Priority Questions.

Departmental Priorities.

Michael Ring

Question:

1 Deputy Michael Ring asked the Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs his priorities following the restructuring of his Department; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [14328/10]

As the Deputy will be aware, the Taoiseach recently announced the restructuring of a number of Departments and agencies in order to group functions whose combination is more appropriate to the country's current priorities, to ensure greater coherence and produce more efficient delivery and to underline the priority issues for this Government in a way that mobilises a broad response. The Deputy will agree that while addressing the priority issues in responding to unemployment and driving economic recovery is necessary, it is also important that we do not lose sight of the importance of social development, the targeting of the most vulnerable and the support of those working to make a difference right across our communities. It is against this background that the Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs will be restructured as the Department of Community, Equality and Gaeltacht Affairs and will incorporate responsibility for social inclusion policy and family policy from the Department of Social and Family Affairs, and for equality, disability, integration and human rights from the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform.

My priority over the coming period will be to progress the actions and commitments reflected in the programme for Government and the revised programme for Government that relate to my functions and areas of responsibility. In this regard, work will commence shortly on the preparation of a new statement of strategy for my Department. In developing the new statement of strategy, my Department will take stock of the progress made to date on meeting Government programme commitments and decide how best to focus its efforts over the coming period so as to achieve real results on the ground and deliver on our mandate.

Over its lifetime, the Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs made significant progress in enhancing the cohesiveness and efficiency of delivery of various programmes that were transferred to it from other Departments. A similar challenge will face the new Department of Community, Equality and Gaeltacht Affairs, but I am confident that the experience garnered in that context over recent years will prove invaluable in further enhancing the delivery of the Department's new social development and social inclusion programmes to the benefit of all our customers and stakeholders.

I wish the Minister, Deputy Carey, and the Minister of State, Deputy White, the best of luck. Today is their first day to take Priority Questions and I wish them well in their briefs. Rural, community and Gaeltacht affairs are very important to rural areas. I wish the previous Minister, Deputy Ó Cuív, who had a great understanding of rural life, well on his new appointment. I have dealt with him for a number of years, as have Deputies McGinley and Byrne, and I wish him well. I am not being disrespectful but I hope the Deputies will not be there very long. We hope to have them removed very shortly and to be over there dealing with rural affairs.

Under the new name of the Department, the term "rural" has been removed from its title. Will the Minister of State still have responsibility for the delivery of aspects of the rural development programme? As responsibility for the rural social scheme has been transferred to the new Department of Social Protection, will Údarás na Gaeltachta and the Leader groups continue to have responsibility for the rural social scheme?

I thank the Deputy for his good wishes. We will not be able to support him on the latter part; we will be around for a fair while yet.

On the term "rural" in the title of the Department, while it is no longer in the Department's title I consider the reference to "community" to be sufficiently broad and embracing in order that it can and will encompass urban and rural communities. While the term may no longer be part of the Department's title, I want to be clear that it in no way shows a diminution of commitment to rural communities on behalf of the Government. An essential element of Government policy has always been, and will continue to be, maintaining vibrant, sustainable rural communities.

My Department will continue to manage and oversee a broad range of programmes which will impact positively on rural Ireland and rural communities across the country over the coming years. The programmes include the European Union co-sponsored rural development programme, through which investment of more than €420 million will be made over its lifetime across a broad range of social and economic measures. As Deputy Ring knows, the programme runs until 2013 and €40 million is available for allocation under that heading this year. The Clár programme, for which my Department has a budget of €8 million this year is included, and a range of initiatives in the area of rural recreation for which funding of €4 million is available for 2010, are also included.

I ask the Minister to send to me and Deputies McGinley and Byrne the information on who has responsibility for what within his Department, what is included in the Department and what has been taken away. Deputy Byrne will raise further questions on this on another issue. What will it cost the Department to make the necessary changes to signage and the website as a result of the new title?

I can give the Deputy the precise information now or at another time regarding who is responsible for what. I will pass it onto him. The cost associated with the establishment of the new Department will be kept to an absolute minimum. A written instruction has issued to all staff in this regard. It was one of the first actions I took. It is my intention to use all old stocks of stationery and supplies carefully held by the Department. The benefits of bringing together social development issues and functions under the aegis of one Department outweigh the minimum costs arising from the establishment of the Department.

