Ceisteanna—Questions. Oral Answers. - Drug Abuse Problem.

Eamon Gilmore

Question:

32 Mr. Gilmore asked the Minister for Justice the total quantities of heroin or other hard drugs seized by the Gardaí to date in 1994; the plans, if any, she has to combat the drugs and the related crime problem, particularly in the Dublin area; if she has satisfied herself that the powers to deal with the use of infected syringes by drug abusers in the course of robberies is adequate; if she will give the Gardaí any additional powers to deal with this problem; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [2184/94]

Mary Flaherty

Question:

92 Miss Flaherty asked the Minister for Justice the plans, if any, she has to deal with the increasing use of syringes by criminals in attacks on the public. [1939/94]

Ivor Callely

Question:

103 Mr. Callely asked the Minister for Justice the new measures, if any, introduced in 1994 to address the escalating drug problem in Ireland and Dublin in particular; the success of such measures; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [1966/94]

Enda Kenny

Question:

175 Mr. E. Kenny asked the Minister for Justice the facilities being made available and the extent of progress being made in combating the spread of drugs in smaller towns and rural Ireland; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [2153/94]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 32, 92, 103 and 175 together.

The drugs problem is a matter of the very highest priority for myself and for the Garda, and it is not confined to inner-city areas. The smaller towns and rural areas are also at risk and I am determined that we deal with the problem in these areas before it takes hold.

I am pleased to report that a number of substantial seizures have been made by the Garda this year. Figures available from the Forensic Science Laboratory — where all drugs seized by the Garda are analysed — show that as of 30 September this year 4,081 cases were sent for analysis. Of these, 3,016 cases had been examined by that date. Of the cases examined, 2,236 involved cannabis resin with a total weight of 1,060,565 grams. This continues to confirm the established trend that cannabis resin accounts for about 75 per cent of drugs misused in this country.

There have been 157 cases involving heroin with a total weight of 1,697.3 grams; 16 cases involving cocaine with a total weight of 35 grams; 157 cases involving ecstasy tablets with a total of 15,520 tablets siezed; 83 cases involving LSD with a total of 14,500 tablets seized, and 29 cases involving amphetemine powder with a total weight of 66 grams. Arising from these seizures, prosecutions have been taken and more are currently in progress.

All Garda drugs units are co-ordinated on a national basis through the National Drug Administration Office in Garda Headquarters. In Dublin, monthly meetings are held between all drugs units at which recent seizures and trends are discussed and future operations planned. This ensures maximum co-ordination and cohesion of the fight against drugs in the capital. As part of its strategy, the Garda has commenced a "patrolling system" involving a high profile Garda presence in certain innercity complexes. This is designed to break the influence of drug dealers operating in particular locations in the city.

An important part of the fight against drugs is to target the ill-gotten gains of drug deals and traffickers. The Criminal Justice Act, 1994, contains provisions for the confiscation of proceeds of crime and deals with money laundering by criminals, including drug traffickers. This Act represents a major initiative against the drug menace.

I am extremely concerned about the use of syringes as weapons of crime. Attacks with syringes are deeply traumatic for the innocent victim who is confronted with the potential threat of being infected with HIV or some other serious disease.

All possible measures are being taken by the Garda to deal with this problem, including patrolling and surveillance. However, this is not a problem that can be easily resolved given the availability of syringes, the ease with which they can be concealed on the person and the desperation of the addict to get money for drugs. I am informed by the Garda authorities that recently a person found in possession of a blood filled syringe was successfully prosecuted under the Firearms and Offensive Weapons Act, 1990. This is a most significant conviction, which suggests that adequate legal provisions may already be in place to deal with the possession and use of an infected syringe in connection with a robbery or other crime. However, I am keeping this aspect of the drugs problem under continuous review and I shall not hesitate to make further proposals to deal with this matter, if it appears to me that existing legislation is not adequate.

I thank the Minister for the figures she has given the House. May I suggest her conclusion that 75 per cent of the drugs problem appears to be associated with cannabis is a gross misanalysis of the problem and that the really serious drugs problem relates to hard drugs such as heroin, ecstasy, etc. which are now probably more widely available now than at any time in our history? There is a public perception that the Garda and State are losing the battle against the widespread peddling of hard drugs such as heroin and ecstasy and that while the suppliers are widely known to local people in the communities where these drugs can be obtained apparently the Garda is not taking effective action against them.

