Home > Dáil Éireann debate. Other Questions 7 - Drug dealing.

[Oireachtas] Dáil Éireann debate. Other Questions 7 - Drug dealing. (20 Oct 2022)

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

7. Deputy Brendan Smith asked the Minister for Justice the additional measures that will be introduced to reduce access to illegal drugs which are causing serious problems in communities throughout the country; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [52114/22] 

Deputy Brendan Smith: As we are all aware, drug dealing is causing untold damage to individuals, families and communities throughout every part of our island. At one time we thought those activities were confined to major urban areas but nowadays, unfortunately, no area is exempt from such problems. The response to the drugs issue must be multifaceted. Reducing access to illegal drugs has to be a critical component of that policy. Health, education and preventative measures are extremely important. Collaborative work across all areas of government is also essential. 

Deputy James Browne: I thank Deputy Smith for raising the important issue of reducing access to illegal drugs. 

My Department and the whole of government are acutely aware of the sustained and significant damage that drug dealing has on communities right across the country. I assure the Deputy that tackling drug dealing and associated criminal activity, including by organised crime gangs, is a top priority for An Garda Síochána and the wider Government. The additional resources allocated to An Garda Síochána in recent years enabled the Garda Commissioner to assign extra resources to the specialist units involved in tackling organised crime. These include the armed support units, the Garda National Drugs and Organised Crime Bureau, the Garda National Bureau of Criminal Investigation and the Criminal Assets Bureau. 

The Government’s strategic approach to the misuse of drugs is health led, under the National Drugs and Alcohol Strategy 2017 to 2025: Reducing Harm, Supporting Recovery, with the intention being to reduce demand while balancing this with limiting access to illegal drugs to the greatest extent possible. 

Sustained action by An Garda Síochána to tackle supply continued throughout the pandemic, resulting in increased convictions and ongoing seizures of drugs, as well as volumes of firearms, ammunition and cash that inevitably accompany this very serious organised criminal activity. The Garda National Drugs and Organised Crime Bureau is also having significant success in disrupting the supply of illicit drugs by organised crime groups. Its work is supported by divisional drugs units nationwide and by all gardaí working in local communities, while working closely with international law enforcement partners. Gardaí continue to work closely with local authorities, the HSE, NGOs, community groups and other State agencies to tackle the problems of drug addiction and abuse. 

In 2021, the Garda National Drugs and Organised Crime Bureau seized around €64 million worth of illicit drugs and around €6 million in cash. More recently, in a Revenue joint operation in Balbriggan this month, the Garda National Drugs and Organised Crime Bureau seized €226,000 worth of cannabis. More broadly, the Garda Operation Tara has a strong focus on tackling street-level dealing throughout rural and urban Ireland. 

Deputy Brendan Smith: I thank the Minister of State for his reply. I also commend An Garda Síochána and the other statutory agencies on their work in trying to cut off the supply of illegal drugs. We know they are dealing with dangerous criminals and drug traffickers who are part of an international industry. This is not only a national issue. These international gangs are wreaking havoc on individuals, families and communities. 

The Minister of State spoke about the additional resources to the different specialist units of An Garda Síochána. While that is welcome, we need additional resources for the individual drugs units within every Garda division. We have been told we have X number of personnel attached to the drug unit today in comparison with two or three years ago but the problems have multiplied in the meantime. We need more and more resources to tackle the increasing problems associated with drugs. I am talking about dealing with the people who are peddling drugs to make huge money. They are wreaking havoc on individuals and families. They must be dealt with as severely as possible to ensure their ill-gotten gains and supplies are cut off. 

Deputy James Browne: I am advised by the Garda authorities that as of 31 August, there were 385 Garda members assigned to the Cavan-Monaghan division, representing an increase of 20% since the end of 2014 when the Garda College reopened. This figure includes 15 community gardaí assigned to the division as of 31 August, up from seven in 2014. Garda members in the division are supported by 57 Garda staff, which is an increase of more than 50% since 2014. The Deputy will also be aware that the Cavan armed support unit centre was officially opened on 16 October 2021. I am advised by the Garda authorities that the armed support unit centre at Cavan is operating on a permanent footing, is providing 24-7 coverage and is sufficiently resourced. For operational and security reasons, I cannot comment on the exact Garda resources assigned to this particular unit. 

