Ceisteanna — Questions (Resumed).

The House will resume on Question No. 41.

It is obvious that certain areas, by virtue of being the most disadvantaged, would have been expected to be the slowest to take advantage of the RAPID programme. A fundamental part of the programme is community motivation. I am not the AIT. The AIT consists of a number of statutory agencies, local authorities and so on, but it also consists of community representatives. One of the obvious problems is that the most disadvantaged communities will have the weakest community structures — that is why they are most disadvantaged.

In the past we thought we would solve the problems overnight. We accept that there are problems in these areas. As this has now been confirmed by an independent report, we will consider ways of giving a particular lift to these areas. That is the only rational way to proceed.

I agree with the Deputy that problems have arisen, which have been highlighted, with regard to certain agencies not interacting fully with the scheme. To be fair to the Department of Education and Science, last February I asked its officials to attend the last meeting of the national monitoring committee, which took place on 1 June, to give an account of how they would be more proactive with regard to the RAPID process. The meeting was very beneficial. A series of similar issues have arisen. For example, we interacted for a long time with the Garda Síochána with regard to community policing and, eventually, we made progress. We try to identify the problem areas, select them and see how to develop them.

I am glad the Deputy raised the issue of prioritisation. When I was first presented with the RAPID programme, in the Department of Agriculture and Food, and was told to set up rural RAPID, I identified the issue raised by the Deputy — how to be sure something that happened in a target area under the NDP would not have happened anyway. I accept that is a problem. It is a challenge that has existed from the start. One of the reasons CLÁR is different from RAPID is that I said, "Thanks but no thanks".

I inherited RAPID in a form that was agreed between the social partners. We have moulded it, but to address the issue raised by the Deputy we have the leverage funds and the earmarked dormant accounts funding of €11.5 million which is specifically for the AITs for projects that were falling through the cracks. We have tried to make it a poly-method funding rather than just the prioritisation or re-prioritisation that was originally intended.

National Drugs Strategy.

Seán Crowe

Question:

42 Mr. Crowe asked the Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs if, in view of his responsibility for co-ordinating the implementation of the National Drugs Strategy 2001 to 2008, under which a series of 100 individual actions have been identified and that his Department is responsible for preparing six-monthly progress reports on the strategy for the Cabinet Committee on Social Inclusion, and an annual report on the strategy, if he will comment on the progress in completing the 100 actions, highlighting the areas where he is least satisfied with progress; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [23016/06]

Damien English

Question:

43 Mr. English asked the Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs if he has satisfied himself regarding the progress made in relation to the implementation of the recommendations contained in the mid-term review of the National Drugs Strategy; the recommendations which have been enacted on foot of this review; the recommendations which remain to be implemented; the reason they have not; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [23110/06]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 42 and 43 together.

The overall aim of the mid-term review of the national drugs strategy, NDS, was to examine the progress made to date in achieving the key strategic goals set out in the strategy and to enable priorities for future action to be identified for the remaining period up to 2008. As part of the review, the steering group undertook an extensive public consultation process. As the Government has positioned the drugs strategy within the context of wider social inclusion policy, the recommendations in the report were framed in this context and the focus of the strategy will continue to be on illegal drugs that do the most harm and on the most vulnerable drug misusers, their families and communities.

The key conclusions of the steering group were that the current aims and objectives of the strategy are fundamentally sound and that progress is being made across the pillars. However, the steering group also found that some adjustments were required to refocus priorities and accelerate the roll out and implementation of the various key actions in the remaining period of the strategy up to 2008.

The review found that 49 of the 100 actions had already been completed or were ongoing tasks over the life of the strategy, progress had been made on 45 other actions with more work under way to deliver them and there were six actions upon which considerably more work was required. Also, the steering group's recommendations resulted in 17 of the strategy's existing 100 actions being either amended or replaced with a further eight new actions being identified.

The six actions that were identified in the mid-term review where considerably more progress was required dealt with the following: the extension of community policing fora; review of the effectiveness of the prison strategy with respect to drugs; development of drop-in centres, respite facilities and half way houses; setting up of a pilot community pharmacy, needle and syringe exchange programme; drugs training for various professionals; and discussion of the national drugs strategy at meetings of the Oireachtas committees.

Progress is being achieved under the national drugs strategy. Tackling the drug problem will remain a key priority of the Government.

I asked about the areas where there was least progress and the Minister outlined six actions that were required. I accept more work must be done in the needle exchange area. Recently I was approached by a family in Cork whose son was in the local hospital. There was no room in the psychiatric unit so he ended up in the geriatric unit. The family informed me that their son must go to Dublin every day to get treatment. There is no methadone treatment in the Cork or Limerick area so people are travelling to Dublin every day.

