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[Oireachtas] Dáil Éireann debate - Ceisteanna ó Cheannairí - Leaders' questions [cocaine]. (23 May 2024)

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

...Deputy Verona Murphy: In recent years there has been a significant rise in cocaine consumption, with current reports from gardaí and drugs councillors stating that drugs are available in every rural village and town in Ireland. The cliché of cocaine as the drug of choice for the wealthy, young elite is long out of date. It has evolved in recent years and is now being used regularly by all classes across society. The epidemic has soared to new heights and is now being felt in every community, sports club, school and parish in rural Ireland, including every parish in my constituency. Last year one GAA star and recovering cocaine addict said that drugs are so readily available now in rural Ireland that it is "literally like getting a bag of sweets". Another said it can be ordered and obtained as quickly as a pizza delivered to your door. Families are being torn apart. Parents are losing their children. Children are losing their parents.

The epidemic in drug use is fuelling the epidemic of abuse and antisocial behaviour in our towns and villages. In County Wexford, and in all its towns, like Enniscorthy, Gorey, New Ross and Wexford, business and retail staff and customers are despairing at the level of open drug use and dealing, shoplifting, fighting and open brawls in broad daylight on the streets of our towns. People are afraid to walk the streets during the day, let alone at nighttime. Yesterday I met a person who told me they readily remember walking down the streets of Wexford with no fear at 3 a.m. after a night out. They now worry about walking down the streets of Wexford at 3 p.m. in the afternoon. Only a few days ago there was a violent dispute in broad daylight on the Wexford quay front. This follows a similar incident last month, which saw two young men attacked on the street. A short number of weeks prior to that a woman was pushed to the ground and robbed of her social welfare money as she came from the post office. People are genuinely afraid and feel strongly that little action is being taken to address the issues.

County Wexford has experienced a 9.5% increase in population since the last census in 2016. We are not seeing anything like an equivalent increase in Garda numbers to police our communities. Rather, there is a lack of resources to An Garda Síochána. A report from the Policing Authority on the issue of public order training and resources is due in June, which I welcome. However, it is time for a response from the Government on rural policing. The coastal watch programme, launched by An Garda Síochána to curb the threat of drugs being landed along the coastline, is welcome, but I have just come from a meeting of the Committee of Public Accounts at which the Department of Defence appeared. We have six naval vessels that have cost the State €500 million. Four of them sit by the quayside.

Deputy Darragh O'Brien: I thank the Deputy for raising this serious issue. I first want to address the issue of drugs and antisocial behaviour. I come to that with some degree of knowledge. Up to recently, I chaired for ten years the regional drugs and alcohol taskforce in north County Dublin. I have seen at first hand the damage illegal and illicit drugs, and indeed legal drugs like alcohol, can do to our young people and not so young people as well. We have to ensure there is education on drugs and drug use to inform young people and educate them to make the right decisions. The days of the garda going into schools, showing drug paraphernalia and telling people not to do drugs are gone. Our young people are clever and intelligent and will make decisions based on the information they have. We have seen an increase in drug use and an increase in the prevalence and availability of drugs, and not just cocaine. I think one of the most dangerous drugs out there is synthetic cannabis. People believe that cannabis is simply the cannabis leaf, but that is no longer the case. It is laboratory produced and is approximately 100 times stronger than one would have thought a normal joint would have been in the past. It has really bad and negative effects, particularly on young people up to the age of 25. We need to continue to resource our regional drug and alcohol taskforces and local drug taskforces to provide the family supports required and to provide the education to our young people to enable them to make the right decisions. I have seen how that can work very well on the ground....

Deputy Verona Murphy: The reality is that prevention is always better than cure. In August 2023 it was announced that we would remove the drug squads and community policing. That was very serious. It is a pity the Minister did not make the statement he made a minute ago back then. We do not have a reinstated community policing unit in Wexford. However, I can read out millions of euro worth of drug seizures in Rosslare and off our coast. Last October, drugs worth €157 million were seized on the MV Matthew. There needs to be prevention of the drugs getting into the system. Use our Naval Service. We are badly resourcing it, but we still have €500 million worth of ships sitting on a quay wall with no personnel to man them. Why can we not join the dots? We are an island. The drugs have to come onto the island. I did not need a lesson from the Minister in what drugs are being used. It is the effects and the antisocial behaviour of not being able to police it.

An Ceann Comhairle: Time is up.

Deputy Verona Murphy: This is really important. There are 80% fewer drug searches done because An Garda Síochána has to fill in 24 points of information.

An Ceann Comhairle: Please, Deputy. Time is up.

Deputy Verona Murphy: The policing is not working. The Policing Authority needs restructuring.

Deputy Darragh O'Brien: I take this matter extremely seriously. All of us, as TDs and representatives in our areas, see the damage that drugs can do and are doing. The Deputy has referenced specific points about Wexford with regard to policing resources. I have given examples of where those community policing teams are back in place. With regard to resourcing our Naval Service, the Deputy knows the Government is right now embarking on a significant recruitment campaign for our Naval Service. We have greatly improved the terms, conditions and pay for the women and men who have come into our Defence Forces and our Naval Service. That is important. We need more people there.

Deputy Verona Murphy: Have a look at the-----

An Ceann Comhairle: Deputy, please.

Deputy Darragh O'Brien: On customs, the Deputy has mentioned drug seizures. All across our State agencies they carry out really important work. Will we stop every single drug shipment coming into the country? No country can do that either. Do we need to improve and increase our capacity to protect our coastline? Yes, and that is what we are doing. That is why we are embarking on the most significant recruitment in our Naval Service and in our Defence Forces right now.

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