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Home > Dail Eireann debate. Leader's questions [Cork].

[Oireachtas] Dail Eireann debate. Leader's questions [Cork]. (06 Nov 2019)

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


Deputy Jonathan O'Brien: There is a growing problem with drugs and crime in Cork city. Deputy Micheál Martin and the Tánaiste, Deputy Coveney, will be well aware of this, along with all other Deputies and councillors who represent the city. On one hand, there are significant gaps in the drug addiction services being provided while, on the other hand, there is a lack of gardaí. We have been hit with a double whammy and the situation is reaching a crisis point. This crisis has seen drug paraphernalia and used needles being found in schoolyards and residential areas to such a degree that a young child recently picked up a bag of heroin from the garden of his home.

 

Government policy has been moving away from addressing this issue as a criminal justice matter and towards seeing it as a healthcare issue. I recognise that. I have also spoken to many of the service providers within the city. They tell me that the issue is not so much about financial resources - they recognise that money is being provided and that they have capacity - but about the recruitment of staff, a similar issue to that raised in the previous question to the Taoiseach. Services in our city are in an absolute state because they cannot recruit staff as a result of the embargo. There are posts that have been waiting to be filled since last February. The failure to fill those posts has unfortunately resulted in services being stepped down. The only victims in this situation are the addicts who are crying out for these services.

 

Due to the fact that these posts are not being filled and the issue is not being addressed proactively, we are seeing an increase in drug-related crime. As a result of there being 124 fewer gardaí than the number recommended to service Cork city and county, An Garda Síochána is under-resourced to deal with this increase. As I have said, it is a double whammy. I ask the Taoiseach to commit to lifting the embargo and allowing the service providers to fill those posts so that we can start to tackle this issue once and for all. They are waiting to be filled and the money is there to pay the staff.

 

The Taoiseach: I will not be able to speak on the issues relating to Cork in detail because I do not have an up-to-date briefing on them. If the Deputy wants to pass more details about those posts on to me, I will certainly have the situation examined. If a post has been approved and if the budget is there to fund it, there is absolutely no reason it should not be filled. The long-standing practice of advertising posts and designating people to fill them without the posts being sanctioned and without a budget to pay for them has been ended. That is not the norm across the public service. It was tolerated in the health service for a very long time and was the main driver for the overruns in the health service we have seen in previous years. That practice cannot be allowed to continue. Perhaps the Deputy will give me details of the particular posts to which he refers. If it is the case that the posts are funded and were approved, we will have the situation examined and get back to the Deputy in that regard.

 

With regard to the wider issues relating to drugs, the Deputy mentioned the need to treat the matter as a health issue. This is a health issue, albeit one that has a criminal justice aspect to it. Whatever can be said about the health service, there is certainly no restriction or recruitment embargo in place in respect of An Garda Síochána. There has been a significant increase in the number of gardaí in recent years. There are approximately 14,000 gardaí now. The total figure for the force will increase to 21,000, including other staff, in the coming years. As a result of this, there has been an increase in the numbers in Cork. There will be a further increase as gardaí are recruited and attested in the coming period.

 

We have also increased funding for addiction services. The allocation in this regard was €94 million in 2016. This was increased to €100 million in 2018. This means that there are now 793 residential beds for people who want to go into treatment and who want detox. That is a significant improvement on the situation in the past. We are also working really hard to get a supervised injection centre opened in Merchants Quay. We have run into difficulties with planning permission with Dublin City Council but we will press ahead with the project and try to get it completed. The Minister of State, Deputy Catherine Byrne, is working with Merchants Quay and leading on the project. We also have an agreement with Dublin Simon Community to provide a 100-bed detox unit for homeless people who have a problem with addiction. We are working on that and need to get it done as soon as we possibly can.

There are also increased resources for education and information. These are targeted at warning students and festival-goers in particular of the risks of taking drugs in the first place and at advising them how to reduce harm and stay safer if they do so.

 

Deputy Jonathan O'Brien: I do not want to get into an argument about numbers but we do not have more than 700 detox beds. We have 144 detox beds in the State. There are no stabilisation beds outside of Dublin; not one. We have more than 700 detox and rehabilitation beds, but we are talking about people who require some sort of stabilisation because they are required to be clean of drugs to get into a detox centre. It defeats the purpose on the first day. We need stabilisation beds.

 

I take on board everything the Taoiseach said. However, in the context of issue relating to the Garda, 2,800 recruits have come through Templemore, which was closed by Fianna Fáil, since it reopened. Does the Taoiseach know the number of them who have gone to Cork city? It is 69. Less than 3% of these gardaí have been deployed to Cork city. The unit which investigates sex crimes in Cork has been unable to keep up with new cases. On a busy weekend night recently, only two gardaí were available to patrol the city centre. This is the second largest city in the State and only two gardaí were available. There has been an increase in crime, particularly that relating to drugs, and we are seeing an increase in burglaries and aggravated assaults. Despite this, we have fewer gardaí. The Taoiseach will state that deployment is an operational matter for An Garda Síochána, but it is also a matter for Government when 2,800 gardaí have come through Templemore and only 69 were deployed to Cork city. That is just not acceptable to the people I represent.

 

The Taoiseach: The Deputy is quite correct; the number of detox, stabilisation, and rehabilitation beds taken together is 793. That figure comprises 19 inpatient detox beds, 127 community-based residential detox beds, four adolescent residential detox beds, 625 residential rehabilitation beds and 18 adolescent residential beds. We now put more than €100 million a year into addiction services. That is money well spent because, if people can be taken out of addiction, they can get on with their lives, enter employment, and once again contribute to society. We will continue to increase resources for addiction services in the period ahead.

 

The number of gardaí stands at 14,234. The total Garda workforce is 17,275. We are recruiting more gardaí all the time. Another batch of recruits will be passing out in the coming weeks.

 

More and more, the Garda Commissioner is leading reforms within An Garda Síochána to take gardaí out of administrative and office positions so we can have them back on the front line where people want them to be and where we want to see them. How those gardaí are assigned around the country is a decision for the Garda Commissioner, and it is right that it is his decision. In my engagements with him I will raise the point the Deputy made and see if he will consider sending more of the next batch of gardaí to Cork.

Item Type
Dail Debates
Publication Type
Irish-related
Drug Type
Substances (not alcohol/tobacco)
Intervention Type
Crime prevention
Date
6 November 2019
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