Private Members’ Business.

Drug Abuse: Motion (Resumed).

The following motion was moved by Deputy Crowe on Tuesday, 23 May 2006:
That Dáil Éireann,
recognising the many diverse and profound problems for individuals and for society caused by the misuse of drugs, both legal and illegal;
affirms:
—the right of children, young persons, adults, families and communities to be protected from the harmful effects of drugs and associated crime;
—the right of all to be educated about the damaging effects of the misuse of drugs;
—the right of people to grow up in communities free from poverty, social exclusion and inequality, which are undoubtedly factors which have influenced drug misuse;
views with grave concern the escalating impact of problem drug use in Irish society including:
—the rapidly increasing use of cocaine throughout the country;
—the devastating effect of heroin use, in particular, in many working-class communities and now spreading to every town and village in Ireland;
—the hurt and pain suffered by the families of addicts due to drug use, drug dealers and the inadequate and late response of statutory bodies;
—the emergence of a trade in crack cocaine in Dublin;
—the high level of crime which is fuelled by the drugs trade;
—the damage to public health caused by growing levels of drug misuse and addiction; and
—the failure of the Health Service Executive to provide harm reduction facilities throughout the State;
calls on the Government to acknowledge the many shortfalls in policy and implementation of policy and to recommit itself to the overall strategic objective of the National Drugs Strategy 2001- 2008 which is to significantly reduce the harm caused to individuals and society by the misuse of drugs through a concerted focus on supply reduction, prevention, treatment and research;
to that end, mandates the Government to:
—ensure the relentless pursuit of major drug traffickers and ring-fence funds seized from them for community development in those neighbourhoods worst affected by the drugs scourge;
—provide for all appropriate sanctions for those involved in the drug trade, including prison sentences for drug barons which reflect the devastating impact of their activities on individuals, families and communities, as well as increased use of alternatives to prison for certain drug-related crimes where this would be more appropriate;
—increase the resources available to the Garda Síochána national drugs unit, local drugs units and juvenile liaison officers;
—ensure a genuine partnership between the Garda Síochána and local communities, given that the Garda Síochána Act 2005 failed to introduce adequate structures for accountability and genuine community policing;
—introduce local accountability structures at district level such as community policing partnerships or, at least, to roll out the joint policing committees and community policing fora provided for by the Garda Síochána Act 2005 across the Twenty-six Counties as a matter of urgency;
—reverse the current approach to drug abuse in prisons to ensure that prisoners have access to health care and prevention policies and services including harm reduction strategies equivalent to those available in the wider community;
—immediately formulate, resource and implement an action plan to combat spiralling cocaine use;
—dedicate adequate funding to significantly expand the availability of drug treatment and to eliminate waiting lists for treatment;
—encourage the Health Service Executive to return to real partnership with community and voluntary groups in addressing problematic drug use;
—expand the spectrum of services available so that all drug users who want to avail of treatment and other services can do so;
—ensure that drug users also have access to the other counselling and medical services they need, without discrimination;
—recognise the right of all grandparents looking after the children of their addict sons and daughters to be fully supported in line with provision for foster parents and accordingly increase the orphan-guardian allowance;
—ensure the take-up of widespread and well resourced education programmes and campaigns for children and parents against the misuse of drugs, in school, at home and in the community;
—seriously address poverty and inequality in this State, including educational disadvantage, and accordingly provide Early Start programmes in all RAPID areas;
—work on an all-Ireland basis to ensure the application of the strategic objectives of the national drugs strategy to the island as a whole; and
—appoint a Minister of State with sole responsibility for drugs issues.
Debate resumed on amendment No. 1:
To delete all words after "Dáil Éireann" and substitute the following:
—supports the Government on its ongoing implementation of the National Drugs Strategy 2001-2008;
—notes that the key finding of the mid-term review of the national drugs strategy in 2005 was that the current aims and objectives of the strategy are fundamentally sound and that progress was being made across the four pillars of the strategy;
—recognises the significant work being done under the four pillars of the national drugs strategy, supply reduction, prevention, treatment and research and the decision to include a fifth pillar of rehabilitation to further focus initiatives in that area;
—welcomes the significant increase in funding provided this year for drugs initiatives;
—commends the partnership approach to tackling the drugs issue across Departments, agencies and the community and voluntary sectors;
—commends the Health Services Executive on its role in developing appropriate responses to problematic drug use through significantly increased treatment services;
—commends the level of success of the Garda and customs services in relation to drug seizures and the work of the Garda in countering drugs misuse on a countrywide basis and in a spirit of partnership with local communities;
—endorses the initiatives outlined in the recently published Irish Prison Service drugs strategy Keeping Drugs Out of Prisons;
—endorses the national action plan against poverty and social inclusion and the five year educational plan, Delivering Equality of Opportunity in Schools, which commenced in 2005;
—welcomes the all-island initiatives in relation to the problem of drug misuse in Ireland; and
—supports the Minister of State, Deputy Ahern, in his wholehearted commitment to, and successful handling of, the Government's drive against the problems of drug misuse in our society.
—(Minister of State at the Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs).

I propose to share time with the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy McDowell, and Deputies McGuinness and Curran.

I acknowledge the presence in the Chamber of my colleagues and good friends, the Minister of State at the Department of Communications, Marine and Natural Resources, Deputy Browne, and the Minister of State at the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment, Deputy Killeen. They will not object if somewhere in this short contribution I mention Tallaght. I will deal later with Deputy English to whom I listened carefully last night.

I compliment my colleagues in Sinn Féin, especially my local colleague, Deputy Crowe, on their initiative in proposing this motion. It is good to have this debate. I have often spoken about the importance of Private Members' business for Deputies like me because it gives us an opportunity to talk about everyday issues.

I will not say that everything is perfect in regard to drug services and there is no problem in my area because there is but I am proud of the efforts we have all made. While we are entitled to make our political points, a serious effort has been made to combat this problem. We must continue to support the Garda Síochána to ensure that people who peddle drugs and import them into our jurisdiction are dealt with severely.

As some Deputies know, I represent Dublin South-West which includes the major population centre of Tallaght but also Firhouse, Greenhills, Templeogue and Brittas. I am from Dublin and was reared in Crumlin. There have always been drugs challenges in these communities to which the Government must continue to respond.

Someone last night referred to the work of the previous rainbow coalition.

It was not me.

I think it was Deputy English's colleague, Deputy McGinley. A great deal of good work was done. My constituency colleague, Deputy Rabbitte, who was then Minister of State at the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment, did important work. When the Government changed in 1997, my party colleague, Chris Flood, whom I replaced here, continued that work. From 1997 to 2000, Chris dealt with the drugs situation as Minister of State at the Department of Tourism, Sport and Recreation under the then Minister, Deputy McDaid. Chris, like Deputy Rabbitte before him, and Deputy Eoin Ryan after him, made a strong contribution to dealing with the drugs scourge in our communities, particularly in the Dublin region.

I recall Fergus McCabe, who has had his own difficulties recently, saying at a well attended public meeting in Dublin that he never voted for Fianna Fáil but if he had been ever tempted to do so it would have been because of the work of Chris Flood. I am sure he will not mind my repeating that tonight. Chris has a proud record in that regard. Before retiring from politics and becoming chairman of the Tallaght drugs task force, he established the young people's facilities and services fund. Many areas, including my constituency, which I share with Deputy Crowe, have benefited significantly from that fund.

Projects which benefited from that fund include Brookfield community youth facility which is under construction, the Brookfield youth at risk project, the Jobstown community sports facility, namely, the all-weather pitch, which is a great amenity in Tallaght west, the Killinarden and Fettercairn community centres, which were redeveloped, the Springfield community youth project, the Tallaght Travellers youth service, and the St. Mark's youth and community centre project in the Farm in Fettercairn. Several other major initiatives began too. For example, three major facility projects have been developed under the premises initiative, something of which we in Tallaght are very proud, in the St. Aengus community action group, the jazz centre in Jobstown and the CARP project in Killinarden.

Several community responses have been successful in the Tallaght area in this regard, for example, the St. Dominic's community response group, the jazz group in Jobstown, the St. Aengus project, the CARP project in Killinarden, the project in Brookfield, the Fettercairn project and the Tallaght rehabilitation project which operates in Kiltalown House in Jobstown and on whose board I have had the honour of serving.

The Tallaght rehabilitation project believes:

. . . in the advantage of rehabilitation within the community, as addiction does not happen in isolation.

