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Pike, Brigid (2011) Where do drugs fit in? Drugnet Ireland, Issue 37, Spring 2011, pp. 3-4.

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In February 2011 Ireland elected a new government, which very quickly published its ‘programme for government’ for the next five years. It also immediately disbanded the Department of Community, Equality and Gaeltacht Affairs, in which the Office of the Minister for Drugs was located. At the time of going to press, however, the government had not announced its intentions with regard to the future location of the Office of the Minister for Drugs and its functions.

Drugnet Ireland looks back at how roles and responsibilities in relation to the drugs issue have been organised at national level since the first national policy document on the drugs problem in Ireland was published forty years ago.1 Lead ministerial and departmental responsibility was assigned as follows.
1960s–early 1990s: The Minister for Health and his department initiated work leading to the 1971 Report of the working party on drug abuse,which recommended a series of initiatives to reduce the use of drugs and to help rehabilitate people who had acquired a drugs habit, and to the 1991 Government strategy to prevent drug misuse, which included a range of supply and demand reduction measures. 
Mid 1990s: The Department of the Taoiseach became the centre of activity when the government established a Ministerial Task Force on Measures to Reduce Demand for Drugs under the chairmanship of the Minister of State to the Government, Pat Rabbitte TD. The two reports of this task force, published in 1996 and 1997, marked a turning point for Ireland’s drugs policy, with the government recognising for the first time the link between problem drug use and socio-economic disadvantage and the need to involve local communities in tackling the problem.
1997–2002: The Department of Tourism, Sport and Recreation (DTSR) was given lead responsibility because it also had responsibility for local development and for co-ordinating a number of programmes promoting social inclusion, and was considered well placed to lead on the new strategic direction. A Minister of State within DTSR was given specific responsibility for implementing the recommendations in the two Ministerial Task Force reports.
The Steering Committee that drafted the National drugs strategy 2001–2008 recommended that lead responsibility stay with the DTSR despite the fact that the Department of the Taoiseach or the Department of Health, because of either political authority or budget size, would have wielded considerable influence in furthering the drugs strategy. The Steering Group took the view that, as a service provider, the ability of the Department of Health to drive issues surrounding supply control and education and awareness issues would be limited, and that, conversely, the DTSR would be objective in relation to all the thematic areas covered by the national policy.
2002–2011: The newly established Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs (DCRGA) (changed in 2009 to Department of Community, Equality and Gaeltacht Affairs) took over local and community development responsibilities from the former DTSR and therefore also responsibility for co-ordinating the national drugs strategy. Between 2002 and 2007 a Minister of State within DCRGA was given special responsibility for the drugs strategy, and also for housing and urban renewal, which was administered by the then Department of the Environment and Local Government; between 2007 and 2010, the Minister of State with responsibility for the drugs strategy was given responsibility for community affairs, administered by DCRGA, in lieu of housing and urban renewal. Following a Cabinet reshuffle in 2010, the drugs strategy was included in the responsibilities of the Minister for Community, Equality and Gaeltacht Affairs, Pat Carey TD, who had been Minister of State with responsibility for the drugs strategy and community affairs for 11 months in 2007/2008.)
Over the years, three main groups of actors have been given responsibility for developing Ireland’s drugs policy. To begin with, the need to include expertise seems to have been the guiding principle – the working party on drug abuse set up in 1968 comprised four civil servants, five representatives of statutory and local agencies, four independent professionals, one university academic and two university students. In 1983 and again in 1996, the need for political engagement was considered paramount: two task forces comprised entirely of ministers of state, for example, for health, education, justice, environment, foreign affairs, labour and social welfare, were set up to review the drugs problem and to make recommendations. The recommendations of the 1983 ministerial task force were never published although it is understood that, like the 1996/97 ministerial task force, it recognised the link between problem drug use and socio-economic disadvantage.2
