Priority Questions.

Údarás na Gaeltachta.

Michael Ring


35 Deputy Michael Ring asked the Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs if he had received legal advice regarding possible dual mandate restrictions on future guidelines surrounding Údarás na Gaeltachta elections; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [9018/09]

My Department has received advice from the Attorney General with regard to potential conflicts of interest arising from membership on local authorities by Údarás na Gaeltachta members.

The matter is being considered in the context of possible amendments to the Údarás na Gaeltachta Acts arising on foot of recommendations in the report of the Linguistic Study of the Use of Irish in the Gaeltacht and the deliberations of the Cabinet committee on Irish in the Gaeltacht.

Is the Minister saying the Attorney General has confirmed to him that there is a conflict? I raise the question because I read about this in Foinse some months ago and several people who have dual membership of both contacted me. They are concerned that they might find themselves in a position where they will have to make a decision whether to remain as members of Údarás na Gaeltachta or the county council.

As the Minister will be aware, I brought a case to the High Court in regard to allowing Oireachtas Members stand in council elections. I did not pursue the matter to the Supreme Court but I continue to feel strongly about it and believe I was correct. Many of the Minister's colleagues tell me now they wish they had given me more support and that they had not let the legislation go through the Dáil but the legislation is now in place.

I seek clarity from the Minister on his own view and that of the Government, as it was he and his Government that introduced the dual mandate. Does the Minister believe we should have a dual mandate in respect of people being members of the board of Údarás na Gaeltachta and of a local authority? Is that contradictory to Government policy? Current Government policy is that one cannot be a Member of the Oireachtas while being a member of a county council. What is the Minister's thinking on that? The Minister is due to bring an Údarás na Gaeltachta Bill before the House. Will there be any references to this issue in that Bill?

It was in the context of a new Bill we were drafting at the time that the issue arose, and it is an issue of appropriateness. It is because of specific issues regarding a dual role on a specific issue, i.e. under the 2000 Act Údarás na Gaeltachta has planning remits, and who is it advising only itself. The real issue in drafting a new Bill, is if it would be appropriate for people to be members of the two bodies. The answer to the question lies in the functions given to Údarás na Gaeltachta. The Deputy is asking a question of policy and whether someone should be on a local authority while being a member of Údarás or what happens should an issue arise regarding the person who is on the board of Údarás and is also a Member of the Oireachtas. Currently, it is legal to be both a Member of the Oireachtas and a member of Údarás na Gaeltachta. In fact, there is an Oireachtas Member who is a member of the board of Údarás, and obviously that person cannot be a member of a local authority. That is a question of policy.

The other issue depends on the functions that are given to Údarás and whether it is appropriate because of those functions overlapping local authority functions for the people to be on the two bodies. It was not a general philosophical question such as that the Deputy is raising. It was more to do with specific functions both bodies might have that would overlap.

I put it to the Minister again as it concerns me that in the last election for the European Parliament one could not be a Member of the European Parliament and a Member of the Dáil. It was not practical or possible but even now, if a Member of the Dáil stands for the European Parliament and he or she is elected, he or she must cease membership of the Dáil on the day he or she is elected to the European Parliament.

I am aware the Minister is currently drafting the Bill in regard to Údarás and the Údarás elections to bring it before the Oireachtas. I understand he may be considering giving further powers to Údarás members — the Minister can confirm or deny that — in terms of planning, something I would not disagree with. There is no reason an Údarás board should not deal with the planning applications. In some cases, similar to central Government, some members of local authorities do not have an understanding of the Údarás, rural areas and rural life. It might not be a bad thing to return some of those powers back to the people instead of taking them away from them.

As a member of a Government that introduced and then abolished the dual mandate in respect of Dáil and Europe and a member of the Dáil and the county council, is it hypocritical for the Government to say, on the one hand, that people cannot be a Member of the Dáil and a local authority while, on the other, it is fine to be a member of a county council and the Údarás? The Minister might answer that straight question.