Our aim is to create a supportive and nurturing environment where participants are encouraged to address their previous drug use and in so doing, can become and remain drug free.

The project promotes a healthy lifestyle in a structured and safe way, through education and training. From there participants are encouraged to make an informed choice to become and remain drug free. My colleagues will join me in supporting that group.

The pilot project in the Tallaght area dealing with the scourge of cocaine use is run jointly by the St. Dominic's community response group, situated in St. Dominic's Road in Tallaght, and the CARP group in Killinarden. This project has completed its work and been evaluated. When I and my colleagues, including Deputy Crowe, mentioned it to the Minister of State at the Department for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs, Deputy Noel Ahern, he was very responsive to its needs. He has made it clear that additional moneys are being allocated to the project which will allow it to continue to operate until the Department has received and assessed the evaluation report. There was some concern on that issue and I am glad it has been resolved. I acknowledge the assistance of the Minister of State because it is important to support this project.

I am also glad that the Minister of State has accepted an invitation to visit Tallaght again where, at the institute of technology, he will award the annual certificates issued by the CARP group. I look forward to welcoming the Minister of State there.

Apart from the services I have mentioned, there remain gaps in the service in Tallaght and there is work to do. We must continue to support the work of the Tallaght task force which was chaired by Chris Flood, followed by Mick Duff, an activist in St. Aengus, and is now chaired by Anna Lee from the Tallaght Partnership.

I do not wish to speak in a negative way about Tallaght but there are challenges there and those of us who represent the area need to mention them. There is a need to examine the continuing care provided for people from the time they enter treatment, move to a private general practitioner, enter drug-free programmes and detoxification, and re-enter mainstream living. We need to understand the concerns about the growing number of people presenting with serious dependency on non-prescription and prescription drugs.

My contacts in Tallaght inform me that, while relations with the Health Service Executive have improved, there is a definite need to develop closer links for a more shared care approach. All the groups in Tallaght would want me to make that point. Drug-free rehabilitation centres are necessary and we should support access to them. While the waiting list for treatment has reduced significantly, six to eight weeks is too long to wait. My contacts say that FÁS should offer more community employment places for a community drug-free project. I ask the Minister of State at the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment, Deputy Killeen, to convey that message to FÁS.

While drug services in Tallaght have improved, there is a need to join up services and to begin looking outside this particular box for treatment options. We must not be afraid to admit that there is a continuing problem. I am glad the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform is present because I wish to repeat my call for more resources to be given to the Garda Síochána to deal with this scourge. It is important that we continue to work with the Garda Síochána to put drug dealers and drug barons out of business. I am glad the Garda drugs unit in Tallaght has been so helpful and successful in this regard.

I am grateful to Members for enabling me to address this motion this evening. As the Minister of State at the Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs, Deputy Noel Ahern, noted, the drug problem in Ireland and the way in which we respond to it are extremely important. Ireland is not unique. It is one of many western societies facing the drug problem. However, we are responsible for what happens in our own jurisdiction. While the drug problem is by no means confined to one EU member state, we must constantly struggle to eliminate the scourge of drugs from our society.

Unfortunately, there is a considerable amount of moral ambivalence in respect of drugs. People will talk about how terrible it is that drug warlords shoot each other's heads off and endanger the public in their sadistic and brutal killing sprees, how terrible it is that addicts shoot up and die from overdoses in doorways in our cities and how terrible it is that our prisons are populated to an unacceptable degree by people who have been led into the prison system through access to drugs and who still have access to them while in prison.

However, there is another world about which there is far less unanimity and clarity. Anyone who smokes a joint, snorts a line, takes an ecstasy tablet or any form of hard drugs and thinks that it is a private matter and that his or her actions have no social implications contributes in a fundamental way to the problem. Certain people argue in public that it is somehow acceptable to consume prohibited drugs and to possess them in small quantities. We witnessed a recent example of such an argument on "The Late Late Show". A person who appeared on that programme argued that if someone wanted to kill himself or herself with heroin, it was acceptable and queried why society did not make such drugs available to the people who sought them. People who advance such arguments are not merely suffering from moral confusion but from a complete absence of any critical faculty.

Some people have argued for the legalisation of drugs. An aspirant to membership of this House has done so and has argued that it should not be an offence to be in possession of heroin if one wishes to use it. Let us examine this proposition. First, it ignores the reality that we are obliged under European law to criminalise the possession of hard drugs so the proposal is a non-starter. We are now obliged by unchangeable European law to criminalise the possession of these drugs.

Even if this particular handcuff to reality was removed and we, for a moment, speculated about the effects of legalising hard drugs or their possession, how could we possibly expect that 15, 16 and 17 year olds would not gain easy access to drugs if 18, 19 and 20 year olds could possess them without infringing the law? It is a non-starter, unstateable as a proposition and should not be countenanced. Whereas it may, like some designer drugs, have a quick rush of popular approval attached to it, it is as illusory and empty an argument as one is likely to hear.

I agree with Deputy O'Connor that resourcing the Garda Síochána in terms of numbers, money, equipment, know-how and technology must play a part in fighting the war against drugs. However, none of us should forget that the gardaí cannot win this war if people are willing to consume this product. The gardaí cannot at any stage hope to deal with the drugs issue if people consume drugs. The sad fact is that as Ireland becomes affluent, there is more money available for those who wish to consume drugs and that in an affluent society with so many opportunities so many more people are being ruined by their addiction to drugs. We cannot, as a community, tell the gardaí that they must solve this problem if we do not bear down at every level through the education system, social and political discourse and our influence, particularly on vulnerable people, and make it very clear that we are unambiguous in condemning the availability and supply of drugs.

Certain speakers, including Deputy Jim O'Keeffe, referred to various studies of drug use in prisons. The studies referred to by the Deputy were carried out in 1999 and 2000 and were funded by the Irish Prison Service. However, we should not be overwhelmed by their veracity. The suggestion that initiation into drug use in prison was rare is far closer to the truth than some of the suggestions in the studies, which were based on prisoners' accounts, would lead us to believe.

Mandatory drug testing will be introduced in our prisons and we are bringing forward prison rules to allow this testing to take place. I strongly believe that prison, which is a remedy of last resort, has failed completely if it permits people to maintain a drug habit throughout their time in prison and emerge on to the streets with a live and virulent drug habit. The Criminal Justice Bill 2004, which is on Committee Stage, contains new provisions to drive more structured sentencing. Given that the Irish Prison Service has sorted out its perennial problem with matters like overtime and there is a united approach from staff and management to the task of building up a professional 21st century prison service, I am very confident that the next few years, particularly in the context of the new prison building programme, will create an environment in which prisoners will no longer be subject to being afflicted by the availability of drugs in prisons.

I could say much more about some of the matters raised during this debate. Minimum sentencing, which was provided for in 1997 by the Houses of the Oireachtas, will be strengthened during the passage of the new criminal justice legislation. There is no point in me lecturing or waving a finger at the judiciary in a hostile fashion. I prefer to appeal on behalf of the Members of this House to the Judiciary to reflect on the law made by this House. We appeal to the Judiciary to ponder that it is laid down in the law of our land that only in exceptional and specific circumstances should the possession of drugs in large amounts not be visited by a ten-year prison sentence. It is not acceptable for people to be found with quantities of drugs with street values not of €30,000 but of well over €1 million and to be given sentences of between three and six years when there are no exceptional circumstances in play. Members may wonder what is the rate of implementation of the minimum sentence laid down by this House. It was as low as 6%. There was a time when 94% of sentences under the relevant section were less than the ten year minimum. That has changed and it is now 79%. That means 21% have got ten years or more in recent times. That has to do with one proposition, namely that the Members who put in place that law, from whatever political perspective, have all made it clear that they really want it to be enforced. I know members of the Judiciary are rightly supposed to be independent of the executive and legislative arms of the State and I would not change that. However, I hope they will be influenced by the fact there is a political consensus in this House that drugs have such a dramatic effect on the quality of life in our society, a prisoner focused sentencing policy, which takes its eye off the overall global effect of the drugs scourge, is mistaken when it goes too far.

I am glad the figure of 6% has grown to 21%, but I will not be happy until the exceptional and specific derogation we provided is only availed of in a minority of cases when people are sentenced for possession of drugs. I hope most Members will not keep quiet on this subject until that message is driven home. One of the provisions in the Criminal Justice Bill is that in looking at the circumstances in which a departure from the ten year sentence is being argued in court, the Judiciary must have regard to the effect of drugs on society. In other words, the social dimension to sentencing must be put back firmly centre stage in the drama of the judicial process, rather than left in the wings unseen and unheard when the sentencing process is at hand.

