse. These and other related commitments in the programme for Government will be considered in the budget for 2021. The immediate priority is to support the reintroduction of drug and alcohol services in line with public health advice and Covid-19. The Department of Health is working with relevant stakeholders to develop a framework for the safe return of services.
When the time is right and on the basis of public health advice on Covid-19, I would be delighted to visit the area and see at first hand the great work and the challenges and how we can help all the various stakeholders in future. I thank Deputy Smith for the invitation. It is one I hope to take up.