I move amendment No. 1:
To delete all words after "That" and substitute the following:
— mindful of the menace of drugs and the extent to which they contribute to crime in our society, commends and supports the commitment of the Government to take serious and effective action to tackle the drugs problem.
— notes, in particular, the commitment given by the Minister for Justice to bring forward comprehensive proposals to Government very shortly on important aspects of law enforcement and interagency co-ordination with regard to the drugs problem.
— welcomes the recent record amounts of drugs seized by the law enforcement agencies,
— recognises that the multi-disciplinary approach adopted by the Government provides the best possible framework for dealing with the problem, and
— supports the measures taken by the Ministers for Health and Education in the area of education for young people and treatment of drug abusers."
I thank the mover of the motion, Deputy O'Donnell—and Deputy Quill — both of whom have a deep and lasting interest in this subject. Their concerns are shared by me and by the Government. Many suggestions have been put forward, some of which are already in place. There are others that can be considered and put in place if they are found to be effective.
If I had been asked 12 months ago what the greatest difficulty facing Irish society was, I would have responded unhesitatingly to the effect that it was the violence in the northern part of our island. Since then, thankfully, we have had the ceasefires and the problem of paramilitary violence has been removed, to everyone's relief.
Asked now what the greatest difficulty facing us is, I answer unhesitatingly, the drugs problem. The problems arising from drug addiction have replaced terrorism as our greatest cause for concern. The drugs scourge is damaging our society, is increasing our crime rate and is increasingly affecting the quality of many people's lives and livelihood. This Government is keenly aware of the evil effects of the drug trade and I intend to set out here our strategy to tackle the issue. The drugs problem is a complex one with no easy answers. I thank Deputy O'Donnell for recognising that. The Government recognises that the problem must be confronted on a number of different levels. To put it simply, law enforcement, alone, can never provide all the answers. The multi-agency approach, involving the Departments of Health, Justice and Education and their respective agencies has been recognised by the Government as providing the best possible framework to deal with the problem. Essentially, we must tackle both the demand for, and the supply of, drugs.
The need for this co-ordinated effort is especially apparent to those charged with law enforcement. The connection between drug dealing, drug addiction and crime is well established. Addicts need money and crime is one way of obtaining it.
International experience has shown there are no simple solutions. Once the problem has developed, it can be extremely difficult to reverse. However, I am not one of those who shrug their shoulders and say we will just have to get used to the problem. I do not accept this counsel of despair. The problem is not insurmountable. It is not something we have to live with. On the contrary, it has to be tackled and it is being tackled. To do so, of course, requires great determination and a co-ordinated and integrated approach. That has been accepted by the two Deputies who have spoken. The Government strategy to prevent drug abuse recognises that the problem is a complex and difficult one and proposes a multi-disciplinary approach requiring action in the areas of supply reduction, demand reduction and increased access to treatment and rehabilitation programmes, in other words, the strategy calls for integrated action on the problem on a number of different levels. This approach provides the best possible framework to deal with the problem.
In dealing with crime, the Garda operate under legislation enacted by the Oireachtas. Most significant in this regard is The Offences Against the Person Act, 1861, as amended; The Larceny Act, 1916; The Misuse of Drugs Acts, 1977 and 1984; The Criminal Justice Act, 1984; The Criminal Justice (Forensic Evidence) Act, 1990; The Criminal Justice (Public Order) Act, 1994, and The Criminal Justice Act, 1994.
On the law enforcement response to the drug problem the impression being given that there is no legislation to deal with the drugs problem is false and the legislation I have listed is effectively used daily in our courts. Yesterday I visited Mountjoy Prison and I saw many inmates who had been prosecuted under these laws and are now in prison.
The Garda Commissioner has been focusing special attention on the drugs problem because drugs are inevitably at the root of a very significant proportion of crimes committed in our society today. All Garda drugs units are co-ordinated on a national basis through the national drug administration office in Garda headquarters which is staffed by full-time gardaí with a detailed and specialised knowledge of the drugs problem. Deputy O'Donnell compared present figures with those of a previous time when there was only one drugs unit. There are now a number of drugs units throughout the country so the figures are not comparable.
