Home > Dail Eireann debate. Question 44 - Drugs and crime in Ireland report [22927/06]

[Oireachtas] Dail Eireann debate. Question 44 - Drugs and crime in Ireland report [22927/06]. (14 Jun 2006)

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44. Mr. O'Shea asked the Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs if his attention has been drawn to the recently published report Drugs and Crime in Ireland; the additional measures he intends to introduce as a result of this report; the action he intends to take to address the failure to halt the drug trade described in the report. [22927/06]

Mr. N. Ahern: I am aware of the Health Research Board’s report, Drugs and Crime in Ireland, which was published at the end of May as the third in its overview series. The publication had been flagged a number of months in advance at the consequences sub-committee of the National Advisory Committee on Drugs, which operates under the aegis of my Department, and on which my Department is represented. The report is a welcome addition to our knowledge of the complicated relationship between drugs and crime and I hope it will help to inform the State’s ongoing efforts to reduce drug-related crime. The report states that activities aimed at supply control coupled with efforts to reduce demand for drugs remain essential policy goals in our efforts at reducing drug related harm in society. I was particularly reassured to note from the report that the provision of treatment services can have a positive impact. In this regard the report indicates it has been suggested that the 29% reduction in recorded crime in this State between 1995 and 1999 might be partially explained by the increased availability of methadone maintenance programmes during that period in the Dublin area. This suggests our current approach to treatment provision is proving to have positive results in terms of crime. In addition to the broad range of treatment services already available,

I have set up a working group to develop a strategy for the provision of integrated rehabilitation services and to report on the appropriate policy and actions to be implemented. The terms of reference of the group are extensive and include examining the existing provisions of rehabilitation services in Ireland, identifying best practice and gaps as well as recommending actions to develop an integrated rehabilitation service. I am confident the report of the group will aid us in further developing the comprehensive range of treatment and rehabilitation services. On the issue of supply reduction, the Garda Síochána and Revenue’s customs service have extensive strategies in place to deal with the drugs trade described in this report. These strategies include gathering intelligence on individuals and organisations involved in the distribution of drugs, including the support structures underpinning this activity, conducting targeted operations on criminal networks based on intelligence gathered and working in collaboration with other law enforcement agencies, both within and outside the jurisdiction.

Mr. O’Shea: We acknowledge the point the Minister of State made on the success with treatment, specifically methadone. However, in terms of hard drugs, there is now much more cocaine than methadone coming in. Hovering in the background all the time is the prospect that crack cocaine could become more plentiful. Regarding the link between drug use and violent crime, the figures in the report show that 28% of detected crime in 2004 was related to drug users, while the figure was 66% in 1997, so clearly there is a significant movement. The author of the report points in the direction of increased employment and greater availability of treatment as a possible explanation. Does the Minister of State agree with the finding of the report that the social environment was a more powerful contributor than the effect of drugs on an individual in terms of whether the person used violence? The RAPID programme was mentioned. The consultants’ evaluation contained a criticism directed towards the Department of Education and Science, the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment and FÁS in terms of the difficulty in accessing money for training, education and employment courses. I know the Minister of State was a little distracted when about to make his reply, but would he or the Minister favour approaching FÁS and the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, to seek an incentive scheme for employers to employ people from RAPID areas? In other words, the employers would not need to be in the RAPID areas but the employees would come from there, because it seems from the statistics that in the context of providing additional employment, the violence aspect of drug use can be reduced.

Mr. N. Ahern: I accept there is more cocaine coming into the country, though much of the usage is on the recreational level. Not many more people are seeking services in the area, and those who are were on heroin already and were in contact with the staff. Clearly there are links between drugs and violence, and that was the case in the past, certainly anecdotally in Dublin constituencies. The attitude is that ten years ago, more drug abusers got the money for their next fix by robbing and mugging, but methadone has helped to solve that problem and stabilise people. Perhaps we have not had great success in getting people off methadone and more needs to be need done in that regard, but it has taken people away from crime in the short term. I appreciate what Deputy O’Shea said about jobs. Last week I launched a project in Dublin about getting drug misusers back into employment. There are a couple of such projects in different parts of Dublin. Employers have in general taken the opportunity to give jobs to drug misusers who have become stabilised. Employers may have perceptions and misconceptions about what might happen, but once they are happy that they can ring me, Deputy O’Shea or whoever in the event that the employee has a problem and that we will take these people off their hands, so to speak, certain employers are prepared to go ahead and take a chance for stabilised drug misusers. The mid-term review showed that the approach was a little too centred on putting people on methadone. The rehabilitation sub-committee has been set up to pull all those bits and pieces together and show that methadone is not a long-term solution. One needs to stabilise drug misusers, to look at retraining and getting them back into work so that they can make a contribution to their communities and families. That is the direction we are trying to take.

Mr. O’Shea: I thank the Minister of State for that reply. Clearly there is positive movement in the area. Is the Minister of State in favour of an incentive programme being put in place to encourage employers to take people from RAPID areas? I accept the need for back-up services if people lapse and so on. For instance, I am talking about people who are on drugs, but I am also talking about people in RAPID areas who need the extension of their social inclusion to be gainfully employed. I know that to some extent this is in the area of responsibility of the Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs. Employers should be given incentives to employ people from RAPID areas and, clearly, people who have had a drug habit and are now rehabilitated could also be taken on board. People whose lifestyle, as a result of methadone, is no longer chaotic, are employable too. There is a need to be proactive in encouraging employers to take on such people. We all know that in some of our cities and towns, certain addresses are a turn-off for employers. In some instances there is a tendency to look at an address rather than at a person.

Mr. N. Ahern: It is not today or yesterday that there has been geographic discrimination, certainly in Dublin city. Some people would have used their grannies’ addresses when applying for jobs. That is not new and we have all lived with it in parts of Dublin. There are incentives, though not monetary, for employers to take on certain people. I saw at least two projects in operation recently which were funded by the Department for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs. These are projects which are geared at retraining former drug misusers, getting them back into jobs and liaising with employers. There is at least a couple of projects involved in that, and employers are taking a chance. With regard to RAPID projects, I understand the Minister will evaluate them in his report.

Vol. 621 No. 5 Wednesday, 14 June 2006

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