“That Dáil Éireann:
— individuals, families and communities throughout the country have been devastated by illegal drugs;
— drug-related harm consistently clusters in communities marked by poverty and social inequality;
— drug-related deaths in Ireland are at the highest figure ever, increasing from 431 in 2004 to 736 in 2016;
— new drugs appear regularly on the illicit market, while familiar drugs such as cannabis are becoming more potent; and
— too many people are living with the daily nightmare of drug-related intimidation and violence;
— the significant increase in drugs offences recorded by An Garda Síochána;
— the increase in the value of drug seizures from €29,706,281 in 2016 to €71,859,695 in 2017;
— that not all drug users are addicts and there has also been a significant rise in casual and occasional drug use;
— that cocaine use in Ireland increased by 32 per cent in 2017;
— that Ireland is one of six European countries where crack cocaine abuse has increased in the past five years;
— that every cent spent on illegal drugs funds organised crime; and
— the reduction in the number of Gardaí assigned to drug units;
— the importance of a public health approach to drug and alcohol misuse is paramount;
— there is widespread concern that the partnership approach, which has been at the heart of drugs strategies since 1996, is now in danger of collapse;
— community participation and interagency working is crucial to an effective response to an increasingly complex and challenging drugs problem;
— there is apprehension and frustration at the failure of Government to meet commitments on community involvement;
— investment in drugs task forces has stagnated in recent years with an increase of 1.7 per cent since 2015 compared to 28 per cent in overall health expenditure; and
— there is a need for comprehensive services in prevention, detoxification treatment and rehabilitation; and
— the Government to act as a matter of urgency to restore confidence in the national drugs strategy;
— the Taoiseach to appoint representation at a senior level from the Department of the Taoiseach to the National Oversight Committee of the national drugs strategy;
— an increase in the level of funding for drugs task forces and treatment services;
— action to be taken against open drug dealing on city streets;
— the strengthening of criminal law against the use of children in drug trafficking;
— increased investment in the Garda Juvenile Diversion Programme; and
— a major education and information campaign to be undertaken on casual drug use.”
I will share time with my colleagues, Deputies Breathnach, Cassells, Lawless, O'Keeffe, O'Loughlin, Cowen and Brendan Smith. It gives me no pleasure to say that we are facing a very significant and increasing drug problem in this country. For a long time, drugs were an issue that affected those of us in Dublin. It was particularly felt in our most disadvantaged communities in the 1970s and 1980s, after which the issue became more widespread. It now affects every village and town right across the country.
Sometimes when we say it in that fashion people say that it is only an off the cuff remark and ask what we have to back it up but there is a great deal of evidence. From the point of view of the Minister's Department, the seizures made by An Garda Síochána have been increasing significantly every year. The queues for those presenting for treatment services are getting longer and longer. There was very interesting article by Liz Dunphy in yesterday's Irish Examiner. She took a very in-depth look at the drugs situation in Cork city, at the lives of people who are blighted by drugs, including some of those who manage to avail of services. A very interesting comment was made by a gentleman by the name of Michael Guerin, who spoke about Cuan Mhuire. He said the facility had six beds, adding that "Three years ago, we would have had between 50 to 75 people waiting for a place. Today, we have 250."
There has been a quantum leap in the scale of the problem. Those of us who sit on joint policing committees or policing fora listen to this on an ongoing basis. Problem drug use is growing at every level. Central Statistics Office figures back this up. CSO figures show that there were a little more than 20,000 controlled drug offences in the 12 months ending in June 2019. This is more than 3,000 more offences than in the comparable period last year. There has been a very significant increase within one year. The number of offences involving possession of drugs for sale increased from slightly under 4,000 to nearly 4,500. This is having a devastating impact on individuals, families and communities. No matter how hard we try to express the difficulties and trauma in the lives of the communities and families who are living with this problem, we will never adequately do so.
Last Wednesday, 30 October, all nine former Ministers of State who have had responsibility for the national drugs strategy called on the Taoiseach to intervene and restore confidence in the partnership framework which has traditionally underpinned our national drugs strategy. We launched that appeal across the road in Buswells Hotel, where seven of the nine former Ministers of State were physically present. We are concerned that there is a real epidemic in respect of the issue of drugs. We do not say that to scaremonger but all of us, having faced individual challenges in our time as Minister of State, are very concerned. When I was Minister of State with responsibility for this area, the big issue was a new national drugs strategy and confronting and dealing with the proliferation of head shops. Every Minister of State has had that problem. On the Minister of State, Deputy Byrne's watch, the problem is partnership. The national drugs strategy has always been underpinned by partnership between the community, voluntary and statutory sectors. I am concerned that partnership is no longer effective.
I do not blame the Minister of State. I have known her for a long time. I know where she is coming from. She is of the community and absolutely understands the importance of community involvement. I believe, however, that she has been let down by her colleagues in Cabinet. This Government has failed to support community initiatives with regard to the national drugs strategy. While I am talking about the community with regard to the national drugs strategy, the community sector wants to have meaningful and effective representation on the national oversight community. It does not want to be there only to rubber-stamp decisions. It does not want decisions made outside of that forum to which it is not party. For that to happen, the sector believes that a senior representative from the Department of the Taoiseach should also sit on the national oversight committee.
In addition, the whole area of funding for local and regional drugs and alcohol task forces needs to be addressed. It is not satisfactory that, for an extended period, projects funded by the task forces have received no increases in funding. As we have seen restoration of funding occurring, this would not be acceptable anywhere in any other Government Department. The Minister of State has been abandoned by her colleagues in Cabinet. Two weeks ago, I noted with interest as the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Deputy Zappone, indicated that there would be a 5% increase in core funding for family resource centres for next year. Despite this, those projects funded under the national drugs strategy that come under the remit of the task forces have received no increases in funding. They have received no increases while their funders, the Department of Health and the HSE, have seen their funding increase from €13.1 billion or €13.2 billion to more than €17 billion. It is appalling that the projects supported by these task forces are in jeopardy. When working effectively, these projects play a really positive role in some of our most disadvantaged communities. I set out clearly that the drug problem is growing. Instead of consolidating the projects we have, we need to establish new projects in areas that have not traditionally had a drugs problem. The problem is now rampant across the country and we need annual funding to be fully restored for projects and programmes funded through the local and regional drug and alcohol task forces.
This issue has affected programmes in every constituency and every part of the country. One of the reasons there are so many people on the Fianna Fáil benches wanting to speak tonight is that they want to show the threat in their areas. I will give them some time at this point.