That Dáil Éireann takes note of the report of the Joint Committee on European Affairs on European Aspects of the Drugs Issue.
I congratulate my colleagues, Deputy Gregory and Senator Ryan, the joint rapporteurs, on this report. It is encouraging for members of the committee, given their enthusiasm and dedication, that they should be given an opportunity to discuss the report in the House. It has been difficult to schedule such debates over the past few years because of time constraints. This is the fourth in a series of debates on committee reports which have been taken over a short period. That is appreciated, although there are a number of others to be debated.
As a former Minister of State at the Department of Social Welfare and former member of the ministerial drugs task force, I am aware of the evolving problems related to the drugs issue. Against that background I was pleased that this report was included in the joint committee's work programme. Special provision for the drugs issue was made in the Amsterdam Treaty. In that context committee members felt that, given the increased incidence of drug abuse throughout the developed world, it was necessary and timely to take the issue on board. The committee set about its work in energetic and forthright fashion and Deputy Gregory will elaborate on that.
The committee received great co-operation from various agencies and bodies with which it held discussions. It would be easy to have a discussion for half an hour or an hour, write up a report and hope it is relevant, but intensive fieldwork, investigation and research was carried out. The report was published in January 1999 and an updated version will issue shortly – we also hope to bring that before the House.
The rapporteurs were also helped by the chairman and members of the national strategy committee on drugs, the health research board and by a presentation from former Commissioner, Padraig Flynn, who addressed a joint session of the Oireachtas Joint Committees on Health and Children and European Affairs in October 1998. I thank all the contributors for their help in the compilation of the report.
The report addresses the drugs issue in both a European context and a social and educational context. It outlines in detail the St. Gallen heroin addition programme in Switzerland, to which Deputy Gregory and others will refer. I also acknowledge the assistance given to the committee rapporteurs by the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction. The committee has also had discussions since the report's publication, which will be outlined in a further report. It is important that reports are updated on a regular basis because of the evolutionary nature of European legislation. They lack relevance when they are out of date.
The drugs issues comprises a number of frightening elements. It is an insidious, evasive problem which can assail all sectors of society and can pervade the entire social spectrum. A criminal element is involved which generates massive sums from the distribution of drugs. It behoves all of us to attempt to identify new methodologies to address the problem given the changing circumstances with which we are presented.
The report examines a number of them. All the methodologies that have been availed of to combat the drugs issues in terms of prevention, enforcement and treatment have been well and truly tried and tested. Some have worked while others have not but it is imperative that alternatives are examined on an ongoing basis, even on a trial basis, to ascertain what impact they may have. The report bears that out. Many of the recommendations in it are presented merely to enable the public and Members to make up their minds as to whether experimental ideas followed in other countries should be adopted. We can draw on some useful experiences but it is absolutely certain that whatever happens in regard to the drugs issue in terms of prevention, enforcement and treatment, every avenue must be examined in future to ascertain which is the most likely to succeed. I commend the report to the House.