Misuse of Drugs (Amendment) Bill 2015: Second Stage

I move: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

I am presenting the Misuse of Drugs (Amendment) Bill 2015 to the House today as an emergency measure on foot of a judgment earlier today by the Court of Appeal on the Misuse of Drugs Act 1977. I would like to express my appreciation to Whips and the House for agreeing to deal with this Bill at such short notice.

The ruling by the court today means that numerous substances which have been controlled by Government order in the years since 1977 cease to be controlled under the Act. The court ruled today on an appeal against the High Court judgment of May last year. The High Court had upheld the constitutionality of section 2(2) which is the provision in the Act empowering the Government to declare substances to be controlled under the Act. The Court of Appeal concluded that this provision is deficient in principles and policies and, accordingly, is repugnant to Article 15.2.1 of the Constitution. This vests the sole and exclusive power of making laws in the Oireachtas. Accordingly, any order may under this power is invalid. While the State had no way of knowing how the Court of Appeal would rule, we planned for this possibility by preparing this Bill and ensuring it could be brought before the House without delay. This Bill aims to deal with the fall-out of today's judgment by reinstating the status quo ante in relation to substances controlled by Government order. I hope it will meet with the approval of this House.

By way of explanation, the Misuse of Drugs Act has two primary purposes. It establishes a system of control over certain drugs to protect the public from dangerous or potentially dangerous and harmful substances and facilitates the safe use of certain controlled drug substances, which, though harmful if misused, have medical and therapeutic value. Under the legislation, unless expressly allowed to do so, it is illegal to possess, supply, manufacture, import or export a controlled substance. Controlled substances under the Act are substances which are either known to be, or have the potential to be, dangerous or harmful to human health, including their liability for misuse or causing social harm. In general, these are substances which affect the central nervous system, producing some mind-altering effect. This may be stimulation, depression, hallucinations or other significant change. Additionally, many of these drugs have the potential to cause addiction or dependence, whether physical or psychological.

A substance may be declared controlled under the Act in one of two ways. The first is if the substance is listed in the original Schedule to the 1977 Act. The second is if the substance has been declared controlled by the Government by means of an order made under section 2(2) of the Act. Subsequent to a substance being declared controlled, the Minister for Health then makes regulations to place controls on the import, export, production, supply and possession appropriate to that substance. The Schedule to the Act lists over 100 substances which are controlled, including cocaine, heroin, cannabis, certain amphetamines and other well and less well known substances. These are not affected by today's judgment. However, the legislators in 1977 recognised that it was important to future-proof the legislation by providing a mechanism by which additional substances could be declared controlled without undue delay. This was far-seeing because as we all know numerous dangerous substances which might not have been known about, or might not have even existed, in 1977 have emerged on the drugs market in the intervening period. Accordingly, the Act provided under section 2(2) that additional substances could be controlled by means of Government order. Since 1977, this power has been used nine times by several Governments to control a wide range of dangerous substances, including ecstasy, and most recently head shop drugs.

Earlier today, section 2(2) under which Government orders are made was declared unconstitutional by the Court of Appeal. This judgment will be carefully examined by my Department with a view to considering its implications and what future amendments to the legislation may be required. What is clear is that, as of today, as a result of this judgment, all Government orders made under this Act cease to be valid. This means that all substances which have been declared controlled by Government order, many of which pose significant health risks for people who use them, are now no longer controlled under the Act.

Accordingly, the purpose of this short but important Bill is to resubmit these substances to control under the Act. The Bill does so by inserting these substances into the Schedule to the Act. In order to reaffirm the controls which may apply to these substances, the Bill also confirms a number of ministerial orders and regulations made under the Act, thereby giving these instruments statutory effect as though they were an Act of the Oireachtas.

Controlling substances under the Misuse of Drugs Act is an ongoing process which involves national and international co-operation and engagement. The drugs phenomenon is an international issue that needs to be tackled in a co-ordinated way and addressed in a global context. Two United Nations conventions provide the international legal framework for addressing the illicit drugs phenomenon. The fundamental objective of the conventions is to protect the health of people from the inappropriate use of controlled drugs and to ensure use of controlled drugs is restricted to medical and scientific purposes. Substances are scheduled under the Act in accordance with Ireland's obligations under these international conventions. Of course, it is open to parties to the UN conventions to extend the scope of control to a wider range of substances, which Ireland has done. Furthermore, substances are also scheduled under the Act in accordance with EU Council decisions or where there is evidence that substances are causing significant harm to public health.

The process by which substances are subjected to control by the Government under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1977 is highly technical and complex in order to ascertain whether the abuse potential is such as to warrant control. This work includes monitoring of trends of drug abuse in the national and international drugs markets and the identification of substances and classes of substances that are being used in the drug culture. It involves information exchange between Departments and State agencies regarding trends in usage, seizures and health effects of drugs. The development of highly technical legislative provisions which precisely describe individual chemical substances or groups of substances is an important part of the work of accurately controlling substances. Government orders have declared controlled a wide range of substances by means of generic definitions, thereby aiming to stay ahead of the clandestine laboratories which deliberately circumvent national controls by making minor changes to molecules.

Since 1977, nine Government orders have been made, of which seven continued in operation until today. The most recent order was made in December 2014 when a number of substances were controlled arising from EU Council decisions. Substances controlled by Government order range from substances which are useful medicines but which have abuse potential, such as benzodiazepines, to plants which have psychoactive properties such as magic mushrooms, to synthetic substances sold as "bath salts", "incense" or "research chemicals".

Members of this House will recall the head shop phenomenon of a few years ago. Some people mistakenly believed that because products sold in these shops were "legal" that they were "safe". Government orders in 2010 and 2011 controlled the substances then commonly being sold in head shops, including synthetic cannabinoids, BZP derivatives and mephedrone. These controls, coupled with the Criminal Justice (Psychoactive Substances) Act 2010 helped to address this problem. Prior to the introduction of the 2010 Act there were more than 100 head shops operating in the State. Since the introduction of the Act, the head shop trade in Ireland has almost disappeared.

The speed at which new psychoactive drugs emerge is evidenced by data from the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction which received reports of 15 new psychoactive substances in 2005 compared to 73 in 2012. The availability of detailed information regarding the chemistry of substances on the Internet, coupled with the availability of sophisticated technology and chemistry expertise, have contributed to the rapid evolution of the illicit drugs market, particularly in the past decade. It is important that we work together to counter the threat they pose to users, particularly young people. A key part of that work is the control of substances under this Act.

The mechanism under which new substances can be controlled in the future will require consideration on foot of today's Court of Appeal decision. This is not part of the proposed Bill as the matter will need to be considered further in light of the terms of the judgment. The Bill provides that substances which were controlled before the court judgment by means of Government order may be added to the Schedule in the 1977 Act, thereby providing that they will once more be controlled.

Section 1 is the amendment of the Schedule to the Misuse of Drugs Act 1977. This provision inserts into the Schedule of the Misuse of Drugs Act 1977 the Schedule to this Bill. These are the same substances previously controlled under Government orders made under section 2(2) of the Misuse of Drugs Act 1977. The substances to be inserted into the Schedule are listed in paragraphs 1A and 1B to be able to specify which additional compounds, namely stereoisomers, esters and ethers, salts, products and preparations of substances, are also controlled.

