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Home > Dail Eireann debate. Topical issue debate - National Drugs Strategy.

[Oireachtas] Dail Eireann debate. Topical issue debate - National Drugs Strategy. (15 May 2019)

External website: https://www.oireachtas.ie/en/debates/debate/dail/2...


Deputy Fergus O'Dowd: On a point of information before I start, I asked for the Minister of State with responsibility for the national drug strategy to be present to hear the debate and I want to check whether she is coming. Will the Minister of State who is present inform me as to where she is before I start?

 

Minister of State at the Department of Health (Deputy Finian McGrath): I received a call half an hour ago asking me to step in for the Minister of State, Deputy Catherine Byrne, and I am delighted to do so. She was delayed at another event. She could walk in the door; I do not know.  

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: For the Deputy's information, during health questions earlier, the Minister for Health, Deputy Harris, apologised on behalf of the Minister of State and took her questions.  

Deputy Fergus O'Dowd: I am very unhappy with this. I cannot think of anything more important for which the Minister of State with responsibility for the national drugs strategy should be present than to listen to me speak as a representative of a community suffering greatly because of drug crime.  

People have been shot at and have been petrol bombed. Communities have been left unaided and unsupported by the Department of the Minister of State, Deputy Catherine Byrne. I do not say this lightly. I use the words from a report the Minister of State herself launched yesterday in County Louth. The report, A study on how families are affected by substance misuse in the North East Region of Ireland, includes findings that in the north-east region there is a long waiting list for treatment and a paucity of community treatment, insufficient counselling services, lack of dual diagnoses and mental health services, insufficient methadone prescribing GPs and very few family support services. Additionally, participants spoke of a perceived lack of professional standards, accountability and transparency by some treatment services towards patients.

 

What is the Minister of State with responsibility for the national drugs strategy going to do to tackle this serious outbreak of drug related activity in our town? In fairness, the Minister of State, Deputy Catherine Byrne, has visited Drogheda three times when she met with the Red Door project. Nothing happened, however, after she left. We got no money. There is a chart in her report that shows there is inadequate support for families. There are no outreach services in Drogheda. There are zero outreach services. I believe it is the duty of the Minister of State's Department to provide those. The Red Door project does its very best with drug treatment but there is a four month waiting list for people who wish to get treatment. A person contacted me yesterday, the day before that and last Friday. Sadly, he is in a very serious state with regard to his mental health and unfortunately is in a very difficult situation. He is waiting to get treatment and feels that if he does not get it his mental health will disintegrate. That is just one example of one person who has contacted me on this issue.

 

What is the solution? I put it to the Minister of State, Deputy Byrne - who is not here - that the Red Door project is looking for €200,000. This would provide two outreach workers and one family worker to address the issues. These workers would work most effectively and efficiently in the Moneymore estate, which includes a population of more than 800 young people under the age of 16. There is a lack of adequate community facilities and youth facilities in Moneymore - there is none - but here are sites where a community facility could be built. They have produced a report that I would be glad to hand to the Minister of State, Deputy Byrne, which she could act upon and work with to ensure the issue is addressed.

 

This is not just an issue for Drogheda. It is an issue for the whole State. It is a fact that in the last calendar year 730 people in the State died as a result of drug abuse. This is two people every day. Compare the figure for these tragic deaths - they are tragedies - to the 186 people who, also tragically, died as a result of road traffic accidents.

 

I am not saying there is no money going into drug treatment services, of course there is, and I am not saying the HSE is not doing its best, but we need to fund it properly. It is unacceptable to me that we do not have outreach workers in Drogheda.

 

As Members are aware, I welcome the initiatives of the Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Flanagan, in providing gardaí to tackle the crime issues and the drug dealers and those who are shooting and petrol bombing in the area. These people are giving our town an appalling name that it does not deserve and which it never had before two drug gangs fell out with each other. It will not, however, be solved by criminal justice. Criminal justice is not the solution. It is part of the solution. Social supports, caring for the community and acting in the community are the way forward.

 

I contacted the Health Research Board today to try to identify what are the issues. I can give a figure for the last calendar year in County Louth for the needle service, which operates through pharmacies: there were 44,000 needles exchanged in pharmacies in County Louth in the last 12 months. Obviously, that is not 44,000 people or anywhere near it but we do not actually know the number of people who use this needle service. The Health Research Board tells me that 45% of all drugs misused in Ireland are heroin or opiates, so it is a significant number of people. If there is anything good about that number it is that these people are using clean needles and hopefully they will avoid the other health implications of their drug taking.

 

Deputy Finian McGrath: I thank Deputy O'Dowd for raising this important issue. I am well aware of it and I understand his concerns. I also give apologies on behalf of the Minister of State, Deputy Catherine Byrne. I got the late call and was asked to step in for the Minister of State who has been delayed at another event.  

Deputy Fergus O'Dowd: I accept that.  

Deputy Finian McGrath: From my point of view, and from the Government's perspective, of course the Minister of State takes this issue very seriously. The Minister of State visited Dundalk and the north east yesterday to hear about drug related issues in the area and the impact on families. The Minister of State is aware that key State agencies, led by the local authority and involving the Garda, the HSE, the Irish Probation Service, Tusla, education and training boards and the north-east regional drug and alcohol task force are working together on ways to address this important issue.  

The Minister of State understands that the HSE has appointed a senior counsellor with the priority of developing and supporting counselling services in Drogheda. The Minister of State also welcomes the HSE’s commitment to recruit an additional outreach worker in Drogheda to enhance its existing service. The Minister of State is pleased that the north-east regional drug and alcohol task force has offered to assist with access to support for people in addiction to the community-based addiction support services at the Red Door and elsewhere in the HSE.