I do not accept that the Garda are not taking effective action against these people as they are very alert to the problems in relation to ecstasy. A number of very significant seizures took place recently as a direct result of the Garda targeting events at which they believed young people would be using ecstacy or where ecstacy tablets would be sold to young people. As Deputy Gilmore is aware, one such well known establishment in Dublin had its licence successfully opposed by the Garda in the courts. This is an indication of the type of proactive approach and response by the Garda Síochána to the ecstasy problem.

In regard to heroin, I said that the Garda has commenced a patrolling system involving a high profile Garda presence in inner city areas where, as a number of gardaí, local community groups and Members of this House brought to the attention of the Garda Commissioner and me, heroin is sold and people are actively involved in its provision to younger people and others. In addition, there are the specialised drugs units. All members of the Garda, and not merely those involved in drugs units, are trained to deal with the drugs problem.

In regard to the part of my question dealing with the crime associated with drugs. I am pleased with the measures being taken to deal with people who use syringes of blood as weapons. Does the Minister believe that possession of a syringe should be made an offence? Is she concerned about the increase in gangland killings and shootings, some of which appear to be associated with the drugs trade, in Dublin in recent months and, in particular, the reports that guns are now widely available in Dublin? Apparently hand-guns can be obtained for as little as £50. Does she or the Garda authorities intend to take any special measures to deal with this, perhaps unanticipated, aspect of the peace dividend?

While I appreciate what Deputy Gilmore is trying to do in terms of making the possession of a syringe an offence, it would be very difficult to do as exceptions would have to be made, the most obvious of which would relate to a diabetic who has to carry a syringe of insulin at all times. The recent conviction under the 1990 Act of a person found in possession of a blood filled syringe is a very important step forward. If I believe there is a necessity to or a way in which we can strengthen the law in this area I will have no hesitation in doing so.

On the question of contract killings and the availability of firearms, Deputies will be aware that a number of very successful early morning raids were recently carried out by the Garda and a number of firearms recovered. I am sure Deputies will accept that this is very important and a significant step forward. Special measures have been, and continue to be, taken by the Garda to deal with the availability of firearms, where they are kept and the persons who might be in the possession of them, and contract killings, which have been condemned by all of us. We do not want to see that type of crime, different from normal crime, spreading or increasing in any way. Special measures are being and have been taken by the Garda but I am sure Deputy Gilmore would not wish me to spell them out as the people who may be contemplating such a crime could escape detection because of knowing in advance the special Garda measures.

Is the Minister aware of my view, expressed in the House time and again, that we have a serious hard drugs problem, particularly in Dublin? Is she aware that in parts of my constituency — Deputy Gregory will relate similar problems in his constituency — people are shooting heroin openly on stairwells in flat complexes as well as in green areas in housing estates and that this indicates a serious problem? Is the Minister aware that from ten named countries, based on a ten to one heroin substance from 4,000 tonnes of opium, about 40,000 tonnes of heroin is exported? Has the Minister raised this matter at EU level with a view to the European Union taking a co-ordinated action against those exporting countries? Is it correct that the Firearms and Offensive Weapons Act, 1990, with the Offences Against the Person Act, 1861, allow for life imprisonment for a person who threatens another with a lethal syringe?