Section 2 relates to the confirmation of certain statutory instruments. Certain ministerial orders and regulations made under the 1977 Act are confirmed as if they were an Act of the Oireachtas, thereby ensuring that they are not subject to challenge while the consequences of the Court of Appeal judgment are examined and addressed.

Section 3 is the Short Title, commencement and collective citation. This is a standard citation provision. It is intended the legislation will commence on the day after its passing, that is, the day after it is signed by the President.

In conclusion, the Misuse of Drugs Act 1977 provides for the control of dangerous substances and their regulation to ensure that they are only available for medicinal and other purposes in such a way as to prevent their misuse. This Bill aims to protect the legal framework of this country in relation to controlled drugs, by re-controlling substances which have been assessed as meriting such control. The House will appreciate that this is a very important Bill which has public health and community safety at its heart. I again thank the House and the Opposition for their co-operation in allowing me to bring forward this Bill as a matter of urgency. I look forward to hearing the contributions of Members during the debate and I hope the House will support the passage of the Bill without delay. I commend the Bill to the House.

We will support the Bill. I thank the Minister and his officials for the information provided to us in recent hours in preparation for the debate. The most reassuring aspect of the Minister's speech is the fact that the Department was aware of the situation and had prepared for this potential finding of the Court of Appeal following the challenge that was taken. While it is emergency legislation, its preparation was not done in a panicked manner or under pressure of time. It has been thought out and has received the full support of law officers and the Attorney General. In that context it is unlikely that any amendments will be tabled by the Opposition.

However, it brings us to the broader issue of head shops and psychoactive drugs and substances that were freely available in this country for many years. Such drugs had a devastating impact on people who were using or abusing them. The challenge we face, with the advances in clandestine laboratories and the willingness of people to participate in this illicit trade, is to be one step ahead or as close to that as possible of people who are engaged in this nefarious activity in terms of designer drugs and psychoactive drugs. That will be a consistent challenge that must be addressed nationally and internationally. The European Union has a key role to play in the area.

We must provide time for a debate in this House on drugs in broader society as there is a view that we have taken our eye off the ball in terms of addressing the problems of drug abuse and drug addiction. Methadone, which is a substitute drug, is very often the only solution provided to heroin addicts. It is time for us to re-evaluate our drugs strategy, and assess it to see what is working and what is not working. It is clear that a continuous number of people fall into opiate abuse on a regular basis. Society must have a mature debate on drugs, how we fight them and how we support people who are addicted to them, as well as how we address the broader societal issues that lead people down that particular cul-de-sac. That is something on which we can no longer prevaricate or delay. An urgent response is required in terms of setting up a full review of our programmes, community supports, medical supports, therapies available to drug addicts and, on the criminal justice side, the supports available to An Garda Síochána and other law officers of the State in terms of combatting drug importation and manufacturing in this country. While the Bill deals with a specific issue in terms of the finding of the Court of Appeal, in a sense we need to ensure we do not just park the Bill and assume that everything will be fine again.

We face a serious challenge on which members of the public are calling for and require a debate. More important, the Oireachtas must decide whether to support the current national drugs strategy, which has, arguably, slipped down the Government's list of priorities. I make this observation because the strategy lacks a focal point. The current cross-departmental approach means the Departments of Health, Social Protection, Education and Skills and the Environment, Community and Local Government are all involved in the fight against drugs, as are local authorities and numerous agencies. A central focal point is required to pull together all the relevant Departments and State agencies to ensure the drugs strategy is targeted, cohesive, effective, nuanced and innovative.

While I do not necessarily advocate the decriminalisation of drugs, the question as to whether the criminalisation of all drugs has had the desired outcome has been considered elsewhere. Lessons can be learned, including with regard to providing more health supports for drug addicts and better access to support programmes. The fact that drug addicts are involved in criminal activity means they are often reluctant to present when they require medical or therapeutic support. We have a revolving door system whereby drug addicts are arrested and processed, engage in a rehabilitation programme and are then returned to their previous environment. This frequently means poor accommodation and a lack of support, and the result is a return to addiction. We need to have a discussion of this issue soon.

A Minister with specific responsibility for drugs is required. He or she should either implement the recommendations of the task force on drugs or assess whether a new drugs strategy is needed. The latter scenario would require considerable time, effort and energy, with a central focus to ensure any future strategy is responsive to the needs and demands of society, including drug users and abusers. I urge the Minister to immediately prioritise a full review of the drugs strategy to facilitate a debate on how to address drug issues.

The Minister spoke in detail about the Bill, and I do not propose to dwell on it other than to note that head shops were a cause of serious public concern and anxiety. The issue was raised in the Oireachtas on numerous occasions, leading to a Government effort to address the specific issue of psychoactive drugs being freely available in head shops. As the Minister stated, the fact that such drugs could be sold legally appeared to indicate that they were not especially harmful. The Court of Appeal, which is in its infancy, has made a finding that will increase public awareness of the new court. Its ruling will have implications not only for the Misuse of Drugs Act but also for other legislation, because I am sure many Acts passed by the Oireachtas will be challenged on foot of it. I assume a broader trawl of legislation will take place to address weaknesses that could result in various Acts being found to be repugnant to the Constitution. Such a trawl should be done quickly.

Once the Bill completes its passage in both Houses, I urge that it be quickly referred to the President for his signature. The Fianna Fáil Party will support the Minister to ensure this is done as we do not want to unduly delay the Bill.

The separation of powers between the Oireachtas, the Executive and the Judiciary is necessary. When the Oireachtas or the Government overreaches its powers, it is important that there is a mechanism in place to correct this.

I have previously had cause to raise an issue related to mandatory sentencing. The Oireachtas has passed legislation providing for the imposition of mandatory sentences for offences involving the sale of drugs over a certain street value. Provision has been made for the courts to take account of certain mitigating circumstances such as guilty pleas or the provision by the convicted person of assistance to the authorities in progressing an investigation. The general principle involved has not been accepted or endorsed by the courts in handing down sentences. I raised this concern with the Presidents of the High Court and Circuit Court. There was a practice whereby members of the Judiciary read Second Stage speeches to ensure their interpretation of legislation was based not only on the text of the Act but also on a general understanding of the policies and principles underpinning it. This practice has become a little frayed with regard to some of the legislation that has not stood up to a court challenge or has not been implemented in the manner the Oireachtas assumed it would be implemented. Mandatory sentencing is a case in point.

Drugs present a significant challenge, and the Oireachtas and the courts should do everything possible to send out a strong message that those who are prosecuted and found guilty of drug crimes will find little favour in the courts. A deterrent is required to discourage this nefarious activity, which involves large sums of money. The drugs trade has become a massive international criminal racket that does not recognise borders and funds and supports other activities. It is also linked to other criminal activities, such as people trafficking and prostitution, that transgress human rights and destroy communities. For this reason, when we speak of having a strategy, a policy or even a philosophy for dealing with drugs, the sentiments expressed by Members of the Oireachtas should find some resonance when laws are being interpreted and sentences handed down to those who breach them. Sometimes the sentences imposed on those who have been found guilty in a court of law do not reflect the serious impact their activities have on individuals and society.

