I welcome the opportunity to debate the First Report of the Ministerial Task Force on Measures to Reduce the Demand for Drugs.
Ten years ago the national establishment and system of Government woke up to the existence of a national drugs crisis. That drugs crisis was largely concentrated in Dublin, mainly in deprived working class areas, and was essentially a heroin problem. The nation woke up to the problem briefly and then it turned a blind eye to a nasty but safely concentrated problem.
Today the nation has woken up to what it sees as a new drugs crisis, but it is not a new drugs crisis. As I said, it never went away. Individual Deputies from both sides of the House and across the party political spectrum, mainly representing certain Dublin constituencies, grappled daily with the problem.
The regional health and social services engaged in fire fighting with inadequate resources. Local administration could have done more but, unfortunately, too often chose to be the absentee landlord. The Drugs Squad fought alone, the need for more extensive community policing was ignored and the prison system, which might have been part of the solution, became in the eyes of many critics part of the problem. One could be forgiven for thinking that it is almost as if the nation turned a blind eye to the addiction, crime, crime lords, drug barons, deaths, destruction of human lives and urban communities, social decay and economic disintegration. I am glad to say this Government has not engaged in the blind eye approach.
The causes and consequences of the drug problem are closely intertwined. The sources of the problem are external and internal. There are international and national dimensions to it. There are economic forces at work. The response must be multi-dimensional. Despite the absence of comprehensive data there is no doubt that the areas in which the heroin problem is most acute and those which are most socially economically deprived very much coincide.
We must not seek refuge in the observation that this is a worldwide phenomenon. Most of us are familiar to some degree with the situation in the inner cities in the United States, in big British cities like Glasgow and in certain continental European cities, such as Paris and Amsterdam. The factors at work in all these cities are not the same. However, there is one major theme — the strong correlation between drug abuse and social, economic and physical marginalisation of working class communities. That is the story in the United States where race, of course, is also a factor. It is also the situation, for example, in Paris and Glasgow. It is without doubt the predominant theme in Dublin.
We do not have a census of drug addiction, but we can count the numbers presenting for treatment, the addicts who have finally decided to seek help, treatment and rehabilitation to overcome their addiction. The greatest numbers presenting for treatment for heroin addiction in the greater Dublin area in 1995 were from the areas designated by objective criteria as being socially and economically disadvantaged under the current local development programme. These areas are characterised by chronic levels of unemployment, often poor living conditions, high rates of early school leaving, high levels of family breakdown and a general lack of recreational facilities and other supports.
This fact is also fully supported in submissions received by the task force from over 120 organisations and individuals who responded to our invitation to make their views known on how the drugs crisis might best be tackled.