Home > Dáil Éireann debate. Policing, security and community safety Bill 2022: second stage (resumed).

[Oireachtas] Dáil Éireann debate. Policing, security and community safety Bill 2022: second stage (resumed). (23 Feb 2023)

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

Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett: The objectives of the Policing, Security and Community Safety Bill seem fairly laudable. The main purposes of the Bill are, as set out in the explanatory memorandum, to "recognise the prevention of harm to individuals, particularly those who are vulnerable or at risk, as an explicit objective of An Garda Síochána; provide a new coherent governance and oversight framework for policing that will strengthen both the internal management of An Garda Síochána and independent external oversight supporting clear and effective accountability; make community safety a whole of government responsibility by ... placing an obligation on Departments of State and other public service bodies to cooperate with each other in relation to improving community safety".


They are fine objectives. They may not be so easy to achieve but they are certainly good. If we are going to achieve them, the last couple are probably the most important. There are many things gardaí have to deal with, which often put them in situations of jeopardy, horrendous situations such as we saw in Ballyfermot recently and, even more appallingly and without any justification or rationale, what happened in Omagh. There are circumstances that put gardaí in jeopardy and consume much of their energy and resources, which they should not have to deal with. If we understand that all of government has a responsibility for creating the conditions where those things can happen, where public servants like gardaí or others find themselves in difficulty, sometimes in jeopardy or at the wrong end of unjustified abuse, then we need to take that notion seriously.


One issue central to that is the question of how we deal with drugs. It seems that the entire strategy that has been pursued for decades has failed abysmally. The Garda, communities and society generally end up picking up the pieces for that, with ever-worsening criminality and violence and young people being drawn into a world of underground criminal violence, with all the horrible impacts that has on the young people themselves, communities and, indeed, the gardaí who are fighting what is frankly a losing and unwinnable battle. It is long past time, for the sake of gardaí, communities, young people and society in general, that we recognised that the approach we have taken to this issue has failed and we need a fundamental rethink.


I strongly urge the Government to learn a lesson that society should have learned after the disaster of prohibition in the United States in the 1920s and 1930s. Whatever one may think about alcohol consumption, whether good, bad or indifferent, it was an utter disaster. It criminalised, at a stroke, two thirds of the American population. By definition, the criminalisation of something that half or two thirds of the population does makes half or two thirds of the population criminals at a stroke. Everybody who took a drink was a criminal. Everybody who produced alcohol was a criminal. They had to be because state laws said they were criminals. There had to be a criminal underground and once there was a criminal underground, there could not be regulation or oversight. Criminality, violence and the dark underworld that goes with all that became an immediate racing certainty. It is exactly the same with the approach of criminalising drug use. That is not to advocate for drug use or to make any comment about it but to state that it is a fact that it is not going away and that it is about time that governments woke up and recognised that fact.


Does anybody seriously believe that drug use will stop? If they do, they are entertaining a dangerous fantasy. It will not stop. If we think about alcohol consumption or cigarette consumption, any impact on those has been made through public health education and, arguably, although I do not agree with this, through pricing policy, which the Minister would probably have put more store in. It is certain, when we consider all the health damage that smoking does and the damage that alcohol does, including domestic violence, antisocial behaviour, issues the Garda has to deal with and the damage to individuals themselves, I do not think any serious person is contemplating prohibition as a response. It is long past time that we took the same view about illicit drugs because I think it is a war that cannot be won. At a stroke, it criminalises huge numbers of young people. It draws them into, and even adds an attractive mystique to, the underground world of criminality. We need to de-romanticise it by decriminalising it, bringing what it is into the open and educating people about the dangers and realities of it, and so on, so that we can have an adult conversation about these things.


Without being simplistic about it, because it is a complex problem with many complex issues tied into it, I believe we are going nowhere with the issues the Garda has to face, issues of community safety and so on, while we continue down the road we are on. It is obvious that the situation is getting dangerously worse. I do not want to dwell on this point too much, other than to say that it has been noted in communities around Dublin that some of the people behaving pretty shockingly towards immigrants and refugees have been tied into some of that stuff in an alarming way. That is a really dark and sinister development.


We urgently need to grow up and treat this matter in an adult way rather than driving it underground and simplifying it by saying there are criminals in some places. People are not born as criminals. They do not come out of their mothers' wombs as criminals. Situations, circumstances and Government policies ultimately produce those sorts of distortions, criminality, violence and antisocial behaviour. There are many other issues, including housing, lack of services, the alienation of young people and communities. To my mind, it would be the beginning of wisdom to move on from a failed policy and start to treat these things as health and societal issues and use the best tools, education and reaching out to the young people involved, if we are going to solve those problems. That is joined-up thinking. It would be doing the Garda, society, young people and neglected communities a favour so that we can start to focus on the things people really need.


[For the full debate, click here to the Oireachtas website]

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