One of the difficulties for people in those areas is that if they want to move on or get a job, for example, their life revolves around getting another drug. It revolved around that before they went for treatment but the concept of the treatment is to move people forward. The Minister should examine this because it is one of the issues that must be tackled. It is like a badge of courage for the health board in the area to say there is no methadone treatment there.

There is a physeptone bus operating in Dublin. It has been operating for eight years. It was supposed to be a temporary measure. It is unacceptable because there is no anonymity and so forth. This should be reconsidered and action taken on it.

With regard to treatment, according to a response from the Minister, Deputy Ó Cuív, there is a waiting time of 19 months for people in the Athlone area for treatment. That is unacceptable. The waiting time is six months in other areas. In my constituency it is nine weeks. Places on community schemes are not being taken up by the health service. Perhaps the Minister will deal with this.

There is also the new drug, cocaine. One action could be dealing with the lack of cocaine drug counsellors. I accept there is a need to retrain people, but for the long term we must look to other countries that have had some success tackling this new problem. There are schemes in New York which have had huge success with the heroin problem. Perhaps the health service and the Department would consider them. We must look outside the box.

I accept there has been movement on this issue but there is still a huge amount to be tackled.

I thank the Deputy for his comments. I accept the needle exchange was a weakness in the operation of the strategy. While a number of centres in Dublin have needle exchange programmes, they tend to operate for only a couple of days per week or for only part of the day. Too many people, therefore, were coming to one or two main centres in the city centre. The HSE has provided extra money this year for extra services in that regard.

With regard to the Deputy's remarks about Cork, some towns and cities have a different philosophy. Some places deliberately try to adopt a drug-free approach. That is up to each local or regional drugs task force. However, one must accept reality. What one likes is one thing but it is important to provide services to people from a harm reduction point of view. I accept that, until recently, people outside Dublin who had a drug problem had to come to Dublin every day. Since we established the regional drugs task forces, they have helped the HSE to provide services at local level. That is the reason people can say that the number of people using services in, for example, Carlow or Portlaoise has increased by 300%. It has, because services are now being provided there and they do not have to come to Dublin to the extent they did previously. It is an ongoing battle.

I accept there are drugs in other parts of the country. The services are being provided. The situation is not perfect yet but we are getting there. With regard to the bus, was the Deputy referring to the inner city?

Buckingham Street.

One of the Deputy's colleagues spoke to me about that recently. The buses were geared at the more chaotic people who would not go to treatment centres. This was the thinking behind them. I will follow up on the matter for the Deputy.

Many of the people who have a cocaine problem now were already attending services for other drug problems such as heroin. It is not necessary to have more counsellors specialising in a single drug. The HSE is upskilling many of the staff so they can provide a comprehensive service to clients, regardless of whether the drug is alcohol, heroin or cocaine. We look at other countries. There is an EU drug strategy. I do not know the position in America which is very much into law and order and where there is far less emphasis on harm reduction and treatment. It has often been said of America that unless one is in prison or going to prison one cannot access many of the services. At EU level officials are dealing with the EU drug strategy and we are observing and following best practice in trying to implement what is appropriate and good policy here.

I will not go back over the drug strategy figures. All the areas and principles to be concentrated on are fundamentally correct. However, the solutions proposed for the various areas are not achieving results. There are drug addicts but the misuse of drugs by young people, and people in general, at weekends or every second weekend or once a month, has increased and appears to be more accepted. This House is not sending out a sufficiently strong message that drugs are bad. While the Minister of State speaks about it, I rarely hear the Government taking the lead or trying to deter people from using drugs. There is a lack of emphasis on the need to spend money to end the scourge of drug misuse. In the area of law and order we have failed through community policing to prevent people indulging in drugs and anti-social behaviour. I would appreciate the Minister of State's comments on that.

Responsibility for establishing youth centres or hang-out areas in all towns rests with the Minister of State's Department, the Department of Education and Science and so on. This is what young people need. In any town or village one visits, the young people say they want a hang-out area. I have spoken with young people in Cork, Limerick, Galway and in County Meath on the matter. However, it is very difficult to get funding or sponsorship for such projects from any Department, yet there is €20 million in the Department of Education and Science from the dormant accounts fund for which there is no plan. Is there a real effort to do something for young people? If we do not spend money on services for them many more will end up on drugs and drink and the only culture they will know will be the drugs culture. That would be a great shame. In recent days we have heard much about culture and people who supported the arts. We have to look to what will happen in future if we do not tackle the problem now. There is an urgent need for action.