With regard to the restructuring, a number of measures will need to be implemented. Following the announcement the following measures are being progressed by my Department and the Departments of Finance and the Taoiseach — an order to be made to change the title of the Department; an order to be made transferring functions in and out of the Department; and following the transfer of functions into my Department, delegation orders will be progressed through which functions held by the Minister can be delegated to the Minister of State. I will make available the other information, which will be useful to everybody, straight away.

National Drugs Strategy.

Jack Wall

Question:

2 Deputy Jack Wall asked the Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs the number of complaints lodged with his Department with regard to head shops; the number of head shops in each electoral area; the actions taken to date or planned by him to deal with the concerns raised; the meetings arranged or that have taken place with other agencies or Departments to deal with the concerns raised; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [14327/10]

Michael Ring

Question:

3 Deputy Michael Ring asked the Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs the action that he will take to combat the problem of head shops; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [14329/10]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 2 and 3 together.

My Department has received a large number of complaints regarding the operation of head shops and the new psychoactive substances being sold in these outlets. I covered many of these issues when replying to an Adjournment debate tabled by Deputy Ring last night. These range from letters from individuals, to correspondence in relation to motions passed by local authorities, to a copy of a public petition in the case of Roscommon town. My officials have also been made aware of such concerns through various meetings, including through a conference on "legal highs" organised by the regional drugs task forces, which was held at the end of January. I suspect a number of Members attended the conference in Mullingar. The number of head shops has increased significantly in recent times and it is estimated in excess of 100 such outlets operate in the State.

My colleague, Deputy Curran, when Minister of State with responsibility for the national drugs strategy, voiced concerns on a number of occasions regarding the activities of head shops and the legal highs and I very much share those concerns, which primarily relate to 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.

The National Drugs Strategy 2009-2016 includes two actions aimed at addressing the issues involved. As provided for under the strategy, the former Minister of State, Deputy Curran, held a number of meetings with the Ministers for Health and Children, Justice, Equality and Law Reform and Education and Science. He also met the Garda Commissioner and senior officials from various Departments and offices. Head shops and the sale of legal highs were discussed at many of these meetings, as were various approaches to addressing the activities of these outlets. While reading background information for Question Time, I noticed many meetings had been held with a range of agencies and groups.

Through the Misuse of Drugs Act 1977, the primary legislation through which these substances can be regulated, the Department of Health and Children is finalising 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, that Department is consulting the relevant authorities to ensure any legitimate uses of the substances involved are not impinged upon. Meanwhile, the Government has approved the commencement of a required notification process to the EU and it is envisaged that the regulations controlling the various substances will come into effect in late June, at the conclusion of the three-month process involved. As I stated last night, I assure the House this process will take three months and suggestions it will take longer are not correct.

Meanwhile, the national advisory committee on drugs was asked to carry out research in this area and this is under way. In addition, the activities of head shops are being closely monitored on an ongoing basis by An Garda Síochána and Revenue's Customs Service with a view to ensuring that no substances that are currently illegal are being sold. My Department has been in contact with the Attorney General about a range of approaches to the matter and a number of issues arising in that context are being considered at senior level within an interdepartmental framework.

I assure the Deputies that the issue of head shops and new psychoactive substances is of serious concern to this Government and to governments in many other countries, given the international nature of this problem. A number of countries have taken certain actions, 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. I also assure the Deputies that I will continue to work with my ministerial colleagues in vigorously pursuing all viable approaches to counter the potential threats posed by head shops and legal highs.

Like Deputy Ring, I wish the Minister and Minister of State well in their new portfolios. I assure them we will do everything we can to work with them. I thank the former Minister, Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív, and the former Minister of State, Deputy Curran, for the effort and time they put into Question Time. Question Time is an important occasion during which spokespersons and Ministers can interact and assist each other to improve the brief.

