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Home > 5. Deputy Catherine Byrne asked the Minister for Community, Equality and Gaeltacht Affairs if he will confirm that the Office of the Minister for Drugs is still in operation; [14314/10]

[Oireachtas] 5. Deputy Catherine Byrne asked the Minister for Community, Equality and Gaeltacht Affairs if he will confirm that the Office of the Minister for Drugs is still in operation; [14314/10]. (01 Apr 2010)

External website: http://debates.oireachtas.ie/dail/2010/04/01/00012...


Dail Debates. Priority Questions. National Drugs Strategy.

5. Deputy Catherine Byrne asked the Minister for Community, Equality and Gaeltacht Affairs  if he will confirm that the Office of the Minister for Drugs is still in operation; if he will guarantee that a full-time Minister of State will continue to direct and oversee the implementation of the national drugs strategy, and in particular, the forthcoming new national substance misuse strategy; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [14314/10]

Deputy Pat Carey:  I can confirm to the Deputy that the Office of the Minister for Drugs remains very much in operation with a clear focus on dealing with the issue of problem drug use in Ireland. I can confirm also that responsibility for the national drugs strategy will rest with me, as Minister. I look forward to working on it and enjoyed working on it previously. I am sure I will have the same engagement with the sector as I did in the past.

The Government remains fully committed to addressing the drugs problem and I believe that my appointment as a Minister with direct responsibility in this area will facilitate the implementation of the drugs strategy in a timely and co-ordinated fashion. Many at community level have been campaigning for some time that the Minister with responsibility for the drugs strategy should be a member of the Government with a seat at Cabinet.

During my previous period as Minister for State with responsibility for this area, significant steps forward were made in the drugs area. From my experience on the ground at that time, I am very familiar with the ongoing issues in terms of the drugs problem in communities and the initiatives being taken to address them. I acknowledge the excellent work done by my colleague, Deputy John Curran, while he was Minister of State, in driving the finalisation of the National Drugs Strategy 2009-16, the implementation of which is being pursued vigorously across a range of Departments and agencies.

I fully intend to build on this work and to implement a continuous assessment approach to progress the 63 actions in the strategy to ensure that we achieve successful outcomes. Furthermore, I believe that the structures now in place under the strategy will better facilitate me to effectively fulfil that role.

With regard to drugs and alcohol, I was one of the main advocates to Government on combining the approach as regards substance misuse. I was delighted with the decision to prepare a national substance misuse strategy and I look forward to this being put in place within the timeframe envisaged. As Deputy Byrne will be aware, a steering group, which is jointly chaired by officials of the Department of Health and Children and the office of the Minister of State with responsibility for drugs, has been established to develop proposals for submission to Government before the end of the year.

I can assure the Deputy of my commitment to press ahead with the ongoing implementation of the national drugs strategy and to support the timely finalisation and subsequent implementation of the national substance misuse strategy, incorporating both alcohol and drugs.

Deputy Catherine Byrne:  I thank the Minister. There is no doubt in my mind that he is the right man in the right place. I concur with everybody who has paid tribute to Deputy John Curran who, although Minister of State with responsibility for drugs for a relatively short time, made an enormous impression on everybody, in the communities as well as in Leinster House.

I am delighted that the position has not been abolished and that it will continue. I have been contacted by a great many people working in community groups who were very worried that the situation we had worked so hard to establish last year, given that a Minister of State was in place, would be abandoned. The national drugs strategy needs a committed Minister to drive it forward. I have known for many years that Deputy Carey is such a Minister especially as regards communities.

The main reason people are so distraught over what is happening on the drug scene is because many of projects involved are facing major reductions in funding. This has been an enormous problem, particularly in my area, where people have been told that certain projects will have to close or be short of staff. It has put tremendous pressure on the small number of people who are left.

I have no doubt in mind that there was never a better time to control head shops, as referred to in Question No. 2. We are all singing from the same hymn sheet in the Chamber in that regard. The main thing is to protect our children, but having said that, the Minister, Deputy Carey, might intervene with the new Minister for Education and Science. Last week I asked whether she would consider mounting an awareness campaign, particularly in secondary schools, immediately, since 24 hours can have a major difference in the life of any child.

I welcome the Minister, Deputy Carey back to the driving seat and I hope we shall enjoy the same working relationship we have had over many years, because I really believe he knows what is happening on the ground. I and my party colleagues believe the only way to tackle the drugs problem is to have someone in charge who can lead the way.

Deputy Pat Carey:  I thank Deputy Byrne for her comments. At the risk of a mutual admiration society emerging, I should say that Deputy Byrne has been around this particular area of community work for a long time and has a deep-rooted knowledge of it.

In terms of any doubts about the office, I assure Deputies it will continue and I am as committed to it as ever. There is no doubt that the levels of funding are not as generous as they were in the past, but the work groups are doing right across the country, whether in drugs task forces or any other area, are not driven by funding alone. Certainly, much of the work depends on proper and large-scale resourcing and perhaps we can never have enough. However, I will be working with my Minister of State and others in government to ensure the best use is made of available resources and indeed address as comprehensively as possible problem drug use and the issues associated with it, whether early school leaving, high levels of unemployment, anti-social behaviour etc. We need to focus on co-ordinating our approach even more sharply than in the past.

I agree with Deputy Byrne about the level of awareness that is needed. Only yesterday I was looking with my officials at the “Dial to stop drug dealing” campaign, which is quite successful. I certainly believe that is one area we can make use of to get the message across. I also believe, incidentally, that we should look at facilities such as Twitter, Facebook etc. — and I might even talk to colleagues in other parties in this regard — just to broaden the message, using more up to date media to get through to the target groups.

Deputy Michael Ring:  The Greens will teach the Minister about that.

Deputy Joe Carey:   I gather the Department of Education and Science is working on finalising work information books with the Department of Health and Children about drugs, generally, focusing in particular on the legal highs Deputy Byrne is concerned about, as I am.

The big challenge now is to drive through the new strategy and ensure that the substance misuse strategy is implemented as quickly as possible. Above all, I do not want to see a turf war between Departments as to whether the implementation of that strategy should be with the Department of Health and Children, my Department or whatever, because as many of us know, such a development has bedevilled many previous campaigns in terms of alcohol awareness programmes and so on. I certainly believe much ground work has been done. I have read through the files over the last couple of days about the progress that has been made and am actually very confident that we shall have a substance misuse policy that probably will be a leader in the approach to be taken on substances legal and illegal. It might be copied in time by many other jurisdictions.

Vol. 706 No. 2
Priority Questions
Thursday, 1 April 2010

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