Home > Dail Eireann debate. Adjournment debate - National drugs strategy.

[Oireachtas] Dail Eireann debate. Adjournment debate - National drugs strategy. (25 Mar 2010)

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Deputy Aengus Ó Snodaigh: Gabhaim comhghairdeas leis an Aire Stáit as a phost nua ach is trua gur eisean atá anseo anois, mar is cáineadh ar an Rialtas é an méid atá le rá agam. Níl an Aire Stáit ach díreach tar éis a phost nua a ghlacadh. The national drugs strategy is in crisis and the Government, in particular the Department of Education and Science, has chosen to abandon the strategy and the thousands of families who are dependent on its full delivery, despite its shortfalls. By its actions, the Government is abandoning the national drugs strategy at a time of recession, despite the fact that historically recessions have led to increased drug use. 

The Government is dumping the strategy at a time when drug crime is reaching unprecedented proportions and head shops and the so-called legal highs they supply are posing an increased threat to public health by enticing more people to use dangerous substances. There are more than 100 head shops in this State, meaning we have more such shops per capita than any other country in Europe and possibly the world. One of the functions of the Department of Education and Science should be to raise awareness among young people as to the dangers of so-called legal highs and illegal drugs, especially given the Government’s failure to date to regulate or ban head shops.
The abandonment of the national drugs strategy is evidenced this week by the Taoiseach’s decision not to appoint a junior or senior Minister with overall responsibility for the strategy. The national drugs strategy does not feature in the title of any Ministry. The Fianna Fáil-Green Party Government is playing a deadly game of political chess with the strategy. The Minister for Community, Equality and Gaeltacht Affairs, Deputy Pat Carey, once held a part-time role as Minister with responsibility for drugs but was bumped out of the way to the position of Chief Whip and replaced by the current Chief Whip, Deputy John Curran. Later, Deputy Curran was appointed Chief Whip, a position in which I hope he will do a good job. While the Minister for Community, Equality and Gaeltacht Affairs, Deputy Pat Carey, has responsibility for drugs, he also has a multitude of other briefs. Drugs is clearly not the priority brief as it does not feature in his title.
These changes have been made following the dismantling of the national drugs team on the premise that a super Ministry with responsibility for drugs would be established. What we have instead is another broken promise. The Department of Education and Science also cut funding recently, which indicates a policy decision to dump the prevention pillar of the national drugs strategy, probably the most important of all the strategy’s pillars. We need to stop future generations becoming addicted to drugs. To do this, we must educate and support young people. It is the Government’s responsibility to deliver and fund programmes and services rather than reduce or cut them.
I propose to highlight some of the effects of budget cuts. A budget cut of 33%, which is fatal to many projects, has been made to 38 young people at risk, mainstream programmes, many of which are located in my constituency. The 33% cut this year will be followed by a complete withdrawal of funding by the end of the year. The projects in question employ 64 people who are delivering vital services which target young people at risk from drugs, including diversionary activities, one-to-one supports and supports to remain in education. These projects have all been evaluated, proven effective and mainstreamed but are now being closed by Government without as much as a second thought.
In 2001, a child living in the inner city had a one in four chance of becoming addicted to drugs. Now that child’s survival odds are ten times higher — or even more — a direct consequence of the work of these projects and projects like them. Implementing these cuts will set those projects and services and young people back years in those areas which are suffering from the recession and which never benefited in a major way from the Celtic tiger.
In my own area, Ballyfermot youth service peer education is being hit with the 33% cut now, followed by the loss of all funding at the end of the year. The same is to happen to Familiscope. The Ballyfermot advance after-school grants scheme has been abolished outright already. There are other such projects such as the BRU youth club, Dublin 12 Youth Service and CLAY youth project in Crumlin and Drimnagh and many others. Some of these are limited companies and in some ways are trading recklessly because of the cut.
There is much more to be said about the curriculum and the support projects in schools. I could continue and probably shall on future occasions because there is a great deal to be concerned about arising from the Government’s approach in recent times, especially after the Cabinet reshuffle which suggested it is to abandon the national drugs strategy.
Deputy Seán Connick: Go raibh maith agat, a Theachta. Ba mhaith liom cúpla focail a rá faoin cheist seo. I am taking this Adjournment matter on behalf of my colleague, the Tánaiste and Minister for Education and Skills, Deputy Mary Coughlan. I thank the Deputy for raising this matter as it gives me an opportunity to outline the Department’s involvement with these projects and its ongoing contribution to the implementation of the national drugs strategy. 