I thank the Minister for his detailed reply. The timescale for implementing legislation or guidelines is a major concern. It is of paramount importance that this happens. A recent newspaper article highlighted a 400% increase in applications to the Department of Health and Children seeking information about products that could pose health risks to young persons. That related to concerns about head shops.

Deputy Costello, my party colleague, introduced the Planning and Development (Amendment) Bill 2010 to make it difficult for head shop owners to acquire premises and set up immediately. The former Minister of State thought it was a good idea at the time and that it could be done. Will the Minister follow up on this and bring legislation forward, even if that means amending Deputy Costello's Bill?

News broke earlier that head shop owners want to form a representative association to defend their right to trade and so on. They will not go away because we think what they do is a bad idea. We must examine this issue and act quickly but we must also ensure that what we do is right in order that we can eliminate this threat for once and for all. It is intended the owners will form a group, having examined the legalities involved, and they will fight regulation every step of the way. The Minister can rest assured that the Labour Party will join him and other Ministers in doing everything possible to ensure our youth, the generation of tomorrow, is protected from head shops.

I thank Deputy Wall for his good wishes. I also would like to be associated with the remarks made by Deputies Wall and Ring about the former Minister, Deputy Ó Cuív, and the former Minister of State, Deputy Curran. I agree they did excellent work in the Department. I wish my colleague, the Minister of State, Deputy Mary White, well and I look forward to working with her. I assure the House this will be the only time she will be present for Question Time as an onlooker. She will be an active participant in future.

Deputy Wall's final comments are relevant. When I served in the Department previously, head shop owners advanced the notion that self-regulation was the way forward for their operation. I did not agree with that then and I do not now. The Government is under no illusion about the determination of head shop owners, many of whom feel they are fulfilling a useful purpose. I do not share that view but they will do everything to ensure they can operate. I am equally determined, as is the Government, to make sure they cannot, which is all the more reason to ensure we take every step carefully. The three month notification period to the EU has been taken in clear recognition of the experience that if it is not done, it is easy to strike down any measures in the domestic courts.

On the legislation, following the advice of the Attorney General, the interdepartmental group to which I referred is looking at how best to draw up legislation that would be watertight and not subject to constitutional strikedown. That will not be easy but we believe it can be done. It was possible to do it with the Criminal Assets Bureau and I believe it can be done in this area also. Planning, consumer protection and insurance can be incorporated into the legislation.

I have not seen Deputy Costello's Bill but I will have it examined. I am aware of his experience, which is similar to my own in drugs task force areas, and that would inform some of our thinking. If Deputy Wall is aware of measures in the draft Bill that can inform, advise and strengthen the legislation I wish to advance, he should bring them to my attention and I will take them on board. A good deal of work is being done to prepare guidelines for parents, young people and those who are not so young. There are a number of head shops in my area and, contrary to the popular perception, it is not always 15 to 21 year olds who use them. I was taken aback to see that people approaching middle age have been consumers of those products. Equally, I do not suggest that every last item on sale in those shops is either illegal or damaging. My point is that customers of such shops are not all of a certain age.

These shops have almost spun out of control in a short space of time. I know the Deputies present are as determined as I am to ensure that does not happen because it is causing a considerable amount of legitimate concern. There are side effects, apart from the obvious ones of anti-social behaviour and damage to health and society. There is no doubt that many of those products, legal and otherwise, are gateways to the use of other drugs. Let no one be under any illusion but that this industry is highly organised and very determined. I am aware of that from my experience two years ago. We will have to proceed with great care and caution in order to ensure we have watertight measures to prevent such shops trading.

I object to the name "head shops". They are not "head shops", they are drugs shops. People should stop calling them "head shops" and should call them drugs shops because that is what they are. Recently, a drugs shop in Dublin was burnt down, accidentally or otherwise, and €500,000 was found in the safe by the Garda, probably more than in any of the banks in the country.

The Minister said the Government had notified Europe in compliance with the three month notification period. Ms Marian Harkin, MEP, said in response to questions tabled in the European Parliament that when it comes to public health and safety there is no need to wait for three months, that we can introduce our own legislation. Deputy Catherine Byrne has raised this issue for several months. What she said is correct, namely, that we need to regulate this industry as a matter of urgency. Deputy Wall is correct also that given the amount of money they are making, the people behind those shops can pay for the best advice. I referred to the amount of money that was found in the safe of one such shop. One could ask what amount of money had been put into banks and elsewhere.