The focus of Operation Tara is to disrupt, dismantle and prosecute drug trafficking networks at international, national and local levels involved in importation, distribution, cultivation and production, local street-level dealing and the sale and supply of controlled drugs in urban and rural areas. 

Deputy Brendan Smith: I fully agree with the Minister of State and I very much welcome the introduction of the armed support unit in Cavan in 2020. It was a measure that I and other public representatives in the Cavan-Monaghan area had called for. The unit is doing extremely good work. 

As I said, I fully appreciate it is not just criminal sanction and enforcement measures that will rid our society of the drugs problem. Perhaps this is outside the scope of the Department work but the regional drugs task forces and the drug awareness units in different counties are doing exceptionally good work. The Cavan-Monaghan drug awareness group does exceptional work in helping young people to get their lives back together again through a process of education and training. That type of work must also be given greater resources. The Department, the Department of Health and other statutory agencies must give greater impetus and more resources to the work of those groups at local level. They are dealing with the victims of the drug pushers and peddlers. I have seen at first hand the good work and good results for individuals that come about through small Government investment. 

Deputy Ruairí Ó Murchú: As I said in the House yesterday, we can all accept that the war on drugs has been lost. We are going to need a citizens' assembly on drugs as soon as possible. We obviously need a more novel approach because what we are doing at the minute is not working. That is not to say we do not need criminal sanction and resources to deal with dangerous criminals. Drug debt intimidation is one of the serious issues that comes across my desk too often. I have spoken to the Minister and the Minister of State previously about funding for organisations that are doing great work, particularly with addicts and with families, for example, the Family Addiction Support Network, Turas, and the Red Door Project. We must ensure funding is provided to them but we must also deal with these dangerous criminals that have communities under the cosh. We must deal with them from a criminal justice point of view but beyond that, we also need to support our communities. We need family and community supports at an earlier stage. 

Deputy David Stanton: I agree with everything Deputies Smith and Ó Murchú have said with regard to sanctions, resources and dealing with the people who are making a lot of money out of this. Have the Minister or Minister of State looked at the Portuguese model of dissuasion, which is at the other end of the spectrum? This seems to have produced major work so far. I visited Portugal a number of years ago when I was a member of the justice committee and I was highly impressed. I ask the Minister to revisit that novel approach. 

Deputy Bernard J. Durkan: I emphasise the need to address the ever-growing problem, which has been referred to, of petty crime and the terrorism of some groups of mischief makers, for want of a better description, who are terrorising their neighbours in housing estates all over the country at an increasing pace. 

Deputy James Browne: In response to Deputy Durkan, we had a meeting yesterday afternoon with the antisocial behaviour forum and we had the Housing Alliance in. Our specific focus was on the issue of antisocial housing in housing estates. The antisocial behaviour forum will set up a subgroup to look at that particular issue. 

I will get Deputy Stanton a specific answer on the issue he raised. If it has not been looked at, we will certainly have a look at it. 

With regard to Deputy Ó Murchú's points, I believe every one of the organisations the Deputy mentioned has received funding this year, including in the past couple of weeks. 

To respond to Deputy Smith, who tabled the question, tackling these issues is not simply a matter for An Garda Síochána. It requires a whole-of-government and whole-of-society approach. Supporting all of the organisations that help in the community to tackle the scourge of drugs is critical. In the past week, for example, two groups in Monaghan have been funded under the community safety innovation fund. 

This funding was for the personal and community resilience booklet, developed by Monaghan fire and civil protection, and the advancing community safety in Monaghan project, developed by the Monaghan joint policing committee. The projects are funded from assets seized by CAB and that funding has been increased in the most recent budget. We look forward to granting further funding next year.

Repository Staff Only: item control page