The Oireachtas is obliged to give all possible support to An Garda Síochána and other agencies of the State in processing and prosecuting crime. It is also obliged to put in place a strong legislative underpinning for the Judiciary and send out a strong message on sentencing to ensure those involved in large-scale drug importation and distribution will find no favour in the courts. I feel very strongly about this issue. If it is ignored, as has been the case, the Oireachtas must revisit the relevant legislation to find a way to encourage and direct the Judiciary without interfering with its independence.

If, as the Minister states, the Bill has been thought through and drafted and assessed by the Attorney General on the basis that the Court of Appeal could find against the State in the case involving the principal legislation, I see no reason to table any amendments.

Again, I go back to the central theme of what I have been saying, that is the misuse of drugs and the challenges facing us and the Minister for Health in respect of his obligations to ensure that every support is given to people who are addicted to drugs, especially heroin, crystal meth and others. These people are finding it singularly difficult to kick the habit. It is bad enough to try to kick it with all the supports, but to try to kick it without supports or the wrong supports can end up placing people back into the same environment they came from. Simply trying to beat these addictions is not good enough. It does the individuals no favours and can do society collectively considerable damage as well. From that perspective I urge the Minister to request the appointment of a Minister of State with responsibility for drugs in his Department or some other Department. A Minister of State in that role would be able to bring together all the agencies, policies and supports that should be in place and, where there are deficiencies, he could address the issues.

There is a broader issue in respect of how we deal with the problem and the supports, including the methadone programme and other therapies available to drug addicts. I believe the programme is simply not working. Often, we are simply giving people methadone in the hope that they will not annoy us on the street and that we can ignore them when we walk past them. They will simply continue on. We continually feed them methadone but then they fall out of the programme. Subsequently, there is a prosecution and they are back into the system only to be back out of it again later. I question whether we have a system that is fit-for-purpose, one tailormade to the individual addict and which is client-focused or patient-focused, whatever way we choose to refer to it. Anyway, a clear pathway should be put in place for every individual patient and drug addict. Methadone may not always be suitable for individuals. Other substitutes should be considered as well. One of the reasons they do this is because methadone is cheap. It is easy for them to line up at the addiction clinic. They hand out the sugar-based methadone and off they go on their merry way. I believe that is fundamentally wrong. It is not what society expects of us. Rather, we should try to help people who are living destroyed lives. Many of the people presenting want to kick the habit. They want to get free and clean and get back to engage in society. That in itself is something we must observe and address quickly.

I commend the Bill to the House. We will be supporting it. We will try to do anything we can to help in other areas or in respect of statutes that are deemed open to question or that potentially could be challenged because of the findings of the Court of Appeal. I commend and support the Bill.

Táim sásta deis a fháil caint ar an reachtaíocht thábhachtach seo. De bharr chás a tógadh i gcoinne stádas Bunreachtúil an Achta Um Mí-úsáid Drugaí 1977 rialaigh an chúirt nach raibh sé ag teacht leis an mBunreacht. Ag teacht uaidh sin tá na céadta substaintí a bhíodh mídhleathach dleathach anois. Tá an Bille leasaithe seo os comhair na Dála anocht le cinntiú go gcuirfear cosc arís ar na drugaí seo, drugaí atá baolach agus dainséarach do shláinte daoine go haonarach agus don tsochaí ar fad. Beimid ag tacú leis an mBille seo.

Today the Court of Appeal delivered a decision declaring section 2(2) of the Misuse of Drugs Act 1977 to be invalid. The section allowed the Government, by order, to designate certain substances as "controlled drugs". The Misuse of Drugs Act 1977 regulates the import, export, production, supply and possession of a range of specified narcotic drugs and psychotropic substances. Substances are scheduled under the Act in accordance with Ireland's obligations under international conventions and where there is evidence that they are causing significant harm to public health in Ireland. The list of scheduled substances has been kept under review. Action is taken in cases where evidence emerges that substances are being abused and are causing significant harm.

The legislation was challenged in 2012 on the basis that the Government did not have the power under the primary legislation to deem a substance to be a controlled drug. Therefore, it is not now an offence to be in possession of certain head shop drugs since they are not deemed to be controlled drugs. Moreover, the order of Government which made them illegal is now invalid. Ecstasy, ketamine and crystal meth fall under the reclassification and are, therefore, some would have it, technically not illegal as we speak. Drugs had been controlled under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1977 with a Schedule listing the drugs. Section 2 of this Schedule allowed the Government to add new drugs such as ecstasy, benzodiazepines and so-called head shop drugs. Over 260 other drugs, that were termed "legal highs" have been banned in this way.

The fact is that hundreds of substances that were banned are no longer banned as of this morning's court decision. These substances are harmful, known to be a danger to public health and are being misused. I note, however, that the Minister has emphasised that the supply, sale, import and export of ecstasy and other new drugs remains illegal. This legislation will restore the situation that existed prior to this constitutional challenge. It is essential. We should remember that this judgment has no implications for the approximately 125 substances, including cannabis, heroin and cocaine, that were banned by the primary legislation in 1977.

I hope the Bill will pass without delay through the Dáil this evening and the Seanad tomorrow and will then be signed by an tUachtarán with appropriate haste. This must happen to ensure that those who might attempt to sell or consume these dangerous substances are in no doubt of the stance of all legislators regarding these substances.

The Misuse of Drugs (Amendment) Bill 2015 will amend the Misuse of Drugs Act 1977 to incorporate substances which had been prohibited by order of Government over the years since its enactment. It will include substances previously listed in Government orders within the Schedule to the Misuse of Drugs Act 1977. A further six statutory instruments listed in Schedule 2 which had been made under section 2(2) of the 1977 Act will be deemed to have effect.

Section 1 inserts into the Misuse of Drugs Act 1977 the substances listed in the Schedule to this Bill. Section 2 allows the Oireachtas to confirm certain statutory instruments as if they were valid and enforceable Acts of the Oireachtas. Section 3 provides for the legislation to commence as of the date immediately following the date of its passing. It is stated that there are no financial implications arising out of this Bill. Schedule 1 contains almost seven pages listing substances and types of substances that are to be banned. Schedule 2 lists confirmations of certain statutory instruments.

In 2010, measures were introduced in Ireland to ban the sale of legal highs. The Psychoactive Substance Bill gave gardaí the power to seek court orders to close head shops suspected of selling banned substances. Despite this, however, there appears to have been substantial loopholes in the legislation which many of the drugs awareness groups have highlighted in the intervening years. The main loophole is whereby manufacturers simply re-modify the chemical structure of their products to circumvent the law.