This is one of the greatest scourges to hit the country. I listened to the "Liveline" programme with Joe Duffy last week and I heard a parent from England outline what happened to her child. There are bound to be children in this country who are badly affected. Children will die if we do not do something about the matter. We must regulate the shops. If one has a chemist's shop, one must have a licence and a pharmacist with professional qualifications to issue drugs. This area must be regulated as quickly as possible. I urge the Minister to make this his number one priority. Whether it is regulation or legislation that is required, I urge the Minister to bring it before this House as quickly as possible to help us deal with these gangsters. People are burning down shops in Dublin which means that someone has been hurt on the streets. We need regulation in this area and we need it fast. We need to protect our children and communities. The matter is getting out of hand. Fine Gael maintains that all of the products sold in those shops should be approved by the Food Safety Authority of Ireland and the Irish Medicines Board. I urge the Minister to make it his number one priority to ensure we have the regulation and legislation before this House as quickly as possible.

I assure Deputy Ring that it is already a priority of mine and of the Government. The notification is in order for the measure not to be struck down subsequently. It is necessary for the notification to take place. At present, four draft statutory instruments have been prepared to bring a number of substances, including the so-called legal highs, under the control of the Misuse of Drugs Act. We believe the four draft orders are comprehensive. They will relate to the substances which are being sold in the shops referred to by Deputy Ring. I refer to the so-called SPICE products, the BZP derivatives, mephedrone, methylone and related cathinones, GBL and 1,4 BD.

The notification period commenced either yesterday or the day before. I will double-check that. I assure Deputy Ring that I am absolutely determined in that regard. A commitment to that effect already exists in the drugs strategy. Deputy Byrne has been engaged in this work for as long as I have. Many of us can go back to the days when glue was regarded as a gateway drug. Previous to that it was cider and other products. It might be a short-term phenomenon but I do not think that is the case. Unless we attack the surge in these shops with determination through whatever measures we can, they will continue to proliferate. The one thing on which I do not disagree with Deputy Ring is the determination of the sector to put it up to us to see whether we can put them out of business.

Will the Minister also speak to his colleague in the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Deputy John Gormley? There must be regulation in the area of planning. We cannot allow a situation where every other business is controlled and restricted. If one has a takeaway shop, one is restricted in most towns in terms of opening hours. I urge the Minister to speak to his colleague to introduce the necessary amendment to deal with the matter and to prevent drugs shops from opening as they currently do. It is wrong for them to be open for such long hours.

I will take what Deputy Ring has said on board.

Fostaíocht Ghaeltachta.

Dinny McGinley

Question:

4 D’fhiafraigh Deputy Dinny McGinley den Aire Gnóthaí Pobail, Tuaithe agus Gaeltachta an eol dó an ghéarchéim airgeadais in Údarás na Gaeltachta agus na deacrachtaí a éiríonn as seo maidir le fostaíocht a chruthú sna ceantair Ghaeltachta agus an bhfuil sé ar intinn aige bualadh le bord agus feidhmeannaigh an údaráis chun an ghéarchéim a phlé agus a réiteach; agus an ndéanfaidh sé ráiteas ina thaobh. [14326/10]

Tá soláthar iomlán de bheagnach €30 milliún curtha ar fáil d'Údarás na Gaeltachta ón Státchiste trí Vóta mo Roinne don bhliain 2010. Cé gur laghdú é seo ar an gcionroinnt iomlán de €37.6 milliún a cuireadh ar fáil ón Vóta i 2009, creidimse nach gciallaíonn sé seo go mbeidh ciorrú substaintiúil á dhéanamh ar ghníomhaíochtaí an údaráis, nó go mbeidh leas phobal na Gaeltachta ag fulaingt dá bharr.

