Home > Dail Eireann debate. Other questions 29, 36, 50, 52, 53 - National Drugs Strategy [23900/09, 23873/09, 23850/09, 23918/09, 23856/09].

[Oireachtas] Dail Eireann debate. Other questions 29, 36, 50, 52, 53 - National Drugs Strategy [23900/09, 23873/09, 23850/09, 23918/09, 23856/09]. (17 Jun 2009)

External website: https://www.oireachtas.ie/en/debates/debate/dail/2...

29. Deputy James Bannon asked the Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs his views, in view of the economic situation, on whether funding for the interim national drugs strategy and the follow up national substance misuse strategy will be limited; if he has investigated alternative sources of funding as a consequence; [23900/09]

36. Deputy Paul Kehoe asked the Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs if he has sought approval from Cabinet for the establishment of a dedicated office of the Minister for drugs; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [23873/09]

50. Deputy Eamon Gilmore asked the Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs when he expects the new national drugs strategy to be completed and published; the discussions he has had with community organisations on this strategy; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [23850/09]

52. Deputy Catherine Byrne asked the Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs if he will provide a timeline for the publication of the new national drugs strategy and the new national substance misuse strategy; the stakeholders who are involved in the development of these strategies; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [23918/09]

53. Deputy Liz McManus asked the Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs his proposals to implement the combined substance misuse policy agreed by the Government at its meeting on 31 March 2009. [23856/09]

Deputy John Curran: I propose to take Questions Nos. 29, 36, 50, 52 and 53 together.

I am pleased to say that at yesterday’s Cabinet meeting a new national drugs strategy for the period 2009 to 2016 was approved by Government. The new strategy, which will be published shortly, includes a provision to establish a dedicated office of the Minister for drugs. Arising from the Government decision of 31 March 2009 to include alcohol and drugs in a combined national substance misuse policy, it is envisaged that the new strategy will be an interim policy pending the development of the broader strategy, which is expected by the end of 2010. The focus at the outset of the implementation of the new strategy will be on the optimum use of the current resources, currently in the region of €266 million per annum, allocated to tackling the drugs problem across a number of different Departments and agencies.

The steering group, set up to develop proposals on a new strategy, comprised representatives of the community, voluntary and statutory sectors involved in addressing problem drug use. Thus, a community input was facilitated and supported throughout the process. The group undertook an extensive consultation process in mid-2008. This process included 15 public consultation meetings across the country and meetings with relevant Departments and agencies, key sectoral representatives and organisations and targeted focus groups. Submissions in writing were also received from the public and from other bodies. Many community organisations contributed to this process through specific meetings and submissions as well as through the attendance of members at the various public consultation meetings. The new strategy will build on the existing partnership approach across the statutory and community and voluntary sectors while further developing governance, management and overall effectiveness.

It is envisaged that the new national substance misuse strategy will incorporate the already agreed drugs policy element. A further steering group, or similar mechanism, will be utilised to develop proposals and make recommendations in this regard. It is likely that the group will begin work in autumn 2009, with a view to finalising the strategy by the end of 2010. While the establishment of this group has yet to be addressed, I fully expect it to include appropriate representatives from across the sectors.

Deputy Michael Ring: I wish to ask the Leas-Cheann Comhairle a question. I tabled a number of questions on rural transport services, for which the Minister, Deputy Éamon Ó Cúiv, has responsibility, and I contacted the questions office about them. I heard a senior citizen complain this morning about this matter, but that is not the issue I wish to raise. The issue is that I tabled questions on a matter, for which the Minister has responsibility, and was appalled that the questions office ruled them out of order. It is difficult and I find all the time——

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: The Deputy will be aware that the questions office does not rule anything out of order. That is a matter for line Ministers. If the Deputy contacts the Ceann Comhairle’s office——

Deputy Michael Ring: I have already done that.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: ——in this regard, I am sure he will get a full explanation.

Deputy Michael Ring:
It is unsatisfactory.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: I do not want to use up the limited time available to the Deputy now.

Deputy Michael Ring:
I ask the Leas-Cheann Comhairle to bring this matter to the attention of the Ceann Comhairle and I will also write to him.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:
I will alert the Ceann Comhairle to the Deputy’s concern.

Deputy Michael Ring: I have had the same experience in tabling questions to the Minister of State, Deputy John Curran. I have been told that the matters concerned are not ones for him and they have been passed to the Minister for Health and Children, even though they relate to matters for which the Minister of State has responsibility.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: The Deputy should put his question on this important issue.

Deputy Michael Ring: I appreciate the Leas-Cheann Comhairle listening to what I had to say because I find such treatment frustrating.

The Comptroller and Auditor General’s report on drug treatment and rehabilitation services was damning about the way in which funding for these services has been cut back. The number of people using cannabis and cocaine here has increased out of all proportion. We have an epidemic on our hands, yet the Minister of State has cut the funding for the local drug task forces and the national advisory committee by 20% and 23%, respectively. People are waiting for beds for detox treatment. Some have been waiting a year for such treatment and some have been waiting even longer for services.