On the last day we spoke of the delays in getting methadone treatment and the fact that in some areas one has to wait for months. I also highlighted the issue of getting people off methadone. I accept we need to get people off drugs and on to methadone to stabilise them. However, we have to ensure they do not become addicted to methadone. There are massive problems here. There are social and economic reasons to get people off methadone. Should more money be pumped into alternative treatments or are there other approaches? I came across a document recently from the late 1800s or the early 1900s which stated that heroin was originally used as a cure. I have to admit I did not realise that. It was introduced originally as a cure for another problem, but look at the problems it has caused. I fear we are going down the same road with methadone. I would like to hear the Minister of State's comments on that.

I do not see the community drugs strategy as a failure. We are working with the community and all the statutory agencies. Drugs have not gone away and will not go away in the next year or two. As I said in my reply there may be people who are using drugs for recreational purposes. While on the prevention side we try to provide information to all sectors of society, our strategy is geared towards less well-off areas where people are dealing with illegal drugs and where drugs do most harm.

The Deputy mentioned community policing. By the end of the year we will have 1,400 gardaí. The number of gardaí has rocketed during the past seven or eight years.

The figures have rocketed.

The figures are impressive. The Minister said that by Christmas there will be 14,000 gardaí when one includes those in training. In 18 months' time there will be 14,000 trained gardaí. There is a great deal of action. There are a few pilot joint policing committees in some areas of the city. The guidelines for same will come from the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform in the next few days and will go before the justice committee. Some of those policing committees operating on a pilot basis in parts of Dublin are working well. Members of the community have an opportunity to talk with the gardaí and the local authority and plan their work in a comprehensive way.

I agree that different Departments fund youth centres. The Department of Arts, Sport and Tourism allocated millions of euro last week. We have the Young Peoples Facilities and Services Fund and have disbursed more than €100 million. That fund is exclusively for the drug task force areas in Dublin and Cork. Recently we gave some capital money to Waterford and Carlow. That was the first time, with the exception of Cork, that we had given capital money but we had given some services money to a few areas previously. That fund will be rolled out in a structured way. We have targeted mainly the Leinster towns. It is not a case of sending Deputies home with nice letters telling them a fortune is being spent on their areas. We have to cater for young people who are at risk from drugs based on the evidence.

That is the point I want to raise with the Minister of State. All our young people are at risk from drugs. I accept that most assistance has to go to those most at risk. We do not realise the problem is increasing in all areas. Drugs are beginning to get a hold on young people. The casual user will suffer long term. They start by taking drugs once a week or once a month and then more often. Drugs misuse is becoming a massive problem in all areas not only for those particularly at risk but for young people in general who are at risk.

In regard to the Young Peoples Facilities and Services Fund, in Dublin after the local and regional drug task forces were set up, we established a development committee comprising members from a drug task force, a local authority and a VEC, which looked at prevention. It is a case of trying to develop ideas that would help to provide facilities to give an alternative to young people. That will be rolled out over the next few years particularly in the Leinster towns and towns that have a specific problem.

Methadone is a short-term solution not a long-term solution. There is a report on Bupenorphine which is another option. A special rehabilitation committee was set up, arising from the mid-term review, which is looking at the overall issue into the future. It is not a case of putting a person on methadone and hoping the problem will be solved. It is about training people and getting them back into education and employment, allowing them make a useful contribution to society. That committee will report in the next month or so.

Drugs and Crime in Ireland Report.

Brian O'Shea

Question:

44 Mr. O’Shea asked the Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs if his attention has been drawn to the recently published report Drugs and Crime in Ireland; the additional measures he intends to introduce as a result of this report; the action he intends to take to address the failure to halt the drug trade described in the report; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [22927/06]

I am aware of the Health Research Board's report, Drugs and Crime in Ireland, which was published at the end of May as the third in its overview series. The publication had been flagged a number of months in advance at the consequences sub-committee of the National Advisory Committee on Drugs, which operates under the aegis of my Department, and on which my Department is represented.

The report is a welcome addition to our knowledge of the complicated relationship between drugs and crime and I hope it will help to inform the State's ongoing efforts to reduce drug-related crime.

The report states that activities aimed at supply control coupled with efforts to reduce demand for drugs remain essential policy goals in our efforts at reducing drug related harm in society. I was particularly reassured to note from the report that the provision of treatment services can have a positive impact.

In this regard the report indicates it has been suggested that the 29% reduction in recorded crime in this State between 1995 and 1999 might be partially explained by the increased availability of methadone maintenance programmes during that period in the Dublin area. This suggests our current approach to treatment provision is proving to have positive results in terms of crime.