In May 2010 we adopted legislation that banned more than 200 legal highs that had been on sale in head shops and over the Internet, which effectively closed many head shops by prohibiting specific drugs. This meant that the import, export, production, possession and sale of the substances listed became illegal and subject to criminal sanction. More than 4.5 tonnes of drugs worth tens of millions of euro were removed from head shops in a Garda operation following the ban. However, many substances are still available online, and a lucrative illegal market in head shop drugs has emerged. This problem has yet to be properly tackled by the Government. While this is not the issue before us this evening, it is a good opportunity to ask the Minister what will now be done to deal with the substances that have so far managed to escape control.

In regard to the legal status of so-called legal highs in this State, the main loophole used by the suppliers of these legal highs is that some substances are not specifically declared "controlled drugs" under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1977. Many of these substances have not been tested on humans or animals. The creators of such products often produce slightly altered versions of the substances as soon as they are declared illegal, making it very difficult to crush this underground trade. Another loophole is the fact that some of these products are labelled as being for animal or plant consumption, and the suppliers very clearly state in all their disclaimers that the products are not for human consumption.

Legal high drugs are often designed to mimic the effects of non-legal drugs and are sold as such. I will now examine some of these substances, the awful affects they can have and the reasons for banning them. These substances undergo little quality control, if any. They can be adulterated with any other kind of substance, and little is known about their strength or side-effects. One example is salvia, which is sold as a legal alternative to ecstasy and advertised as "incense" or "herbal ecstasy". Salvia is a stimulant and hallucinogenic drug and is sold in dry leaf form which is generally smoked. Effects can vary from mild to full-blown psychedelic hallucinations. There are reports that it can trigger psychotic episodes, especially in young people and people with underlying mental health issues. Synthetic cannabinoids are designed to mimic the effects of the psychoactive ingredient in cannabis. Harmful effects can include paranoia and memory loss. Prolonged use can be harmful to people with underlying mental illness, including schizophrenia. Lack of consistency in the contents of these legal highs can also damage the health of abusers. Amphetamines are regularly advertised as "plant feeders" or "bath salts". There have been reports of convulsions, raised heart rate, raised blood pressure and hypothermia in people who have ingested these substances. Effects of other substances include hallucinations, increased blood and heart pressure, nausea, de-realisation, itchiness, sweating, lucid dreaming, psychosis, and muscle and joint pain. This is before we start to talk of flashbacks, withdrawal, subsequent psychosis, mental health problems, the financial strain of addiction and the social problems that ensue. Taking legal highs can be particularly damaging for those who suffer with mental health issues, including depression and anxiety. Some drugs can initiate or worsen mental health problems, including schizophrenia in particular. We have heard of the practice of injecting substances marketed as "bath salts". This practice carries all of the risks associated with injecting heroin, especially if needles are shared. The risk of blood clots is also particularly high.

My colleague, Deputy Aengus Ó Snodaigh, in his former role as Sinn Féin justice spokesperson, personally picketed head shops in his constituency. This was due to a tragic case involving a young man who had taken magic mushrooms. It was said that, at that stage, new so-called legal highs were being developed at a rate of two every month. My colleague, Ms Martina Anderson MEP, proposed a stringent substance control model for head shops in the Six Counties, involving the establishment of an independent authority that would be tasked with regulating the import, production and sale of all psychoactive substances. The authority would work with the existing drugs bodies and the Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety to introduce and enforce a licensing system under which substances could be quickly identified and then restricted or prohibited, as appropriate. Can the Minister advise when responding if there is any intention to further improve legal controls on head shop substances here?

I have recently indicated my strong support for the appointment of a junior Minister with responsibility for drugs. I have concerns regarding the inadequacy of the way in which the State deals with drug abuse. The present Government is the first in 21 years without a Minister with responsibility for drugs. The appointment of a junior Minister in this role would be very much welcomed. I call on the Minister or the Taoiseach to clarify whether there will be a junior Minister with this responsibility, presumably appointed to both the Department of Health and the Department of Justice and Equality, and when this will occur.

I recently secured the agreement of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Health and Children to address the issue of legal highs, mindful of the deaths that have occurred consequent on the use of these substances, not only in Ireland but on a European basis. As I speak here in the Dáil this evening, I am mindful of the death of a young man in my home town of Monaghan. His death was a terrible loss to his mother and his family, to his community and to the town we love so well. I want to record my admiration and support for his mother, Sharon McQuaid, and to pledge every support to her and to the wider community in its efforts to have these so-called legal highs banned and driven from our midst. P. J.'s tragic death was followed soon after by another young man's sad passing. I remember also Michael Power, and once again this evening extend my sympathy to his father and to all the Power family.

Getting back to today's ruling and its consequences, I wish to record my concern about the possibility that perhaps dozens of people who are before the courts on charges of drug dealing and possession will have their cases dismissed. Can the Minister clarify this further vexed development? Is the Minister sure that the provisions in this Bill are adequate to ensure this debacle will not occur again? This debate was sprung upon us. However, we as legislators, and the present Government in the first instance, must address the damage being done to society by drugs. We must ensure that we legislate effectively and endeavour to be always one step ahead of these purveyors of death. Legal highs present a clear danger to society, and experience has shown that new psychoactive substances are emerging every week. Legislation must be rigorous and we must ensure that no further loopholes exist. I know this is not just a significant problem in our cities and larger towns.

It is a scourge in my constituency and in rural constituencies across this State. I urge all Ministers and colleagues of all views in the House to support the Bill and ensure its successful passage into law as speedily as possible.

I wish to share time with Deputies Pringle, Healy and Fleming, five minutes each. I am speaking as somebody who represents a constituency, parts of which have been devastated by drugs, starting with heroin, then cocaine, ecstasy, high strength cannabis, head shop products, which have been compounded by the misuse and abuse of alcohol in recent years, and now tablets. One of the problems for treatment and rehabilitation services has been keeping up with new drugs as they come on stream. Many of the services have dealt with heroin addiction, but have not taken into account other addictions. There is no doubt that tablets are a serious problem in the Dublin I know and elsewhere.

The term "mayhem" has been used by some community workers to describe the tablet issue in Dublin. There is mayhem for the addict and community. The same dealer who sold heroin and cocaine is selling tablets. People living in these communities see no difference between the dealing of tablets and heroin. Parts of the inner city were recently described as being like an open-air supermarket when it comes to drugs, with dealers feeding on the pain and needs of addicts. This Bill recognises the problem of tablets and the way in which gardaí have been unable to deal with this issue to date. Failure to introduce this Bill would be devastating for communities and would mean that ecstasy, head shop drugs and tablets which are known to be harmful - I have seen the harm caused to individuals, families and communities - would no longer be controlled.

Communities and the gardaí have constantly asked when this Bill will be introduced. The communities I represent and those working in them have been waiting for this Schedule. At many of the meetings I attend I am asked why the gardaí are not confiscating tablets. The reason is the legislation that is in place, therefore this Bill is to be welcomed. Communities are looking at people who are strung out on tablets and are waiting to buy tablets to bring them down off other drugs or use them instead of them. We now find that there are some convictions in train that may be affected which would see more dealers getting off. The havoc they cause still continues.

