I propose taking Questions Nos. 2 and 5 together.
I have voiced my concerns about the activities of head shops and substances represented as "legal highs" sold in these outlets on numerous occasions since my appointment as Minister of State with responsibility for the national drugs strategy. My concerns about these substances centre on the potential health hazards arising from the use of these products and the possibility that their use may act as a gateway to the use of illicit drugs. This issue is causing concern across Europe and a number of countries have taken action, each adapting their approach to reflect their own laws and experiences. However, no EU member state has come up with a comprehensive response thus far.
The National Drugs Strategy 2009-2016, launched in September 2009, includes two actions aimed at addressing the issues involved. The identification of the head shop and "legal highs" issue in the strategy is a reflection of the concerns arising in families, communities and across the general population. As provided for under the strategy, I held a number of meetings in late 2009 with the Ministers for Health and Children, Justice, Equality and Law Reform and Education and Science. I have also met with the Garda Commissioner and with senior officials of various Departments and offices. Head shops and the sale of legal highs were discussed at many of these meetings and some possibilities for addressing the activities of head shops were suggested.
Following more recent communications with the Minister for Health and Children, who has overall responsibility for the Misuse of Drugs Acts, the primary legislation through which these substances can be regulated, she has indicated that her Department is currently preparing regulations to introduce controls on a range of substances. These regulations will make the possession and sale of these substances illegal and subject to criminal sanctions. In preparing the required regulations, officials of the Department of Health and Children are consulting with the relevant authorities to ensure that any legitimate uses of the substances involved are not impinged upon. The intention is that the regulations will be drafted within a month, but a three month notification process to the EU may be involved. In this context, the advice of the Attorney General is being sought by the Department of Health and Children before the regulations are implemented.
Meanwhile, the activities of head shops are also being closely monitored by the Garda Síochána and the Customs Service, with a view to ensuring that no substances that are currently illegal are being sold. I have also been in contact with the Attorney General about other possible approaches to the matter. I raised issues in respect of public liability insurance, product liability insurance and consumer protection with the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment, as well as planning issues with the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government. The matters involved are being considered by the two Departments and I expect to have their views in the short-term.
The National Advisory Committee on Drugs is carrying out some research at my request on psychoactive substances sold in head shops. The National Advisory Committee on Drugs has established a research advisory group for this project and it will report periodically to me on progress. In light of the banning of a number of substances and groups of substances in Britain and Northern Ireland in December, I am especially concerned about the possibility of Ireland becoming a dumping ground for some of these products. From the level of engagement outlined, Deputies can be assured that I am very committed to pursuing appropriate and comprehensive responses to counter the potential threats of head shops and "legal highs".