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Home > 25. Deputy Jack Wall asked the Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs the number of meetings he or his departmental officials have had or are proposing to have with national sporting organisations to discuss the proposed new national drugs strategy; the results of such meetings; [23139/09]

[Oireachtas] 25. Deputy Jack Wall asked the Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs the number of meetings he or his departmental officials have had or are proposing to have with national sporting organisations to discuss the proposed new national drugs strategy; the results of such meetings; [23139/09]. (17 Jun 2009)

External website: http://debates.oireachtas.ie/dail/2009/06/17/00011...


Priority Questions, National Drugs Strategy

Minister of State at the Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs (Deputy John Curran):  I am highly aware that involvement in sport can be a key factor in helping to prevent young people from becoming involved in problem drug taking. In this context and because of the other health and well-being benefits involved, I wholeheartedly support participation in sport.

Under the current drugs strategy, a number of initiatives were developed on a local basis to promote sport among young people. In addition, 14 of what are termed “Football in the Community” development officers are employed under the young people’s facilities and services fund, ten of whom are in Dublin and four in Limerick. Such initiatives are likely to continue under the new drugs strategy.

Neither my officials nor I have had direct meetings with national sporting organisations to discuss the proposals for the new strategy. However, the steering group set up to develop proposals in this regard undertook an extensive consultation process in mid-2008 and I personally participated in many of the meetings involved. This process included 15 public consultation meetings nationwide, as well as meetings with relevant Departments and agencies, key sectoral representatives and organisations and targeted focus groups. Submissions in writing also were received from the public and various other bodies, including the Department of Arts, Sport and Tourism, which submitted views that emphasised the importance of sport.

I also should mention in this context that the national co-ordinator of the GAA’s alcohol and substance abuse prevention programme was a member of the steering group. However, his membership was as a representative of the voluntary sector rather than as a direct sports-focused participant. The steering group recognised the capacity of sports organisations to positively affect and influence the attitudes and behaviour of many people, particularly children and young adults. This is being achieved through both the provision of diversionary sport and recreational activities and the spread of health, prevention and awareness messages in regard to problem drug and alcohol use.

The group was highly conscious of the opportunity to build on the valuable prevention work being done by the various sports organisations, both at a broad level and through individual volunteers. In this context, the new strategy proposes the putting in place of substance misuse policies and the development of a brief interventions approach, where appropriate, in youth, sport and community organisations. In that regard, it is important to acknowledge that some organisations, such as the GAA, already have in place substance misuse policies. I believe that sport will continue to play a very positive part in our efforts to tackle problem drug use in our society over the lifetime of the new strategy.

Deputy Jack Wall:   I find it very difficult to understand how, while discussing the strategy, alternatives are never discussed. In this context, I fail to understand the reason that all sporting organisations have not been contacted. Something must be put in place to attract young people away from the misuse of drugs. Given that so much money has been spent on grants to various sporting organisations, those facilities should be used to attract young people away from the drug barons who are trying to destroy their lives on a daily basis.

Although I am deeply involved in the GAA, I have yet to visit a GAA facility or attend a meeting at which I have heard a single word about a local drugs task force, a meeting or anything similar. It is difficult to understand that although so much money is spent in capital outlay to the aforementioned organisations, the two matters do not appear to be tied together. This Department pertains to community matters and to providing for the community and I fail to understand why attempts are not made to try to drive an alternative to get the youngsters involved. While I acknowledge the associations can only do so much in this regard, a combination of all groups is required.

Before the announcement of the strategy, I ask the Minister of State to facilitate the holding of a seminar on this issue, to which all sporting organisations are invited. He should demonstrate his willingness to lead on this matter because that is his job. He should provide a lead in combining all sports organisations to ensure that progress will be made.