There is a wider debate, as seen in the report from the UN Office on Drugs and Crime. The so-called war on drugs has involved more than 50 years of enforcement-led international drugs control system and trillions of dollars, but has not shown substantial effects, except for organised crime which gets the benefit. The Alternative World Drug Report advocates other options, such as health-led approaches, legal state regulation and control.

I refer to an Irish report. Research was done between 2008 and 2010, but publication was delayed for a few years. The lead author was Dr. Johnny Connolly, a criminologist who painted a grim picture that, despite progress in areas like treatment services, violence and gangland crime still exist. He found that drug use has been largely unaffected by law enforcement, but acknowledges that Garda activities have led to a disruption of the market and local Garda activity has had a positive impact on communities. Police visibility increases resident confidence and police presence might move trade on for a while, but has an effect. That is why the community gardaí, whose resources were reduced recently, need to be fully resourced to tackle these issues.

We are not near the other approach, but regardless of how one feels, discussion, debate and research would be helpful. In the meantime, we have serious problems and the Schedule is vital. This issue indicates the need to have a Minister with responsibility solely for drug and alcohol policy and addiction. It is also needed because of the current debate on harm reduction measures which is gaining momentum. There is a place for harm reduction measures, but there are concerns, especially about the overuse and long-term use of methadone. The optimum goal has to be recovery for those in addiction.

Gangland crime was the subject of a committee on justice, equality, defence and women's rights recently during which people from the north inner city made presentations. They painted a very dark picture of how individuals are being targeted for debt. When an addict dies, the debt does not die with him or her; families are under pressure to pay. Young mothers, in particular, are being targeted. I will quote from a report in which a user said, "One of the people I get stuff (heroin) off like sometimes he would send his son out and his son is in my young fella's class, to hand you it and you hand him the money and he hands you the gear. He is only 12."

New tablets are appearing all the time, such as zimovane and zopiclone. How will they be included in further legislation? There is no doubt that as one tablet is made illegal another will take its place. The Bill needs to address that. We do not often get a chance to discuss drugs in the House, and it is important that we are now having this debate. We need to support the drug-free CE schemes and accommodation, the local projects which are working directly with those in addiction and those in homeless services who have an addiction issue and who, when motivated, can be linked into services.

I wish to indicate that I support the Bill, which arises from a court case and judgment in the Court of Appeal earlier today. The matter is linked to head shops which sold so-called legal highs. I campaigned against head shops in Donegal and marched against them in Donegal town in 2010. At that time communities across the country were delighted when the Government moved and prescribed the substances sold through head shops as legal highs through a statutory instrument in 2010. It made such substances illegal and effectively ended the head shop trade, which was a very progressive move and the right one to make at the time for the State. It had the support of many communities across the counties.

The judgment today throws all of that into doubt and, as has been said by the Minister, possession of the prescribed substances is now legal until the legislation can be passed. It arises from section 2 of the Misuse of Drugs Act 1977. The judgment today stated it was repugnant to Article 15.2.1° of the Constitution and is therefore invalid. The article states: "The sole and exclusive power of making laws for the State is hereby vested in the Oireachtas: no other legislative authority has power to make laws for the State." The judgment noted that section 2 left out important policy judgments and left it to be interpreted by the Government and not the Oireachtas.

The judgment noted that no principles or policies regarding the nature of the substances, product or preparations can be declared by order to be controlled drugs as contained in the section. That is probably the key point in the judgment. It affirms that bodies such as the Department are not law makers: they put into execution the laws as made by the governing authority. The important aspect is that the policy and principle are neglected in the primary legislation which gives the direction to the Department in making declarations on these substances. The Bill provides for the legalisation of the banning of substances which were banned until today. Everybody welcomes the fact that order will be given back to the system.

The Minister said he will introduce primary legislation which will provide those principles and polices in legislation which will allow for the statutory instrument to be implemented in future. It brings the Government's reliance on and the lack of scrutiny of secondary legislation into question, and how so many of our laws are applied in that way. A lot of things can be done through statutory instruments which may not have been scrutinised or intended by the Oireachtas.

During the evidence in the case, the chief pharmacist of the Department said it would be cumbersome to assume that any new drug product deemed dangerous was only banned by legislation subsequently enacted by the Oireachtas. That is the constitutional position, in light of the fact that we do not have the policies and principles laid out in primary legislation.

It is not enough for the Department to argue this is cumbersome and we must have a position where we can, by resolution of the Houses of the Oireachtas, add substances to the list. I have put forward an amendment to be taken shortly on Committee Stage in that regard. I am concerned about what will happen from tonight, as it will take some time to draft primary legislation. The Minister indicated it is technical and detailed so it will take time for it to be brought before the Houses and passed. One could wonder if that will happen before the election or in the lifetime of the Government. We must have some sort of system for now and the passage of the primary legislation because, as Deputy Maureen O'Sullivan pointed out, substances are constantly coming on the market. That would allow us to continue to proscribe substances. That is why I have put forward an amendment to allow the Oireachtas to add substances to the list. It is a vital aspect.

I welcome the opportunity to speak and support this important emergency legislation, which arises from the Court of Appeal judgment today which struck down section 2(2) of the Misuse of Drugs Act 1977. The ruling indicated that the section impermissibly delegates the power to legislate for controlled drugs to the Government. The court reaffirmed the decision in the Cityview Press v. An Chomhairle Oiliúna and others, setting out that principle and policies tests continue to be the starting point to ensure that legislative power is not ceded by the Oireachtas under the guise of delegated regulatory power. It further indicated that the grant of delegated regulation must be circumscribed by appropriate statutory standards so that any policy decision is ultimately determined by the Oireachtas. The judgment indicated that section 2(2) of the 1977 Act gave wide powers to the Government without any principles or policies regarding the nature of substances which could be controlled.

The effect of the decision is that it is not now an offence to be in possession, for example, of certain head shop drugs as they are not now deemed to be controlled, because a Government order which made them illegal is now invalid. The legislation deals with the issue on a current basis and it will come into operation once it is signed into law by the President. We are thankful that the sale, supply and importation of these drugs is still illegal under the 2010 Act. Nevertheless, a number of questions arise. Will cases of possession now fail and do we have any indication of their number or seriousness? Deputy Pringle raised the issue of what will happen between now and the introduction of further primary legislation to cover this area. The Minister indicated that in 2012, some 73 new substances came on the market, as opposed to approximately 15 in 2005. It is important for us to know the timescale of further primary legislation that the Minister has in mind and what it is intended to do in the interim.

Other broader issues have been raised. Unfortunately and sadly, illegal drugs are now everywhere and the country is awash with them. They are causing absolute mayhem. There was a time when drugs were available in most urban areas but they are now available in every area, right across the country, even in the smallest town, village and country area. We need a complete review of the drugs strategy and we must address the question of policing. The Garda drugs unit is under-resourced and is now to be amalgamated with the serious crime squad, which will be detrimental to the activities of that unit. The question of community policing should also be addressed, along with community facilities. That is an important aspect, as prevention is much better than cure. The area has seen many cuts in the past number of years and supporting it should be a priority. The question of having a specific Minister with responsibility for drugs issues must be addressed urgently by the Taoiseach and Cabinet.