I know members of the Judiciary see the consequences of drug addiction, day in, day out. We must connect the unanimity on this subject in this House with the public's determination that a strong line be taken against drugs, and the underlying goodwill in the Judiciary to use the new structured sentencing that will be in place, to ensure everyone who is sent to jail with a drug habit has a good incentive to participate in treatment programmes in prison, that such initiatives are adequately funded and available and that the probation service acts as an ally for those who are released with portions of their sentences still hanging over them, to keep them on the straight and narrow. There are so many things that we can do as a society to strengthen the hand of people who are vulnerable to the drugs scourge. We must always remember it is the vulnerable elements in society who are sought out by drug pushers to suck them into the self-destruction of drug dependency. I just want to——

Will the Minister not agree that some go to prison with a habit and come out as addicts?

That is the point. I agree with that, and I am adamant in that regard. I do not know what the percentage is and it is not easy to work out. However, I say to the Deputy that we cannot rest easy while drugs are in our prisons. I say with all my heart that it is not good enough to argue that if there are drugs outside there will be drugs inside. People in prison are there for the purpose of rehabilitation. It is no more good enough to argue that than it is right to say that because there are drugs outside they are bound to be in hospitals or schools. That is not the right way forward. We must have a clear moral focus in what we say and do on this issue.

I am grateful to the Deputies who proposed the motion. I believe very strongly that the Government's amendment is a fair reflection of the truth of the situation. I ask the House to support the Government's amendment and to unite in condemning those who are making drugs available in our society.

I want to share time with Deputy Curran.

I join with the Minister in his condemnation of those who push and use drugs in this country. It is time for a wake-up call, too, for the Judiciary as regards sentencing. There is a perception abroad that sentencing for those who push drugs is far too lenient. The impact of drugs is devastating for communities, not just in the major cities, but throughout the country. Beyond the good work being undertaken by the National Drugs Strategy 2001-08, the need to concentrate on such centres as Kilkenny must now be acknowledged. Over the last number of years I have seen an enormous growth in the use of heroin and ecstasy tablets. I know of a recent case where €20,000 worth of cocaine was confiscated by the Garda from one individual. Right across the country there is a major problem. There is a need for immediate funding and response from the Garda. There is a need for joined up effort by the agencies involved such as county councils and the HSE, to respond in partnership with community groups to get action on this matter. We can at least work with the communities to ensure drug pushers are finally pushed out of action as regards the damage they are doing to young people. I ask the HSE to ensure that places are available for heroin addicts to be looked after and to receive the care they need. There simply are not enough places, particularly in the south-east region, for that to happen. In fact some cases are being turned away. Parents do not know what to do, the HSE is not responding positively, and until such time as the community policing committees are put in place to deal with matters on a cross-agency basis, we will not be supporting those who need support.

The words of the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform will simply mean nothing if we do not take legislative action, put the funding where it is needed and if we do not support those who are fighting this horrific development.

I thank the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform for giving me an opportunity, which I welcome, to contribute. Unfortunately the Minister is no longer here.

I suppose Deputy Crowe is of like mind to me, representing as we do constituencies where the issue of drug abuse and associated criminality is all too common. The Minister spoke about mandatory sentencing and the lack of it, particularly for those in recent years who have been convicted for possession of large amounts of drugs. He talked about the increase from 6% to 21% and went on to say members of the Judiciary were being influenced by Members of this House from all parties who have complained about the lack of mandatory sentencing for very serious crimes. It is unfortunate that the Minister is not here, because I would tell him that the Judiciary does not reflect the views of this House. We have sought mandatory sentencing. It is in legislation, and only in exceptional cases should mandatory sentencing for possession of large amounts of drugs not be imposed. Had the Minister been here, I would say to him that if it is not being imposed, we need to revisit that legislation. We need the Judiciary to not just reflect on the views, but to implement what this House has sought. Trafficking in drugs is very serious. The penalty most people receive for what is a serious crime is grossly inadequate. I am sorry the Minister is not here for me to tell him we need to revisit the legislation. The 21% of people convicted of possession of a large amount of drugs who receive the mandatory sentence are in the minority. This does not adequately reflect what this House wants or what we, as public representatives, require. I support the Government amendment to the motion.

Ba mhaith liom mo chuid ama a roinnt leis an Teachta Upton. Tá áthas orm labhairt faoin dochar atá á dhéanamh ag drugaí mídhleathacha ar fud na tíre, sna cathracha, sna bailte agus sna sráidbhailte ar fad.

I welcome this private Members' motion on the misuse of drugs. It affords the House the opportunity to debate the serious threat to our society posed by increasing drug use and the parallel horrific and violent increase in drug dealing. Irish-based drug dealing is not confined to the Irish market. In his 2004 bookGangs, the author Tony Thompson, crime correspondent for The Observer, made some startling revelations. The following quotation from his book comes from one of the biggest cocaine dealers in the north east of England:

A lot of the stuff I deal with comes via Ireland. There's a lot going on over there because the Irish navy consists of something like two rubber dinghies and one of those inflatable bananas. There's so much coastline, they just can't patrol it all. It's absolutely wide open.

This quote does not, of course, do justice to the Irish Navy. However it outlines the real situation with regard to our ability to patrol our coastline effectively to prevent the entry of illegal drugs.

Mr. Thompson goes on to state that the part the dealer finds hardest at the moment is not bringing the drugs into the country but getting the money out to pay for them. There are plenty of friendlybureaux de change that he and his fellow gang members use to change small denomination notes into European currency, but the difficult part is actually getting the cash out to Spain, Amsterdam or Ireland to pay for whatever is coming in. The book goes on to describe the case of a man who was arrested some years ago as he was boarding a flight from Heathrow to Dublin carrying two suitcases containing more than £500,000. He admitted being paid £35,000 a time to take cash-filled suitcases to Ireland. At the time he was caught, he had already completed approximately ten such trips from either Heathrow or Newcastle. He admitted to working for a south London based drugs smuggling syndicate which was making at least £500,000 per week.

This information gives some impression of the extent of the Irish illicit drugs scene. An estimate of the amount of cocaine arriving in Ireland between 1995 and 2004 published by the Joint Committee on Arts, Sport, Tourism, Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs was €5.37 billion. Provisional figures for 2005, recently sent to the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform by the national drugs unit, indicate that the cocaine market in Ireland is worth an estimated €210 million. This is almost a tenfold increase in just ten years.

Cocaine dealing has spread throughout the country. In my region, the south east, the percentage of those seeking the support of regional services as a result of cocaine misuse was 0.5% in the year 2000. Of the 2,786 who sought treatment for alcohol and drug abuse in 2005, 2.3% were misusing cocaine. In this region there is some anecdotal evidence that cocaine users are presenting with chest pains. Cocaine can cause problems for the heart and lungs.

The use of cocaine is spread evenly across the region. In gender terms, 73.8% of those presenting for treatment — for all drugs — in the south east region are male, while 26.2% are female. In terms of age, four of those presenting for treatment were between ten and 13 years old, while 59 were aged between 14 and 17 years. While extremely welcome capital investment in drug prevention is focused on the main urban centres, there is a need to spread this investment to both large and small towns throughout the country. The fact that cocaine is seen by many as a drug of leisure that has no detrimental effects is worrying.

The pattern for so-called leisure users of cocaine seems to be first to consume a large amount of alcohol, followed by the cocaine. The Oireachtas Joint Committee on Arts, Sport, Tourism, Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs is currently preparing a report in regard to including alcohol in the national drugs strategy. The trend or pattern that has been identified would certainly vindicate this inclusion.

The conclusions and recommendations of the same Oireachtas committee report on the treatment of cocaine addiction, with particular reference to the Irish experience, refer to the need for preventative strategies, including health promotion and basic factual information on cocaine and its risks, to be provided in leaflet form and in the media. There is further reference to the need for specific psycho-education to expose the misconceptions about enhanced performance in sport through cocaine use. A further key element of the committee's conclusions was that professionals from a wide range of disciplines must be prepared to target schools and youth clubs to demystify cocaine use and expose its dangers.

