Ceisteanna — Questions. Oral Answers. - Drugs Problem.

Charles Flanagan

Question:

14 Mr. Flanagan asked the Minister for Justice when the drugs enforcement agency will be established.

Paul McGrath

Question:

28 Mr. McGrath asked the Minister for Justice the plans, if any, she has to review the strength of the central drugs office.

Pat Rabbitte

Question:

39 Mr. Rabbitte asked the Minister for Justice if a major review of the Garda response to the drugs problem in Dublin is under way; if so, the nature of the review; the extra measures, if any, that are planned to deal with the problem; and if she will make a statement on the matter.

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

42 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Justice the proposals, if any, she has to combat drug abuse; the timescale within which she expects to achieve her objectives; and if she will make a statement on the matter.

Liam Lawlor

Question:

68 Mr. Lawlor asked the Minister for Justice if, in view of her rejection of a drugs enforcement agency, she will give her views on the way in which the fight against drugs can best be co-ordinated; her views on whether a formally constituted body or group will carry this out; and if she will make a statement on the matter.

Peter Barry

Question:

72 Mr. Barry asked the Minister for Justice the plans, if any, she has to form a national drugs enforcement agency with its own headquarters and staffed by personnel from the Garda Síochána, Customs and Excise, the Naval Service, her Department and the Department of Health; if such an agency is contemplated, if she will give consideration to having its headquarters in the Cork Harbour area because of the concentration of illegal drug imports along the west Cork coastline; and if she will make a statement on the matter.

Michael Creed

Question:

78 Mr. Creed asked the Minister for Justice if she has satisfied herself with the levels of co-operation and co-ordination of the various State agencies and organisations dealing with the drugs epidemic.

I propose to take Questions Nos. 14, 28, 39, 42, 68, 72 and 78 together.

As I stated on 18 January during the debate on the Criminal Justice (No. 3) Bill, 1993, before the Select Committee on Security and Legislation, I do not favour the introduction of a separate national drugs enforcement agency to deal with the problem of the availability of illegal drugs here. I have reached this conclusion after considerable thought and consultation with members of the Drug Enforcement Agency of the United States. I am not convinced that such an organisation would be appropriate for the situation here, but I am determined to ensure that the resources of all the agencies involved here can be co-ordinated and used in the most effective way in the fight against drugs.

I have dealt with the drugs situation here on several occasions in the recent past. In October I provided the House with a detailed overview of the problem in the context of my response to a Private Member's motion on the crime situation generally. On 14 October and again on 25 November I dealt specifically with various aspects of the drugs problem in my answers to parliamentary questions, including a priority question. On those occasions I referred to certain measures which the Garda authorities had already taken to deal with the problem of drug abuse in areas of known drug activity, including the establishment of a special task force in the north inner city.

I made it clear that the drugs problem is a matter of the highest priority to me. I have made this clear also to the Garda authorities. I am satisfied that the problem is on the top of their agenda too and I would like to take this opportunity to congratulate the Garda Síochána on the success of their operation last weekend which led to a seizure of 1 kilo of heroin near Dublin Airport. This is one example of the efforts made by the Garda to tackle the availability of illicit drugs here. Other examples include successful raids on premises where so-called "rave discos" are taking place.

Specifically in relation to Dublin I would like to mention two things: first, meetings are held on a monthly basis which are attended by members of the Dublin Drugs Squad and other units in the DMA at which recent seizures and trends are discussed and future operations are discussed and planned. Secondly, a detective superintendent was appointed on 21 October 1993 to head the Central Drugs Squad based at Harcourt Square on a full-time basis. These developments have resulted in major surveillance operations against persons involved in drugs activity.

I assume that the reference to the central drugs office by Deputy McGrath is in fact a reference to the Garda National drug administration office based at Garda headquarters, which has responsibility for co-ordination of national drug law enforcement and international liaison. I am informed by the Garda authorities that there are no plans at present to increase the strength of this office. The situation will, however, be kept under review in the light of assessments of the needs and demands in this area.

I would now like to return to the question of inter-agency co-operation in regard to law enforcement. A senior official of my Department is currently preparing a report on this matter at my request. As part of his remit he is meeting with senior management of the other Departments and State agencies involved in the area — in particular with the Revenue Commissioners, the Garda authorities and the Defence Forces.

The main task of the report is to secure the best arrangements for achieving a cohesive and co-ordinated response to the drug trafficking problem by the existing law enforcement agencies. The report will also address the level of resources required to tackle the problem, including the question of the greater use of the Naval Service and Air Corps. It will also address the question of whether legislative changes are necessary.

I understand that substantial progress has already been made on the report and I expect to have it very soon. As soon as it is submitted to me I will consider it as a matter of priority.

I recently visited the naval base at Haulbowline to fully inform myself about the capability of the naval services to provide support to the civil power in combating the importation of illegal drugs.

The drugs situation in Ireland is relatively small by international standards, but it is certainly serious and needs very close and continuous attention. International experience shows that it is a notoriously difficult problem to overcome, even for countries with much greater resources than we have. I am determined to make significant progress in the fight against drug abuse. Apart from Garda initiatives, and maximum inter-agency co-operation, the Criminal Justice (No. 3) Bill, 1993, which I referred to already, contains provisions for the confiscation of proceeds of crime and deals with money laundering by criminals, including drug traffickers. I believe that this legislation represents a major initiative against the main players in the drugs scene. By targeting the proceeds and profits of drug traffickers I believe the legislation will help to turn the tide against the insidious growth of drug abuse in Ireland. As Deputies will be aware, the Bill is awaiting Report Stage in this House.

