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Home > Adjournment Debate. National Drugs Strategy

[Oireachtas] Adjournment Debate. National Drugs Strategy. (15 Dec 2005)


Mr. Rabbitte: Thank you, Leas-Cheann Comhairle, for allowing me the opportunity to raise the issue of the resignation of Mr. Fergus McCabe from the National Drugs Strategy team. Mr. McCabe was involved with the foundation of the drugs strategy and the local drugs task forces since I established them, as Minister of State, back in 1996. He has immense experience and the support of the community sector. His enforced resignation is testament to the rift that has developed between the community sector and the statutory agencies and the Minister of State, Deputy Noel Ahern.

When I put the drugs strategy in place in 1996, it was built on the principle of partnership between the community sector and the statutory agencies like the gardaí, the probation service, the health boards, schools and so on. For 30 years before that, the professionals were in charge. For those 30 years, the drugs menace took hold in our communities. When the community sector representatives gave their allegiance, support and active participation to the drugs strategy, we saw the progress that could be made. It is ironic at a time, for example, when cocaine has been linked to the drugs menace cocktail, we should for the first time have a Minister of State who has come into conflict with the community sector. He has followed a course of action that has diminished the influence of the community sector, squeezed out its influence, leading to the resignation of Mr. Fergus McCabe. We cannot afford this and the Minister of State should know that. I am not arguing that we do not need the involvement of the professionals, far from it, I am merely saying that when the professions were in control over 25 years, we let the drugs menace take hold in this city and it got out of hand. Only when we stopped the exclusion of the community sector did we begin to get a grip on matters and replace conflict with co-operation between the statutory agencies and the community sector. Now all that is threatened by the direction of Government policy being pursued by the Minister of State, Deputy Noel Ahern. For example, at the Citywide Drugs Crisis Campaign function yesterday, the organisers who have done so much in this area, as an umbrella for the meeting brought the drug activists together from across the entire city. It was apparent that the emerging needs fund, which has been furnished €1 million by the Minister of State seems to be deliberately designed to diminish the influence of the community sector. It is entirely inadequate, given the emerging needs that we know exist. Clients are being deliberately diverted from community treatment centres to GPs and other arrangements. In my constituency for example, I am aware there is spare capacity for the first time in some of the community treatment centres, while at the same time clients are being diverted deliberately to GPs and elsewhere. I am aware of a young woman in a wheelchair, for example, who has to travel to what used to be the health board clinic, when she could be accommodated at her adjacent local community treatment centre, where there is a willingness and a track record second to none, in terms of quality, care, understanding of the problem, embeddedness in the community etc. I do not know why the Minister of State is doing this. I am not here in any partisan or political way. I pay tribute to former Deputy Chris Flood, the man who followed me in that job. Nobody up to the present Minister of State has aggravated the community sector. I do not know why he is doing it, whether he is consciously doing it or does not know he is doing it. After the resignation of Mr. Fergus McCabe he can no longer be unaware of it. I sincerely hope Mr. McCabe’s resignation will force a change in direction in Government policy.

Minister of State at the Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs (Mr. N. Ahern): I thank Deputy Rabbitte for raising the issue and I acknowledge the contribution that Mr. Fergus McCabe has made through his membership as community representative of the national drugs strategy team. He has been involved, as Deputy Rabbitte said, since the start of the drugs issue. His efforts against drugs misuse over many years have been known and that work is greatly appreciated.

Ms Shortall: I note what the Minister said about the report being available early in the new year. Are there any preliminary findings other than talking about the process? Will the Minister outline any of the headline issues that have come out and an idea of the overall cost of the project initiated by her predecessor? Where does the Minister see this feeding into her policy and the course she is taking this year or does she see it influencing it?

Ms Hanafin: I was very conscious that when a process like this has been undertaken, which involved so many members of the public, it would be important for it to feed into policy making. The final report is not available and we do not even have preliminary findings from the process but what we have is the valuable views of the Irish public on education, which is the survey that has been published. That provides us with useful information on a range of subjects which I have often dipped into, even recently. Deputies will be aware that at the time the process took place one of the major issues for schools was the area of special needs, and that tended to dominate some of the meetings at the time. Much of that has since been addressed. The overall cost arising from the public consultation process is €760,142, which covers printing, launching, advice, the setting up meetings etc., the Educational Research Centre for its secretariat and the cost of the survey. Because the report came from an eminent group of independent trustees, including people such as Mary Davis, Dr. Garret FitzGerald etc., and working through the Educational Research Centre, it was out of our hands, but now that that process is almost complete, I look forward to publishing the report in the new year.

Ms Enright: Will the report be available to the wider public? The Minister was not the Minister responsible at the time but I attended some of the meetings and, naturally, the people tended to be those with vested interests - teachers or parents of special needs children. Will the report reflect not just the views of the public but those of parents and teachers or a particular organisation so that we will be clear on the thinking?

Ms Hanafin: The honest answer is that I do not know, but with the calibre of the trustees responsible for it, Dr. Garret FitzGerald, Dr. Pádraig Hogan, Dr. Barry McGaw from the OECD, Dame Geraldine Keegan, Ned Sullivan, Dr. Catherine Sweeney and Mary Davis, they will ensure that the process has integrity and that the report reflects what happened. Some the findings and views in the report, such as those dealing with special educational needs, may already be out of date. This will allow us to objectively examine the other issues that were raised and we can also use the survey, which is quite useful on a range of issues, with a view to feeding it in to policy, rather than it being the policy itself.

Mr. Gogarty: The Minister could dip into and extract best practices from this report, which is distinct from the McIver report. Has the Department set out a timeframe within the lifetime of the current Government for the implementation of a number of key proposals in the report once it is published?

Ms Hanafin: I do not believe there will be any proposals and I will not accept any presented to me. There are no recommendations in the report, which simply reports on a consultation process which took place. The report ascertained the views of people who attended public meetings and the views of the public. There will be no proposals or recommendations to be accepted.

Vol. 612 No. 4 Adjournment Debate

Thursday, 15 December 2005

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