Home > Review of drugs task forces and national structures continues.

Pike, Brigid (2013) Review of drugs task forces and national structures continues. Drugnet Ireland, Issue 45, Spring 2013, pp. 3-4.

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On 18 December 2012 Alex White TD, Minister of State with responsibility for the National Drugs Strategy (NDS), published the Department of Health’s 15 recommendations with regard to the first of the terms of reference for the review of drugs task forces (DTFs), i.e. the role and composition of DTFs and the national structures under which they operate.1 The report on this first stage of the review proposes three main changes. 

1.     Rename the drugs task forces ‘drug and alcohol task forces’ (DATF). Their terms of reference are to implement the NDS at regional and local level and to support and strengthen community-based responses. As previously, this role includes maintaining an overview of regional and local developments, promoting strategies and monitoring, evaluating and assessing the impact of funded projects.
2.     Reconstitute the Drug Advisory Committee as a National Co-Ordinating Committee for Drug and Alcohol Task Forces (NCC–DATF). Its terms of reference are to drive implementation of the NDS at local and regional level. 
3.     Reduce the number of task forces from 24 to 19 by merging some task forces and expanding the boundaries of others.
The governance framework within which these new structures are to operate has yet to be announced. For example:
Alcohol –The newly-named task forces will have responsibility for alcohol as well as drugs. Which individuals or bodies at national level are to have responsibility for alcohol policy and how will the DATFs be accountable to these entities?
Organigram ­– A large number of individuals and bodies have responsibility for different aspects of drug and alcohol policy. Previous policy documents have explained in detail, and provided organigrams of, the relationships between these different entities.2 While it may be surmised that some of the relationships have not changed in any material way, clarification is needed in some areas. For example:
How are drug and alcohol policies being handled at cabinet level?
How will the new NCC–DATF relate to the Minister of State and to the Oversight Forum for Drugs (OFD)? How will it relate to the Drugs Policy and Drugs Programmes units in the Department of Health? Which entities will have responsibility for which decisions? Recommendations 1 and 7 suggest that the NCC–DATF will have a mainly advisory role, while Recommendations 2, 8 and 9 suggest that officials in the Department of Health will have responsibility for performance, financial control and governance.
Finally, the status of the National Advisory Committee on Drugs (NACD) remains to be clarified. Under the 2009–2016 NDS, the NACD  was subsumed under the Office of the Minister for Drugs (OMD). With the abolition of the OMD in early 2011, where does the NACD now fit?
Task force areas – Recommendation 11 of the report states that local members of the Oireachtas and members of relevant local authorities should have ‘automatic entitlement’ to sit on DATFs. A quick look at a recent IPA Administration Yearbook suggests that some 860 elected representatives (including members of the Oireachtas and of county, city, borough and town councils) will be entitled to sit on one of the 19 DATFs – an average of 45 public representatives per DATF. Clarification is needed as to who precisely will have this entitlement and how the efficiency and effectiveness of the DATFs will be maintained.
Funding and governance to be addressed next
The second and third terms of reference specified for the review – streamlining the funding arrangements for drugs projects in DTF areas, and overhauling the accountability and reporting arrangements for drugs projects funded by DTFs – have yet to be delivered on. The December 2012 report states that Minister White has requested officials to bring forward proposals with regard to these matters. He has also invited stakeholders ‘who may have further comments to make on this issue to submit their views to his office at the earliest opportunity’. No deadline for these submissions is specified.
Mid-term review of the NDS?
Arguably, the review of DTFs would have benefited from being undertaken within the context of an overall review of the current NDS, which passed its midway point in 2012. The mid-term review of the 2001–2008 national drugs strategy resulted in significant adjustments.3 It seems reasonable to believe that a review of developments between 2009 and 2012, both in Ireland’s wider socio-economic environment and in the drugs area, would also lead to changes that would enhance the NDS.
Action 57 of the 2009–2016 NDS established an Office of the Minister for Drugs (OMD), which was abolished in March 2011. It marked a significant departure in how drug policy was co-ordinated.4 It is regrettable that no review of this OMD, in place for some 18 months, has ever been published. The Steering Group that developed the OMD acknowledged that the previous national co-ordination structures had ‘stimulated and promoted inter-agency working in a difficult cross-cutting policy and service area’, but that there were ‘capacity and structural limitations’. The Steering Group argued that the OMD model would facilitate ‘greater coherency in policy-making and service delivery … [and] provide a more cohesive and integrated framework that promotes closer co-operation and accountability between the different players, as well as greater transparency for expenditure’.5
1.Department of Health (2012)  Report on the review of drugs task forces and the national structures under which they operate. Dublin: Department of Health.  www.drugsandalcohol.ie/19054
2. See Working Group on Drugs Rehabilitation (2007) National drugs strategy 2001–2008: rehabilitation. Dublin: Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs  www.drugsandalcohol.ie/6267/, and Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs (2009) National drugs strategy (interim) 2009–2016. Dublin: Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs  www.drugsandalcohol.ie/12388/
3.Steering Group for the Mid-term Review of the National Drugs Strategy (2005) Report of the steering group on the mid-term review of the national drugs strategy 2001–2008. Dublin: Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs www.drugsandalcohol.ie/3887/
4. For a full discussion, see Pike B (2009) Taoiseach launches new national drugs strategy: Co-ordination pillar. Drugnet Ireland, (31): 6–8. www.drugsandalcohol.ie/12450/5. Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs (2009) National drugs strategy (interim) 2009–2016. Dublin: Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs (paras 6.44–6.45).   www.drugsandalcohol.ie/12388/
Item Type
Publication Type
Irish-related, Open Access, Article
Drug Type
All substances
Intervention Type
Issue Title
Issue 45, Spring 2013
April 2013
Page Range
pp. 3-4
Health Research Board
Issue 45, Spring 2013
Accession Number
HRB (Electronic Only)

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