There is an onus on all of us in public life to get across to the so-called leisure users of cocaine the message that the massive proceeds from the drugs industry are being enjoyed by ruthless criminals. These individuals have brought gun crime to new levels, with a subsequent disregard for the value of human life. I agree with the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform on the point he made in his contribution that unless people stop taking these drugs, the Garda and other agencies will always be in a catch-up situation with regard to dealing with the problem. If there is no demand, supply is irrelevant. Too many people take the view that what they are doing is harmless to themselves and others, but they should take into consideration the vast sums of money coming into the coffers of ruthless criminals who are prepared to go to any length to protect their patch. We must try to make an impact and point out again and again to people who use cocaine as a leisure drug that what they do does not just harm themselves, but contributes to the high level of crime in our society. We need to stamp it out as quickly and effectively as possible.

We should pay particular heed to the recent comments of the Garda Commissioner, Noel Conroy, on this matter:

We are doing extremely well in terms of detecting the trafficking of drugs. But when you come down to the whole area of shooting individuals, of course the help and co-operation coming from the people involved is, you could say, nil... Many of the weapons being used by drug gangs in fatal gun attacks had been sourced from eastern Europe. Others were entering the State with shipments of illegal drugs. However, Gardaí were succeeding and many people were before the courts at present.

The most important thing I have to say this evening relates to a new and even more harmful drug that is emerging in Ireland. I have dealt primarily with cocaine so far. Crack cocaine has been identified on the streets of Dublin's north inner city. I refer again to Tony Thompson's book to give some idea of the effect of crack cocaine:

The effect of the drug alone was enough to guarantee its success. The instant euphoria that a rock of crack produces usually lasts forty or fifty seconds, a few minutes at the most, and a mere flash in the pan compared to the thirty-minute cocaine high or the three to four hour trip from a dose of heroin. But with crack, the high has no parallel. There isn't anything else like it. Around seven per cent of cocaine users go on to develop an addiction, and even then the process can take up to eighteen months. With crack around 80 percent of users go on to develop an addiction, usually within two weeks of their first smoke.

Tony Thompson goes on to say that 73% of children who were battered to death by their parents in the New York area in 1988 were the offspring of crack users, while 40% of homicides in the city were crack-related. The level of crime associated with crack addiction is more devastating than that of all other drugs combined as addicts in their thousands become criminals and pursue cash for their next fix. It is imperative that the spread of crack cocaine use in Dublin and throughout the country is prevented. The Government and all other relevant arms of the State must urgently mobilise in this regard. While the latest information states that crack cocaine is relatively confined to one part of inner city Dublin, I do not doubt that it will spread to other cities and towns like wildfire unless we are vigilant and we show a great commitment to stemming its spread. I have focused on cocaine misuse as it is the most serious drug problem confronting us at present. If we do not take immediate action to tackle the problem of crack cocaine use, however, in future years we will have to address a crack epidemic that is doing even worse damage to our cities, towns and communities.

The Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs, which is responsible for the matters on which I am the Labour Party's spokesman, has the co-ordinating role in combating drug use in partnership with the local and regional drugs task forces. This year's Estimates provide €5 million for the regional drugs task forces as they roll out their plans. It is estimated that it will cost €12.2 million to finance the plans when they are rolled out in full. Therefore, the State has decided that less than half the drug action plans will be implemented this year. As I previously said to the Minister of State, Deputy Noel Ahern, the sense of urgency that is needed is just not there. Action needs to be taken by a range of Departments, but for the purposes of this debate I am most interested in the work of the Department with which I deal.

The plague that could arise in this country if crack cocaine takes hold here will be not prevented if the current laid-back attitude of various Ministers to the problem continues. We have to agree that we face a substantial problem and mobilise all the resources of the State to combat it. The point that is sometimes made by the Minister of State, Deputy Noel Ahern, with whom I do not often agree, bears repeating — as long as there are customers, the supply will follow. People who use cocaine as a leisure drug should think again.

The thrust of what I will say will relate to the protection of innocent communities which are the victims of the scourge of drugs. Deputy O'Shea spoke at length about crack cocaine. When I was doing some research on this subject on the Internet today, I found information about 23 different illegal drugs.

Crystal meth, which is the most recent drug to hit the streets, is more addictive than crack cocaine. It is now considered to be the most significant cause of drug problems in north America. There are no statistics on the abuse of crystal meth in Ireland, but there is no doubt that it will find its way into our communities and will increase in popularity, just like all the other drugs we have encountered and had to deal with. Crystal meth is a synthetic drug that is reputedly quite simple to make in one's kitchen. There are reports that many people have died as a result of taking very small quantities of the drug. It is the latest in a long list of illegal drugs to have hit our streets, but it will not be the last. I do not doubt that our enterprising chemists, for want of a better word, will find new drugs and new ways of producing more illegal products which will have devastating effects on our communities.

Figures for last year show that the Irish illegal drug trade is now worth €13 billion a year. The extent of the devastation of individuals, families and communities by drug abuse cannot be measured in monetary terms. The drugs trade involves the particularly vile and horrible exploitation of vulnerable people. This country's so-called drugs barons, who live the good life here or abroad, use the most base methods to attract — and terrorise if necessary — their stooges who help them to make their fortunes. I am told that the pattern of entrapment involves one of the operators giving relatively innocent victims their first drug samples free of charge and inviting them to come back for more.

The vultures usually hang around near schools or discos, where they have something of a captive audience, so they can ensnare their victims slowly but surely. The plot then involves blackmailing the victims so they become carriers, delivering small quantities and gradually being forced to get involved in bigger-time business. I have been told that it is not unusual for drugs to be deliberately planted on such people. The Garda is then told they are dealing drugs, even though they are somewhat innocent in all this nasty business. We know only too well about the outcomes for the unfortunate people who get caught up and ensnared with the big dealers and are in hock to them.

That the number of drug seizures is increasing is an indication of the increase in the availability of drugs. I attended a function last night at which a number of young people, who are not involved in drugs in any way, were in attendance. When I spoke to them about drugs, I learned they were well informed of where and how one can acquire the drug of one's choice. If it is so easy for such young people to tell me where and how drugs can be bought, why are there not many more hauls of illegal drugs? I accept that, compared to ten years ago, there is much more information, open discussion and education on drugs and their effects on communities. It should be accepted that the scale of the drugs problem is escalating, however.

I hear stories in my constituency every day about the ravages of the impact of drug abuse on individuals and communities. My sympathies are with the decent people who have to live beside drug dealers. They are afraid to leave their homes because of stress and intimidation and the fear of being mugged. They are afraid their children will get caught up in this vile trade. They are afraid their homes will be broken into and ransacked. They have every reason to have such fears because the things I have mentioned have happened already to many of them. They are also concerned for the reputations of their communities when word spreads rapidly that certain places are drug shops.

The dreaded drug barons, who are at the root of the disease that has blighted our streets, must be stripped of their assets. They must be removed from communities and put behind bars. I heard the discussion about sentencing earlier. Their ill-gotten gains should be redistributed to the communities which have suffered as a result of their violence. Many communities are crying out for facilities and supports.

In many areas, there is a shortage of sporting activities and youth facilities. Last week, in another part of my constituency, I listened to the concerns of local people regarding the lack of Garda responses. While they did not blame individual gardaí, they simply made the point that there are not enough of them.

The unfortunate addicts are simply pawns in a bigger game. Few facilities are dedicated to them, areas of social disadvantage are most at risk and there is an urgent requirement to improve facilities for rehabilitation. Moreover, there is a cost to local communities, which must often bear the brunt of the anti-social behaviour which frequently accompanies the treatment of addicts. I refer to those areas in which it is reported that syringes and needles are dropped around the place. Greater facilities and many more dedicated resources are required.

The drugs crisis is now endemic. Neglect by successive Governments in the past 25 years has fuelled this social disaster. It was ignored while it was confined to inner city disadvantaged communities. However, it is now a countrywide problem and the Government response is both too little and far too late.

Many of the Irish drug dealers of the 1980s and 1990s have become major international drug traffickers and are based in Amsterdam, Liverpool and Alicante. They are flooding this country with cocaine, heroin and other drugs. The State failed to deal with them then and cannot get near them now. In addition, Nigerian non-nationals are developing a frightening crack cocaine distribution network in Dublin's north inner city. Crack cocaine is beginning to be used in many disadvantaged drug-smitten communities.

The Government should stop congratulating itself, as it has in its amendment. Its offensive amendment should be withdrawn. In particular, it should delete the laughable reference to the Minister of State at the Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs, Deputy Noel Ahern, and his so-called successful handling of the drug crisis.