With the 2010 legislation and section 2(2) of the Misuse of Drugs Act 1977, there was provision that additional substances could be added to the list of controlled drugs. At the time of the 1977 Act, the drugs in question were heroin, cocaine and cannabis, etc. A Government order was the method of control. The 2010 legislation had a very effective and strong impact on the wholesale availability of lethal substances available at the time, especially between 2008 and 2010, when many head shops were set up in every town and city throughout the country. There were victims of the epidemic nature of these drugs, which were regarded as acceptable at the time. They were thought not to be a "hard" variety of drugs. A generation of mainly students attending secondary schools and colleges may not have partaken otherwise in any type of harmful drug taking but head shops were dispensing these drugs like sweets in a corner shop. It was a travesty at the time and there was a devastating effect on victims, families, schools and communities.

Naturally, this put a strain on the health services, particularly rehabilitation centres. For example, one specialist rehabilitation centre, Talbot Grove in Castleisland, coped with a very significant number of younger people in County Kerry who became victims of those drugs at the time. The manager, Mr. Con Cremin, did not get, and still is not getting, much Government aid, although the facility deserves more recognition and funding to deliver its services. The centre has high-quality staff and they did Trojan work that was mirrored across the country. It still functions as a very effective addiction centre.

Decisive action on eliminating any loopholes in legislation is imperative. For example, the legislation in Britain and Northern Ireland, as well as other EU countries, is not as watertight as ours, as reflected in the 2010 Act. Nevertheless, we must immediately rectify any cases where there may be loopholes.

Legal psychoactive drugs are getting stronger and more addictive than their illegal counterparts. This has been proved in Britain, Northern Ireland and other EU countries. The substances which mimic the effects of cannabis and heroin are completely legal and can be sold on the Internet and the high street. A lack of criminal classification does not mean they are harmless. Many have triggered devastating effects in young teenagers, such as heart attack. A couple of weeks ago a 12 year old in Belfast was hospitalised after taking synthetic cannabis at a bus stop. According to the local police, it is called “trippy weed”.

By tweaking the chemistry, drug dealers are able to make hundreds of thousands of slight variations on a synthetic drug, which are typically much stronger than naturally occurring cannabinoids. This makes illegal highs difficult to regulate but also triggers unpredictable side effects, such as heart palpitations, anxiety and acute psychosis. We need to enact this Bill immediately. I ask the Minister to seek the assistance of a Minister of State with the specific task of controlling the drug problem. I am sure that, along with the Cabinet, he will agree to do this very soon.

I am pleased that the Government has moved swiftly to close off the legal lacuna that has emerged since the decision of the Court of Appeal today. Like many others on hearing this news, I feared a return to the situation that existed in the past when so-called head shops would openly sell unregulated substances to our young people as so-called legal highs which in reality were near lethal doses of unregulated chemical compounds. A legacy of death was associated with these shops and they operated with impunity. As one group of substances was removed from the market through legislation, another similar compound would emerge to replace it. More would die or have their lives maimed by these drugs in the mistaken belief that not illegal meant legal and therefore safe. I have dealt with the families, spouses and children of those people whose lives were blighted by the chemical toxins ingested by their loved ones who were killed, bound by addiction, tainted by overdose or had their physical or mental health ruined by the drugs that are in a Schedule to the Bill or are included in the statutory instruments listed in Schedule 2.

I urge all parties to support the Bill and assist its passage through this House and the Seanad tomorrow. Doing so will save lives. This Bill cannot bring back those who died as result of not knowing what these substances would do to them. It cannot bring back the youth of this country who died as a result of suicide while addicted to these substances or restore the health of those damaged by use of these chemicals, but it can prevent a return to the frenetic days when there was no regulation of these toxic chemicals, which were not then illegal.

The words that were bandied about to describe the drugs such as "designer" and "legal highs" gave a credibility to the substances that belied their nature. According to research published by EUROSTAT in 2011, young people in Ireland were by far the most likely to say they had used substances that imitated the effects of illicit drugs. At 16% this was the highest level of access to those substances in the EU where the average was 5%. Legal highs were a growing problem in Ireland and throughout Europe and it was found that young people were most at risk. With a borderless Internal Market, we needed to copperfasten the protection. Research showed that the number of new substances detected in the EU had tripled between 2009 and 2012. By 2013, more than one new substance had been reported every week.

This House must meet the tide head on. I urge the Members of this House and the Seanad to agree that the gap created must be plugged tightly. I commend the Government and thank the Minister on bringing forward this legislation. I urge all to support it and to continue to save lives.

I welcome this opportunity to speak on the Misuse of Drugs (Amendment) Bill 2015, acknowledging the decision of the Court of Appeal this morning. It is timely for the Minister for Health to have the Bill ready and before us so quickly to deal with the lacuna created.

The decision that certain classes of drugs are legal, which leaves open this loophole which must be closed urgently, is a cause for considerable concern. Most of the drugs that were declared legal due to the lack of primary legislation on the policies and principles underpinning them were available in the head shops which spread throughout the country between 2009 and 2010. They were widespread in my constituency of Dublin Central. I raised the issue on many occasions in 2009 and 2010. There were approximately 14 head shops in Dublin Central, almost all in the inner city. They spread rapidly throughout the country until by the time they were banned, there were approximately 100 and every major town, and some villages had a head shop. They were particularly dangerous because the products mimicked the illegal drugs and had damaging physical and psychological effects on those who consumed or injected them. The drugs appeared very rapidly and were taken by a new generation of young people because they were not perceived as being strictly illegal, although they were unregulated and unlicensed. A young age group began to use them and in many cases became addicted to them.

The head shop phenomenon spread like wildfire as people quickly began to avail of so-called legal highs and many ended up in hospital. Parents were beside themselves with fear for their teenage sons and daughters. There was a real concern that the drug epidemic of heroin and cocaine that had destroyed a generation of young people in the 1980s and early 1990s in the flat complexes throughout the city could be replicated by the unlicensed and unregulated activity and that a new generation would be their victims.

The then Government did not respond very urgently. It was at least 18 months before the then Minister for Health, Mary Harney, moved to introduce a statutory instrument to criminalise these products. During that period they had become a serious threat to young people to such an extent that some sinister elements began to appear.

At least seven head shops were severely damaged, largely through arson, and two were burned down in my constituency. Eventually, the Government of the day did take action and introduced the necessary legislation to ban the substances. It is welcome that the Minister has acted so promptly in incorporating the list of prohibited substances into primary legislation but it is a major concern that in future, as new and potentially dangerous substances are developed and become available, the Minister may not have the facility of the statutory instrument to move quickly to ensure they are prohibited. Instead, primary legislation may have to be passed each time a new drug becomes a problem and that is the real threat. Given that new substances can evolve quickly simply by putting new compounds together, we need a sense of urgency incorporated into our legislative capacity. At present that exists under statutory instrument but if we require primary legislation each time a new compound comes into existence we could be in serious trouble.

