I am delighted to have the opportunity to speak on this Bill. We have addressed the issue of drugs on many occasions recently and each time I and other Members have said that the drugs problem threatens the very fabric of our society. We have heard that so often, but we do not fully comprehend what the statement means or appreciate the problems associated with the drugs issue, such as family break up, suicide, community decline and drug-related crime.
As other speakers said, it is estimated that up to 80 per cent of all indictable offences are drug-related. A recent survey stated that on average 40 businesses are robbed weekly. Because of burglaries in some areas shops, including some in my constituency, have had to close down. Some proprietors are unable to get insurance. The safety of staff working in some premises cannot be guaranteed and personal injury claims also pose a problem. Bag snatchings and muggings occur on a daily basis. There are also burglaries and house breakings, people are beaten up in their homes, and personal attacks involve in some cases the use of syringes, a most despicable form of attack. There are also car thefts by drug-crazed youths. We do not have to put up with all that. We need to take measures to tackle those crimes once and for all.
The drugs problem has spread from the cities. It is interesting that many Dublin Deputies have spoken about this problem today, but the problem is not confined, as it was once was, to the inner city. Although many Dublin communities have had to bear this problem for years, now that it has spread nationwide it has been placed on the political agenda, hopefully leading to some positive action. Communities and parents are demanding action to counter this major threat, in particular to children whose quality of life and future must be protected. These nationwide community groups deserve our full support. Their very establishment is a hopeful development, living as we do in an age of community decline when so many refuse to become involved in any community activity. Governments, local authorities and others must support these groups, which have been established because of the inability of the State to take appropriate action.
The provisions of this Bill were announced in July last in response to what was perceived to be a national crisis. As Deputy O'Donoghue said, it is the first major piece of criminal justice legislation introduced by this Government. There was widespread public support, demonstrated by opinion polls, for the proposals to increase the powers of detention of persons suspected of drug trafficking offences to a maximum of seven days, along with the proposal which received most publicity, that to allow members of the Garda Síochána, not below the rank of superintendent, to issue search warrants in drug trafficking cases where such is urgently required.
The three parties in Government appear to be immobilised by indecision. Three different parties, each with different ideologies, simply cannot agree on effective measures to deal with crime, drugs and many other issues, even Northern Ireland. They are all pulling in different directions, resulting in the country as a whole losing out. An example is their divergent views on the matter of bail, a matter on which I predict the Government will not take any action. It appears that the long promised referendum on bail has been put on the back burner.
The delay in the introduction of this Bill can also be attributed to those divisions within Government. I do not think any action will be taken on the right to silence, particularly when one considers the difficulties encountered in the introduction of this Bill. While these Cabinet battles continue behind closed doors the public has a right to know which Ministers were in favour of this or that legislation and which of them were responsible for the delay in the introduction of this Bill. There is need for openness, transparency and accountability. There is the widespread perception that victims' rights are set at nought while those of the criminal remain uppermost in the minds of particular members of the Government.
I fully agree with Deputy O'Donoghue's comments on the inadequacies of this Bill, the provisions of which have been diluted to an extent that threatens their very effectiveness. For example, under section 2 a detained person can be brought before a court and given the chance to give evidence and make submissions before detention can be extended. This section is so complex and its safeguards so far-reaching that it is doubtful the Garda will be able to employ it efficiently.
Those who oppose tough measures to deal with drug barons fear that the Garda will abuse their powers. I do not believe that will be the case. The Garda are respected and enjoy the support of the public in general — a phenomenon possibly unique to this country. They are accountable to the Minister for Justice via the Garda Commissioner and the Minister is accountable to this House.
Given the extent and seriousness of the drugs problem confronting us, we must take some risks. This Bill does not deal with the huge delays encountered within the present system of preliminary examinations. This issue was tackled in my party's Bill whose provisions, regrettably, have been omitted from this one.
A recent editorial in the Sunday Business Post of 8 February 1996 bearing the caption “State-financed drug addiction” sparked off a debate on drugs in general, questioning the effectiveness of prescribing methadone to heroin addicts and even going so far as to suggest that the State should dissociate itself entirely from this activity. Anybody with any personal experience of heroin addicts, such as public representatives, could not support that view. We must take tough measures against drug pushers and, through our education system, teach children their responsibilities, the importance of saying “no” to drugs. Nonetheless we cannot turn our backs completely on those unfortunate enough to be hooked on heroin who roam the streets of Dublin this very evening. We need to do everything possible to cure them of their addiction. I believe the benefits of prescribing methadone to addicts can be clearly proven.
In this exercise general practitioners have a major role to play. Their increased involvement is necessary for continuous treatment of such addicts. We need to encourage general practitioners to prescribe methadone to addicts if and when necessary. However, much cultural change must be wrought before reaching that point.
I have one question to pose to the Minister for Justice on the matter of open drug dealing on our streets. While appreciating she may not be able to answer my questions fully, bearing in mind confidentiality and security, I must inform her that I could furnish this House daily with information about locations, times, even the names of people engaging in drug dealing. Constituents have telephoned me with precise details which I have conveyed to the Garda but I am not sure that any effective action has been taken. It appears to have been Garda policy not to pursue these smaller scale drug pushers in their determination to catch the bigger players behind the scenes. I should like the Minister to clarify that matter when replying. The public does not understand why nothing is being done about open drug dealing on their doorsteps.
Deputy Eoin Ryan mentioned estate management and local authorities having a role to play in detecting drug barons. I do not believe Dublin corporation is acting sufficiently speedily in the matter of evictions. While the corporation is aware of the problem and has a policy on drug barons and drug dealing in local authority houses, its eviction process appears to be too slow and cumbersome, resulting in people not being evicted for several months until the legal process has been concluded. There is need to examine that matter very seriously in order to speed up eviction procedures in the case of such criminals.
Another debate only beginning here is on the possibility of supporting a liberalising approach and decriminalising drug taking. Drugs are dangerous; they threaten lives and the State must intervene to protect them. I believe the liberalising approach is dangerous and misguided. Other European countries such as Sweden, Switzerland and Holland have failed in their experimental approach. Since the Green Party supports that policy, it must explain to the parents of Ireland its reason for so doing. We already have a drugs culture of sorts without the need to encourage it further. The adoption of such a policy would merely accentuate these drug addiction problems and their attendant costs.
At the very least the State should endeavour to promote an ideal society, while at the same time dealing pragmatically and humanely with real problems on the ground. This Bill constitutes the first step in tough laws to counter crime generally but many more are needed for the good of society as a whole.