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Home > Dail Eireann debate. Adjournment debate - National Drugs Strategy.

[Oireachtas] Dail Eireann debate. Adjournment debate - National Drugs Strategy. (21 Nov 2007)

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Deputy Catherine Byrne: I was appalled on reading the report in yesterday’s Irish Examiner which highlighted the seriousness of the drug problem in this country. We all know that we have a huge drug problem that affects every corner of Ireland, but sometimes it takes a report such as this one, which shows us graphic images of the effects of drugs, to make us stand up and take notice. Drugs are about buying and selling, and one of those processes cannot function without the other. It is crystal clear to me that the aim of the Government should be to target the suppliers, drug pushers and drug barons and put them out of business. These people are the real criminals whose hunger for profit cancels out any guilt or remorse they might feel about the lives they destroy.

The Government also needs to support actively the rehabilitation of those people who are desperately trying to break free from drugs. We need to give these people opportunities to rehabilitate themselves and to try and lead a drug-free life.

The Minister of State, Deputy Pat Carey, said in yesterday's report that more than €200 million was targeted at problem drug use in 2006. I would like to know where this money went and what effect it has had. The Government can continue to throw money at the drug problem but the sad fact is that it will only continue to get worse unless the Government acts to catch the criminals and educate our young people about the real dangers of getting involved in drugs. It would be much more effective to channel Government funding to ensure it reaches the people who need it the most. At this stage the Government has enough policies and plans in place. What we need now is action.

It is a tragedy that the lives of young people and those of their families are being destroyed by drugs every day of the week. In my constituency of Dublin South-Central I have witnessed at first hand many families whose lives have been torn apart and who have buried sons and daughters who have died as a result of drugs. I attended a remembrance service in Ballyfermot this year at which more than 500 people lit candles to remember those they had lost through suicide and drug addiction. The look of despair and hopelessness etched on their faces is a sight I will never forget. It is heartbreaking to see families experience such a great loss. Their loss should portray a clear picture to the Government that its policies are not working.

I acknowledge that the Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs and the Minister of State, Deputy Pat Carey, are playing their part in trying to combat the drug problem through the development of the local drugs task forces, the young people's facilities and services fund and the national drugs strategy. However, these programmes are in place for nearly ten years and the drug problem has worsened. We can have all the meetings, policies and plans in the world at our disposal but they are not improving the situation. They are just another waste of taxpayers' money.

The local drugs task forces have done good work locally and have the potential to do great work.

They have a challenging role which takes in treatment, rehabilitation, education, prevention and curbing local supply. However, I often feel that their work can become tied up in red tape and bureaucracy, which shifts the focus from why they were set up in the first place. It is the people in the local community who have come face to face with the devastation and violence caused by drug addiction, who should be main focus of the local drugs taskforces.

The national drugs strategy is an ambitious document, which aims to tackle the source of the drug problem as well as the terrible effects it has on communities. It is now six years, however, since it was introduced, and how many of its recommendations and aims have actually been achieved?

The Department of Education and Science prides itself on being heavily involved in running awareness and education programmes in schools throughout the country to communicate the dangers of drug misuse to children and young people. However, it could do much more and I really believe that education is the key. The Department's drug prevention programmes such as On My Own Two Feet and Walk Tall go some way towards educating young people about drugs but there is still no mandatory drugs and alcohol awareness programme available for senior cycle students. Teenagers in fifth and sixth year are vulnerable and are often targeted by drug dealers, yet receive no drugs awareness classes. This is a clear failure of Government policy.

Fr. Terry Murphy, parish priest in Darndale, was quoted yesterday in a moving piece in the Irish Examiner to the effect that one of the pieces missing at the moment was gardaí on the street building relationships, getting to know the community, meeting families and breaking down the divide between the Garda and the community. I agree with Fr. Murphy and believe that in order for the Garda Síochána to have a more effective role in the fight against drugs, more community policing is needed at a local level. This will entail community gardaí staying in place in the communities they serve for some length of time. I know there is no quick fix in prospect, but the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform as well as the entire Government need to look at all the strategies and policies and assess why there has not been significant progress to date in the fight against drugs. Can the Minister say why, if €200 million was spent last year on tacking the drug problem, this country is still in the grip of a drugs crisis, with young people in particular dying every day as a result of their addictions?

[For the full debate, click on this link to the Oireachtas website]

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