The Government has no problem with a person being a member of a town council and a local authority but the person cannot be a member of two local authorities or a Member of the Oireachtas and a member of a local authority. Those issues fall to be considered in the context of the new Bill and much of what will decide our final thinking will be the shape of Údarás na Gaeltachta following our conclusions on the study. I cannot go ahead until then. The answer to the Deputy's question is that to make a final decision on the dual mandate issue, if we want to call it that, between local authorities and Údarás na Gaeltachta ahead of deciding what Údarás will be and the powers and functions it will have is putting the cart before the horse. Until now, and it is clear from the previous legislation I brought in, I did not see a particular difficulty with being a member of both bodies but the issue arises to be considered, depending on the powers we give Údarás and the relationship — and this is the major issue that arose — between Údarás and the local authority in terms of powers.

Drug-related Deaths.

Jack Wall


36 Deputy Jack Wall asked the Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs his views on the figures published by the alcohol and drug research unit of the Health Research Board in regard to drug related deaths; his further views on whether these figures reflect a continuing unacceptable use of illicit drugs; the steps he will take to reduce the demand for such drugs; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [8978/09]

The publication last November of the National Drugs-Related Death Index by the Health Research Board provided for the first time a comprehensive understanding of the death toll associated with problem drug use in Ireland. The Index, which has been compiled to the highest European standard, was commissioned under the national drugs strategy by the Departments of Health and Children and Justice, Equality and Law Reform.

The index covers the period 1998-2005 and I accept that it presents a stark picture of the consequences of problem drug use. It found there were 2,442 drug-related deaths over the eight year period examined. In 2005 there were 400 drug-related deaths, of which 232 were directly related to drugs, with 168 linked indirectly to drug usage. The index showed that the number of deaths increased over the period from 1998, with the greater rate of increase relating to indirect deaths, where drugs were a contributory factor.

The report's analysis implicated heroin and other opiates, poly-substance use of both illicit and licit drugs including alcohol, and prescription and over the counter medication as causes, to varying degrees, in the direct deaths. While the report does not include deaths relating to alcohol only, I understand that research in that regard is ongoing by the Health Research Board.

The report confirms the significant health dangers, including premature death, associated with problem drug use. The results of the all-island drug prevalence surveys, carried out in 2002-2003 and again in 2006-2007 by the National Advisory Committee on Drugs in conjunction with its colleagues in Northern Ireland, sets out the most robust evidence of the prevalence of problem drug use in the general population in Ireland. Comparisons between the two all-island surveys indicate that the drug problem facing the country is changing to a degree. Evidence from the first bulletin of the 2006-07 prevalence survey launched last year indicates that while rates of lifetime and recent, that is, last year, overall illegal drug misuse have increased, the level of current, that is, last month, illegal drug use has stabilised.

Additional information not given on the floor of the House.

The increase in lifetime use for all drugs was expected given that older people tend to have less exposure to — and usage of — drugs over their lifetimes and that illegal drug use is primarily a youth-younger adult — under 35s — phenomenon. The increase in last year use is of more concern and it emphasises the challenging task that we continue to face in tackling problem drug use in Ireland. Meanwhile, the overall stabilisation in last month use is to be welcomed and I am hopeful that, with the continuing valuable work being done through the national drugs strategy, this trend will continue.

The findings from the index further supports the approach adopted in the National Drugs Strategy 2001-2008 involving a combination of demand and supply reduction measures to tackle problem drug use. The current strategy has sought to reduce the impact of problem drug use in our society, including the level of drug deaths, through the development of treatment and rehabilitation services, including harm reduction approaches, for those engaged in problem drug use; promulgating prevention and awareness messages throughout society, but most particularly aimed at young people at risk and those already involved in problem drug use; and supply reduction initiatives through the Garda and Revenue's Customs Service.

As the Deputy is aware, a steering group comprising representatives of the statutory, community and voluntary sectors is currently developing proposals on a new national drugs strategy and I expect to receive its recommendations in the coming weeks.