I wish to pay tribute briefly to the work of Fergus McCabe, which is unequalled by anyone in the fight against drugs. It speaks volumes that someone as totally dedicated as Mr. McCabe was obliged to resign from the drugs strategy team of the Minister of State at the Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs, Deputy Noel Ahern.

On a number of occasions in this House, I have raised the Government commitment to rehabilitation measures, such as it is. There is an excellent training and development project in the north-west inner city based around the old markets area, which works with people who had serious heroin addiction problems. This project, based on a FÁS scheme, has done the requisite groundwork and has reached a stage at which it could be of great benefit to recovering addicts. However, it is imperative that project should receive the funding required to employ three full-time personnel with the skills and expertise to fully implement the rehabilitation process. Contrary to the claims of the Minister of State, Deputy Noel Ahern, the project does not want three additional staff. It wants three full-time professional staff, who are unavailable to it under a FÁS scheme. For the present, the necessary funds could come from the emerging needs fund. In future, after the project has been allowed to prove itself, its status could be regularised by the Health Service Executive or an appropriate agency. If the Government and the Minister of State, Deputy Noel Ahern, were as committed as they claim to focussing on rehabilitation, they would recognise the project's importance. Instead however, the Minister of State drags his heels and misrepresents the appeals made by me and others. Shame on him.

I wish to share time with Deputies Finian McGrath, Catherine Murphy, James Breen, McHugh and Cuffe.

I thank the Leas-Cheann Comhairle for the opportunity to speak on this important debate on the drugs crisis, which is damaging the entire country. Before discussing the details of the motion, I express my sympathy to all the victims who have been affected by the rampant drugs epidemic. Each time I attend the funeral of someone who has died as a direct consequence of drugs, I become depressed and saddened. In the past 20 years, I have attended many such funerals, many of which were of my past pupils.

Despite all the talk from Ministers, this epidemic is completely out of control. I demand action and a considered response to the drug dealers and the victims, as well as care for the addicts. It is a community issue, a health issue and a policing issue. Any other response is merely hot air. It is as simple as that. The Government should tackle the drug dealers, help the victims, educate the children and assist the addicts damaged by the misuse of drugs.

While Members debate the drugs issue, I wish to address the issue of supply. In particular, I refer to developments regarding cocaine in Colombia. I challenge the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform and the Government on this matter. I acquired some real facts while acting as an independent observer there. There is tolerance of the Mafia armed wing, the narco-paramilitaries in mainstream political circles. These dark forces are in the Colombian Congress, judiciary, police forces and the army. The Colombian mob has spent years infiltrating the State's institutions, intelligence services, customs authorities and the police.

The Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy McDowell, will not be heard discussing such people, because he knows, as does the rest of the world, that they are linked directly to right-wing paramilitaries. Why does he stay silent on this important matter? I refer to the link between Colombia and the cocaine supply in Ireland. Corruption in Colombia is so bad that in 2002, using the well-worn strategies of intimidation and bribery to empower their hand-picked candidates, such groups boasted that they controlled 35% of the Colombian Congress after the elections. No one knows how far they have advanced since the congressional elections last March. The Government is aware of this, as is the United States Government. The EU also knows the truth about Colombia. It is time for action to deal with this major threat to international democracy. The Government should tell the truth and challenge President Uribe.

I call on the Government to immediately formulate, resource and implement an action plan to combat spiralling cocaine use, to dedicate adequate funding to significantly expand the availability of drug treatment and to eliminate waiting lists for treatment. This debate is about drugs and health. This motion concerns drug dealers and above all, it concerns protection and care for citizens, and I urge all Members to support it.

I welcome the opportunity to support this motion. This is one of the most important issues facing the country. Unfortunately, Ireland has had enough experience of the drug problem in the past three decades to know what must be done. The courage of inner city communities who reacted against local pushers acted as a spur for the implementation of the national drugs strategy. It has its roots in such actions.

While there was hope that the problem could be contained, the strategy requires the wholehearted endorsement of the Government and I do not see evidence of such an endorsement. The lack of a dedicated portfolio indicates the Government believes the problem is being tackled and is on the decline.

As Members are aware, cocaine is a fashionable drug. Those with high disposable incomes use this drug. Frequently, while such people can afford to socialise or buy a car, they cannot buy a house. People begin to use it on an occasional basis, then increase their usage to twice or thrice per week and subsequently, a dependence develops. Users often refer to the activity as a white night. Those in a group of friends who do not use the drug feel unwelcome.

It is readily available in my constituency and I do not believe the situation is different anywhere else. The Garda is well aware of the problem. However, I am not convinced the resources are in place to deal with or break up the networks. I am alarmed by the escalation of the problem in recent years. While I was going to say the problem is under my nose, in the context, that would probably be inappropriate. Small-time pushers operate in every town and village and are the necessary component of the drug network. Such networks must be broken up before a reduction in use will occur. However, that would require dedicated and ongoing police work.

Cocaine users who use the drug on an everyday basis can only sustain that lifestyle for a short time. As there is no substitute for cocaine, like methadone for heroin, one can predict the problems which will arise in the future, given that waiting lists to deal with the effects of addiction already exist. This escalation will put pressure on a system that is already overburdened. Members must be provided with evidence that the strategy is being resourced and that it takes account of both existing use and the escalation of use. I underline the importance of the escalation of drug use.

While people in Ireland are good at adopting strategies on paper, we fail when such policies require implementation. For those with an addiction problem, a readily available range of services must be put in place. This must be viewed as an investment in the solution to the problem. The existence of waiting lists for treatment is ridiculous. Essentially, if one informs people with addiction problems that they are obliged to wait or to go on a waiting list, one is telling them to carry on with their existing problems. Much of the policing response is not the kind that will make newspaper headlines. It is important that the CAB continues its work — it more than justifies its existence. However, community police and juvenile liaison officers form part of the programme. I fully support the motion.

Ireland has seen great advances in recent years economically, industrially and socially. With this change has come a sharp increase in crime. Drug use in particular has risen rapidly and has left far behind it those institutions that might protect and guard society from the dangers and crimes associated with the drug trade. In County Clare the number of drug samples forwarded by the Garda to the State Laboratory for analysis has already increased by 78% this year alone. Despite the best efforts of the under-resourced Garda, the amounts seized represent a mere fraction of the real problem in the county where one Garda superintendent has acknowledged publicly that there has been a significant increase in the availability of hard drugs, in particular heroin, and that this rise has led to a major increase in associated crime. However, Clare has only two permanent members and one temporary member of the Garda Síochána assigned to the Garda drug unit for the county.

This summer will see a large welcome influx of visitors to Clare, in particular to various festivals. Miltown Malbay will see the annual pilgrimage of thousands to the town for the Willie Clancy music festival. There is an obligation to have the festival properly policed. At present Miltown Malbay has one garda and one sergeant, whereas in the recent past we had four gardaí and one sergeant. I call on the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform to address this matter urgently. The emergence of the Criminal Assets Bureau in the last decade has been welcome. However, slowly the wide-ranging powers available to it have been diluted following a series of court challenges to its licence. As the Legislature we must do all we can to ensure proper investigative powers available to the bureau are maintained.

Equally, proper sanctions should be available to judges. There is no point in giving them the power to impose supposedly mandatory sentences when they cannot be applied. The court system requires that a reduced penalty be applied where a defendant pleads guilty to an offence from the outset, which prevents the imposition of a mandatory sentence. We require stiffer sanctions with minimum sentence recommendations as opposed to mandatory sentences.

In Clare we are somewhat fortunate, as our sitting District Court judge has adopted a no-nonsense approach to drug offenders coming before him. Cases are regularly adjourned to allow for analysis of supervised urine samples which are tested for drug and alcohol use over a period between four and six successive weeks. This is done in conjunction with appointments with the probation and welfare service. This approach has helped to rescue some of those who may have been in the early stage of addiction and helped them get back on a straighter path. However, locally our already overworked GPs have difficulty at times in helping defendants meeting court testing requirements. The HSE should take on the role of establishing centres throughout the community to accommodate such testing while at the same time providing drugs awareness programmes and counselling services.

