Home > Dail Eireann debate. Topical issue debate - Misuse of drugs [Crime prevention].

[Oireachtas] Dail Eireann debate. Topical issue debate - Misuse of drugs [Crime prevention]. (18 Oct 2012)

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Deputy Derek Keating: I thank the Ceann Comhairle for the opportunity to speak on what is an important issue for this House and for the people. The Minister will agree that there is a subculture of activity which is being protected by certain drug lords who are importing massive amounts of drugs from Europe and other continents for what is commonly known as the Irish market. 

We see from recent information from An Garda Síochána that former members of the IRA, and who is to say but perhaps even current members, are involved in the importation, distribution and selling of drugs and in criminality. The Minister and most Members of this House know the damage these drugs do to our society. The one area for which Members of this House have responsibility is giving good example. I am somewhat concerned about the messages sent occasionally by Members of this House and I refer specifically to Deputy Luke "Ming" Flanagan.
I add to illegal drugs and so-called "prescription drugs" the importation of illegal tobacco products which are mixed with toxic and damaging substances. It is often the stepping stone to cannabis use which, in turn, is the stepping stone to illicit drugs such as heroin, amphetamines and other such dangerous and toxic substances.
I refer to the purchase of drugs on the Internet, which are often purported to be cheaper, but they do not meet prescription standards. This is a major and growing problem, of which I know the Minister is aware. We do not know much about these drugs. How do we know what they contain? Two professional people in Cork died recently from so-called "bad batches" of drugs. When I was thinking about this last night, I wondered what Deputy Luke "Ming" Flanagan would have to say about such bad batches.
I would like to send a message from the House to every youth leader, community leader, parent, young person and citizen who is concerned about this issue that we should co-operate fully with the Garda and the authorities to stamp out this dreadful and heinous crime which is wrecking the lives of many people in every parish, village, town and city in Ireland.
I have seen in my constituency and from my experience as a community worker for many years how people are targeted in different ways, in particular through social media, social gatherings, in public houses and even on our streets. Last week I went into Dublin city for the first time in a long time and it was a frightening experience. My wife, who had recently been to New York, was with me and she said that in her experiences over the past couple of weeks, the one occasion in which she was most fearful was in Dublin city last weekend. I say that with great regret.
There is so much more I would like to discuss but I fully accept there is a time constraint and I am grateful to the Minister for coming to the House to respond to this topical issue.

Minister for Justice and Equality (Deputy Alan Shatter): I am very grateful to the Deputy for raising these very important matters. It is very important we discuss them and the difficulties in this area in this House. The problem of drug misuse remains one of the most challenging and complex issues faced by modern society. The Government's overall approach to tackling the problem of drug misuse is being pursued in a co-ordinated and integrated way through the national drugs strategy 2009-16.