In the context of developing its proposals, the steering group is considering what further actions can be developed to counter the level of drug deaths. In this context, the Deputy should note that the Health Service Executive has already initiated work on the development of a national overdose prevention strategy which is a very welcome development.

I am sure the Minister will agree with me that the numbers involved represent a sad loss and a waste of young life. When we consider that 2,442 people have died from drug abuse in that period, it puts a huge emphasis on what must be done to ensure that this issue is brought to public notice.

I would like to know from the Minister the geographical spread in terms of these deaths. Are they occurring, as some would assume, mostly on the east coast or is there an equal spread in terms of these deaths throughout the country? We have continuously said in the House that we want to highlight the stark reality of what drug misuse does to young people. I understand that most of the deaths are of young men. Can the Minister of State indicate if any research has been done on that? Why is it the case that it is mostly men who are affected?

Also, what is the mix in terms of alcohol and the use of drugs? I recall asking the Minister's predecessor a question on cocaethylene, where a mixture of cocaine and alcohol creates a different drug. What research has been done on this? It causes heart problems. What is the situation regarding its effect on young people? The main issue is the geographical spread of the problem. What are we doing to highlight the fact that 2,442 young people die as a result of drug misuse in a seven year period?

I am pleased the figures have come to light because I spoke with a number of people over a period of time who clearly felt what was reported regarding drug-related deaths was significantly understated. This is the first comprehensive report and is very detailed and thorough. The numbers, as the Deputy said, are staggering. In 2005 alone 400 people died as a result of drugs. When we discuss those people here, we talk about them as a statistic but behind every one of those deaths was a family. The person was somebody's son, daughter, parent, brother or sister. The loss of life has been staggering, as has been its impact on families and communities.

The Deputy asked a number of questions. The incidence is higher in the Dublin area than in the rest of the country. Just over half of the deaths are as a result of poisoning or using more than one substance, including legal and illegal drugs. Opiates, including heroin, are still the main cause of deaths among people who die from poisoning. The information on the 400 deaths is from 2005. Cocaine was implicated in 100 of those deaths. A quarter of the poisonings were as a result of alcohol in conjunction with another drug. Again, this information is only for 2005. The majority of cases were males aged between 20 and 40 years of ages.

I want to make some general points. The Deputy asked what we would do about it. Before we can address the problem, it is important to identify there is not one single problem but multiple problems to be addressed. Illegal drugs are involved in many cases of drug-related deaths. However, prescribed drugs and over-the-counter medication, such as anti-anxiety drugs like valium, antidepressants and pain-killers are frequently involved in such deaths, either alone or in conjunction with illegal drugs. For example, benzodiazepines are often combined with an illegal substance and have resulted in almost one in every three deaths by poisoning. That is one aspect of the issue. It is very complicated and there is not just one solution to the problem.

Not all deaths were from poisoning. Other issues arose, such as infection with HIV through needle sharing and cardiac events due to cocaine use. Again, the profile in that age group was male.

Deputy Wall can ask a brief supplementary question.

My question relates to the assistance given to people to get off drugs, and concerns the use of methadone. Some articles state that methadone is involved in many deaths. A question raised here asked if drug addicts were getting access to methadone from more than once source. If that is the case, instead of curing themselves, addicts are creating more problems for themselves and can become addicted to using methadone. The figures stated that in 2005 more than 60 deaths were as a result of one drug and 60 deaths involved the use of methadone.

The Minister of State can make a final reply.

The figure Deputy Wall stated on the numbers using methadone is correct. Not everybody who uses methadone uses it exclusively. A combination of other drugs can be used and that appears to be the case. The HSE, which is specifically charged with responsibility for the matter, is in the process of implementing a national overdose prevention strategy which would address the issue of benzodiazepines, prescription drugs and methadone.

Since I became a Minister of State, I specifically asked the HSE to review what we are doing about methadone use. I have a grave concern that people seem to be on methadone for an extended period of time. I may not be in my position long enough, but I would like to see the hard evidence to show progression. In other words, I would like to see an active methadone reduction programme. The overdose prevention strategy would specifically address the issue to which Deputy Wall referred.