I compliment the Sinn Féin Party on tabling the motion which has relevance for the entire country. Drugs are being peddled throughout the country. Every Deputy must deal with drug issues, regardless of whether they are from rural or urban constituencies. The problem is no longer just the preserve of inner cities. As a rural-based Deputy my concern is that the mistakes made in dealing with the issue in urban areas might be repeated in rural areas. The issue needs to be arrested in rural Ireland before it spirals out of control as it has in many urban areas. One of the basic mistakes made was the failure to provide sufficient Garda manpower to drugs task forces to nip the problem in the bud in the initial stages. If the supply of drugs is cut off the drugs problem will not expand. While I realise that may be fanciful thinking, with sufficient gardaí and drugs task forces with sufficient resources, the problem can be contained.

Therefore it is imperative that the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform should increase Garda manpower levels and increase the Garda resources to rural areas. The Government needs to recognise that we have a drugs problem in rural Ireland and take action accordingly before we need to establish large-scale methadone clinics etc. in the towns throughout the country. Young people need to be protected from the unscrupulous drug dealers who have no regard for life. It is important to send the clear message to people who make money out of young people that they will be caught by fully equipped Garda units. We cannot send that message today, as we do not have those properly manned units. The Minister correctly said this evening that we are not unique in having this problem. However, the problem here is ours and it is up to us to ensure that what is needed to deal with the problem is provided.

I have concentrated on the stick approach to dealing with the issue. However, education must play a very important part in dealing with the problem. While some good programmes have been run, it is time for a new series of education programmes targeted at secondary school students in rural areas. Programmes that would show the full shock horror effects of drugs are required to get across the terrible effects of drugs to our young population. This is an issue for the Department of Health and Children and the HSE in conjunction with the Department of Education and Science.

I commend Sinn Féin on tabling the motion. The drugs issue is about more than just methadone. The European Union Drug Strategy 2005-2012 outlines a blueprint for a successful drugs strategy, and refers to "an effective and integrated comprehensive knowledge-based system including prevention, early intervention, treatment, harm reduction, rehabilitation and social reintegration." While access to treatment and harm-minimisation are vital features of any drug strategy, they can only form part of a successful strategy.

I will talk about the wider drugs issues here. As Deputy Boyle pointed out last night, the Government regards this as a problem that can be tackled in isolation, which is a very naïve approach to a problem of far-reaching magnitude. Our current drug problem is inextricably linked to the wider issues of marginalisation and the growing disparity between the very rich and the very poor in this country. It is about inequality, poverty and neglect. It is not about absolute poverty but about relative poverty because when the "have-nots" see what the "haves" have it is time to ensure they get their fair share of the wealth of the nation.

Tony Geoghegan of the Merchants Quay project has pointed out that those with no stake in society and no place in education or the jobs market deal in drugs to gain status. It is important that the Government does everything it can to give these people a stake. I represented the south inner city for ten years and I saw the absolute and relative poverty. This Government, the previous one and all governments in the 1990s failed to put the resources and investment into the areas that are crying out for educational assistance, housing and amenities. They are not getting the attention they deserve. They did not get it then and they are not getting it now when we have a huge amount of wealth.

I refer to rehabilitation in our prisons. It is no secret that Ireland's prison system is and has for some time been rife with illegal drugs. The Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform recently unveiled a new prison drugs strategy. Bizarrely this new strategy was developed without consulting the national drugs strategy team. The inspector of prisons, Mr. Justice Dermot Kinlen, has condemned the Irish penal system as an utter failure and called on the Minister to implement a radical overhaul of the rehabilitative programmes in our prisons. However, the Minister has refused to consider his suggestions. In rejecting the inspector's call for new rehabilitative approaches such as enhanced family visiting arrangements and prisoner employment programmes, the Minister, Deputy McDowell, is failing to play his part in the war on drugs.

The Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs has estimated that total Government spending on drug treatment and preventive initiatives would be approximately €43 million in 2006 compared with €13.5 million in 2002. However, the increases in the value of drugs seized in recent years have been more impressive. The value of drugs seized in the State has increased fivefold since 2000 to approximately €100 million last year. It is accepted internationally that the authorities seize only approximately 10% of all illicit drugs. This values the drugs trade at approximately €1 billion per year. Increasing fines reflect that the drugs problem is more significant in our society than we thought and that the system of policing is not working.

I refer to drug related violence. Dr. Chris Luke, an accident and emergency department consultant in Cork University Hospital, has more than 20 years' experience and he has witnessed a relentless increase in the number of cocaine users presenting with acute agitation, anxiety and violent tendencies. He says cocaine abuse creates an omnipotent, all knowing, all powerful cruelty, which results in people revelling in gratuitous violence. Unfortunately, we have witnessed the effects of this capacity for cruelty and gratuitous violence over the past six to eight months culminating in the tragic death of Donna Cleary in March. One of the men under suspicion in connection with her death was a chronic abuser of heroin and cocaine and was clearly under the influence of cocaine on the night she was killed.

Tá cúig nóiméad agam ach ní mórán ama é sin le díriú ar an gceist seo. A number of Members raised issues. The normal practice is for a Minister to make a contribution outlining all the money we have spent on an issue but I will make a number of general comments before addressing the specific issues raised, if I have enough time. Drugs and areas of deprivation are more or less synonymous with each other and the State's drugs policy has been developed on that basis.

The young people's facilities and services fund was established with the focus on areas of high deprivation and this must be sustained. Much work has been done but more still needs to be done. Funding has increased but more investment is needed in youth facilities and diversion programmes. In addition, through the RAPID programme, we are trying to deal with the issue of marginalisation in society. The design of housing estates and its impact on crime levels is another issue. Certain buildings attract problems by their very design. Many issues must be tackled and we will focus on that age group.

However, it is simplistic to say that drugs are only a problem among one socio-economic group in society. Cocaine abuse is one of the greatest challenges we face because it is not as clearly defined socially or geographically as the heroin problem. It would be foolish to think that focusing on one area will address the totality of the drugs problem in our society. There were multifaceted and clearly defined reasons for the abuse of heroin and other drugs and they were easier to tackle than the new phenomenon of cocaine abuse which is rife throughout society. It must be tackled and we must develop new policies.

Regional drugs task forces point out in every one of their reports that alcohol is the primary drug. The debate is ongoing about whether alcohol should be treated as a drug. The polyuse of drugs is also an issue, where a combination of drugs is taken, including alcohol. It was stated in the House last week that the debate on drug abuse is confrontational and the issues are not teased out, but these issues must be debated

Deputy English asked how many people have come off methadone. Approximately 8,000 people are on methadone and 360 have come off it. He also raised the waiting times for treatment, especially in the midlands. It can take up to 19 months in the Athlone centre and six months in the Portlaoise centre. However, the waiting times are shorter at Clondalkin and Ballyfermot. Other than that, assessment and treatment are available quickly, varying from a number of days to a few weeks.

Deputy Gregory referred to the north-west inner city Dublin scheme. The Minister of State will visit the scheme shortly and he will then make a decision on funding under the emerging needs fund. He gave a detailed reply on that issue during Question Time recently.

Regional drugs task forces have been allocated €5 million this year to implement their plans, which is all they will be able to spend because schemes must be cranked up. However, the funding has been increased to €12.2 million. Funding will need to continue to increase and we will try to secure good incremental increases, as has been the case in the recent years.

Deputies O'Shea and Gregory referred to the use of crack cocaine in north inner city Dublin. We have discussed this issue on a number of occasions with the Garda. Thankfully, it is limited to a small area but we accept it is a threat and we must try to see what we can do to stem it.

The Minister of State with responsibility for this area has no idea about what is happening. During his contribution, he referred to a changed landscape and the improving situation. He is the only person who does not know the threat of drugs is greater than ever.

I refer to my experience in the north east. Recently, I was contacted by two mothers separately. Each had a son locked in a bedroom in the town of Dundalk to try to keep them off drugs. They asked me for help because virtually no assistance is provided by the Health Service Executive or other agencies in the region. One doctor and one counsellor are trying to cover the entire region. Both professionals have waiting lists the length of one's arm. One must wait between four weeks and four months for a consultation with either of them. I am forced to refer addicts to the Crossroads Project in Drogheda. The group comprises recovering addicts and sympathetic people. They rented an old shack and renovated it with their own hands to hold their meetings. They received no funding or assistance from any Government agency.