Ar an gcéad dul síos, ní mór a chur san áireamh gur cuireadh méadú de €2 mhilliún ar fáil ag deireadh 2009, mar thacaíocht bhreise don eagraíocht, le cur leis an mbunsoláthar de €35.6 milliún a bhí fógartha i meastacháin 2009.

Chomh maith leis sin, ní mór a chur san áireamh go mbíonn teacht ag an údarás ar fhoinsí ioncaim eile, ar a n-áirítear: ioncam a ghintear ó scéimeanna a fheidhmiú, ar nós na scéimeanna fostaíochta pobail agus sóisialta tuaithe; fáltais ó Chistí an Aontais Eorpaigh, agus ioncam a fhaightear ó dhíol agus léasáil socmhainní, ó dhíbhinní agus ó tháillí.

Chomh maith leis sin, cuirtear maoiniú ar fáil don údarás tríd an Roinn Fiontar, Trádála agus Fostaíochta chun an Scéim Fóirdheontas Fostaíochta agus an ciste cobhsaíochta fiontar a fheidhmiú. Tá tábhacht ar leith ag na tacaíochtaí seo do chomhlachtaí sa Ghaeltacht chun cuidiú leo leanúint ag trádáil agus poist a choinneáil slán. Anuraidh, mar shampla, thacaigh an dá scéim seo le caomhnú 605 post.

Is eol dom go maith na dúshláin agus na constaicí a gcaithfidh an túdarás dul i ngleic leo sa timpeallacht dheacair gnó atá i bhfeidhm faoi láthair. Níl amhras ar bith ach go bhfuil an ghéarchéim eacnamaíoch náisiúnta agus domhanda ag cruthú deacrachtaí do chomhlachtaí sa Ghaeltacht agus tá impleachtaí dá réir ann do chúrsaí fostaíochta. É sin ráite, áfach, is údar misnigh é gur cruthaíodh 710 post nua i gcliant-chomhlachtaí de chuid an údaráis i 2009.

Ar ndóigh, ní mór féachaint ar chomhthéacs níos leithne ná an túdarás féin chomh fada agus a bhaineann sé le caiteachas sa Ghaeltacht. Chomh maith leis an soláthar de bheagnach €30 milliún atá curtha ar fáil don údarás i mbliana, tá €33 milliún eile le caitheamh trí Vóta mo Roinne ar scéimeanna éagsúla sa Ghaeltacht agus ar na hoileáin, a bhfuil formhór an daonra a chónaíonn orthu sa Ghaeltacht.

Anuas ar an gcaiteachas iomlán seo de €63 milliún, ní miste a chur san áireamh go bhfuil cúnamh iomlán de luach €17.3 milliún agus €4.6 milliún ceadaithe faoin gclár forbartha tuaithe do mheitheal forbartha na Gaeltachta, MFG, agus do Chomhar na nOileán, faoi seach, chun tacú le réimse de ghníomhaíochtaí fiontraíochta agus forbartha sa Ghaeltacht agus ar na hoileáin go dtí an bhliain 2013.

Tá mé cinnte go n-aontóidh an Teachta, i bhfianaise an mhaoinithe shubstaintiúil atá á chur ar fáil — fiú san aeráid eacnamaíoch dhúshlánach seo — nach bhfuil neamhaird á dhéanamh ag an Stát ar an Ghaeltacht.

Tuigfidh sé freisin, tá súil agam, nach raibh deis agam castáil le hÚdarás na Gaeltachta go fóill ach beidh áthas orm é sin a dhéanamh a luaithe a bheidh deis fheiliúnach chuige sin.

Déanaim comhghairdeas, mar atá déanta ag mo chomhghleacaí anseo, leis an Aire agus leis an Aire Stáit as na cúraimí úra atá tugtha dóibh. Tá súil agam go n-éireoidh go geal ar fad agus atá an bheirt acu ansin. Mar a dúirt an Teachta Ring, áfach, tá súil agam nach mbeidh siad ann ró-fhada.

