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Home > Dail Eireann debate. Priority question 64 - National Drugs Strategy [18227/06].

[Oireachtas] Dail Eireann debate. Priority question 64 - National Drugs Strategy [18227/06]. (16 May 2006)

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64. Mr. O'Shea asked the Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs the progress made by each of the ten regional task forces to date in 2006 in the implementation of their action plans. [18227/06]

Minister of State at the Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs (Mr. N. Ahern): Ten regional drugs task forces have been established in areas not covered by local drugs task forces. Thus, all parts of the country are now serviced by a drugs task force. The overall role of the regional drugs task forces is to prepare and implement regional action plans that identify existing and emerging gaps in services relating to education and prevention, curbing supply, treatment and rehabilitation. The regional drugs task forces provide a mechanism for the co-ordination of mainstream services in the regions, while at the same time allowing communities and voluntary organisations to participate in the planning, design and delivery of those services. Membership of these task forces includes representatives of all the relevant agencies, such as the Health Service Executive, the Garda, the probation and welfare service, the Department of Education and Science, the local authorities, the youth service and FÁS.

The task forces also include representation from voluntary agencies, community representatives and elected public representatives. Each task force has a voluntary chairperson and was assigned an interim co-ordinator. The recruitment of full-time co-ordinators is ongoing and it is expected that all ten will be in place by the middle of June. Each task force has an operational budget that facilitates the employment of a project development worker and an administrative assistant. Progress is now being made by the task forces, all of which have prepared action plans for their regions. A sum of €5 million has been allocated to the ten task forces towards the implementation of those plans for 2006. Funding will be increased on an incremental basis over the coming years to achieve the full roll-out of the action plans, which are estimated to have a full cost in the region of €12.2 million per annum. It is expected that the rate of progress being made by the task forces will accelerate in the latter part of the year, especially in view of the employment of the full-time co-ordinators.

Mr. O’Shea: Does the Minister of State agree that progress to date with the regional drugs task forces has been far too slow? They were established in 2003, and as the Minister of State has mentioned, €5 million was allocated to them for 2006, with the full allocation being €12.2 million. Does this indicate that by the Government’s estimate, less than half of the roll-out will have happened by the end of this year? In terms of the magnitude of the drugs problem and its relentless spread throughout all areas, is the figure of €12.2 million pathetic with regard to what has to be faced in areas apart from those where local drug task forces operate?

Mr. N. Ahern: No, the purpose of task forces, both regional and local, is to analyse the situation. They are not starting from square one, and are rather investigating gaps in services. Other agencies, including the HSE, for example, have always provided services. The purpose of regional drugs task forces is to analyse problems and investigate if gaps exist. They put plans forward, and these plans amounted to €12.2 million. It will take a couple of years for these to be up and running. Some are already proceeding better than others, but we allocated €5 million for this year, which should be more than enough. Based on what has happened in Dublin, it would take two or three years to get a full plan in place. The task forces are working on this, although they were slow in the early days. At this stage they had interim co-ordinators, some of whom were probably pushing the issue better than others. All ten full-time co-ordinators have now been selected and they will all be in place within a couple of weeks. At that stage the process will proceed more quickly. At the end of the year, the money allocated for this year will all be spent, more or less.

Mr. English:In December, perhaps.

Mr. O’Shea: I do not accept that the urgency required by this matter is being reflected in what the Minister of State is saying. The cocaine market has grown ten-fold in the past four years. Networks have been broken up by the Garda in locations such as Portlaoise, Killarney, Meath, Skerries and Maynooth. It is a very serious scenario. To speak of a plan that will be fully rolled out and operational two years hence is too lax and not focused enough on the problem out there. It is not coming to terms with it.

Mr. N. Ahern:I apologise if I have come across as too calm.

Mr. O’Shea:I would settle for calm. My problem is the Minister of State is not urgent enough.

Mr. English: The Minister of State is sleepy.

Mr. N. Ahern: Our job was to set the task forces up, which we did. They all consist of a group representing the various interests. We had to get the plans in and assessed, and then provide funding. That is all done.

Mr. English: The Minister of State is meant to drive the issue.

Mr. O’Shea: Why is the process so slow in being rolled out?

Mr. N. Ahern: It was slow initially. I am not behind the issue now, and it is for the task forces themselves to act. They have submitted the plans and we have provided funding. The driving force should now be at the regional drugs task force level. Of the €5 million provided, about €1.3 has been pulled down as of the middle of May. The process is happening, but some task forces are better than others. The Deputy’s own in the south east is probably ahead of the pack. Its spend is probably nearly equal to the rest of the task forces spend altogether. The task forces that did not have a full-time co-ordinator will only get into top gear when there is a person to drive the whole committee and claim ownership of it. The process has been slow in recent years, but it will take off from now on.

Vol. 619 No. 4 Priority Questions Tuesday, 16 May 2006

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