Home > Dail Eireann debate. Topical issue debate - Medical cards [Drug crime and intimidation].

[Oireachtas] Dail Eireann debate. Topical issue debate - Medical cards [Drug crime and intimidation]. (11 Mar 2021)

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

…..Deputy Paul Murphy: This matter arises from a meeting we had with community drug project managers last week. The meeting represented a cry for help and an appeal for help to the Minister of State and the Government in respect of the projects in Tallaght and Whitechurch and, I am sure, throughout the city and country. There is a new drugs crisis in our communities. Widespread crack cocaine use is devastating families. They are paying drug debts, unable to afford food or to heat their homes or pay for electricity, going to the local shops and having to give up all their money for debts in advance of getting to the shop to pay the bills or to buy food. It is horrendous. Abuse and addiction are deeply rooted societal issues connected to alienation, deprivation and so on, but one important part of the solution is the heroic work done by drug projects in our communities. They have suffered cuts and are scrambling around for funding, unable to do what they want to do. They need assistance.

Deputy John Lahart: As my constituency colleague said, this is a plea from and on behalf of those on the front line in meeting the consequences of drug misuse in our constituency, namely, the drugs and alcohol task forces and those who work with them. It is a plea for help, not just to the Department but also to the Departments of Health, Justice, Education and Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth.

Without drugs task forces, children, sons, daughters, fathers and brothers would simply have nowhere to go to seek help. This House really has no idea of what these workers confront every day and every week. We have an opportunity to start again, to start afresh and to analyse the supports that are required, the interventions that are needed and whose responsibility it is to provide them. The only answer is for every stakeholder with a responsibility and a role to play in this area to come to the task forces' table and to be an active participant on a monthly basis. If these stakeholders play their role, we will look for the resources necessary to back up any required interventions.

Deputy Seán Crowe: My constituents should be able to go to their local shop to buy a newspaper or a pint of milk without having to pass through a gang of drug dealers. They should be able to go to their local medical centre without having to witness drug dealers buying or selling drug prescriptions from patients leaving the doctor's surgery. They should be able to go to their local post office without having to witness the drug dealers handing out children's allowance books to mothers who supposedly have a drug debt. The mothers collect the payment and then hand back the book. Children should be able to go to school without having to witness drug deals going down at the school gates, but this is happening. Children should not be going to sleep hungry, but this is also happening in my constituency. Many of them would not be fed if not for food parcels. My constituents who are in recovery and rehabilitation should not have to pass drug dealers outside the very services they attend for counselling and addiction supports.

Deputy Francis Noel Duffy: I thank the Minister of State for his time in addressing this issue. I echo my colleagues' statements and reiterate the gravity of the situation in Dublin South-West. It is dire and, in the words of a local drug and alcohol task force worker, the area has become a drug trade ecosystem. It is necessary to work towards establishing safe zones protected by the Garda to allow people to go about their daily lives without feeling intimidated or fearing for their safety. I would appreciate it if the Minister of State would commit to considering this. I also ask the Minister of State to review the funding given to these task forces to sustain their projects considering the significant cuts in funding made due to the financial crash. Funding could potentially be drawn from the moneys seized by the Criminal Assets Bureau.

Minister of State at the Department of Justice (Deputy James Browne): I thank the Deputies for raising this very important matter. I am acutely aware of the impact that open drug dealing and the associated intimidation is having on communities across the country. Organised criminal activity, including drug dealing, represents a serious threat to community safety but it is also important to remember that drug-related intimidation and open drug dealing cause sustained and significant damage to communities over time, contributing to a lower quality of life for local residents and an erosion of community esteem.

The continued disruption of the supply of illicit drugs, including crack cocaine, remains a priority for An Garda Síochána and the other State agencies tasked with responsibilities in this regard. A concerted effort has been made over the past year to ensure that the detection and prevention of these types of criminal activity are not adversely affected by the unprecedented demands placed on policing services by the vital enforcement of public health restrictions.

The Garda National Drugs and Organised Crime Bureau is having continued and significant success in disrupting drug trafficking and the supply of illicit drugs by organised crime groups. Its work is supported by divisional drug units which tackle drug-related crime locally throughout the country. There is collaboration with other law enforcement partners and by all gardaí working in local communities. Divisional drug units are now established in every Garda division.

Recent major seizures include €12 million worth of cocaine seized in a collaborative operation between the bureau and Revenue's customs services in Cork on 18 February and the seizure of €1.1 million worth of crack cocaine, cocaine and cannabis herb in an operation led by the district detective unit in Tallaght on 2 February. The Deputies may wish to note that the Garda National Drugs and Organised Crime Bureau has seized controlled substances worth a total of more than €26 million in the first two months of this year alone. I welcome these significant seizures and the reassurance that these policing successes bring to communities.

I can confirm that there was a 10.7% rise in the number of gardaí assigned to the Dublin metropolitan region south division between December 2017 and February 2021. The total number of members serving there is now 589. There has also been a significant rise in Garda civilian staff assigned to the division. There are now 55 such staff, an increase from 36 in 2017.

The Deputies will be aware that the Government has in place a national drugs strategy, Reducing Harm, Supporting Recovery, a health-led response to drug and alcohol use in Ireland for the period from 2017 to 2025. The strategy is unique among the national drugs strategies across EU member states in recognising the need to address drug-related debt and intimidation at a community level. An Garda Síochána is working to provide strong supports for those who fall victim to this behaviour. A Garda inspector is nominated in every Garda division and individuals and families experiencing intimidation can make contact with their local inspector through their local Garda station.

An Garda Síochána regards drug-related intimidation as a very serious issue and urges people to seek help and support from their local gardaí, even where a person has felt compelled to pay money to those engaged in drug-related intimidation.

This Government will continue to support the drug-related intimidation reporting programme developed by the National Family Support Network in partnership with An Garda Síochána to respond to the needs of drug users and families facing the threat of drug-related intimidation in line with the programme for Government……

[For the full debate, click on this link]

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