In Dublin, which is the main area where heroin is a problem, drug units have been established in each of the city's five Garda divisions and their activities are co-ordinated through the central drug squad based in Harcourt Square. Those five Garda divisions did not have drug units some years ago. This approach has enabled the central drug squad to monitor the activities of drug dealers all over the city and it has significantly enhanced the Garda intelligence gathering capability. In addition to the central drug squad, full-time drug units operate in Santry, Cabra, Raheny, Dún Laoghaire, Crumlin, Ballyfermot, Tallaght, Store Street, Pearse Street, Kevin Street and Donnybrook. To sum up, we have never had better coverage in the capital by specialist drug units.
Outside Dublin, there are full-time drug units in Cork, Galway and Limerick. In this regard, it is important to bear in mind that drugs are not just a Dublin problem. It is a national problem and the Garda are responding accordingly.
In recent times, we have had a number of very significant seizures of illicit drugs. Indeed, record amounts have been seized and the Garda and the Customs and Excise service deserve all our thanks. These seizures have hit the drug traffickers and intercepted their supply routes. They show we are waging an unrelenting war on drugs. There can be no doubting the resolve and the determination of the law enforcement agencies to suppress this evil trade. These seizures amount to over £25 million in value and indicate the benefit of cross agency co-operation and good intelligence. Ireland will not become a soft touch for drug traffickers who may entertain notions that we are a convenient back-door to Europe. We have an international responsibility and we take it seriously.
My Department has finalised a detailed and comprehensive report on important aspects of law enforcement in relation to the drugs problem here. Based on that report I have prepared a set of comprehensive and far-reaching proposals which I will bring before the Government very shortly. The main task of the report was to identify the best arrangements for achieving a cohesive and co-ordinated response to the drug trafficking problem by the existing law enforcement agencies and the proposals will be mainly concerned with this aspect. However, the report also examined the legal powers of members of the law enforcement agencies and the need for legislative changes to assist the law enforcement response. The contribution in the health and education areas in developing strategies to reduce demand for drugs is also considered. The proposals which I will bring to Government shortly will cover all these aspects.
My proposals will be far-reaching and wide-ranging. They will be no mere tinkering with the problem, but a root and branch radicalisation of plans to tackle drug-trafficking. I am determined to do whatever is required and I will have no hesitation in asking the Government for the necessary resources.
Drugs are smuggled into this island by sea and by air. Obviously, it is neither practical nor possible to search every person, every package, every item that comes into the State. To do so, would bring traffic, both passenger and commercial, to a grinding halt. For this reason, intelligence-based strategies are crucial in combating the importation of drugs and, in this regard, the closest international co-operation is vital if such strategies are to prove effective. Customs and Garda must be in a position to target the traffickers.
The serious implications for law enforcement which arose from the abolition of customs control in Europe on 1 January 1993 have been examined in detail by member states of the European Union. The ending of customs controls posed an additional and serious challenge to those charged with law enforcement. As a response to this challenge, the European drugs unit has been established. The unit, which became operational in 1994, is charged with the essential mission of exchanging and coordinating drugs intelligence throughout the European Union. A liaison officer from the Garda Síochána is serving with the unit and the information obtained from this source will be vital in preventing the illegal importation of drugs.
From a meeting I had with fellow Justice Ministers of the European Union last month I know that the drugs unit has had some considerable successes since it was constituted. I welcome the Taoiseach's initiative in highlighting the drugs problem with other EU leaders in Moscow recently. I can assure Members that drugs will be one of the priorities during our Presidency.
In enforcing the law, we must target everyone concerned. In cracking down on the local pusher, we must not lose sight of the fact that he or she is just one part — indeed, a small part — in the evil chain of drug trafficking and distribution. We must get at those who direct things behind the scenes. In this regard, the Criminal Justice Act, 1994, provides for the seizure and confiscation of the proceeds of crime, including drug trafficking. However, there are powers to get the local pushers off the streets and I am determined that the Garda shall implement the full rigour of the law.
I share the concern of Members that it is vital that our courts have the necessary powers to order the seizure and confiscation of the proceeds of drug trafficking. We all recognise that where large amounts of criminal proceeds are involved it is not sufficient that the perpetrators be dealt with simply by way of the traditional penalties of imprisonment and fines. Deputies will recall that this is a matter which was dealt with in a comprehensive way in the Criminal Justice Act, 1994.
