Home > Dail Eireann debate. Written answer 5 - Drug seizures [21169/07].

[Oireachtas] Dail Eireann debate. Written answer 5 - Drug seizures [21169/07]. (27 Sep 2007)

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5. Deputy Michael Ring asked the Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs,the steps, following recent drugs finds around coastal areas, his Department will take to ensure that there is an co-ordinated and integrated response to tackling the drugs problem; and if he is satisfied that enough is being done to prevent drugs from being brought in along the coast which is affecting rural communities. [21169/07]

Deputy Pat Carey: The Government is well aware of the threat from drug trafficking associated with coastal areas and I am satisfied that the relevant authorities - the Customs and Excise Service of the Revenue Commissioners and the Garda, supported as appropriate by the Irish Naval Service - are addressing the issues in a co-ordinated and integrated way. In addition, the response required to tackle this issue is kept under ongoing review. It is generally accepted the most appropriate response is an intelligence-led approach, which optimises the opportunity for intelligence sharing. In that regard, the Deputy should note the imminent setting up of a seven-nation Maritime Analysis and Operation Centre-Narcotics, MAOC-N, based in Lisbon. It is expected that the formal signing of the MAOC-N treaty, which was formally approved by Cabinet yesterday, will take place at the end of this month. This will facilitate the integration of intelligence across the seven nations involved - Ireland, United Kingdom, the Netherlands, France, Spain, Italy and Portugal - and it will further involve close co-operation with the United States. At the same time, it must be acknowledged, however, that it will never be feasible to seal our entire long and often lightly populated coastline and the risk of drugs being landed will persist in Ireland, as happens in other countries with extensive coastlines. With respect to seizures, both the Garda and the Customs and Excise report significant increases in the volume and number of seizures over the lifetime of the national drugs strategy and all supply reduction performance indicators adopted for the strategy have been exceeded, or are well in the course of being met. With regard to the overall issue of ensuring a co-ordinated and integrated response to tackling the drugs problem, I chair the interdepartmental group on drugs, which meets quarterly to oversee the implementation of the national drugs strategy. Overall, and particularly in the light of a recent wide-ranging meeting of the group, I am satisfied that good progress is being made across the five pillars of the strategy in a co-ordinated way.

Tackling the problem of drugs misuse is a key priority for Government and will continue to be so. This commitment is evidenced by the ongoing increased funding in my Department’s Vote. The allocation of €50 million this year represents an increase of 16% on the 2006 figure and is 87% up on the corresponding figure for 2004. I assure the Deputy that I am determined to ensure that adequate resources will continue to be provided in the coming years. Additional information not given on the floor of the House. The Deputy should also note that a total of more than €200 million was expended on various drugs programmes across Departments and agencies last year. This figure is exclusive of the many mainstream services that are availed of in the normal way by those affected by problem drug use. Furthermore, the programme for Government commits to implementing the recommendations of the working group on drugs rehabilitation, developing and strengthening the range of projects undertaken by drugs task forces, continuing the operation of the young people’s facilities and services fund and expanding its coverage to further towns and providing more cocaine-specific treatment facilities Overall, huge efforts are being made from the ground up to tackle the ongoing problems of drug misuse in an ever-evolving global situation. I acknowledge that much remains to be done to continue to tackle the problem, as is the case in all developed countries, but I believe that significant success has been achieved in reducing the hardship caused to individuals, families, communities and society at large.

Deputy Michael Ring: I compliment the State agencies on recent drugs finds throughout the country. Earlier, a person who was out walking the dog returned with a significant consignment of drugs. This is a serious issue. The agencies are only recovering a small amount of the drugs entering the State. Recently, I was holding a clinic in Belmullet and I heard Customs and Excise officials were in the area. I decided to visit them.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: The Deputy should put a question.

Deputy Michael Ring: They are doing an excellent job but they only have one boat to cover the entire coastline. That is not acceptable and it is time the Minister of State’s Department and the Departments of Defence and Justice, Equality and Law Reform got together. For example, the number of gardaí in the Garda national drugs unit has been reduced. We must be serious about finding drugs and ensuring narcotics do not enter the State. We must secure the regional airports and the coastline as we cannot let these drugs into the country to destroy our communities and the youth. They are being sold openly in this country having been brought from mainland England and elsewhere. The Government must put more resources into Customs and Excise and the Departments of Defence and Justice, Equality and Law Reform in order to man our coastlines. Criminals are bringing drugs in because they are sophisticated. They have boats and when the drugs are landed, the criminals can locate them. The State must get resources as well. An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: I am anxious to make progress.

 Deputy Pat Carey: In recent weeks Garda authorities have increased the number of gardaí assigned to drug intervention issues. The interagency approach which is key to all of this is being constantly monitored. In the last number of weeks I have had a number of meetings to ensure the interagency approach is beefed up, for want of a better term. I had an interesting meeting in July with a group largely representing fishermen from the Howth area. They represented from Arklow up to the Balbriggan and Drogheda areas. Customs authorities are looking at a pilot project which would engage the coastal communities in supporting intelligence-led, community-based interventions. With such an indented coastline, there is very little chance that every single cove can be monitored so the commitment of the coastal communities is very valuable and the authorities acknowledge their ongoing support. This can be built upon and with the new satellite and tracking technology available now, co-operation between the fishing and leisure industries and the statutory authorities could lead to significant further progress.

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