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Donovan, Anne Marie and Connolly, Johnny (2008) Task force community representatives conference. Drugnet Ireland, Issue 26, Summer 2008, pp. 23-24.

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The Local/Regional Task Force Community Representatives Conference, facilitated by CityWide and hosted by the National Drugs Strategy Team (NDST) and the Inter-Departmental Group on the National Drugs Strategy (IDG), took place at the Killeshin Hotel in Portlaoise from 4 to 6 April. In light of the development of the new National Drugs Strategy 2009–2016, the main objective of this conference was to consult with community representatives so as to identify priority actions needed to address drug misuse in communities. A further objective included establishing how communities can play a lead role in developing, planning and delivering the new National Drugs Strategy.

 The conference commenced with opening addresses from Garda Detective Superintendent Barry O’Brien, Chairperson of the National Drugs Strategy Team; Anna Quigley, Co-ordinator of CityWide Drugs Crisis Campaign and Pat Carey TD, the then Minister of State with responsibility for drugs strategy. The Minister acknowledged the progress made since 1996, but underlined the need for advances in the area of rehabilitation. He was particularly eager to establish the National Drug Rehabilitation Implementation Committee. In relation to the new strategy, he urged communities to voice their concerns and ideas: ‘The development of this new strategy gives all of you an opportunity to voice your views and I believe that “everything is up for grabs” in relation to developing a new strategy.’
While the three key areas focused upon were drug treatment, supply control and prevention, a recurring theme throughout the conference was the perceived need for a revised set of political structures to deal with drug misuse. Fergus McCabe, community representative for the IDG, argued that drug misuse requires a special ministry and a cabinet committee located in either the Department of Health or the Department of the Taoiseach.
Drug treatment and prevention
Liam O’Brien of CARP, Tallaght, outlined the development of drug treatment in Ireland since the early 1990s. It was noted that some of the biggest challenges in the current climate include the emergence of cocaine as a destabilising influence on recovering opiate users, the reluctance to acknowledge the damaging effects of alcohol abuse and the unwillingness of communities outside Dublin to acknowledge growing opiate misuse in their areas.
The drug treatment workshop produced a set of priority actions which included:
  • Implement the NACD recommendations on drug use and mental health.
  • Identify gaps in service provision.
  • Review the effectiveness of existing treatment options.
  • Meet women’s needs, especially in relation to childcare.
 With regard to prevention, Martin Hayes, community representative on the NDST, highlighted the need for fresh thinking in prevention strategies. He suggested that harm reduction can be seen as a preventative strategy as it prevents an escalation in serious drug-related harms. Priority actions from the prevention workshop included:
  • Audit the Social, Personal and Health Education (SPHE) and Walk Tall programmes to ascertain if and how schools are delivering them.
  • Include a community representative on the SPHE programme.
  • Develop culturally sensitive programmes and collaborate with leaders of new communities in Ireland.
  • Implement best practice to support parents and families.
 Supply control
Criminologist Johnny Connolly of the Health Research Board highlighted the significant gaps in our understanding of how illicit drug markets operate. He pointed out that, despite the major anxiety within society about drug-related crime and the huge resources invested in drug law enforcement, we have very limited information on how these resources are used or what sort of impact they have. He suggested that there is growing evidence internationally that partnership between stakeholders including local communities, law enforcement, local authorities and health workers offers the most sustainable method of responding to many drug problems in this area. He suggested that the joint policing committees and, in particular, the local policing fora being rolled out in line with the National Drugs Strategy and the Garda Síochána Act, 2005, have the potential to provide the necessary infrastructure through which such partnership approaches can be delivered at local level.
Priority actions from the supply control workshop included:
  • Put community policing fora in place in all LDTF areas as a matter of urgency and facilitate discussion as to how the model can be adapted to RDTF areas.
  • Develop a more intensive and targeted response to drug ‘hotspots’ identified at local level.
  • Implement a national programme of arrest referral schemes.
  • Encourage liaison between the Courts Service, the NDST and drugs task forces to progress Action 72 of the strategy relating to the training of members of the judiciary.
  • Expand the means by which people can safely and anonymously contact the gardaí in relation to drug dealing.
  • Ring-fence money obtained through the Criminal Assets Bureau for re-investment in local communities most affected by drugs.
  • Address drug supply within the Traveller community in local and regional policing plans.

 Sinead Smyth of Pavee Point emphasised the importance of accommodating the needs of communities of interest 1 in the next drugs strategy. She reported that groups such as Travellers and immigrants are often under-represented in service delivery and emphasised that ‘there needs to be a big push within the NDS to support equality issues as it is very ad hoc and piecemeal’.

 Dr Gemma Cox of the National Advisory Committee on Drugs (NACD) gave a presentation on the importance of developing an integrated set of measures or community indicators to aid targeted action and help relevant bodies monitor the benefits to the community of actions around drugs.2 Dr Mary Ellen McCann of University College Dublin (UCD) presented results from a collaborative study by CityWide, UCD and the NDST which assessed the role and experience of community representatives. There are 140 representatives nationally who are generally nominated, invited or elected to their position. The study reported that the role of community representatives mainly involved taking issues form the grassroots level and feeding them into task forces, assisting in emergencies and planning.  The study also found that, while community representatives appreciate the opportunity to contribute to the development of their communities, many were dissatisfied with the minor impact they felt they were currently making. A report on the conference will be provided by CityWide Drugs Crisis Campaign in the coming weeks and can be accessed on their website www.citywide.ie.
1. Communities of interest have been described as groups or communities who have shared identity, experiences and purposes. They are often referred to as ‘hard to reach groups’.
2. More details on community indicators are reported in Loughran and McCann (2006) A community drugs study: developing community indicators for problem drug use. Dublin: NACD.
Item Type
Publication Type
Irish-related, Open Access, Article
Drug Type
Substances (not alcohol/tobacco)
Issue Title
Issue 26, Summer 2008
Page Range
pp. 23-24
Health Research Board
Issue 26, Summer 2008
Accession Number
HRB (Available)

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