Part II of the 1994 Act confers power on a court to make a confiscation order, on the application of the Director of Public Prosecutions, against a person who has been convicted of a drug trafficking offence. For that purpose, `drug trafficking' is defined in the broadest terms and it includes importing drugs and laundering the proceeds of trafficking. Where a court determines that the offender has benefited from drug trafficking it can make a confiscation order for the amount of the benefit he or she received from all drug trafficking and not merely from the specific offence in respect of which he or she has been convicted.
The Act provides that a court is required to assume that all property in the hands of an offender at the time of conviction and all income or other assets received by him or her in the previous six years were part of the proceeds of drug trafficking. It is up to the defendant to prove to the court that particular assets, including money or property, were not derived from trafficking. Where a court is satisfied that proceeds of drug trafficking arose prior to six years before the conviction these can, of course, be confiscated.
The Act also empowers the High Court to make restraint orders freezing assets, including money, which may be liable to realisation if a confiscation order is made at a later stage. The effect of a restraint order is to prohibit any person from dealing with the property to which the order applies. Applications for these orders are made by the Director of Public Prosecution and can be made without the need to give notice to a party against whom an order is sought.
The circumstances in which a restraint order may be made are set out in section 23 of the 1994 Act. Subsection (1) (a) of that section provides that the court may order property to be restrained where proceedings have been instituted against a person for a drug trafficking offence or for an indictable offence other than a drug trafficking offence and a confiscation order has either been made or may be made. Section 23 (i) (b) allows the High Court to make a restraint order where the court is satisfied that proceedings are to be instituted and it appears that a confiscation order may be made. This provision ensures that a restraint order can be obtained before a person is arrested or charged with an offence.
Section 63 of the 1994 Act permits the Garda Síochána to apply to the District Court for the purpose of an investigation into drug trafficking, money laundering or an offence in respect of which a confiscation order may be made, for an order requiring the disclosure of material which is relevant to the investigation. Failure to comply with an order made under section 63 is a criminal offence.
I have outlined the relevant provisions of the Criminal Justice Act 1994, in some detail because it is very important for Deputies to be fully aware that the law makes extensive provision for powers which enable our law enforcement authorities to identify and secure restraint and confiscation orders in respect of the proceeds of drug trafficking. All these powers came into operation in November 1994 and are being put to good use.
In addition, I brought into force, with effect from 2 May 1995, a number of provisions in the 1994 Act which require banks and other financial bodies to take certain measures, for example, identification of customers and reporting suspicious transactions, which will make it more difficult for drug traffickers to launder their dirty money. Since becoming Minister for Justice, I have made every effort to ensure that these anti-laundering procedures were put in place as soon as possible. The reason May was chosen as the start-up date was to allow sufficient time for the preparation of the detailed guidelines which were necessary for staff of banks and other financial bodies operating the new procedures and for appropriate training. The Revenue Commissioners also have powers to investigate how a person who is on a reduced income can purchase property, etc.
The possession and supply of illicit drugs is covered by the Misuse of Drugs Acts, 1977 and 1984, which contain severe penalties for those guilty of an offence under the Acts. For example, in respect of pushing or supplying the maximum penalty is a fine of £3,000 and/or imprisonment for a maximum term of 14 years. As regards possession for the more serious offences, maximum penalties include life imprisonment or an open-ended fine. This legislation is the responsibility of my colleague the Minister for Health, Deputy Noonan.
I am aware that my colleague, the Minister for Education, Deputy Bhreathnach and her Department co-operate actively with the various agencies concerned with the prevention of drug abuse. The resulting initiatives focus especially on the reduction of demand for substances likely to be abused and involve close collaboration with the Department of Health. Among the initiatives undertaken or in hand are the following: a major programme on substance abuse prevention education for post-primary schools, "On my Own Two Feet", was launched by the Minister for Education in October 1994. This programme is being disseminated to post-primary schools generally at present. The programme includes detailed educational resource materials which have been developed for use with pupils of all age levels throughout their post-primary schooling. There is associated and substantial in-service training for teachers on the implementation of the programme. Training courses have already been held for teachers at 26 centres throughout the country. Each course lasts for approximately 50 hours. It is intended to continue this training, which is supported by the Departments of Education and Health, during the coming school year. The programmes educational materials and in-service training constitute a major initiative on substance abuse prevention education in post-primary schools. It is not true, as Deputy O'Donnell said that there is no ongoing educational programme.