A new drugs strategy will be published shortly. It will be a glossy document and I discussed such documents earlier in regard to the Irish language. A big press announcement on it will be made by the Minister of State and his colleagues advising the people that the Government will tackle the drugs problems, yet at the same time the budgets allocated to the people who deal with this problem have been cut back. Has he had meetings with the Minister for Finance in this regard? There is a serious budget coming up in December and he will be announcing these strategies, but we already have cutbacks. Is there any point in announcing the strategies if the Minister is not going to put the funding in place?

Deputy John Curran: The Deputy is well aware of the financial situation. In advance of the previous budgets we had meetings with the Minister for Finance and we will do so again in advance of this year’s budget. The establishment of the office of the Minister for drugs will have one significant effect, namely, it will allow greater governance. This has been raised before by the Committee of Public Accounts. It will also allow for more effective spending of funding in this area, which is considerable at €266 million.

We are constantly considering new and innovative ways of dealing with the drugs problem, whose seriousness I recognise. There is a difference between the current strategy and the previous one because, over time, what had previously been a Dublin issue has become a national issue. One key focus in the new strategy will be to increase the range of services outside the Dublin area, in particular, where the problems of providing treatment and rehabilitation are greater.

Deputy Jack Wall: To whom will the Minister of State be responsible in his new position? Will it still be the Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs or will it be the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform? What cost factor has been determined for personnel? Will there be a secretary for the unit, as is attached to other such ministerial positions? When will this be implemented?

Deputy John Curran: An interim arrangement is in place at the moment. Following the Government decision yesterday, I hope the new office will be established in as short a time as possible, by which I mean within a number of weeks. Not dissimilarly to the arrangements for the previous national drugs strategy, staff will come in from the other key Departments on a shared basis and we will also have the current staff from the drugs strategy unit within my own Department. I hope this will be up and running within a few weeks.

Deputy Jack Wall: To whom will the Minister of State be responsible? Is it the same senior Minister?

Deputy John Curran:
I will be the Minister of State with responsibility for the drugs strategy and will have the same senior Minister.

Deputy Michael Ring: The Minister of State said that the central funding would come from the Minister for Finance. My colleague, Deputy Byrne, raised the issue of the Criminal Assets Bureau and she has a valid point. The people selling drugs are the ones creating havoc on the streets. The Minister of State should talk to the Minister for Finance about taking funding from the proceeds of CAB to pay for the recovery of people who have serious drug problems. It could be used for detox beds and other facilities. These people do not get the same support as those in other sectors of the community because of the problems they have. That is not right, because the issue affects everybody in their communities, including their families, neighbours and friends. It is important that funding is put in place for this. It should be the number one priority. There is to be a dedicated office, but there is no point in setting it up if the funding is not there to run the office and the services.

Deputy John Curran: To reiterate, spending on the drugs programme across Departments in the current year is quite substantial, at €266 million. The main focus behind the establishment of a dedicated office is to ensure we avoid duplication, deliver effective outcomes, and base our decisions on evidence. That is important. The message should not go from here today that the drugs issue is not being tackled seriously. The changes we are making are to reflect the current environment and the fact that we are dealing with a national problem.

Money alone is not enough; it is about how we deliver and target it. We must be able to get measurable, effective outcomes for the money we are spending, and having a single dedicated office will give us greater clarity in evaluating and monitoring a range of programmes. It is separate from the money we spend directly. Apart from the community sector — we talked about community projects earlier — the voluntary sector has played an increasing role and will continue to do so in the future.

Deputy Catherine Byrne: I welcome the establishment of the office of the Minister for drugs and I hope it happens sooner rather than later. In the past, when Fine Gael and the Labour Party were in government, it was considered important that there was somebody in charge who could hold the reins. Drugs should not be a side issue for a Minister. My hope is that the Minister of State will consider a number of the issues raised today but also, importantly, reflect on recent events in this area. A few weeks ago an inquest found that another young person had died due to illegal selling of magic mushrooms in head shops. I hope the Minister will take this on when he takes over his new office. It is important because there are vulnerable people out there. We should be getting back to basics. People and children matter. I welcome this development and the sooner it happens the better.

Deputy John Curran: The establishment of the new office will facilitate much better co-ordination over a range of issues.

With regard to head shops, the Deputy understands my personal view. I have grave concerns about these shops. As the Deputy knows, we have taken action on BZP and we will be considering other substances that are available.

In case there is any misunderstanding, I will clarify that I am currently the Minister of State with responsibility for the national drugs strategy and I will continue to be on establishment of the new office. It is important that the interim arrangements, which have been working for the last six or eight weeks, are brought to a conclusion. It is important that we have finality and that a proper structure in place. The Government decision of yesterday will allow us to establish this. I hope it happens within a matter of weeks; I am not talking about postponing it. The net effect will be the targeting of our considerable resources in a much more effective way, clarity in what we are doing, and effectiveness in evaluating and monitoring outcomes.

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


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