As the Minister is aware, I raised this matter on Committee Stage of the Criminal Justice (No. 3) Bill when she declined to accept my amendment under which a drugs enforcement agency would have been set up. The Minister is against the establishment of such an agency apparently because the American Drug Enforcement Agency advised against it. Would the Minister agree that Deputies such as myself, who represents south central Dublin, and Deputy Gregory and others who represent central Dublin, know more about the drugs problem as it affects people on the streets of this city than the American Drug Enforcement Agency? Does the Minister also agree that there is statistical information available which shows that some countries export more, in terms of gross national product, in illegal drugs than in all legitimate products added together? Would she therefore agree that the only way to tackle this problem is to set up a drugs enforcement agency comprising the Garda Síochána, the Departments of Health, Justice, Foreign Affairs, the Marine and Defence so that their efforts in tackling this problem can be co-ordinated not just nationally but internationally, through the European Union to ensure there is an offensive against those countries which continue to export these drugs with impunity?

There is confusion as to what is meant by a drugs enforcement agency. If such an agency was to be established here it would not be an amalgam of the Garda Síochána, the Naval Service, the Air Corps and Customs. It would be a separate and distinct law enforcement agency with responsibility only for drugs legislation enforcement, and no other force in the country would have a role to play in that regard. At present there are members of the Garda in every unit in every division, together with the Drugs Squad in each of the divisions, dealing with the drugs problem. It was appropriate for me, as Minister for Justice, in considering how we should tackle the problem, to find out how the issue is dealt with in other countries. It was appropriate also for the official in my Department who is preparing the report which is due to be presented to me shortly and, indeed, for me, to take the opportunity to meet with members of the American Drug Enforcement Agency when they visited this country. Here we have one single police force under one command and it is worth preserving. My priority is to retain that structure. What Deputy Mitchell is proposing is that the efforts of all the agencies involved — the Garda, Customs, the Naval Service and the Air Corps — should be co-ordinated. That is what I am striving to achieve.

Perhaps the Naval Service and the Air Corps should be given a greater role. There is a high level of co-operation at the top of the structure — we discussed this matter at great length at the Select Committee on Legislation and Security — and it is my hope that there will be a similar level of co-operation in day-to-day operations. That is what we all want to achieve in the most efficient and effective way possible. As I said in that respect I have the full support of management in the Garda Síochána, the Customs service and the Naval Service. I am awaiting the report being prepared by my departmental official and as soon as it is made available to me I will deal with the matter appropriately.

Does the Minister agree that if we decide to set up a drugs enforcement agency it will do what we ask it to do and that it will not, as she imagines, be separate from the Garda Síochána? Is she aware that in the amendment I put forward recently at the Select Committee on Legislation and Security I named various bodies and suggested that the Minister should have the power to bring these together to deal with the problem? Is she aware that Dublin is awash with drugs; that, in the words of a colleague of mine, the fastest growing indigenous industry in Dublin city is the distribution of illegal drugs? Is she aware that people commit crimes, such as thefts, car break-ins, handbag snatching and burglaries, to feed their serious drugs habit? Is she aware that the chairman of the US Senate sub-committee, Senator Carey, said that "narco-dollars" are distorting the figures for entire states given the scale of the problem? Accordingly, does she agree that it is time she reconsidered her opposition to the proposal that a drugs enforcement agency be set up? In reconsidering this matter will she consider the possibility of establishing a coast-guard service perhaps involving the European Community?

In my initial response I outlined the changes that have been made to the Garda structure, particularly in the Dublin area, to deal specifically with the drugs problem. As the Deputy is aware, some of these changes were made following a visit I paid to certain areas in the north inner city. We now have specialised units. However, it would be wrong to think that these are the only units involved in surveillance of those operating in the underworld of drugs; all members of the Garda Síochána are involved in surveillance and that is as it should be. My concern in having a specialised agency is that that agency only would be involved and people would feel that the matter should be left to them. I believe that would be a bad day's work. On Committee Stage, when he spoke to his amendment to the Bill, Deputy Mitchell was anxious to ensure that there would be proper co-ordination between each of the agencies involved. In this regard the European Union has a role to play. We now have EUROPOL while Ministers for Justice discuss all the issues involved at Council level.

Probably the most important issue that European Ministers for Justice must discuss is that of drug trafficking within the European Union and its surrounding seas and that is being done. I want to ensure that the agencies here who are co-operating to deal with the situation are brought together in a co-ordinating way and that the level of co-operation at the top of each of those organisations is translated into the same level of co-operation in day-to-day operations.

The Minister has referred to black spots, particularly in Dublin. Would she agree that integrated measures are needed to deal in a targeted way with those areas of the city which are blighted by the problem of heroin? Will she evaluate on an ongoing basis the success of those pilot schemes and special units and report regularly to the House so that if more resources are needed there will be no reluctance on the part of Members to sanction them?

I outlined in my original reply the measures taken recently in the Dublin area, including the one in the north inner city and the appointment of a detective superintendent to head the Central Drugs Squad which is based at Harcourt Square. I also outlined the operational matters that have occurred under which every month there is a meeting of those involved in this area to discuss the trends, the seizures that have taken place, and to co-ordinate the levels of surveillance and other activities to ensure that future operations are on a planned basis. They report to me in the normal way. If I feel there are other specific measures that need to be taken I will have no hesitation in discussing them with the Garda Commissioner and, in particular, with the detective superintendent who is charged with responsibility for the Central Drugs Squad.