Ceisteanna—Questions. Oral Answers. - Ballymun (Dublin) Heroin Epidemic.


asked the Minister for Justice if he considers that there is an urgent need for a specialist Garda drug unit in the Ballymun area, Dublin 9, where the heroin epidemic is rapidly deteriorating; and if he will make a statement on the matter.

The allocation of members of the Garda Síochána to particular duties is a matter for the Garda authorities in the light of their assessment of needs, available resources and other demands on Garda services.

As has been stated on various occasions, the considered view of the Garda authorities, which is in line with current thinking in many other police forces, is that, while specialist drugs units have a valuable contribution to make, there is a limit to the extent to which available resources ought to be allocated to them, rather than to the provision of specialised anti-drug training of a much bigger number of members of the force who use the specialised training while also carrying out other police duties.

The Garda authorities inform me that, in line with that thinking and having regard to the number of gardaí whose duties include the Ballymun area and who have received this specialised training in anti-drugs work, they are satisfied that the present arrangements represent a more cost-effective deployment of resources than would the setting-up of a unit of the Drug Squad at Ballymun station. As in all such situations, of course, circumstances may change and the position is kept under review.

Is the Minister aware that the heroin problem in Balymun is the most serious in the city? Is he also aware that heroin is widely and easily available in Ballymun? As a result of the activities of the specialist Garda drug unit in the inner city, which has eliminated the suply of heroin there, addicts from that area now travel to Ballymun to get their supplies of heroin. Is the Minister further aware that two or three leading suppliers of heroin in Ballymun are known to the Garda, that the names of various smaller pushers in Ballymun are also known to the Garda but, because of the inadequacy of Garda manpower in Ballymun Garda Station where there are two detectives to cover crime generally and because of the absence of a drug unit similar to that in the inner city, they do not have the ability to deal with the problem? As a result, no serious or significant conviction has been achieved in the area despite the gravity of the heroin problem. In view of this will the Minister reconsider my request?

I do not dispute the Deputy's contention as to the size of the problem and I agree it is very significant and worrying. In relation to seizures, there has been a development over the past three years. In 1984, for example, there were 33 seizures of drugs in the Ballymun Garda sub-district of which 14 were heroin. The number of seizures of heroin in 1985 was 22 and in 1986 it was 11. The number of persons charged in each of those years with drugs offences was 37, 73 and 26 respectively. I am aware, as the Deputy points out, that there is a number of known drug pushers and pedlars in the area. The resources the Garda Síochána have at their disposal in that area include the total manning of the station. In addition, two members of the central Garda district which includes Ballymun are specially employed in the prevention and detection of drug abuse and they operate in close liaison with the permanent drug squad. In addition, a further 11 members of the Ballymun station complement have received special training in anti-drug work and they pay particular attention to that aspect of policing.

A Cheann Comhairle——

A short question Deputy. The last one was very long.

I accept that, a Cheann Comhairle, but it is quite a serious problem. Can I again ask the Minister if is he is aware that no member of the Garda Síochána in Ballymun Garda station has brought any significant heroin conviction in recent years in that area despite the gravity of the heroin problem there? Does the Minister accept that concerned people in the inner city spent considerable time arguing the necessity for a specialist drug unit in the inner city before one was set up? How long will the Minister wait while the same arguments are being made with regard to Ballymun, while the heroin problem gets out of hand and until the necessary action is taken? The experience of the inner city unit paralleled in Ballymun. That is what achieved the cleanup of the heroin problem in the inner city. The concerned parents movement also played their part. Obviously, the convictions were achieved by a specialist Garda unit. Such a unit is needed in Ballymun.

The Deputy cannot make a speech.

Will the Minister review this request as a matter of urgency——

As a matter of urgency will the Deputy conclude?

——and meet with the Garda Síochána. Garda headquarters are aware of everything I have said. The Minister should meet with the senior gardaí concerned to reach a decision on the issue.

The Deputy is probably aware, notwithstanding the fact and perhaps even because of the fact, that we have a specialised drug unit in the Garda Síochána, a great many of the drug seizures in the area are made by gardaí who are not part of that unit but who are cooperating with them. Therefore, I do not attach the same significance to the first part of the Deputy's question as he does. The resources which are available and which have gained experience in various areas of the drug operation throughout the city are available to Ballymun. The Deputy may be assured that it does not need pressing of me in this House, far from it, to ensure that I stay in very close contact with the senior Garda authorities.

Deputy Wallace.

A Cheann Comhairle——

A short question, Deputy.

Is the Minister aware that surveillance is the key element? The specialist unit have the ability to provide surveillance over a reasonably long period of time. The local gardaí, having being trained in the methods, are of considerable value. When special problems develop such as the one mentioned by Deputy Gregory specialist units are required as back-up. Would the Minister consider, for the north side of Dublin as distinct from the centre city, making resources available to provide such a drug unit?

We might defer further discussion on that matter untl we reach Question No. 8.