I very much welcome the urgency with which the Minister has acted and how expeditiously he has responded but we need to look at the issue in a broader context and we need a new drugs strategy to come to terms with the growing popularity of prescription and non-prescription drugs that are in existence currently

I welcome the opportunity to speak on this matter. Everyone has to recognise the court of appeal and acknowledge its judgment. As previous Deputies have said, there is clearly a lacuna in the legislation. All of us have seen people who have been affected in one way or another by the use of drugs. There were protests against head shops in all parts of the country and rightly so, because each and every one of us knows someone, somewhere in this country who has been affected. I acknowledge the Minister's rapid response in bringing in legislation to combat the problem.

A few months ago we discussed problems with different types of drugs including drink, which is fine in moderation but can lead to problems otherwise and causes major difficulties for a number of people. We also talked about the housing crisis. One can have all the houses in the world but if one has a drug problem which one does not treat it will be of no use. We need to make sure that help is available for the people affected, no matter what drugs are involved or what problems they have. We should have compassion and provide the necessary funding to help them. It can be a tough road but people will be able to see the light at the end of the tunnel if they get help. I would urge any Government to fund whatever services were needed to help people with drug problems. Hard drugs have caused major problems and we do not seem to be able to catch up with the people involved, who always seem to be one step ahead so that we are continually playing catch-up.

I acknowledge the Minister for bringing forward this legislation, which I intend to support.

I am delighted to be able to speak tonight and I welcome the Minister. I recognise the background and purpose of the Bill. We must respect the decision of the courts. The case was heard in court and the court came up with its finding, which is what the courts are for. The separation of powers between the Judiciary and the Oireachtas is very important.

I was in this House at the same time as Deputy Kelleher during the last Government and this was a huge issue in every town and the bigger villages in my constituency. There was all kinds of intimidation directed at head shops, including arson attacks on buildings. There were mob feelings because there were huge emotions. I supported the original legislation in the 1970s, which was amended by the then Minister, former Deputy Mary Harney, and I welcome the swift action of the Minister and the Department of Health in this instance. It is very important that we not only deal with issues like this but are seen to deal with them. It is vital we give a message to the Garda Síochána, to the counselling services and the many organisations trying to deal with the issues which arise from the misuse of drugs, whether they be cigarettes, alcohol or more serious substances. I was present in the House for the debate on the introduction of plain packaging for cigarettes. It is important to take action to give some hope, support and solace to the many families suffering from the destruction caused by the misuse of illegal substances.

It is important this is regulated so I welcome the fact that, for once, this Government has acted expeditiously and speedily in dealing with the issue. Since he joined the Department of Health the Minister seems to give a comment to the media once a week or once a fortnight but not actually to deal with the issues. One would think he was an absentee Minister and he seems to be more of a media commentator. He is the Minister for Health now so I suggest he stands up. He should act up as he is the man in charge. He needs to listen to what is going on because he is not in opposition now, as he was a few years ago, nor is he in the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport. He should deal with the crisis we are facing instead of going away on holiday and returning only to be exasperated by trolley watch and unable to deal with the situation in the HSE. He is the man in charge and the buck stops with him. He is a young and energetic man and he has a lot of ideas so he should deal with the issues in health.

I welcome the fact that he is dealing with this issue today. I support him but I wish he would be as forthright, or even half as forthright, in dealing with the issues in Beaumont Hospital, South Tipperary General Hospital or Cork University Hospital. The crisis is alarming and the bureaucracy of the HSE is not dealing with it. There is no point in the Minister giving soundbites to the media to the effect that he is exasperated by it. He would be better rolling up his sleeves and dealing with it. He called a committee together which has met two or three times in an emergency forum but the wrong people are dealing with emergencies. They are all senior officials but the Minister should deal with hospital managers and front-line staff.

I salute Sister Consilio and Sister Veronica Mangan and all the other people who have championed the victims of drug addiction, alcohol and homelessness. The Minister should take off his suit, put on his boots and engage with those people to understand what is going on. Then he might be able to deal with it.

There is no point in talking to senior officials in the HSE, which the Minister's party said it would disband. He has called them all together, but he cannot deal with the problem because the wrong people are discussing it. They sit behind desks, wear suits and are senior managers who are more interested in their advancing their careers than they are in dealing with the problem. The Minister should deal with the situation. He has drafters of the legislative programme to deal with this debate tonight. We need that kind of action in health as well as here. Let the Minister's legacy be that he took off the gloves and got down to the basics and dealt with the problems. I salute him in doing this. Let us show more leadership in other areas in the HSE as well.

The phrase "war on drugs" was coined by Richard Nixon 44 years ago in 1971. He said that drug abuse was public enemy number one. He told Congress that drug addiction had "assumed the dimensions of a national emergency," and asked Capitol Hill for an €84 million for emergency measures. The so-called war on drugs now costs the US Government more than €50 billion a year.

Yesterday in Vienna the UN Office on Drugs and Crime opened its 58th session of its Commission on Narcotic Drugs. The secretariat provided a report summarising the most recent information available to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime on the illicit global demand for drugs. In 2012, between 3.5% and 7% of people aged between 15 and 64 were estimated to have illicitly used drugs at least once in the preceding year. Since 2009, there has been an increase in the number of people illicitly using drugs, which reflects both an increase in the global population and a slight increase in the prevalence of drug abuse, while the number of problem drug users has remained stable. Recent trends relating to drug use in Europe show a decrease or stabilisation in the use of cannabis, cocaine, heroin and amphetamine-type stimulants, but an increase in the use of new psychoactive substances. Heroin use appears to be stabilising overall, but non-medical use of prescription opiates continues to increase in many regions.

It appears, 44 years into the war on drugs, that it is failing. It is failing on its own terms in that it is failing to stem drug abuse. It is also failing in Ireland, as we heard from Deputy Maureen O'Sullivan and Deputy Healy, and as most Deputies in the Chamber would agree. There is drug use and abuse in practically every town and village in this country. That is despite the fact that considerable Garda resources are dedicated to the war on drugs.

In a recent reply to a parliamentary question, the Minister for Justice and Equality stated that on 31 July 2014, the latest date for which figures are readily available, there were 259 people in the dedicated divisional drug units. The Minister also stated that resources were further augmented where necessary by a number of Garda national units such as the Garda National Drugs Unit, the National Bureau of Criminal Investigation and the Criminal Assets Bureau. Notwithstanding all of that, drug use continues to increase in the country.

I appreciate that emergency legislation has to be rushed through because of the Court of Appeal decision, but it is time for a fairly fundamental debate on how we tackle drug use and drug abuse in this State, because the current approach seems to be failing. We are not unique in that, as it is failing across most of the developed world.

Alternative approaches are being examined in countries such as Portugal. I am not entirely sure that they are successful, but they are successful to the extent that the existing resources are being used to tackle drug dealers. The drugs economy is now probably the third biggest economy in the world, far bigger than the economy of the trade in most other substances. It seems that it might be more beneficial to criminalise and dedicate the limited resources that are available to the import and export of drugs rather than individual users.

