Home > Seanad Éireann debate. Commencement Matters - Departmental funding.

[Oireachtas] Seanad Éireann debate. Commencement Matters - Departmental funding. (19 Oct 2021)

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Senator Mary Seery Kearney: I thank the Minister of State, as always. I really appreciate his great commitment to us in the Seanad.

I really welcomed the announcement in the budget of an additional €6 million for the Minister of State’s Department. I have submitted this matter because we really need to understand how much of the funding is being apportioned to the drugs and alcohol tasks forces under the drugs strategy. The Minister of State is no doubt aware of the views of the chairs of the drugs and alcohol task forces around Dublin. I am privileged to be the chair of the Dublin 12 drugs and alcohol task force. For much of my contribution, I will use its words. The drugs initiative budget was cut every year between 2008 and 2014, resulting in an overall cut of 35% to key services responding to the drug problem on the ground. There has been little or no attempt to restore the pre-recession budgets and no increase in the allocation between 2014 and 2018. In 2019, there was an additional €20,000 per drugs task force but half of that was clawed back in 2020. In 2021, a need for an increase in drugs and alcohol task force budgets was anticipated. There has been a failure year on year, which is frustrating and demoralising for those working on the ground. The drugs problem has become more widespread. It is complex and deep rooted. Each community has its own problems to deal with and its own needs to be met. Therefore, communities need discretion to model their actions and respond at local level.

We have a commitment in the programme for Government. It states:

The Drug and Alcohol Task Forces play a key role in implementing this strategy and increasing access at local level to harm reduction initiatives. We will examine how we can continue to support it in identifying local need in communities, and support targeted initiatives addressing drug and alcohol misuse.

To date, there has not been great progress in supporting the increase in the demand for those services, although I acknowledge the Minister of State’s absolute commitment and support. I acknowledge also that he recently met representatives of each of the drugs task forces and set out the six strategic areas on which he is going to work with them. However, the matter highlighted in the budget submission of the drugs and alcohol task forces is that, although there is inflation, the budget has not matched it.

There is an increase in demand, the tsunami expected after Covid. We need an increase. There is an increase in the number of people with a dual diagnosis to which we need to be able to respond.

There is no discretion for design and delivery in the scope of the funding available to services. We need to build back better. The pandemic response needs to be phased, targeted and very community focused and community-based because the culture and context is unique to each task force. I see this even with our task force and the individual areas within Dublin 12. I would welcome the Minister of State's comments on how much of this budget is being allocated to task forces. It would be great to see a major amount because it is more than needed, to say the very least.

Deputy Frankie Feighan: I again thank the Senator for raising this issue. I welcome the opportunity to update the House on the funding allocated in budget 2022. I echo her contribution regarding the work the task forces do. I will put on the record my great admiration and thanks for the great work the volunteers and people in the task forces have done.

I am providing €6 million in new funding for new measures to support the implementation of the national drugs strategy. This funding will strengthen the health-led approach to drugs and alcohol use and will deliver on new strategic priorities for 2021 to 2025 under the national drugs strategy, including commitments in the programme for Government, which the Senator referenced. I am happy to inform the Seanad that I am providing €500,000 to increase access to, and provision of, community-based drug and alcohol services in budget 2022. The funding will have a specific focus on services for women, ethnic minorities and LGBTI+. It will address the barriers women and minority groups can face in accessing drug and alcohol services.

The lived experience of people who use drugs will be central to the design and delivery of the new services. The new services will be developed in conjunction with the national network of drug and alcohol task forces. The Department of Health has published a fact sheet on the allocation of the €6 million funding, which is available online and is being circulated to all stakeholders, including drug and alcohol task forces and the community and voluntary sector.

The Senator will be interested in the other measures I am supporting in budget 2022. These include €1.7 million to increase the availability of HSE drug and alcohol services on a nationwide basis for people with alcohol addiction, people under 18, families affected by drugs and rehabilitation and recovery programmes; €700,000 to reduce the impact of parental drug and alcohol use on children and young people in line with the joint HSE-Tusla Hidden Harm strategic statement and practices guide; €300,000 for harm reduction responses to address high-risk drug use, such as crack cocaine and stimulant drugs in local communities and the night-time economy, and to extend the Naloxone demonstration project to prevent drug overdose deaths; and €700,000 to provide health screening and brief intervention for people who use drugs known as SAOR. This service will be a core component of the health diversion programme for people found in possession of drugs for personal use, so they are treated with compassion and have the opportunity to avoid a criminal conviction. There will also be €300,000 to expand health supports for people who are homeless and have complex health and addiction needs. This includes an additional 260 tenancies under Housing First and an enhanced health service for up to 4,000 single homeless people in Dublin.

I envisage a key role for community and voluntary organisations, including the network of drug and alcohol task forces, in delivering these new measures I announced in budget 2022. Additional resources will be directed towards interventions that lead to reductions in problem drug and alcohol use and achieve an improvement in public health outcomes. Measuring the effectiveness of these additional services will, therefore, be an important objective of public policy.

I thank the Senator for raising the issue of dual diagnosis, which is one that we must work on in all sectors across all Departments.

I am keen to work with all stakeholders on ensuring that we can tackle it a bit more robustly than has been the case in recent years.

Senator Mary Seery Kearney: I acknowledge the Minister of State’s personal commitment from the moment he took on this responsibility. He has shown an extraordinary commitment and openness in the context of listening to the sector. I welcome the breakdown of the funding allocated. I will be delighted to share that information with the chairs and co-ordinators of the drug and alcohol task forces when I go back to my office. The health model is problematic, though, when we are dealing with such a complex basket of needs. What is required is an interdepartmental and interagency response. I hope that we will get an opportunity in the context of the strategic review to highlight this aspect with the Minister of State. We need discretion in this area and the budget provision must have some sort of discretionary element.

Deputy Frankie Feighan: Following agreement on the strategic priorities for the national drugs strategy for the period 2021-25, I recently met with the drug and alcohol task forces, as the Senator said, to outline the additional funding I am providing to deliver on these strategic priorities. This includes €1 million in funding for the development of a programme of community-based drug and alcohol services. The programme will adopt a population-based approach to the provision of drug and alcohol services in line with the Sláintecare model. An allocation of funding will be provided to each community healthcare organisation, and there will be engagement with the drug and alcohol task forces to identify service priorities for their regions. That development has been welcomed by the task forces. I will also be announcing shortly a prevention and education programme on alcohol and drugs use among children and young people. The drug and alcohol task forces will have an opportunity to develop proposals for funding under this programme. Together with the measures announced in budget 2022, this additional funding will strengthen the health-led approach to drugs and alcohol use and deliver on the strategic priorities for the period 2021 to 2025 under the national drugs strategy, as well as on the commitments in the programme for Government.

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