At present, the Department provides funding for over thirty projects in local drugs task force areas. These projects, through a variety of programmes and activities, seek, in the main, to encourage young people not to engage in drug-taking. The Department originally took on responsibility for funding these projects through a mainstreaming process, whereby projects on interim funding were assigned to a number of Departments and State agencies.

Most of the projects are administered by the three VECs — Dublin City, Dublin County and Dún Laoghaire — while the remaining three projects are funded directly by the Department. In the main, the projects provide for the employment of youth workers and project leaders, the delivery of peer education in a drug education context and initiatives aimed at retaining and supporting children in first and second level education and the prevention of early school leaving. In addition, a number of projects provide support for the delivery of the substance misuse module of the social, personal and health education curriculum in schools.
Arising from budget 2010, it was decided that funding for these projects was to be reduced from €3,643,000 in 2009 to €2,461,000 in 2010 and to cease from 2011. The Tánaiste acknowledges the difficulties that arise for projects and the Department is currently reviewing the implications of the budget decisions relating to funding allocations for all of these projects.
A key aspect of the review is to determine whether the Department is the appropriate location for these projects or whether funding could more appropriately be channelled through another Department or agency. In this regard, officials of the Department have held discussions with officials in the office of the Minister with responsibility for children and youth affairs to determine whether projects which involve a significant element of youth work might be more appropriate to that office. These discussions are ongoing. A number of the projects are being reviewed within the Department in the context of their work being similar to that of other departmental initiatives aimed at preventing early school leaving. The Department will submit recommendations for the Tánaiste’s consideration based on the reviews which, it is anticipated, will be completed shortly.
The Tánaiste wishes to reassure the House that, within the resources at her disposal, she remains fully committed to implementing the national drugs strategy. In that regard, she wants to place on record the significant contribution her Department has made, and continues to make, in support of the prevention pillar of the strategy, through the introduction of a social, personal and health education, or SPHE, curriculum at primary level and at junior cycle in second-level; the initiatives under delivering quality of opportunity in schools, or DÉIS action plan and the school support programme to prevent early school leaving and achieve better educational outcomes for students; and the guidelines on substance use policies issued to all schools.
I shall provide some additional detail for the House in regard to these measures. The SPHE programme is the foundation for developing awareness of drugs and alcohol issues in schools. It is a mandatory part of the curriculum at primary and junior cycle in second level. The substance use modules of SPHE are augmented by two support programmes, the “Walk Tall” programme at primary level and “On My Own Two Feet” at post-primary. The implementation of these programmes in schools is supported by support services at primary and second level, which provide professional development for teachers and advice and support to schools.
The DÉIS action plan for educational inclusion is aimed at identifying and tackling levels of disadvantage and it provides the basis for school supports to, among others, schools located in local drugs taskforce areas. Supports targeting children most at risk of leaving school early are currently being enhanced through the integration of the relevant services, namely, the school completion programme, home-school-community liaison and the visiting teacher service for Travellers, under the National Educational Welfare Board.
Through the office of the Minister of State with responsibility for children and youth affairs, the Government continues to support initiatives for youth, such as the young people’s facilities and services fund, which aims to divert young people away from the dangers of substance abuse and the special projects for youth scheme, which supports out-of-school projects for disadvantaged young people.
Again, I acknowledge the difficulties for the projects in local drugs taskforce areas which are funded by the Department. In that regard, the Tánaiste anticipates that the examination of the projects and related discussions with the office of the Minister of State with responsibility for children and youth affairs will be completed shortly.
I thank the Deputy again for raising this matter.
The Dáil adjourned at 5.20 p.m. until 2.30 p.m. on Tuesday, 30 March 2010.
Vol. 705 No. 3  
Adjournment Debate – National Drugs Strategy
Thursday, 25 March 2010

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