Cuirim fáilte roimh an méid a bhí le rá ag an Aire sa fhreagra ansin maidir le hÚdarás na Gaeltachta. Tá mé cinnte go dtuigeann an tAire cé chomh tábhachtach agus atá an t-údarás ó thaobh na Gaeltachta de, ó thaobh fostaíochta sa Ghaeltacht de, agus ó thoabh saol sóisialta na Gaeltachta agus ó thaobh cultúr na Gaeltachta de agus go n-aontóidh an tAire go bhfuil sé iontach tábhachtach go gcuirfear na hacmhainní cuí ar fáil don údarás le gníomhú go héifeachtach ina dhualgais i leith na Gaeltachta.

Dúirt an tAire go bhfuil titim mhór ar an chaiteachas d'Údarás na Gaeltachta i mbliana agus le cúpla bliain anuas, nuair nach raibh an tAire ansin. An dtuigeann sé na deacrachtaí atá ag an údarás i láthair na huaire? Tionscnaimh úra agus fostaíocht úr a cheadú sna ceantair Ghaeltachta mar de bharr an ghearradh siar, go speisialta ar an deontas caipitil. Go dtí seo, bhí Údarás na Gaeltachta in ann acmhainní a dhíol agus breis airgid a fháil isteach, ach tá beagnach gach acmhainn díolta anois. Mar sin, tá sé tábhachtach san am atá romhainn amach go gcuirfear na hacmhainní ar fáil don údarás.

Dúirt an tAire go bhfuil sé ar intinn aige bualadh leis an údarás gan mhoill. Tá mé cinnte go ndéanfaidh sé na rudaí seo a phlé. An féidir leis an Aire aon tuairim a thabhairt dúinn maidir le; an bhfuil sé ar intinn aige toghchán an údaráis a bheith ann i mbliana nó sa bhliain seo chugainn? An bhfuil socrú déanta aige faoi sin?

Má tá tionscnaimh cheadaithe ag an údarás, an gcuirfidh an tAire na hacmhainní ar fáil dó, le tacaíocht a thabhairt do na tionscnaimh sin le fostaíocht a chruthú sna Gaeltachtaí?

Gabhaim buíochas leis an dea-mhéin atá curtha in iúl ag an Teachta, ar mo shon fhéin agus ar son an Aire Stáit. Tá deacrachtaí ann ceart go leor. Is dócha gur comhartha dóchais é go bhfuil poist d'ard chaighdeán á chruthú sa Ghaeltacht. Tá níos mó eolais faoi sin ag an Teachta ná mar atá agam. Tá sé sin le feiceáil san earnáil seirbhísí agus déantúsaíochta nua-aimseartha, ach go háirithe. Rinne an túdarás an-obair le blianta anuas chun tionscadail ar nós an tionscadal closamhairc a fhorbairt. Léiríonn sé seo go bhfuil ag éirí le straitéis réamhghníomhach an údaráis chun fiontar dúchasach le postanna ard-oilte a chur chun cinn sa Ghaeltacht. Níl dabht ar bith ach go bhfuil athstruchtúrú ag teacht ar gheilleagar na Gaeltachta de réir a chéile de bharr na straitéise seo. Tá athrú ar siúl ó earnálacha le beagán teicneolaíochta go hearnálacha déantúsaíochta agus seirbhísí a bhfuil ard-teicneolaíocht ag baint leo. Mar sin, bíonn fórsa oibre níos oilte ag teastáil uathu.

Luaigh an Teachta cúraimí fiontraíochta an údaráis. Déanfar measúnú ar aon leasuithe atá le déanamh ar chumhachtaí agus aidhmeanna an údaráis i gcomhthéacs an dréachtstraitéis 20 bliain don Ghaeilge. Mar is eol don Teachta, tá an straitéis á scrúdú ag an gcoiste faoi láthair. Nuair atá obair an choiste curtha i gcrích agus tuairisc faighte, tá sé ar intinn agam an dréachtstraitéis — agus í leasuithe más cuí — a thabhairt faoi bhráid an Rialtais, le ceadú.