One of the mothers to whom I referred earlier has borrowed money so that she can buy methadone from drug dealers. That is her option to keep her son off heavy drugs. Should I tell that woman on behalf of the House that the Government does not care? Previous speakers, including Government backbenchers, have provided similar examples and the lack of resources is as bad in the south east as the north east. The people involved in the Crossroads Project have attended the funerals of eight drug addicts over the past three years. The oldest person was 34 while the youngest was 21. That age group is caught in this dilemma and the Government is doing too little to deal with this problem. Part of the reason drug addicts die at such a young age is no accommodation is provided for them. They sleep rough in doorways. The only people who offer help to them are the Crossroads administrators and their parents. The Government has abdicated its responsibility in this area.

My party has repeatedly brought the increasing cocaine and crack cocaine crisis to the Government's attention over recent years. Following the publication of the Merchants Quay Project annual report last September, we demanded a fully resourced national action plan to prevent and address cocaine use and its consequences. This was done in the context of the Government's ongoing failure to acknowledge the gravity of the situation. Thankfully, in recent months, a number of Ministers have belatedly accepted there is a cocaine problem, but they continue to underestimate its size and geographical spread.

The Government must learn from the past failure to acknowledge and respond to the emergence of the heroin crisis and the grave consequences of that neglect. Sinn Féin is calling on the Government to formulate, resource and implement an action plan to combat spiralling cocaine use and to do this in partnership with community representatives and groups. This must include granting the local drugs task forces the extra resources to begin addressing cocaine and crack cocaine problems in their areas, as well as the extension of existing successful pilot projects.

The same Minister of State has responsibility for both housing and drugs, two critical portfolios. He is making no headway in dealing with either. It is vital the issue be given the attention of a dedicated Minister of State with sole responsibility for the drugs issue. This must be done soon and the Government must face the crisis that is unfolding across this State by putting proper provisions in place.

Ba mhaith liom buíochas a ghabháil le gach Teachta a ghlac páirt sa díospóireacht thábhachtach seo ar son bhaill Shinn Féin. I thank all Deputies who have participated in this important debate. The Sinn Féin Deputies tabled this motion because we believe that far too little attention is being paid to the massive problem of drug abuse in society. It has not received the attention it deserves and it is timely that everyone here is reminded of the impact of this problem in every neighbourhood in the country.

In our approach to this debate we have chosen not to attack but to encourage. That must not be lost on the Minister responsible and his colleagues. There must surely be a realisation across this Chamber of the enormity of the challenge to be faced. We know it and we do not underestimate it, nor do we underestimate the difficulties involved. We have been constructive and rather than concentrate on the shortcomings of Government policy and implementation, we have proposed concrete measures to improve the situation. These measures reflect the experience of our activists and elected representatives in the communities worst affected by the scourge of drugs, as well as the experience of people working in the sector. The response of the Minister of State, Deputy Noel Ahern, is the typical knee-jerk self-congratulatory amendment that seeks to bury, by weight of numbers on the Government benches, the truth from full public gaze. Shame on him.

In addressing the drugs crisis, it is vital that the response is community led and community driven. When heroin first appeared on the streets of Dublin in the early 1980s, communities were totally abandoned by the State. They had to organise themselves to protect their children from drugs. Very often they were met not only with neglect but with harassment from the State. Some community activists were even imprisoned for trying to protect their children from drug pushers. Over the years, communities built up a huge fund of knowledge and experience about how to address the massive problem of drug abuse in their families and communities. Their input has been vital at every level. The knowledge and experience of communities must be harnessed and those communities must be empowered. In that respect, I commend all those who worked in this area, be they in paid employment or volunteers. In particular, I commend the Cavan drugs awareness group on its recent hosting of the Dublin-based Men At Work at the Ramor Theatre in Virginia, County Cavan.

This is a multifaceted problem requiring a multifaceted response. We have called for more effective policing, specific action to deal with the hugely increased problem of cocaine use and focussed efforts to address poverty, social exclusion and educational disadvantage. It is essential the Government dedicates adequate funding to significantly expand the availability of drug-user treatment and to eliminate waiting lists for treatment. It is unacceptable that there are waiting lists for treatment and there is no excuse for this. It is generally recognised that the methadone maintenance programme is limited both in scope and in geographical area and there is far too much reliance on this programme as the main medical response to heroin addiction. For methadone to be effective in assisting people to become drug-free, it must be used together with a range of other interventions.

The Government needs to expand the spectrum of services available so that all drug users who want to avail of treatment and other services can do so. It should also ensure that drug users have access to the other counselling and medical services they need, without discrimination. These services should be culturally appropriate. It is important that homeless drug users are treated appropriately and preferably within their area of origin. People working in the sector also make the point that providers of mental health services should be open to treating people with dual mental health and drug use problems.

Effective rehabilitation is vital as part of the overall effort to combat drug misuse. There must be a continuum of care for those who have overcome drug misuse and are recovering. Treatment options need to include increased numbers of detoxification beds for recovering users. There needs to be more inter-agency co-operation so people in recovery can rebuild their lives. Health, employment, social welfare and housing needs should be addressed. Too often, families have seen the tragedy of a child who successfully battles against addiction only to succumb once again. In some cases, this results in drug overdose and death, or another statistic to add to the innumerable lives destroyed by drugs. Continuity of care is vital to help avoid such tragedies. There is a need for the development of opiate overdose reduction strategies.

Despite clear evidence that residential drug treatment is effective, severe difficulties remain in accessing treatment. There is an urgent need to end waiting lists for such treatment. Harm reduction is not confined to supporting people in their efforts to break their addiction. Efforts must also be made to minimize the dangers to health posed by drug use. This includes the need for expanded needle exchange programmes to reduce the risk of HIV and hepatitis C infection. These programmes should be extended to cover prisons. The approach of the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform will not end drug misuse in prisons, but will drive it further underground and increase the danger of HIV and hepatitis C. We should at least note that the Minister addressed the issue in a debate this evening and resisted the temptation to embark on one of his anti-Sinn Féin rants. It is sad that we have so little for which to be thankful.

The Government must get its act together by further increasing the resources available to the Garda national drugs unit, local drugs units and Garda juvenile liaison officers. It should speed up the process of civilianisation so more officers can be freed up to combat the drugs scourge on the front line. The hundreds of personnel and massive funding devoted to the special branch would be better utilised protecting communities from the real threats to their lives and tackling the supply and sale of drugs. When communities have faith in gardaí, when they are seen to be effective in tackling this malignant growth in our midst, people will support them and we will see the beginning of a rebuilding of community confidence in its police force.

The Government amendment is defensive in the extreme. It is depressing that there is no recognition in the amendment, nor in the speech of the Minister of State last night, of the continuing impact of the drugs scourge on real people, families and communities. The Sinn Féin motion does not condemn the Government as such motions often do. It offers a clear analysis of the problem and presents proposed actions. It deserved a better response than this amendment and last night's speech by the Minister of State, Deputy Noel Ahern.

Nobody denies there have been improvements in the way we as a society respond to this problem. However, this has happened in a context where drug misuse has expanded greatly and adversely affects far more people than ever before. The hurt, pain and devastation of families is all about us if we only look and listen. Sadly, there was scant recognition of that in the Government's response to this motion. There was a complacency in the Minister of State's response, even in the face of the evidence he cited about increased use of cocaine. I dispute his contention that substance misuse prevention programmes in schools have equipped all students with knowledge about the dangers of drug misuse. The delivery and effectiveness of these programmes needs to be monitored and assessed. Assumptions by the Minister will simply not suffice.

It was alarming to hear the Minister of State attempt to put a positive spin on the supposedly falling numbers of heroin addicts. The more than 12,000 heroin users in Dublin and 8,000 people receiving methadone are nothing to boast about, yet the Minister of State favourably compared the numbers being treated today with those treated in 1997 as if the increase was a sign of success. That is nonsense.

According to the script distributed by the Minister of State last night, he strenuously rebutted the motion put forward by Sinn Féin. I am glad he had the common sense not to use that phrase in delivering his speech, instead noting the motion and stating that it presented an opportunity for debate.

This debate has been long overdue, but a renewal of the commitment on the part of the Government to address the damage being done to society by the scourge of drugs is also long overdue. I have listened to the contributions made last night and tonight and can say there is much common ground in the Dáil and among statutory agencies, those working at the coalface, including community and voluntary bodies, communities and drug users themselves about how we can move forward. Commitment and drive will be needed and, to that end, I suggest we all strive together. Taking the first step will require support from all Deputies for the motion tabled by Sinn Féin.

Amendment put.
The Dáil divided: Tá, 69; Níl, 60.

