That leave be granted to introduce a Bill entitled an Act to amend the law relating to the misuse of drugs and for those purposes to amend the Misuse of Drugs Act 1977 to criminalise the purchase of a controlled drug from a child and to criminalise the act of causing a child to be in possession of a controlled drug for sale or supply and to provide for related matters.
Most Members of the House will be aware that the abuse of illicit drugs has reached a level we have not seen before in this country. It is affecting individuals, families and communities throughout the country. What might have traditionally been seen as a problem for urban areas and, more often than not, areas of social disadvantage has now become a national problem. Illegal drugs are in every town and village in the country. I do not say this just to put it on the record, it is backed up by all of the evidence. If we look at the number of people who are seeking treatment for addiction or the CSO figures for drug-related offences, we will see that the figures are increasing every year. This shows the scale of the problem we are facing. It is interesting to note that total drug seizures by An Garda Síochána in 2017 were equal to those in 2015 and 2016 put together. There is a massive quantity of illicit drugs in the country. It is unfortunate but it needs to be put on the record that, in the last year in which drug-related deaths were counted, 2016, 736 lost their lives in this way. This issue is having a devastating effect on many aspects of life for individuals, families and communities.
In recent years a new feature of this trade has developed. Young children are being targeted and used to deliver, sell and supply drugs. This was very well explained in research undertaken by the Blanchardstown Local Drugs and Alcohol Task Force, which was published earlier this year. It brought to light the fact that the service had seen children as young as ten dealing drugs. It has actually came across one eight year old drug runner. It is appalling to think that children of that age are being groomed and targeted. Their lives are being ruined because once they get into that vicious cycle, it is very difficult to get away. They are being targeted because those who are using them often feel that there are fewer or lesser criminal consequences for young people than for other people who are caught. They are being used, abused and targeted by other people in the drug distribution chain.
The purpose of this Bill is to introduce two new criminal offences. It would become an offence to purchase drugs from a person under the age of 18. This puts a responsibility on people who are using drugs. If they buy drugs from a person under the age of 18 they will not just be charged with using or possessing; it would be a new aggravated offence to purchase drugs from a minor.
It would also be an offence to cause a child to be in possession of drugs with intent to supply. Those who are operating the distribution systems and using children as distributors and sellers of drugs would be committing an offence. While this will not solve our drug problem, it will offer a degree of protection to young people who are in a vulnerable position, who are being targeted and whose future is being taken away from them.
I hope these new offences will protect the young people in question. I look forward to bringing this legislation to the Dáil at the earliest possible opportunity and I will be looking for co-operation from all sides to enact it at an early date.