Home > Dail Eireann debate. Priority question 5 - Drugs smuggling [8273/14].

[Oireachtas] Dail Eireann debate. Priority question 5 - Drugs smuggling [8273/14]. (19 Feb 2014)

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5. Deputy Seán Crowe asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade if his attention has been drawn to the significant rise in poppy cultivation in Afghanistan in view of the fact that this opiate often ends up in the EU; the proposals he and his EU counterparts have to tackle this growing threat; his views on whether this necessitates stronger co-operation with governments in the region, including Iran; and if he will make a statement on the matter.  [8273/14] 

Deputy Seán Crowe: As the Tánaiste may be aware, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime has reported that the level of poppy cultivation in Afghanistan rose to a new high of more than 200,000 ha in 2013, a 36% increase on the figure for last year. This is an area approximately 283 times the size of Phoenix Park. If I was to stand in the middle of a field, it would be as far as the eye could see and further. The 2013 figure represents the highest total ever in poppy cultivation in Afghanistan and the United Nations estimates that total production reached approximately 5,500 tonnes. Since much of this opiate reaches Ireland and elsewhere in Europe, what plans does the Government and the European Union have to stop this record crop from reaching and destroying our communities?
Deputy Joe Costello: I am aware of the report of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, UNODC, to which the Deputy refers. The UNODC 2013 drugs report indicates a worrying increase, of up to 36%, in poppy cultivation in Afghanistan, some of which, as the Deputy suggested, will almost inevitably end up in the European Union and Ireland. We are all aware of the challenging transition Afghanistan is undergoing, a transition taking place in a volatile security and political environment. The European Union is devising a new partnership strategy for engagement in Afghanistan post-2014. This is part of an overall regional and international effort that aims to support Afghanistan in its transition to democracy - this effort has an emphasis on respect for human rights and the rule of law - and in its transition to a healthy economic model by moving away from dependence on the narco-economy. Regional co-operation in dealing with this issue is essential, as is the strengthening of border controls. Key partners such as Iran have an important role to play and the United Nations and the European Union continue to provide funding and technical assistance to help transit countries and neighbouring states. The new European Union strategy will also aim to assist the Afghan Government to create new alternative livelihoods for Afghans currently engaged in poppy production. Saffron, for example, is a particularly high value alternative crop which may offer some potential in this regard.
The Deputy will be aware that poppy cultivation, while perhaps providing a lucrative livelihood for the few, also hurts the many engaged in its cultivation, production and distribution. It is estimated that approximately 1 million Afghans are addicted to heroin, a product derived from the poppy plant. Moreover, drug trafficking has established links with other forms of organised crime, corruption, terrorism and human exploitation, creating a vicious economic circle.
I imagine the Deputy will agree that the European demand for drugs is part of the problem that needs to be addressed, with the issue of supply. The European Union policy on reducing drug supply and demand is set out in the EU drugs strategy 2013-20. Our national drug strategy which is based on the same principles focuses on the five pillars of supply reduction, prevention, treatment, rehabilitation and research.
The issues to which the Deputy refers are the subject of ongoing discussions in the European Union and other international fora. At EU level, these issues are dealt with through the relevant European Union Council working parties such as the Asia Oceania working party, COASI, as well as the horizontal working party on drugs. At a broader multilateral level, the Paris pact initiative is an international partnership aimed at combating Afhgan opiates trafficking, consumption and related problems in countries along the Afghan opiates trafficking routes. The United Nations General Assembly special session on illicit drugs is scheduled to take place in New York in September 2016.
Deputy Seán Crowe: Fully 70% of the world's heroin comes from Afghanistan. Many Members are familiar with the effects of heroin and we have all stood at too many graves and attended too many funerals as a result of the effects of the drug. I am old enough to remember the cheap heroin on the streets of Dublin and concerned that this will happen again. The Minister of State has referred to ongoing discussions and said we are looking at a strategy and so on. However, I do not get any sense of urgency. In recent years the poppy cultivation problem has got bigger and bigger and many countries in the region are keen to work with the European Union. The Iranian Minister has said he is keen to work with it. A policy was in place in that regard, but it is not happening now. Will the Minister of State give the House some sense that there is urgency in addressing this matter? Will the Government reflect that urgency and start to do something concrete and constructive in respect of the potential problem coming down the track into this city?

Deputy Joe Costello: The situation is probably worse than the Deputy indicated. Up to 75% of the entire world’s illicit opium production comes from the area in question. It reached a peak in 2012, surpassing the ten-year high recorded in 2007. It is expected to continue to grow.

The European Union, the United States, the World Bank and the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization are putting in place programmes to support the cultivation of alternative crops to poppy production. I referred earlier to the cultivation of saffron, as well as rose oil, a high-value export product, and grapes. The strategy is to provide for high-value alternatives to undermine the production of opium.
An Ceann Comhairle: Thank you, Minister.
Deputy Joe Costello: We supported, through funding, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime's illicit drugs trafficking programme for Iran as, geographically, it is a major transit country for opium. Unfortunately, Iran has made the death penalty the normal sanction for anyone convicted of drug-related offences. In that context, we have had little choice but to remove our support for that particular programme.
Deputy Seán Crowe: We all oppose the death penalty for those involved in drug trafficking. However, I imagine it might be popular not only in this city but parts of the State.
The Minister referred to the alternative crops strategy. Will we examine this problem with a new sense of urgency? As he stated, 75% of the world supply of heroin comes from the region in question. Will there be a strong voice from the EU on tackling this problem? That is the message of hope we want to send out as there is the potential for another wildfire spread of heroin addiction across the country.
Deputy Joe Costello: The European Union is cognisant of the problem that has been caused by illegal poppy cultivation and that three quarters of world opium production occurs in Afghanistan. We are also aware of the conflict there and the difficulties in dealing with poppy production in those circumstances. Substantial programmes are being put in place to deal with this issue with the European Union leading them, as well as the World Bank and the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization. The only way to deal effectively with the supply side is by providing alternative crops that will give an equal return. There are hundreds of thousands of small farmers producing poppy all over Afghanistan. We have a responsibility ourselves to deal with demand.

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