In 2006 the Garda adult caution scheme was introduced in Ireland. Included in this are a number of scheduled offences whereby, rather than mount a prosecution in the District Court, the Garda could issue an adult caution. They would do so only in circumstances in which they believed it was appropriate and where it was in the interests of the administration of justice. There were a number of scheduled offences; I believe there were nine in the original scheme introduced in 2006, including possession of a controlled substance pursuant to section 3 of the Misuse of Drugs Act, the controlled substance being cannabis resin. However, that was removed from the Garda adult caution scheme by the then Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Michael McDowell, who, when asked a parliamentary question, stated that the offence of possession of a controlled drug had been withdrawn prior to the implementation of scheme pending further consultation between An Garda Síochána, the Director of Public Prosecutions and the Department. Following a review in 2009, the scheme was extended to cater for a total of 20 offences, yet possession of a controlled substance still remains outside the ambit of the scheme.

The line-up for Electric Picnic was announced yesterday or the day before. I have no doubt that on the Monday after Electric Picnic there will be an emergency sitting of the District Court in one of the big towns nearby and many people will be charged with possession of a controlled substance, namely cannabis. I do not know whether that will help this State tackle drug abuse but I know it will hinder those people in getting jobs in the future and getting on with their lives. Significant resources will be tied up in the prosecution of those individuals at that District Court, because gardaí will have to go and give evidence. It appears that those very scarce Garda resources could be better used chasing the hardcore criminals who supply what is a growing market for drugs in Ireland, as it is in practically every other country in the world.

I thank the Deputies, first, for their support for this important legislation and, second, for staying on and staying quite late in large numbers to demonstrate their interest in this broad topic. I should have mentioned in my earlier contribution that it is my intention to submit an early signature motion to the President and ask him to sign this legislation as soon as possible, assuming it goes through this House and through the Seanad tomorrow.

A number of Deputies asked about further primary legislation. It is my intention to bring in new primary legislation in this calendar year. That is necessary to introduce the principles and policies that are necessary to allow us to prohibit substances as we need to by ministerial or Government order again. In the interim, however, it will be necessary to bring in primary legislation on each occasion on which it is deemed necessary to control new substances, and that obviously is not a desirable situation. It will certainly be very cumbersome.

Many Deputies raised the broader issue of drugs. I want to put on record a few points in terms of what has been happening in this area in recent months. I chaired the Oversight Forum on Drugs in 2015. There have been no further cuts to the local drugs task forces after a number of years of cuts. Even though we had only a modest increase in the HSE's budget for 2015, €2.1 million of that was set aside to increase the budget for social inclusion and drugs specifically. That means that in 2015 there will more detox beds in Merchants Quay Ireland and the Coolmine Therapeutic Community, more needle exchanges around the country, and more mental health supports, which are very important. This year, we will also have the naloxone demonstration project, giving access to naloxone to hundreds of people, including case workers, relatives and drug users, in order that they can treat overdoses on the scene and quickly. This will be extremely important in reducing drug-related deaths this year and next. The Irish Prison Service has been invited to take part in that, although I have heard some inaccurate commentary to the contrary in recent weeks. We will start work on a new drugs strategy this year with a view to its publication next year. Many of the issues that were raised here will be important in feeding into that. Some of the comments made by Deputies McNamara and Kelleher need to be considered in that context too as to whether we need a more health-based approach to dealing with this problem rather than the criminal justice based approach that we have had predominantly to date.

Some people raised the issue of a Minister of State with responsibility for drugs. Sometimes Ministers of State work and sometimes they do not. It depends on the individual and the circumstances, and I would not assume that is a panacea. The appointment of Ministers of State is entirely a matter for the Taoiseach, in consultation with the Tánaiste. I always welcome extra help in my job. I do not believe for a second that I am able to be on top of every issue for which I have responsibility, but I am able to manage my existing responsibilities with the very important assistance of the Minister of State, Deputy Kathleen Lynch. However, if this Government or the next Government has a Minister of State for drugs, I would suggest that it not be an add-on to an existing Minister of State portfolio and that it be a dedicated position across health, justice, Customs and Excise, the Naval Service and education. Such a Minister of State should also have a delegation order with a designated budget because otherwise it will turn out to be a campaign that will result in very little.

There were a number of questions about specific substances. It is important to point out that primary legislation will now be needed to add to the list of controlled substances until we have new primary legislation to cover the policies and principles. Having said that, the Criminal Justice (Psychoactive Substances) Act of 2010 still stands and it is important to read section 3(1) of that Act, which is important and perhaps is not being as used as much as might be the case. The section states:

A person who sells a psychoactive substance knowing or being reckless as to whether that substance is being acquired or supplied for human consumption shall be guilty of an offence.

That is any psychoactive substance. Section 3(2) states:

A person who imports or exports a psychoactive substance knowing or being reckless as to whether that substance is being acquired or supplied for human consumption shall be guilty of an offence.

That is the law since 2010 and that law stands. It may be difficult to prove it, but that law remains on the Statute Book tonight and covers unnamed substances as well as those named.

There was mention of benzodiazepines, so-called benzos, and Z drugs. They are not new. They have been around a very long time. One of the Z drugs, zolpidem, is one of the drugs listed in the Schedule. I should say that they are all controlled drugs and it is necessary to have a prescription to have these drugs. I understand there had been proposals, and proposals are still under consideration by my Department, to tighten up the rules on the possession of benzos and Z drugs, but it is important to bear in mind that hundreds of thousands of people in the State may well have those drugs for a good reason. It may be because they have a mental illness or they are epileptic, for example, and we need to make sure that anything we do in that space to restrict possession of those drugs does not end up criminalising people travelling overseas with their epilepsy medicines and so on. We must always consider the law of unintended consequences.

There were questions about existing convictions. Those are questions for justice rather than for health. I can say, however, that we would expect that existing convictions should stand. We know from the precedent of the A case that if somebody is convicted of an offence, even if the law is struck down subsequently, that conviction stands unless they specifically raise the constitutionality of section 2(2) as part of their defence.

When it comes to prosecutions, the Director of Public Prosecutions, who is independent and acts independently of Government, will have to look at each case. The prosecutions that are at risk are those where the prosecution is solely under this section 2(2), which has been deemed unconstitutional, but in many cases people are charged and prosecuted under a number of provisions and not just the one that has been struck down.

In response to Deputy McGrath, I can assure him that I am not an absentee Minister, with the exception of perhaps three days in the past seven months. I am here every day in the Dáil and the Seanad. I was in the Seanad today dealing with the Dublin ambulance services, in the Dáil tonight dealing with this matter and I will be in the Seanad tomorrow again dealing with this matter. On the days I am not here I am in the Department or visiting other parts of the country. The Deputy specifically mentioned Sr. Consilio, whom I met only two weeks ago, and only two weeks ago I visited the drug and alcohol treatment centre in the west.

I might posit the notion that it is possible to comment on issues, analyse them and explain them to the public, and be honest about the issues we face, and also try to deal with them at the same time. I know that for some people that is not possible; they can only do one or the other. Many of us in this House, not just me, find it possible to do both, and I will continue to do so.

I thank the Members for their interest in this topic and their support for the legislation.

Question put and agreed to.