Since the 1990s, government officials have gradually assumed a greater role in developing drug policy. In 1990 a Minister of State at the Department of Health chaired the committee, comprised entirely of senior civil servants, which drew up the 1991 Government strategy to prevent drug misuse. Subsequently, the 2001–2008 and 2009–2016 national drugs strategies were drawn up by ‘groups’ of senior departmental and state agency officials, together with a representative each of the voluntary and community sectors, which were chaired by a senior civil servant. These groups worked within terms of reference set by the government, consulted widely with experts and the public, and submitted their reports for approval by the government.
Since the mid 1990s, politicians have sought to maintain oversight by means of committees. In 1997 a Cabinet Committee on Social Inclusion and Drugs was established, chaired by the Taoiseach, and comprising government ministers with relevant responsibilities. In recent years the title of this committee has evolved into the Cabinet Committee on Social Inclusion, Children and Integration. The 2001–2008 National Drugs Strategycalled for the establishment of a dedicated drugs sub-committee of the existing Oireachtas Committee on Tourism, Sport and Recreation, which would meet at least three times a year. This did not happen, and the Steering Group that reviewed the national drugs strategy in 2005 recommended that, rather than set up a specific sub-committee, the Minister of State meet with the full Oireachtas Committee to discuss the Strategy and its implementation twice a year. This did happen.
The need for expert advice has always been acknowledged, starting with a call from the 1968–1971 Working Party on Drug Abuse for the establishment of a ‘permanent advisory body’.2 Currently the National Advisory Committee on Drugs (NACD) fulfils this function. Comprising representatives from academic disciplines, professional practitioners, civil and public servants, and representatives of the voluntary and community sectors, it advises the government, based on its analysis and interpretation of research findings. The 2009–2016 National Drugs Strategycalled for the NACD to be brought within the ambit of the new Office of the Minister for Drugs (OMD): the intention was ‘to better address the issue of linkages between policy development and research’, while also seeking to maintain the ‘independence’ of the NACD.
The need for effective co-ordination was also first acknowledged by the 1968–1971 Working Party on Drug Abuse and it has proved an ongoing challenge.3 Most recently, the National Drugs Strategy 2009–2016 significantly simplified and streamlined the mechanisms put in place to help co-ordinate the work of the local and regional drugs task forces. The objective was to establish a clear hierarchy and a greater transparency of roles, from government and cabinet committee down to local project level. This was sought by establishing an Office of the Minister for Drugs (OMD) within the DCEGA, which would:
o    absorb the work of both the former Drug Strategy Unit in the DCRGA and the National Drugs Strategy Team;
o    introduce a ‘networked organisational’ structure, like that already operating in the Office of the Minister for Children, and thereby remove the need for the Interdepartmental Group on Drugs (IDG);
o    bring the director of the NACD onto the management team of the OMD; and
o    report directly to the Cabinet Committee on Social Inclusion, Children and Integration.
To support ‘integration’, the Steering Group proposed three additional mechanisms: an Oversight Forum on Drugs (OFD), an Advisory Group of the OMD, and the holding of twice-yearly bilateral meetings between the Minister for Drugs and various stakeholders. This number of mechanisms begs the question, is there a more efficient and effective means of engaging all stakeholders in the deliberation over and choice of policy options; for example, a single social partnership structure along the same lines as the National Economic and Social Forum (NESF) but focused on problematic substance use might perform such an integrating function.
1.The policy documents cited in this article are available on the website of the National Documentation Centre on Drug Use at www.drugsandalcohol.ie  
2. For a full account, see Butler S (2002) Alcohol, drugs and health promotion in modern Ireland. Dublin: Institute of Public Administration, Chapters 5 and 6.
3. For a full account, see Pike B (2009) Development of Ireland’s drug strategy 2000–2007. HRB Overview Series No 8. Dublin: Health Research Board, Chapter 4.
Item Type
Publication Type
Irish-related, Open Access, Article
Drug Type
Substances (not alcohol/tobacco)
Intervention Type
Issue Title
Issue 37, Spring 2011
Page Range
pp. 3-4
Health Research Board
Issue 37, Spring 2011
Accession Number
HRB (Available)

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