Marine Funding.

Joe McHugh


37 Deputy Joe McHugh asked the Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs the commitment he is giving to marine, aquaculture or inshore funding as contained in the new round of partnership funding for coastal communities in view of the new threat to white fish fishing in area six and the imminent threat to ban small boatmen who operate white fish boats of 12 metres or less in size in the inshore; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [9019/09]

I was unsure of the relevance of this question to my Department. I, therefore, have a very brief answer which gives the Deputy the maximum opportunity to clarify the information he seeks. White fish fishing is the responsibility of my colleague, the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, Deputy Brendan Smith.

I am delighted with that answer because there is a very simple rationale behind this question. It encompasses the Departments of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources, Agriculture, Fisheries and Food and the Minister's Department, in terms of the partnership money which was set aside for alternative enterprises in coastal communities such as Inishowen.

The Government is seeking partnership across the floor of the House. It wants us to co-operate and work together because of our serious financial situation. The reason I tabled the question for the Minister is that I respect him as a west of Ireland man who has a cognisance and relationship with rural life and landscape, in terms of how it should be worked and lived on. I need the Minister to sit down and work with the Ministers from the Departments I mentioned. We can create jobs in Donegal tomorrow morning in alternative enterprises in the marine sector. We can create jobs in the white fish sector, not for large boats but for boats under 12 metres. We can create jobs in the aquaculture sector for mussels and oysters.

The Minister knows that as he is a west of Ireland man. However, we are crippled with regulation, legislation and a lack of responsibility at an interdepartmental level. All I have seen from my year and a half as a Deputy in this House is Departments pushing from Billy to Jack and saying, "That is not our responsibility". We need to create jobs in the country. With a little foresight and communication between Departments, we can create jobs. I am sick and tired of tabling parliamentary questions——

The Deputy should ask questions and not make a speech.

——and hearing Ministers say, "I can create jobs in the morning". Donegal, as a county, can create jobs but the Government is not willing to take responsibility.

The Deputy will not ignore the Chair.

Get rid of the red tape and the nonsense and get people working again, rather than queuing in the dole offices in Buncrana or Letterkenny.

The Deputy will not ignore the Chair.

I am asking the Minister for his indulgence. I apologise to the Leas-Cheann Comhairle.

The Chair is on his feet.

I am very angry about this.

This is question time.

I know it is question time.

I ask the Deputy to allow the Chair to speak. This is question time. The idea is for Members to seek information from members of the Government——

Which we are doing.

——and not to make Second Stage speeches.

It is not a Second Stage speech.

I call on the Minister.

I do not make the rules of the House, but they are clear. If a Deputy tables a question on another Minister's functional responsibility——

I have tabled three of them.

Allow the Minister to speak.

If a Deputy asks a question on another Minister's functional responsibility, I am not allowed to answer it. This question was very specific and referred to white fish.

It related to partnership money.

The question asked about the new round of partnership funding given to the marine, aquaculture or inshore fishing sectors. If the Deputy reads his question he will see the problem regarding its phrasing. Partnership funding cannot be spent on direct support for agriculture or fisheries. It is a European rule.

What about the marine? The Minister said such money could not be spent on marine or aquaculture projects.

Allow the Minister to reply.

The funding under the Leader programme cannot be spent on direct support for agriculture or fisheries.

What about alternative marine projects? What about marine tourism? The Minister should look at the question.

If Deputy McHugh allows the Minister to reply, I will call on him again.

He is not replying.

He is not getting a chance to reply. If Deputy McHugh does not want the question to be answered we will move to another one.

I was genuinely trying to puzzle out the answer to this difficulty. I have often returned parliamentary questions to the section if I think I know what the Member is driving at, even where it is not absolutely clear from the question. I try to give the information I think the Member is seeking. In this case, we were genuinely puzzled about what the Deputy was seeking because of the reference to white fish fishing.

Will the Minister intervene?

The Minister without interruption.

