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Home > Dail Eireann debate. Priority question 119 - National Drugs Strategy [33441/09].

[Oireachtas] Dail Eireann debate. Priority question 119 - National Drugs Strategy [33441/09]. (06 Oct 2009)

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119.  Deputy Catherine Byrne asked the Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs if he is confident that the new National Drugs Strategy will reduce the extent of the drug problem here; his views on whether the actions outlined in this strategy are workable and will have positive end results; his further views on the fact that the realisation of many of these actions are dependant on adequate funding from several Departments, which has not been guaranteed; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [33441/09]

Deputy John Curran:  I am confident that the National Drugs Strategy 2009-2016 will significantly tackle the problem of drug misuse in Ireland over the period of its implementation.

As the Deputy is aware, in developing the new strategy I established a steering group comprising representatives of all relevant sectors to develop proposals and to make recommendations to me. The Government subsequently accepted the recommendations of this broadly based group. I am satisfied that in developing the strategy full consideration was given to all aspects of the drugs problem, including through the comprehensive consultation process involved.

The strategy seeks to tackle the harm caused to individuals and society by the misuse of drugs through a concerted focus on the five pillars of supply reduction, prevention, treatment, rehabilitation and research. This pillar approach is being retained as it has to date proved effective, was widely supported throughout the consultation process and dovetails with the EU Action Plan on Drugs 2009-2012. The associated actions of the strategy comprise a well thought out plan of what needs to be done to achieve the overall strategic objective. They are workable and will have positive results.

Among other things the new strategy focuses on the co-ordination arrangements. The changes made in institutional structures facilitate the Minister who is given responsibility by Government for the drugs strategy to effectively fulfil that role. These changes will also streamline administration and facilitate more effective co-ordination and partnership.

Funding will be scarce over the coming years and we must ensure optimum use of available resources. However, it is important to be aware that these resources are considerable, with the estimated expenditure on the drugs problem across Departments and agencies in 2009 being in excess of €275 million.

As part of the strategy I will twice a year meet various Ministers and officials directly involved in seeking to address the drugs problem. At these meetings, which have already commenced, I will endeavour to ensure that high priority is given within Departments and agencies to achievement of the actions of the strategy. I will also stress the importance of the continued effective implementation of other programmes that impact on the factors underpinning problem drug use.

As part of the institutional arrangements to support the work of the office of the Minister with responsibility for drugs, the strategy provides for the establishment of an oversight forum on drugs. The forum, which I will chair, will have its first meeting this month and progress across the strategy will be reviewed and blockages addressed. The difficulties facing our society as a consequence of problem drug use are significant and addressing all the factors involved is an onerous undertaking, whether in the area of reducing supply, improving treatment and rehabilitation or continuing to promulgate the prevention message with a view to effecting attitudinal change in Irish society. However, I am determined that real progress will be made across the period of the new strategy, with all sectors working in a co-ordinated and targeted way to achieve implementation of the agreed actions.

Deputy Catherine Byrne:   It appears funding is at the top of everybody’s agenda. Last week, we heard loudly and clearly from the streets the response from the community sector to local drugs task forces, after school projects and community employment schemes. While I am aware the Minister of State does not have a crystal ball it is important these groups know what funding will be available to them into the future.

The national drugs strategy report, which comprises 125 pages, lists what the statutory groups want for communities into the future and sets out what response is needed in the current crisis. The Minister of State stated that the drugs problem has changed. I agree that it has changed; it has worsened. In every community young people are getting involved on a daily basis in drug abuse. Many young people are dying because of drugs. We heard in the statement made last week by Tony Geoghegan of the Merchant’s Quay project that each week 20 new people involved in drug misuse attend the services. I attended the launch of the report and I listened carefully to what the Minister of State had to say. I was struck by one of his comments, about which I was very angry. We are proud, as a nation, of our tradition of giving to communities, particularly in the Third World, and I was disappointed to hear the Elton John AIDS Foundation had to provide €750,000 towards needle exchange services in this country. I am sure there are other charities in England and elsewhere that are more needy than ours, and the Government has failed to put money into the national drugs strategy. It is a glossy document and it does not indicate to me or to the community at large what will happen in the future to many of our young people.

I refer to a statement about homelessness in the report. What plans has the Minister of State under the strategy to involve more volunteers who are the voices of communities rather than paid officials in deciding what is needed in their communities and how the problem can be tackled? Many of them are being left on the outside.

Deputy John Curran: Expenditure in this area is considerable at €275 million. As I stated in reply to earlier questions, the budgetary position for next year is not known. However, it is important that these considerable resources are spent in a co-ordinated way to ensure we are achieving maximum output and delivering effective services to the groups that need them. If we believe we can make a substantial change in addressing the drugs issue, we can have all the treatment we want and seizures by the Garda but the attitude and behaviour of people ranging from children at risk, school children to adults who talk about soft drugs and recreational drugs must change. Prevention is the area where we will make the most significant change in the strategy.

The Deputy asked about the involvement of community activists. The strategy builds on community involvement through the drug task forces and, in particular, the establishment of policing fora, which provide access for community representatives. Local task forces and the new established office of the Minister for drugs have community representatives on the drug advisory group. We recognise the role community groups have to play and they have been accommodated throughout the development of the strategy.

Vol. 690 No. 3
Dáil Debate, Priority Questions, National Drug Strategy   
Tuesday, 6 October 2009

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