  • Ahern, Noel.
  • Ardagh, Seán.
  • Blaney, Niall.
  • Brady, Johnny.
  • Brady, Martin.
  • Brennan, Seamus.
  • Browne, John.
  • Callanan, Joe.
  • Callely, Ivor.
  • Carey, Pat.
  • Carty, John.
  • Cassidy, Donie.
  • Collins, Michael.
  • Cooper-Flynn, Beverley.
  • Coughlan, Mary.
  • Cowen, Brian.
  • Cregan, John.
  • Cullen, Martin.
  • Curran, John.
  • de Valera, Síle.
  • Dempsey, Tony.
  • Dennehy, John.
  • Devins, Jimmy.
  • Ellis, John.
  • Fitzpatrick, Dermot.
  • Fox, Mildred.
  • Gallagher, Pat The Cope.
  • Glennon, Jim.
  • Grealish, Noel.
  • Haughey, Seán.
  • Healy-Rae, Jackie.
  • Hoctor, Máire.
  • Jacob, Joe.
  • Keaveney, Cecilia.
  • Kelleher, Billy.
  • Kelly, Peter.
  • Killeen, Tony.
  • Kirk, Seamus.
  • Kitt, Tom.
  • Lenihan, Brian.
  • Lenihan, Conor.
  • McDowell, Michael.
  • McEllistrim, Thomas.
  • McGuinness, John.
  • Martin, Micheál.
  • Moynihan, Donal.
  • Moynihan, Michael.
  • Mulcahy, Michael.
  • Nolan, M. J.
  • Ó Cuív, Éamon.
  • Ó Fearghaíl, Seán.
  • O’Connor, Charlie.
  • O’Dea, Willie.
  • O’Donnell, Liz.
  • O’Donovan, Denis.
  • O’Flynn, Noel.
  • O’Malley, Fiona.
  • O’Malley, Tim.
  • Parlon, Tom.
  • Power, Peter.
  • Roche, Dick.
  • Sexton, Mae.
  • Smith, Michael.
  • Treacy, Noel.
  • Wallace, Dan.
  • Wallace, Mary.
  • Walsh, Joe.
  • Wilkinson, Ollie.
  • Wright, G. V.

Níl

  • Boyle, Dan.
  • Breen, James.
  • Broughan, Thomas P.
  • Bruton, Richard.
  • Burton, Joan.
  • Connaughton, Paul.
  • Connolly, Paudge.
  • Costello, Joe.
  • Coveney, Simon.
  • Crowe, Seán.
  • Cuffe, Ciarán.
  • Deasy, John.
  • Deenihan, Jimmy.
  • Durkan, Bernard J.
  • English, Damien.
  • Enright, Olwyn.
  • Ferris, Martin.
  • Gilmore, Eamon.
  • Gogarty, Paul.
  • Gormley, John.
  • Gregory, Tony.
  • Hayes, Tom.
  • Healy, Seamus.
  • Higgins, Joe.
  • Hogan, Phil.
  • Kehoe, Paul.
  • Lynch, Kathleen.
  • McCormack, Pádraic.
  • McEntee, Shane.
  • McGinley, Dinny.
  • McGrath, Finian.
  • McGrath, Paul.
  • McHugh, Paddy.
  • McManus, Liz.
  • Mitchell, Gay.
  • Mitchell, Olivia.
  • Morgan, Arthur.
  • Moynihan-Cronin, Breeda.
  • Murphy, Catherine.
  • Neville, Dan.
  • Noonan, Michael.
  • Ó Caoláin, Caoimhghín.
  • Ó Snodaigh, Aengus.
  • O’Keeffe, Jim.
  • O’Shea, Brian.
  • O’Sullivan, Jan.
  • Pattison, Seamus.
  • Penrose, Willie.
  • Perry, John.
  • Ring, Michael.
  • Ryan, Eamon.
  • Ryan, Seán.
  • Sargent, Trevor.
  • Sherlock, Joe.
  • Stagg, Emmet.
  • Stanton, David.
  • Timmins, Billy.
  • Twomey, Liam.
  • Upton, Mary.
  • Wall, Jack.
Tellers: Tá, Deputies Kitt and Kelleher; Níl, Deputies Ó Snodaigh and Stagg.
Amendment declared carried.
Question put: "That the motion, as amended, be agreed to."
The Dáil divided: Tá, 68; Níl, 61.

  • Ahern, Noel.
  • Ardagh, Seán.
  • Blaney, Niall.
  • Brady, Johnny.
  • Brady, Martin.
  • Brennan, Seamus.
  • Browne, John.
  • Callanan, Joe.
  • Callely, Ivor.
  • Carey, Pat.
  • Carty, John.
  • Cassidy, Donie.
  • Collins, Michael.
  • Cooper-Flynn, Beverley.
  • Coughlan, Mary.
  • Cowen, Brian.
  • Cregan, John.
  • Cullen, Martin.
  • Curran, John.
  • de Valera, Síle.
  • Dempsey, Tony.
  • Dennehy, John.
  • Devins, Jimmy.
  • Ellis, John.
  • Fitzpatrick, Dermot.
  • Fox, Mildred.
  • Gallagher, Pat The Cope.
  • Glennon, Jim.
  • Grealish, Noel.
  • Haughey, Seán.
  • Healy-Rae, Jackie.
  • Hoctor, Máire.
  • Jacob, Joe.
  • Keaveney, Cecilia.
  • Kelleher, Billy.
  • Kelly, Peter.
  • Killeen, Tony.
  • Kirk, Seamus.
  • Kitt, Tom.
  • Lenihan, Brian.
  • Lenihan, Conor.
  • McDowell, Michael.
  • McEllistrim, Thomas.
  • McGuinness, John.
  • Martin, Micheál.
  • Moynihan, Donal.
  • Moynihan, Michael.
  • Mulcahy, Michael.
  • Nolan, M. J.
  • Ó Cuív, Éamon.
  • Ó Fearghaíl, Seán.
  • O’Connor, Charlie.
  • O’Dea, Willie.
  • O’Donnell, Liz.
  • O’Donovan, Denis.
  • O’Flynn, Noel.
  • O’Malley, Fiona.
  • O’Malley, Tim.
  • Parlon, Tom.
  • Power, Peter.
  • Roche, Dick.
  • Sexton, Mae.
  • Smith, Michael.
  • Treacy, Noel.
  • Wallace, Dan.
  • Walsh, Joe.
  • Wilkinson, Ollie.
  • Wright, G. V.

Níl

  • Allen, Bernard.
  • Boyle, Dan.
  • Breen, James.
  • Broughan, Thomas P.
  • Bruton, Richard.
  • Burton, Joan.
  • Connaughton, Paul.
  • Connolly, Paudge.
  • Costello, Joe.
  • Coveney, Simon.
  • Crowe, Seán.
  • Cuffe, Ciarán.
  • Deasy, John.
  • Deenihan, Jimmy.
  • Durkan, Bernard J.
  • English, Damien.
  • Enright, Olwyn.
  • Ferris, Martin.
  • Gilmore, Eamon.
  • Gogarty, Paul.
  • Gormley, John.
  • Gregory, Tony.
  • Hayes, Tom.
  • Healy, Seamus.
  • Higgins, Joe.
  • Hogan, Phil.
  • Kehoe, Paul.
  • Lynch, Kathleen.
  • McCormack, Pádraic.
  • McEntee, Shane.
  • McGinley, Dinny.
  • McGrath, Finian.
  • McGrath, Paul.
  • McHugh, Paddy.
  • McManus, Liz.
  • Mitchell, Gay.
  • Mitchell, Olivia.
  • Morgan, Arthur.
  • Moynihan-Cronin, Breeda.
  • Murphy, Catherine.
  • Neville, Dan.
  • Noonan, Michael.
  • Ó Caoláin, Caoimhghín.
  • Ó Snodaigh, Aengus.
  • O’Keeffe, Jim.
  • O’Shea, Brian.
  • O’Sullivan, Jan.
  • Pattison, Seamus.
  • Penrose, Willie.
  • Perry, John.
  • Ring, Michael.
  • Ryan, Eamon.
  • Ryan, Seán.
  • Sargent, Trevor.
  • Sherlock, Joe.
  • Stagg, Emmet.
  • Stanton, David.
  • Timmins, Billy.
  • Twomey, Liam.
  • Upton, Mary.
  • Wall, Jack.
Tellers: Tá, Deputies Kitt and Kelleher; Níl, Deputies Ó Snodaigh and Stagg.
Question declared carried.