With regard to the wider issue raised by the Deputy, he can rest assured that I have said repeatedly that as core, traditional primary production in both the fishing and agriculture industries declines, we must examine alternatives. I gave a speech recently, for example, on the issue of marine leisure, which presents a major opportunity. I have referred time and again to the issue of using rural funds for on sea and on land alternatives. However, I cannot support fishing or agriculture as separate industries.

I have again and again on issues I cannot tease out during Question Time invited members of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Arts, Sport Tourism, Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs to engage in detailed debates on them. Debates have taken place on modulation and so on and whether we should help farmers more outside the farm gate. Most farmers in the west could not survive without off-farm income, no matter how much investment is made in their farms.

I appreciate the Minister's honesty. The question is vague because it encompasses three Departments. It relates to funding by the Minister's Department for alternative marine enterprise. I have a letter, which I will give to the Minister, in which a salmon fisherman outlines how he made a proposal to set up an alternative marine enterprise only to be turned down by a partnership company on the basis that it did not fund such enterprises. That is a critical issue. I apologise to the Leas-Cheann Comhairle and I acknowledge the sensitivity regarding protocol in the House.

There is no sensitivity. I am obliged to comply with the rules of the House.

I have a job to do and I must listen week in, week out to Ministers saying they would like to hear our ideas. Constituents visit my clinics every week with plans for projects and enterprises but they cannot get through the red tape.

I was surprised the Deputy did not frame the question in the context of the salmon hardship fund and community supports. The Deputy prefaced it by referring to white fish.

White fish have absolutely nothing to do with the core of the question. Let us put the record straight.

We must move on. We are more than two minutes over time on this question. The Deputy should have some respect for order in the House.

The Minister should have some respect for my question.

We are more than two and a half minutes over time on this question because I allowed the Deputy to make a long speech at the beginning. I call Question No. 38.

The Minister was about to reply. I am trying to be helpful——

I have to be fair to every Deputy. A total of 30 minutes are allocated for priority questions and the Deputy has taken up nine minutes.

——on behalf of people who want to work.

I want to allow for the questions of other Members to be answered. I call the Minister on Question No. 38.

Straitéis don Ghaeilge.

Brian O'Shea


38 D’fhiafraigh Deputy Brian O’Shea den Aire Gnóthaí Pobail, Tuaithe agus Gaeltachta cathain a chuirfidh sé an dréacht-straitéis 20 bliain agus a chuid moltaí maidir leis an straitéis faoi bhráid an Rialtais; agus an ndéanfaidh sé ráiteas ina thaobh. [8979/09]

Tá obair ar siúl faoi láthair maidir le straitéis 20 bliain don Ghaeilge a fhorbairt, bunaithe ar ráiteas polasaí an Rialtais i leith na Gaeilge. I rith na bliana seo caite, bhí mo Roinnse, i gcomhar le Fiontar DCU, na comhairleoirí neamhspleácha atá ag cuidiú chun an straitéis a chur le chéile, tar éis tabhairt faoi phróiseas leathan de chomhairliúchán poiblí, ar a n-áirítear cruinnithe poiblí agus suirbhé ar-líne maidir leis na heilimintí éagsúla a bheidh sa straitéis. Bunaithe ar na moltaí agus an t-aiseolas a tháinig ón bpobal i rith an phróisis sin, foilsíodh plé-pháipéar maidir leis na gnéithe éagsúla a mheastar a bheidh sa straitéis. Tugadh faoi shraith eile de chruinnithe poiblí chun deis a thabhairt do dhaoine a dtuairimí a thabhairt faoin doiciméad sin.

Chomh maith leis an gcomhairliúchan poiblí, chuaigh Fiontar DCU i gcomhairle leis na príomh-gheallsealbhóirí san earnáil phoiblí agus san earnáil deonach faoina gcuid moltaí i leith na straitéise agus thugadar le chéile i gcoiste comhairleach saineolaithe idirnáisiúnta a bhfuil taithí acu i mbeartais teangacha.