In addition to the broad range of treatment services already available, I have set up a working group to develop a strategy for the provision of integrated rehabilitation services and to report on the appropriate policy and actions to be implemented. The terms of reference of the group are extensive and include examining the existing provisions of rehabilitation services in Ireland, identifying best practice and gaps as well as recommending actions to develop an integrated rehabilitation service. I am confident the report of the group will aid us in further developing the comprehensive range of treatment and rehabilitation services.

On the issue of supply reduction, the Garda Síochána and Revenue's customs service have extensive strategies in place to deal with the drugs trade described in this report. These strategies include gathering intelligence on individuals and organisations involved in the distribution of drugs, including the support structures underpinning this activity, conducting targeted operations on criminal networks based on intelligence gathered and working in collaboration with other law enforcement agencies, both within and outside the jurisdiction.

We acknowledge the point the Minister of State made on the success with treatment, specifically methadone. However, in terms of hard drugs, there is now much more cocaine than methadone coming in. Hovering in the background all the time is the prospect that crack cocaine could become more plentiful.

Regarding the link between drug use and violent crime, the figures in the report show that 28% of detected crime in 2004 was related to drug users, while the figure was 66% in 1997, so clearly there is a significant movement. The author of the report points in the direction of increased employment and greater availability of treatment as a possible explanation. Does the Minister of State agree with the finding of the report that the social environment was a more powerful contributor than the effect of drugs on an individual in terms of whether the person used violence?

The RAPID programme was mentioned. The consultants' evaluation contained a criticism directed towards the Department of Education and Science, the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment and FÁS in terms of the difficulty in accessing money for training, education and employment courses. I know the Minister of State was a little distracted when about to make his reply, but would he or the Minister favour approaching FÁS and the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, to seek an incentive scheme for employers to employ people from RAPID areas? In other words, the employers would not need to be in the RAPID areas but the employees would come from there, because it seems from the statistics that in the context of providing additional employment, the violence aspect of drug use can be reduced.

I accept there is more cocaine coming into the country, though much of the usage is on the recreational level. Not many more people are seeking services in the area, and those who are were on heroin already and were in contact with the staff.

Clearly there are links between drugs and violence, and that was the case in the past, certainly anecdotally in Dublin constituencies. The attitude is that ten years ago, more drug abusers got the money for their next fix by robbing and mugging, but methadone has helped to solve that problem and stabilise people. Perhaps we have not had great success in getting people off methadone and more needs to be need done in that regard, but it has taken people away from crime in the short term.

I appreciate what Deputy O'Shea said about jobs. Last week I launched a project in Dublin about getting drug misusers back into employment. There are a couple of such projects in different parts of Dublin. Employers have in general taken the opportunity to give jobs to drug misusers who have become stabilised. Employers may have perceptions and misconceptions about what might happen, but once they are happy that they can ring me, Deputy O'Shea or whoever in the event that the employee has a problem and that we will take these people off their hands, so to speak, certain employers are prepared to go ahead and take a chance for stabilised drug misusers.

The mid-term review showed that the approach was a little too centred on putting people on methadone. The rehabilitation sub-committee has been set up to pull all those bits and pieces together and show that methadone is not a long-term solution. One needs to stabilise drug misusers, to look at retraining and getting them back into work so that they can make a contribution to their communities and families. That is the direction we are trying to take.

I thank the Minister of State for that reply. Clearly there is positive movement in the area. Is the Minister of State in favour of an incentive programme being put in place to encourage employers to take people from RAPID areas? I accept the need for back-up services if people lapse and so on. For instance, I am talking about people who are on drugs, but I am also talking about people in RAPID areas who need the extension of their social inclusion to be gainfully employed. I know that to some extent this is in the area of responsibility of the Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs. Employers should be given incentives to employ people from RAPID areas and, clearly, people who have had a drug habit and are now rehabilitated could also be taken on board. People whose lifestyle, as a result of methadone, is no longer chaotic, are employable too. There is a need to be proactive in encouraging employers to take on such people. We all know that in some of our cities and towns, certain addresses are a turn-off for employers. In some instances there is a tendency to look at an address rather than at a person.

It is not today or yesterday that there has been geographic discrimination, certainly in Dublin city. Some people would have used their grannies' addresses when applying for jobs. That is not new and we have all lived with it in parts of Dublin.

There are incentives, though not monetary, for employers to take on certain people. I saw at least two projects in operation recently which were funded by the Department for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs. These are projects which are geared at retraining former drug misusers, getting them back into jobs and liaising with employers. There is at least a couple of projects involved in that, and employers are taking a chance. With regard to RAPID projects, I understand the Minister will evaluate them in his report.