Before we say farewell to this legislation there are a few comments I should like to make in regard to it. First, I wish to express the appreciation of this side of the House in regard to the attitude and the approach of the Minister to this Bill. It was satisfying and encouraging for us to know that the Minister, conscious of the importance of the measure and having regard to the delicacy of the matters with which it dealt, was prepared to take the Opposition fully into his confidence and consultation.
This was one Bill that benefited considerably from being put through the Special Committee procedure. One very serious disadvantage in this regard from the point of view of hardworking Deputies is the fact that these committees are ignored largely by the Press and the media generally. It is discouraging for many Deputies, particularly the younger ones, who put a great deal of work into these committees to find that they are ignored in this way. In the case of the legislation before us there was one honourable exception. I refer to the medical correspondent of The Irish Times who reported in a very mature and intelligent way the discussions of the Special Committee but so far as ordinary media reporting is concerned, the Committee might just as well not have been meeting. It is sad that all those commentators who express the desire to have Dáil procedures improved and who engage in criticism of our procedures, ignore us when we make a serious attempt to make use of the Special Committee procedure. However, on this occasion that procedure worked very well. This can be attributed largely to the quality of the people who sat on the Committee, most of whom took the work very seriously, participated fully and studied the situation with which we are trying to deal. They gave their views in a straightforward, responsible and mature way.
Another reason for the success of the Special Committee in this instance was the Minister's attitude. He was prepared to listen, to consider and, where possible, to meet the view of the Committee. Most of the amendments that have been dealt with on Report Stage resulted from the Minister's co-operation with the Committee. Mostly, they were brought forward by the Minister to meet viewpoints or criticism put forward by Committee members to meet dangers or problems which the members envisaged arising.
This is very important legislation. It has taken a long time to come to fruition. The situation with which it deals is complex and difficult. The misuse of drugs is a modern problem and one in respect of which we have not very much legislative experience. To a large extent we have been feeling our way, so to speak, in dealing with this Bill. I do not know whether I am right in this but my impression is that the problem of drug taking, particularly among young people, is on the wane. At least one is not as conscious now of the intensity of the problem as was the case, perhaps, five or six years ago. That is all to the good.
Throughout the legislation we have had to endeavour to maintain a balance, to strike a happy medium and to try to preserve the individual rights and personal freedom of individual citizens while at the same time giving the authorities the necessary powers to implement the legislation effectively. We have had to try, too, to bring in legislation that would render certain acts punishable but we have had to recognise that very often people committing these offences are not guilty of criminal activity in the normal sense but, perhaps, are people who require medical care and attention rather than punishment. Therefore, this has been a difficult legislative exercise. There were very significant disagreements among those of us who took an interest in the Bill but I think we can say that this Legislature has discharged its responsibility on this occasion in a wise and mature fashion. Although there were disagreements. Members were prepared to compromise and to arrive at a proposal which would have general acceptability. All the time we were confronted with this basic underlying problem of the medical people concerned disagreeing as to what should be done. They were not prepared to give us a unanimous opinion as to what line we should adopt in regard to this modern problem of the misuse of drugs. However, despite all those difficulties we had the full co-operation of the Minister and it is largely due to his attitude that we now have this legislation. At this stage all we can do is hope for the best and put forward the legislation, asking the authorities to implement it. We trust it will make an important and significant contribution to the welfare of our community in so far as this aspect of life is concerned.
While the Bill is basically a lawenforcement measure we would all wish that it would have the result of helping our young people to cope with the problems of modern living to the greatest extent possible.