Deputy John Curran: 
  First, to clarify a number of points, there was a fairly extensive public consultation period. While individual sporting organisations were not contacted directly, many may have attended public meetings. The debates held in the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Arts, Sport, Tourism, Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs and in the Seanad all highlighted the issue of sport. Government policy has recognised clearly that the problem relating to drugs is at its worst in areas of high disadvantage and additional incentives have been provided in such areas, by which I mean top-up funding for sports capital programmes from this Department and so forth. Various programmes are in place and I acknowledge fully the importance of sport.

The drugs strategy is now at an advanced stage and further consultations will not be held. However, this strategy is on an interim basis. Arising from the Government’s decision of 30 September to include alcohol, a new joint substance misuse strategy will be drawn up and in that regard I will consult specifically, at Deputy Wall’s request, with the sporting organisations.

Deputy Jack Wall: 
  If no further consultations in this regard are to be held, a major opportunity will have been missed. In tandem with the strategy’s launch, the Minister of State still should go ahead and organise a seminar to highlight what has taken place and to ensure that everyone is on board in this regard. Otherwise, I believe this constitutes a missed opportunity.

Deputy John Curran:   I reiterate that the new national strategy is an interim drug-related strategy. On 30 September last, the Government made the decision to have a joint drug and alcohol substance misuse strategy and work will begin on that process in September 2009. During that process, in specific response to Deputy Wall’s remarks, I will consult with the sporting organisations as requested.

Deputy Jack Wall:  Very well. I thank the Minister of State.

26. Deputy Catherine Byrne asked the Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs  if, in view of recent cuts to the national drugs strategy budget, he will investigate alternative sources of funding to ensure that community groups and projects under the national drugs strategy can continue their work to combat the drug problem here; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [23301/09]

Deputy John Curran:  As the Deputy will be aware, the majority of expenditure allocated through my Department to community groups involved in drugs initiatives is channelled though the local and regional drugs task forces. Of the total drugs funding in my Department’s Vote in 2009, more than 92% is targeted at task force-related activities.

The revised allocation, following the supplementary budget in April, for community-based initiatives in the local and regional drugs task force areas is €32.5 million, which will support approximately 530 projects. No area is immune to cost cutting measures in the current economic environment. It is in this context that all drugs task forces must live within the budgets allocated for their areas of responsibility and I fully appreciate this involves a requirement to make some difficult choices.

Sustained incremental funding over recent years has facilitated, amongst others, the strengthening of existing projects in the local drugs task force areas, the rolling out of a range of projects and initiatives in regional drugs task force areas, the introduction of new initiatives and responses to address cocaine usage and to support rehabilitation, as well as ongoing investment in capital projects. These are recognised by the Government as key areas to support communities to address the harm caused by problem drugs use and to deliver meaningful solutions. I assure the Deputy that my primary concern has been and continues to be the protection of front line community-based services delivering vital programmes and initiatives in areas worst affected by problem drug use.

I am acutely aware of the challenges that reduced budget allocations pose. Other Departments and agencies also are aware of this issue in the context of their engagement in the drugs strategy and the available funding to them for the mainstream drugs projects and services. However, we must take account of the current economic reality and of the pressure on the public finances. Inevitably, this means that some schemes will be affected. Properly managed, however, this also may lead to improved efficiencies in services and may foster better interagency working to the benefit of all.

Additional information not given on the floor of the House.

The Deputy also should note that drugs task forces have benefitted from funding under the dormant accounts fund, DAF. In addition to supporting the dial to stop drug dealing campaigns in task force areas, 80 projects in 23 of the task force areas were recently approved funding from the DAF for initiatives aimed at improving services for families of drug misusers. There have also been many calls to ring-fence and use assets seized by the Criminal Assets Bureau to fund drug services and I spoke in the Dáil about this recently during an Adjournment debate. While the suggestion is interesting, it raises a number of difficulties. The Constitution requires, and Government accounting principles provide, that public moneys be spent as voted or approved by Dáil Éireann unless otherwise provided by statute. It would be contrary to the normal Estimates process were one to ring-fence moneys obtained by the Exchequer and reallocate them for a specific purpose. The variable nature of the value of the assets seized by the CAB in any given year also could cause problems as funds must be provided on an ongoing basis for drugs programmes. Difficulties also might be caused if delays arose as a result of legal challenges to court disposal orders. Such an unstable revenue source would not facilitate the proper planning of drug programmes by organisations involved in delivering such services.