Tá doiciméad faighte agam anois agus á bhreithniú. Faoi mar is eol don Teachta, tá coiste Rialtais bunaithe chun scrúdú a dhéanamh ar na saincheisteanna a bhaineann leis an nGaeltacht agus an Ghaeilge, agus beidh an dréacht-straitéis á plé ag an gcoiste sin sula gcuirfear faoi bhráid an Rialtais í. Tá súil agam go dtarlóidh sé sin go luath.

Ba mhaith liom buíochas a ghabháil leis an Aire as ucht freagra a thabhairt dom atá an-cosúil leis an bhfreagra a fuair mé ar 29 Eanáir. Tá sé soiléir nach bhfuil aon dul chun cinn déanta.

Ag féachaint ar conas atá cúrsaí, bhí an straitéis ann Mí na Nollag 2006, ach tá muid ag druidim anois leis an toghchán do bhord Údarás na Gaeltachta, a bheidh ar siúl i mí Aibreán na bliana seo chugainn. Níl aon rud ag tarlú, ach beidh reachtaíocht ag teastáil, cuirim i gcás nuair a bheidh an plean gníomhach críochnaithe. Céard go díreach atá ar siúl? Iarraim ar an Aire bheith macánta linn. An bhfuil an Rialtas anois ag rá leis an Aire stad a chur leis nó é a chur ar leataobh? An bhfuil an Rialtas ag iarraidh dul ar aghaidh gan ligint do rud ar bith ag tarlú? Tá eagla ormsa go bhfuil an cinneadh sin déanta ag an Rialtas. Ní cinneadh foirmeálta atá i gceist agam, ach cinneadh an Ghaeilge, an plean gníomhach, agus an straitéis a chur ar leataobh agus ligint do chúrsaí Gaeilge dul chun donais mar atá ag tarlú.

Ní raibh an Teachta ag ardfheis Fhianna Fáil ag an deireadh seachtaine. Dá mba rud é go raibh sé ann, bheadh sé ar an eolas go bhfuil muid ag treabhadh ar aghaidh leis an obair seo. A mhalairt ar fad don mhéid atá ráite ag an Teachta atá fíor.

Tá sé iomlán cruinn a rá go raibh súil againn go mbeadh sé seo déanta roimh dheireadh na bliana. Nuair a thosaigh muid ag plé na ceiste agus ag snaidhmeadh an plean 20 bliain agus an aisfhreagra ar na moltaí a d'éirigh as an tuarascáil teangeolaíochta, tháinig ceisteanna móra chun cinn. Thosaigh muid ag breathnú as an nua ar go leor rudaí ar ghlacadh leo i saol na Gaeilge ó bhunaíodh an Stát. Tá an próiseas seo ag tógáil cuid mhaith ama. Tá, mar adúirt mé, dréacht cháipéis againn agus tá muid ag obair ar sin, ach teastaíonn uaim go ndéanfaidh muid jab foirfe.

Cuireann an mhéid atá le rá, maidir le an mbeidh plean ann, an dtarlóidh sé agus mar sin de, i gcuimhne dom an t-am a raibh muid ag réiteach Acht na dTeangacha Oifigiúla. D'fhéadfainn go leor gearrtháin nuachtáin a thaispeáint don Teachta inar dúradh go raibh an Rialtas tar éis sin a chur ina leataobh agus nach dtarlódh sé go brách agus nach raibh ann ach caint. Ach, ar ndóigh, mar is eol don Teachta, tháinig Acht na dTeangacha Oifigiúla ann.

Beidh an straitéis ann. Tá go leor oibre ar bun. Tá chuile cúnamh, tacaíocht agus uigeach á tabhairt ag an Taoiseach di agus spéis phearsanta aige inti, ach tá muid ag iarraidh go ndéanfaidh muid jab ceart agus cuimsitheach uirthi.