As I said in my reply, there was a successful prosecution under the Firearms and Offensive Weapons Act, 1990. Unfortunately, I do not know the term of imprisonment imposed in the court but I can supply it to the Deputy. It was a significant breakthrough because people felt there was no law in relation to the use of a blood filled syringe, but now there has been a successful prosecution. In relation to the hard drugs problem, and the fact that the Deputy and other Deputies consistently bring to my attention the problems relating to heroin in city centre housing complexes, I said in my reply that as a result of information given to me here by a number of Deputies, and passed on to the Garda and to the head of the Drugs Squad, there is high profile patrolling in a number of these complexes where heroin was openly sold or used. As a result, there has been a number of successful prosecutions. I commend the people who live in those complexes who are not involved in heroin dealing and who do not want it for their co-operation and support for the Garda Síochána who patrol these areas. In relation to whether I have raised the matter at EU level, I should say that at all our meetings one of the priority items on the agenda for EU Ministers for Justice is the whole area of drug trafficking and the international drug trade. Drugs and drug related problems are the same in all EU countries and in the countries that will join after 1 January 1995, they extend across all borders. It does not mean that because one lives in an island the drugs problem can be kept out. We are all facing the same problems and we want to face them together. We want the EU to make radical changes and proposals in this area. Commissioner Flynn, who is strongly of the view that a Commission initiative is required, is in the process of preparing for presentation to Ministers at EU level.

I am anxious to proceed to other Deputies' questions, I will call Deputy O'Donnell and Deputy Gregory on this question.

Given the increase in organised crime, to which the Minister referred, and the use of firearms in criminal activity, will the Minister agree it is important for the State to retain the Special Criminal Court to deal with such criminal activity? Will she agree, that despite the fact she is willing to repeal the emergency powers and the state of emergency legislation, it is vital to have the Special Criminal Court? The Constitution allows for setting up the Special Criminal Court where ordinary courts are inadequate to secure the effective administration of justice and the preservation of public peace and order. It is vital to have the Special Criminal Court to bring such criminals to justice in cases of intimidation of juries.

I agree with the Deputy that we need the Offences Against the State Act and the Special Criminal Court. I have said publicly and in this House that there are no proposals to interfere with either of them.

I welcome the Minister's remarks in relation to the high profile patrolling of flat complexes, some of which I requested for my own constituency, which has been successful. Does the Minister accept that, overall, the Garda appear to be losing the battle against heroin dealers and that heroin, which is extensively available, is now half the price it was a couple of years ago? Because huge sums of money are made by heroin drug dealers, many of whom have invested in property and so on, some of them are resorting to the execution of rivals. Communities are living in fear because of the use of firearms and the killing of rivals. Unless the Garda get to grips with the big dealers this problem will escalate and spread throughout Dublin city. Already it is spreading to large working class suburbs throughout Dublin. Will the Minister ensure that all the resources necessary for the specialist Garda drug units in each area where there is a serious heroin problem are made available and that the dealers who have escaped justice until now and who are leading ostensibly respectable lifestyles and buying property are brought to justice and not allowed live to in luxury off the misery of their victims?

I accept that the big drug dealers involved in creating misery for many thousands of people and families, not only in the inner city areas of Dublin but throughout the country, must be brought to justice. We now have very stringent powers under the confiscation legislation, not alone when dealers are found guilty of the offence but equally to confiscate their assets and put the onus on them to prove they did not get them from the proceeds of drug dealing. I do not accept the Garda are losing the battle. They are engaging in high profile patrolling in inner city complexes, the results of which he has seen. I thank the Deputy for his compliments to the Garda. This is something which the Commissioner, the Assistant Commissioner and the DMA are anxious to see extended to other complexes where they do not have high profile patrolling. It has proved successful and they have had a number of good seizures; equally, they have had a number of successful prosecutions. Obviously, that is the way to proceed. I do not think Deputy Gregory made the point that the Garda have sole responsibility in this area. A huge effort can be made in the health and education areas but particularly in the education area. We must try to make drugs socially unacceptable as we did with cigarette smoking. There are proposals for such a health education programme in all schools, starting at primary level.

Ensuing from the peace process, has the Minister considered the possibility of redeploying gardaí previously assigned to security duty in relation to subversive crime, for example, gardaí detailed to Border duties or intelligence gathering? Having regard to the experience, expertise and skills they have developed, particularly in the intelligence area, perhaps they could be assigned to addressing the serious problem of drug dealing, the whole underworld associated with it and organised crime.

The redeployment of such gardaí will take place as soon as the Garda Commissioner and the Assistant Commissioner with responsibility for security decide such deployment can take place. The Commissioner is actively looking forward to redeploying members from Border regions where much of the work in which they were involved might now be considered non-productive. They could be redeployed in inner city areas and other divisions which are experiencing problems similar to those referred to in the question.