Drugs law enforcement is one element of this response and is a key feature of our overall integrated approach. I can inform the House that An Garda Síochána continues to prioritise organised crime and the sale and supply of drugs as a core focus for 2012 through the Garda Síochána policing plan. Work in this area is led by the Garda national drugs unit which works closely with dedicated divisional and district drugs units on a nationwide basis, together with other national Garda units, including the organised crime unit and the Criminal Assets Bureau.
Of course, An Garda Síochána also works in close co-operation with the Revenue Commissioners - customs service - and with other drug law enforcement agencies, such as the Irish Medicines Board. Furthermore, An Garda Síochána has developed strong and strategic partnerships at international level which is absolutely crucial because the drugs trade is international and some of the drugs gangs with which we are confronted operate internationally.
This approach continues to yield significant results, which I would like to acknowledge. For example, from January to August 2012, Garda figures indicate that a total of 11,263 drug offences were detected, with 9,743 related arrests made. Furthermore, with regard to drug seizures, drugs with an estimated value of €59.3 million were recorded during the first six months of the year. They were very substantial drugs seizures. This seizure data do not include a number of significant seizures made at the end of that six month period, which remain the subject of further analysis, nor do they include some very recent large seizures which will appear in the next official statistics when they become available.
 (Speaker Continuing) [Deputy Alan Shatter:] For example, the figures do not include the largest ever inland seizure of cocaine in the jurisdiction, which was made in the west Dublin and Kildare areas last June as part of a joint operation involving both the Garda and the customs authorities.
As the Deputy has highlighted the drugs market and the consumption of drugs is a dynamic phenomenon and trends emerge from time to time with users often trying different combinations of drugs, which sometimes involves the mixing of legal and illegal drugs, as well as various modes of consumption. I agree with him that all Members should be categorical in their condemnation of drug use and of drug trading and should not seek in any way to suggest this is a healthy option for any individual in this State nor should they seek to diminish the criminality involved in the supply and sale of drugs. The emergence in recent times of large scale cannabis cultivation sites, the increase in the consumption of new psychoactive substances and the increasing illicit trade in medicines are particular features of the current drugs landscape we are facing.
Our drugs law enforcement authorities remain cognisant of this and proactively tackle new features of the drugs trade as they emerge. Operation Nitrogen is a Garda operation which continues to be successful in identifying and dismantling cannabis cultivation sites throughout the country. For example, during 2011, more than 5,000 so-called grow houses were located during intelligence led operations resulting in more than 26,000 cannabis plants with an estimated value of €10.5 million being seized. I expect those actions of the Garda would be welcomed by every Member, including Deputy Luke "Ming" Flanagan, who was referred to by the Deputy. This remains a key focus of the Garda's drug enforcement efforts and recent successes in this respect include the detection of major cannabis production sites in Navan, County Meath and in Malin, County Donegal with related arrests.
I refer to an issue of enormous importance, which is a great danger to people. The Deputy drew particular attention to the emerging problems we are seeing with the illegal trade in prescription drugs which has been acknowledged as an increasing problem being experienced across the country. Our law enforcement agencies are also vigorously responding to this problem as demonstrated by the recent successes achieved by the Irish Medicines Board, IMB, Revenue's customs service and An Garda Síochána through their involvement in Operation Pangea V. This Interpol-led operation, which was conducted between 25 September and 2 October 2012, involved an international week of law enforcement action targeting the online sale of counterfeit and illegal medicines throughout Europe. In Ireland, the joint operation by the IMB, the customs service and Garda led to the detention of more than 120,000 tablets-capsules with an estimated value in excess of €375,000. The number of packages detained during the operation in Ireland by the customs service was 282 while 11 search warrants were executed resulting in four arrests. It is important to note the substances seized included products for weight loss and erectile dysfunction as well as mood stabilisers. People who acquire counterfeit drugs may find themselves with nothing better than a placebo or buying the equivalent of Smarties in their local confectionery shop and they can, in some circumstances, place their lives at serious risk. They should not engage in these purchases from websites or from individuals on street corners.
Deputy Derek Keating: I would love to think the Minister's contribution will be well received throughout the country. In this day and age, it is often difficult to sift through media reports to find good news. This is good news because of the co-ordinated response of all those involved, particularly when one considers the successes. I had details of some of these before I came to the House but I was not informed about the full extent of the success. We ware having enormous success dealing with this scourge but we must remain vigilant and reach out to all corners of our society to ensure we are all focused and engaged on this issue and continue to co-operate with the Garda drugs surveillance unit and drugs squad, Interpol and those working in education and so on. If the Minister is saying the resources are in place to yield that success, I am happy to support him in the work he is doing. It is incumbent on all 166 Members to support him and the authorities in this work.
Deputy Alan Shatter: I appreciate the Deputy raising the issue. I refer back to the issue of counterfeit drugs and medicines. There is not adequate public consciousness yet of the dangers of buying prescription drugs through websites when one does not know what one is being sold and what is its composition. If it is not a placebo, the product could comprise substances other than what one believes them it to contain, which places one's health or life at risk.
This highlights the benefit of being part of the European Union and co-operation in the justice area. Operation Pangea V had extraordinary results. It was a dedicated, focused operation across the EU over a one-week period, which led to the seizure of 120,000 counterfeit tablets and capsules in Ireland that might otherwise have been consumed by people in this State who believed they were required for their health. They related to weight loss, mood and erectile dysfunction issues. People would have taken these drugs without knowing their content or the consequences of taking them or knowing that they were counterfeit.
Because it was a European wide focused operation, in that week, 18,000 websites selling these pharmaceutical products were closed.

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 773 No. 17
18 October 2012

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