The Deputy will be aware that a number of difficult decisions are being taken across the Government. However, its approach is to do this in as balanced a way as possible. There is a critical need to ensure that resources are directed in a targeted and effective manner and that the maximum benefit is achieved. I am confident that the funding in 2009 will enable the delivery of meaningful and viable community-based initiatives to address problem drug use.

 Deputy Catherine Byrne:  I thank the Minister of State for his reply and wish to raise a few points. In recent weeks, many groups have approached Members to discuss the lack of funding and how they will be obliged to cut their budgets. My primary concern pertains to the small community groups that are funded from the task force and that I have discussed previously with the Minister of State. The people who have got off lightly in this regard are the drug barons, who have taken huge sums of money from communities and from those who live in the less well-off areas in particular.

 Will the Minister of State commit himself to ring-fencing some of the money accruing to the Criminal Assets Bureau in order that it can be put back into communities and into some of the local drugs task forces in order that the aforementioned services can be kept in place? The Minister of State has acknowledged these services are on the front line and each community group continues to use its programmes in a particular way. The people who will lose out are not the drug barons or the drug users, but people who are at the lower end of the scale, namely, extremely young children, who are now becoming deeply involved in drugs.

Deputy John Curran: I am not in a position to ring-fence funds from the Criminal Assets Bureau. I cannot give such a commitment. I have answered questions in this regard previously in the Dáil. While funding from the Criminal Assets Bureau would be highly symbolic, by its nature this is not easy to do. There is an onus on the State that funding is made available through the normal Vote and that the income comes into the Exchequer, including the Criminal Assets Bureau funding. Not all the funding that accrues to the Criminal Assets Bureau comes from drug-related crime. That is also an issue. If the Deputy’s proposal were accepted, the amount of funding provided would vary from year to year. In my view, such variations in funding would cause greater difficulties than the difficulties we are facing at the moment. I will put it into context. While the level of funding has been reduced in the current year, the reduction is not as great as the reduction that has been seen in other areas. We have worked hard to ensure that the level of funding provided to drug task force projects throughout the country remains at the maximum level. I reiterate that the relevant figure has decreased from €34.6 million last year to €32.5 million this year.


Deputy Catherine Byrne: While I accept what has been said, I insist it is time for some of the money that accrues from criminal activities to be invested in poorer communities, thereby assisting those who are at the bottom of the food chain when money is passed down. The Minister of State is not responsible for the Criminal Assets Bureau, but he can use his position as the officeholder with responsibility for the drugs strategy to influence Cabinet Ministers. This is a serious matter at a time when money is very limited and groups are struggling. The Minister of State has the power to influence his colleagues and thereby make the changes I am calling for. That is what he should be doing.


Deputy John Curran: I reiterate that the funds collected by the Criminal Assets Bureau are returned to the Exchequer, which funds many of the initiatives for which I have responsibility. I refer not only to the drug task forces, but also to a range of other facilities and funds that are aimed at safeguarding the well-being of society. Deputy Wall spoke about the importance of sport, which is generally funded through the Exchequer, which derives some of its income from the Criminal Assets Bureau. Perhaps it would be more appropriate for Deputy Byrne to direct her specific request to the Minister for Finance. In these difficult and challenging times, it is important to examine the effectiveness of the more than 500 projects which are funded through the drug task forces. While I understand the difficulties faced by task forces, I am afraid they will have to prioritise those projects that are delivering the effective outcomes needed in communities and make choices on that basis.

Vol. 685 No. 1
Priority Questions, National Drugs Strategy
17 June 2009


 

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