Is deacair sin a chreidiúint, mar níl rud ar bith le feiceáil againn. An mbeidh Bille um Údarás na Gaeltachta ina Acht roimh Aibreán na bliana seo chugainn, roimh na toghchán don údarás? An rud is tábhachtaí, an mbeidh na hathruithe ar theorainneacha na Gaeltachta in áit roimh an toghcháin seo? An mbeidh an plean gníomhach foilsithe roimh briseadh na Cásca nó na Nollag nó roimh dheireadh na bliana? An féidir leis an Aire aon gheallúint a thabhairt dúinn i dtaobh sin? Maidir leis an straitéis, cathain a bheidh sí faoi bhráid an Rialtais? An mbeidh sí foilsithe agus ar fáil dúinn go léir sa Teach roimh bhriseadh na Cásca nó na Nollag nó roimh deireadh na bliana? An mhéar fhada atá i gceist anseo. Tarlaíonn sin i gcónaí leis an Aire seo agus tá sin ag tarlú anois. Níl aon rud le feiceáil a thugann muinín domsa go bhfuil aon obair fhiúntach ar siúl.

Ní ghlacaim leis go gcuirim rudaí ar an mhéar fhada, ach is maith liom rudaí a dhéanamh go cuimsitheach. Ag breathnú siar ar an scéal, tugadh Acht na dTeangacha Oifigiúla isteach chomh sciobtha le hAcht ar bith eile, go mór mhór nuair a thógtar san áireamh gur Acht as an nua ar fad a bhí ann. Maidir leis an straitéis——

An polasaí maidir leis an todhchaí atá uaim.

Tuigim é sin, ach tá an Teachta ag rá go gcuirim rudaí ar an mhéar fhada agus ní ghlacaim leis sin. Mar is eol don Teachta, tá go leor eolais ar fáil ag an pobal maidir leis an próiseas seo, mar d'fhoilsigh muid an plé-cháipéis agus tá sin ar fáil. Tá na critéir ar eolas againn. Táimid ag obair ar an dréacht cháipéis i láthair na huaire agus tá go leor tuairimí breactha síos agus go leor rudaí á scrúdú.

Tá sé éasca doiciméad a fháil 90% ceart, ach is é an 10% go minic a thógann an t-am. Dá n-iarrfadh an Teachta orm buille fé thuairim a thabhairt, ó thaobh cúrsaí ama de, faoin am go mbeadh leagan Béarla agus Gaeilge agus aistriúchán sásúil déanta agus seo a bheith ceadaithe ag an gcoiste idir-rannach agus comhaontú againn trasna an bhord, agus ag glacadh leis go bhfuil i gceist againn an rud foirfe a dhéanamh, is ag tús an tsamhraidh nó ag briseadh na Cásca a bhféadfá bheith ag súil leis an bplean. An chaoi a mbeidh sé ná, ní bheidh sé againn lá amháin ach beidh an t-iomlán críochaithe againn an lá ina dhiaidh. Tá sin níos réalaí.

Maidir leis an ráiteas, is cuimhin liom gur cuireadh siar trí seachtaine é. Aistríodh é, ach ní raibh mise sásta leis an aistriúchán mar shíl mé go raibh sé doiléir agus nach raibh sé an-inléite. Nuair a thosaigh muid ag breathnú ar an aistriúchán, d'ardaigh sin ceist faoin bunleagan agus bhí orainn dul ar ais chuige sin. Chaill muid trí seachtaine ansin ar fhoclaíocht, mar níor athraigh muid aon rud suntasach a bhí ann. Tá sé tábhachtach go mbeidh na cáipéisí seo soiléir agus scríofa i mBéarla agus Gaeilge atá thar a bheith intuigthe, le go mbeidh a fhios ag daoine céard go díreach atá i gceist againn. Tógann an cineál sin ruda am.

Drugs Task Forces.