Maidir leis an toghchán d'Údarás na Gaeltachta, mar is eol don Teach reachtáladh an toghchán deireanach i mí Aibreán 2005. Faoi réir na reachtaíochta faoina bhfeidhmíonn an túdarás, ní mór an chéad toghchán eile a reachtáil am éigin sa tréimhse idir inniu agus 1 Deireadh Fómhair 2010. Faoi láthair, tá moltaí éagsúla maidir leis an Ghaeilge agus an Ghaeltacht, a bheadh impleachtaí acu don údarás amach anseo, á phlé i gcomhthéacs an dréachtstraitéis 20 bliain don Ghaeilge, a fhoilsíodh le déanaí.

Sa chomhthéacs sin, níl sé i gceist agam cinneadh a thógáil ag an bpointe seo maidir le dáta don chéad toghchán eile. Más gá, áfach, agus má oireann sé do chúinsí an cháis, is féidir liom cás a bhreithniú maidir le Bille a thabhairt os comhair an Tí seo chun síneadh a chur ar thréimhse comhaltaí tofa an bhord reatha.

Gabhaim buíochas leis an Aire as an fhreagra chuimsitheach atá tugtha aige. Tá a fhios agam nach bhfuil an tAire i mbun na Roinne ach le breis agus seachtain anuas. Tá mé cinnte go bhfuil sé ar intinn ag an Aire cuairt a thabhairt ar na ceantair Ghaeltachta chomh luath agus is féidir. Tá súil agam go mbeidh sé ábalta cuairt a thabhairt orainn ó thuaidh gan mhoill go dtí go bhfeicfidh sé céard atá ar siúl sna ceantair Ghaeltachta ansin agus, chomh maith, sa chuid eile den tír. Mar sin, táim cinnte go mbeidh cúpla seachtain gnóthach ag an Aire ag taisteal ó cheann amháin den tír go dtí an ceann eile ag tabhairt cuairte ar na Gaeltachtaí, gan dearmad a dhéanamh ar na hoileáin, Tóraí, Árann Mór, Gabhla, Inis Meáin, Inis Bó Finne, Oileán Uaighe agus Inis Sionnaigh agus gach oileán eile idir sin agus Corcaigh.

Táim ag súil le tosnú ar an taisteal sin go luath tríd na Gaeltachtaí go léir agus na hoileáin i dtreo agus go mbeidh seans agam bualadh le pobal na Gaeltachta agus seans a thabhairt dóibh na ceisteanna atá acu a phlé liom agus le m'Aire Stáit.

National Drugs Strategy.

Catherine Byrne

Question:

5 Deputy Catherine Byrne asked the Minister for Community, Equality and Gaeltacht Affairs if he will confirm that the Office of the Minister for Drugs is still in operation; if he will guarantee that a full-time Minister of State will continue to direct and oversee the implementation of the national drugs strategy, and in particular, the forthcoming new national substance misuse strategy; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [14314/10]

I can confirm to the Deputy that the Office of the Minister for Drugs remains very much in operation with a clear focus on dealing with the issue of problem drug use in Ireland. I can confirm also that responsibility for the national drugs strategy will rest with me, as Minister. I look forward to working on it and enjoyed working on it previously. I am sure I will have the same engagement with the sector as I did in the past.

The Government remains fully committed to addressing the drugs problem and I believe that my appointment as a Minister with direct responsibility in this area will facilitate the implementation of the drugs strategy in a timely and co-ordinated fashion. Many at community level have been campaigning for some time that the Minister with responsibility for the drugs strategy should be a member of the Government with a seat at Cabinet.

During my previous period as Minister for State with responsibility for this area, significant steps forward were made in the drugs area. From my experience on the ground at that time, I am very familiar with the ongoing issues in terms of the drugs problem in communities and the initiatives being taken to address them. I acknowledge the excellent work done by my colleague, Deputy John Curran, while he was Minister of State, in driving the finalisation of the National Drugs Strategy 2009-16, the implementation of which is being pursued vigorously across a range of Departments and agencies.

I fully intend to build on this work and to implement a continuous assessment approach to progress the 63 actions in the strategy to ensure that we achieve successful outcomes. Furthermore, I believe that the structures now in place under the strategy will better facilitate me to effectively fulfil that role.