 

In March 2019, the Minister of State announced additional funding of €1 million for the implementation of the strategy Reducing Harm, Supporting Recovery 2017-2025. The Minister of State will shortly notify all task forces regarding the allocation of this additional funding, including information on the guiding principles and the application process. The north-east task force will be able to apply for additional funding under this initiative. The Minister of State would point out that the introduction of measures to address drug related activity in the Drogheda area primarily come within the remit of our colleague the Minister for Justice and Equality in the first instance. 

 

Deputy Fergus O'Dowd: I do not accept that.  

Deputy Finian McGrath: The Minister of State understands that 25 additional Garda members are to be appointed to Drogheda over the coming weeks and is sure that every effort is being made to disrupt the activities of criminal groups involved and to arrest and prosecute offenders.  

Drug-related intimidation is an area of concern that the Minister of State believes requires special attention. It presents a real threat to public safety in communities and the Minister of State is aware that it is a significant issue in the north-east region.

 

The national drug-related intimidation reporting programme, which was developed by the national Family Support Network and An Garda Síochána, provides a framework to allow reporting of an incident of intimidation to a nominated inspector. Last week the north-east regional drug and alcohol task force held the first in a series of workshops on the drug-related intimidation support process in Drogheda. This workshop was run with the support of An Garda Síochána, the Family Support Network and TUSLA. Officials in the Department of Health will shortly meet with An Garda Síochána and the Family Support Network to see how this programme can be supported and better resourced. 

 

Deputy Fergus O'Dowd: I appreciate that the Minister of State, Deputy Finian McGrath, has read the statement he was given but I take serious issue with the last paragraph that said "The Minister of State would point out that the introduction of measures to address drug related activity in the Drogheda area primarily come within the remit of our colleague the Minister for Justice and Equality in the first instance." I repeat that at my invitation the Minister of State, Deputy Byrne, kindly visited Drogheda to discuss this issue, not once, not twice but three times. The outcome from those visits has been zero. Nothing has happened. I spoke to the Red Door project today. These are totally professional people who are committed to assisting and helping people in the community who suffer from drug abuse. The project has no family resource or outreach workers. That is a fact. Nothing but money from the Minister of State's Department will change this. I welcome that the Minister of State, Deputy Byrne, has said she has allocated €1 million for implementing Reducing Harm, Supporting Recovery 2017-2025, but €1 million will not go anywhere near addressing the money that is needed. Drogheda needs to employ people as an emergency to go out and work with the families today and tomorrow. 

According to Red Door, it could have these people in place within one month at a cost of approximately €200,000. If Red Door is provided with that funding it can address the issues immediately. I ask the Minister of State, Deputy Finian McGrath, to pass on the message to the Minister of State, Deputy Catherine Byrne, that we want action on the part of her Department. The Minister of State, Deputy Catherine Byrne, has committed in the past to examining this problem. There is no point in committing to examining a problem when the situation is exploding in our faces. There is no point in the Minister of State, Deputy Finian McGrath, coming here to deliver a response which does not provide us with something tangible to work with. What am I to tell my community? Am I to tell them that the Minister of State, Deputy Catherine Byrne, was not present for the debate and that the reply delivered by the Minister of State, Deputy Finian McGrath, did not reference any additional money to deal with the biggest problem in this country and, in particular, in this community which suffers most? As a Member who has backed up all the decisions of this Government, I am angry that this community is being neglected in this area.

 

According to the Garda Chief Superintendent we are going to lose an entire generation of young people in this country due to drugs and drug abuse. He did not make that statement lightly. The Garda Chief Superintendent looked me in the face as he made those remarks. I now look to the Minister of State, Deputy Finian McGrath, and ask what does this Government propose to do about this situation? People are entitled to an answer and young people are entitled to a future, which they are not getting in the current situation. The community in Moneymore, which is a fantastic community, has produced a report in regard to a community facility. I will provide the Minister of State, Deputy Catherine Byrne, with a copy of that report, which I ask be brought to the attention of the Secretary General of her Department and taken on board. What does the Department propose to do? Its lack of action is unacceptable and the lack of funding is unacceptable. Families are crying out for help. I was told by one woman that two of her family members had to leave the country for fear of being shot if seen anywhere in the land. This is the extent of the problem. The Government must wake up and deal with this issue now. 

 

Deputy Finian McGrath: I understand Deputy O'Dowd's frustration in regard to this particular issue. The Minister of State, Deputy Catherine Byrne, wishes to assure him that Government is committed to tackling the problem through all the mechanisms available. As Minister of State with responsibility for the drugs strategy, Deputy Catherine Byrne, intends to continue to work with all the relevant stakeholders across the statutory community and voluntary sector to achieve better outcomes to the problems of drug and alcohol users.  

On a practical level, the HSE has appointed a senior counsellor to counselling services in Drogheda. It has also given a commitment today to recruit an additional outreach worker in Drogheda and to assist people in addiction in accessing the community based addiction support service at the Red Door and elsewhere in the HSE. The north-east taskforce will be able to apply for additional funding under this initiative. I understand the anger and frustration of Deputy O'Dowd in regard to the widespread intimidation and people having to leave the country. I know from my experience on the northside of Dublin that gang warfare and feuding destroys communities. I agree that action is needed. I will bring Deputy O'Dowd's concerns to the attention of the Minister of State, Deputy Byrne. Hopefully, there will be action taken over the next couple of weeks.

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