Catherine Byrne


39 Deputy Catherine Byrne asked the Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs the reason for the recent cuts to funding for a large number of services in drugs task force areas, which are struggling to deal with the drug problem in communities; his views on the real threat to the viability of services on the ground if their annual funding is reduced; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [8858/09]

The Government is firmly committed to tackling the problem of drug misuse in society. This is evidenced by the fact that the funding targeted at community-based initiatives funded through my Department's Vote doubled from 2003 to 2008, increasing from €31.5 million to more than €64 million. The relative reduction in the 2009 funding allocation to my Department for the drugs initiatives must, therefore, be viewed in this context.

In 2008, the budget for community-based initiatives in the local and regional drugs task force areas was nearly €34.8 million. Funding for 2009 will be approximately €34.6 million, of which more than €23 million is being allocated to the local drugs task forces while more than €11 million is being earmarked for the regional groups.

Unfortunately, no area is impervious to cost cutting measures in the current economic environment. It is in this context that all drugs task forces were asked to identify savings across their areas of responsibility. While I appreciate that this will involve some difficult choices being made, it was a matter for the drugs task forces to identify measures to enable them to work within their allocated budgets.

Across Government, we are taking a number of difficult decisions, but our approach is to do it in as balanced a way as possible. There is a critical need to ensure that resources are directed in a targeted and effective manner and that the maximum benefit is achieved. I would like to assure the Deputy that my primary concern has been and continues to be the protection of front line services delivering vital programmes and initiatives in areas worst affected by problem drug use.

Projects have been approved funding for the first six months of 2009 and this expenditure will be reviewed before allocating the remaining six months' funding. We will continue to work with the task forces to ensure that this funding is targeted in the most appropriate manner. I am confident that the funding in 2009 will continue to facilitate the delivery of meaningful and viable community-based initiatives to address problem drug use.

As the Deputy is aware, the drugs strategy is based on a co-ordinated approach across many Departments and agencies. My Department's allocation is part of a much larger investment programme in drugs services by these other bodies. In 2007, it was estimated that total expenditure on drugs programmes was over €230 million. The figures for 2008 are currently being compiled.

I will not criticise the Minister of State, whose heart is in the right place. Asking any group to choose which service to remove is difficult, but last night's television coverage of another shooting proved that crime, much of it relating to drugs, is alive and well on the streets of Dublin. The Government must do everything possible and take the drugs issue seriously if we are to get anything done. We cannot continue to pass the buck. Irrespective of whether the money comes from the Department directly, the HSE or elsewhere, this matter falls under the drugs umbrella and must be faced. The buck stops with the Minister of State.

Last week, I had the pleasure of visiting Aiséirí services in County Tipperary. Using 28-day periods and the 12 steps, that unit deals with people who are drugs and alcohol addicted. It provides an excellent service that gives people hope and continues to treat them afterwards.

In my area, the local Inchicore drugs team has been asked to reduce its budget by €30,000. While I know that the Minister of State did not ask it personally, it must make cutbacks. Finding areas in which to make those cutbacks is difficult. Reductions are occurring everywhere.

Aiséirí and another service in County Wexford are being asked to reduce their budgets by 14%, a considerable amount of money for groups trying to treat vulnerable people. In the next year, those projects will lose out on €67,000. This is endemic of society. If we are asking drugs task forces to remove services, we must be prepared to shore them up in other ways.

I agree with many of the Deputy's comments. However, it is important to clarify. In 2008, the funding available to the task forces was €34.776 million. This year, the figure is €34.6 million, a slight reduction. Task forces must make choices between projects, but it is also worth noting that the total spend including statutory agencies has increased significantly over the years.

It is appropriate that we constantly evaluate and monitor what we are supporting to ensure that we provide maximum benefits. In some cases, programmes are being run where statutory agencies have neglected to or have not provided services. We must be able to change for when statutory agencies start dealing with the issue.

The Deputy mentioned Aiséirí in the voluntary sector. She is correct in that, around the country, many drugs and alcohol rehabilitation services are run by the voluntary sector. We have appointed a national rehabilitation co-ordinator in the time since I have assumed my position. This is important because the provision of rehabilitation services by statutory agencies and voluntary and community bodies had been fragmented. We need to bring them together in a co-ordinated way, which is what we are doing now.