With regard to drugs and alcohol, I was one of the main advocates to Government on combining the approach as regards substance misuse. I was delighted with the decision to prepare a national substance misuse strategy and I look forward to this being put in place within the timeframe envisaged. As Deputy Byrne will be aware, a steering group, which is jointly chaired by officials of the Department of Health and Children and the office of the Minister of State with responsibility for drugs, has been established to develop proposals for submission to Government before the end of the year.

I can assure the Deputy of my commitment to press ahead with the ongoing implementation of the national drugs strategy and to support the timely finalisation and subsequent implementation of the national substance misuse strategy, incorporating both alcohol and drugs.

I thank the Minister. There is no doubt in my mind that he is the right man in the right place. I concur with everybody who has paid tribute to Deputy John Curran who, although Minister of State with responsibility for drugs for a relatively short time, made an enormous impression on everybody, in the communities as well as in Leinster House.

I am delighted that the position has not been abolished and that it will continue. I have been contacted by a great many people working in community groups who were very worried that the situation we had worked so hard to establish last year, given that a Minister of State was in place, would be abandoned. The national drugs strategy needs a committed Minister to drive it forward. I have known for many years that Deputy Carey is such a Minister especially as regards communities.

The main reason people are so distraught over what is happening on the drug scene is because many of projects involved are facing major reductions in funding. This has been an enormous problem, particularly in my area, where people have been told that certain projects will have to close or be short of staff. It has put tremendous pressure on the small number of people who are left.

I have no doubt in mind that there was never a better time to control head shops, as referred to in Question No. 2. We are all singing from the same hymn sheet in the Chamber in that regard. The main thing is to protect our children, but having said that, the Minister, Deputy Carey, might intervene with the new Minister for Education and Science. Last week I asked whether she would consider mounting an awareness campaign, particularly in secondary schools, immediately, since 24 hours can have a major difference in the life of any child.

I welcome the Minister, Deputy Carey back to the driving seat and I hope we shall enjoy the same working relationship we have had over many years, because I really believe he knows what is happening on the ground. I and my party colleagues believe the only way to tackle the drugs problem is to have someone in charge who can lead the way.

I thank Deputy Byrne for her comments. At the risk of a mutual admiration society emerging, I should say that Deputy Byrne has been around this particular area of community work for a long time and has a deep-rooted knowledge of it.

In terms of any doubts about the office, I assure Deputies it will continue and I am as committed to it as ever. There is no doubt that the levels of funding are not as generous as they were in the past, but the work groups are doing right across the country, whether in drugs task forces or any other area, are not driven by funding alone. Certainly, much of the work depends on proper and large-scale resourcing and perhaps we can never have enough. However, I will be working with my Minister of State and others in government to ensure the best use is made of available resources and indeed address as comprehensively as possible problem drug use and the issues associated with it, whether early school leaving, high levels of unemployment, anti-social behaviour etc. We need to focus on co-ordinating our approach even more sharply than in the past.

I agree with Deputy Byrne about the level of awareness that is needed. Only yesterday I was looking with my officials at the "Dial to stop drug dealing" campaign, which is quite successful. I certainly believe that is one area we can make use of to get the message across. I also believe, incidentally, that we should look at facilities such as Twitter, Facebook etc. — and I might even talk to colleagues in other parties in this regard — just to broaden the message, using more up to date media to get through to the target groups.

The Greens will teach the Minister about that.

I gather the Department of Education and Science is working on finalising work information books with the Department of Health and Children about drugs, generally, focusing in particular on the legal highs Deputy Byrne is concerned about, as I am.

The big challenge now is to drive through the new strategy and ensure that the substance misuse strategy is implemented as quickly as possible. Above all, I do not want to see a turf war between Departments as to whether the implementation of that strategy should be with the Department of Health and Children, my Department or whatever, because as many of us know, such a development has bedevilled many previous campaigns in terms of alcohol awareness programmes and so on. I certainly believe much ground work has been done. I have read through the files over the last couple of days about the progress that has been made and am actually very confident that we shall have a substance misuse policy that probably will be a leader in the approach to be taken on substances legal and illegal. It might be copied in time by many other jurisdictions.