Effects of Gangland Crime: Discussion

On behalf of the joint committee, I thank all the witnesses for coming here today. The purpose of this meeting is to continue our work on, and have an engagement concerning, the impact and effects of gangland crime on communities, and possible solutions to it. Deputy Finian McGrath has agreed to act as rapporteur and to produce a report for the committee, which will be forwarded to the Minister when our work has been completed.

I welcome Ms Marie Metcalfe and thank her for being here. She is representing the community policing forum for the north east inner city. I also thank Dr. Johnny Connolly from the Health Research Board for attending the committee. Assistant Commissioner John Twomey is also welcome, as is Detective Chief Superintendent John O'Driscoll. Also attending the committee are Detective Chief Superintendent Pádraig Kennedy, Detective Superintendent Stephen Courage and Detective Inspector Maura Walsh. I thank the Garda Síochána representatives for giving their time and expertise to assist us with this matter.

The format we employ here is that we will invite witnesses to make opening statements of approximately five minutes each. We will then have a question-and-answer session with members. Members may come and go, depending on business in the Houses. I will start with Ms Metcalfe, if she does not mind. If she is ready, she can commence with her five-minute opening statement. If not, we can ask somebody else to start if she wants to wait. Which would she prefer?

Ms Marie Metcalfe

I would prefer to wait in order to get the gist of what we are talking about.

That is no problem at all. I call on Dr. Connolly to start us off.

Dr. Johnny Connolly

I thank the Chairman for inviting me to attend the joint committee. I have sent the committee a large, recently published report entitled Illicit Drug Markets in Ireland, as well as an article on that and some implications from that study. I will highlight some of the key points that are coming from that evidence. We are trying to ensure that policy is informed by the evidence.

There has been fairly consistent evidence of growing levels of violence associated with the illicit drug market in Ireland since around 2005. While violence has always had a certain role to play within illicit drugs markets, the levels and nature of the violence has changed. In particular, the profile of victims of what we call in the literature "systemic crime" - that is, crime associated with drug markets - has also changed. One of the main things that has changed is the impact on families of drug use. Previously, while there might have been violence between those buying and selling drugs, it would have been confined to those within the market and would not have spilled out beyond that to have an impact on the families of people caught up in debt. However, this is something that has been seen increasingly since 2005. As a consequence, the family support network and the Garda national drugs unit established a pilot scheme and then an initiative to respond to that. There is a broad community impact, but it is also a hidden impact and something that is not really on the radar.

Something else that has changed is the impact on community workers. People working in the drugs field were generally seen as untouchable in that they were doing good work in the community. We have seen evidence of a broader impact on the local community. We have also seen increased youth involvement in the illicit drug trade, which has been identified since 2005, in both the supply and running of drugs.

The drug market study showed that a lot of the violence is associated with drug debt. In recent years, just as credit dried up in the legal economy, so it did in the illicit economy. As a result, the families of such people are trying find ways to repay those debts.

One of the main impacts on particular communities in which drug markets develop is a fear of reprisal from those involved in the drugs trade. It is not something that generally impacts on the broader society. When people are asked in national surveys if they have been victims of crime and they say "Yes," there is a range of reasons they do not report it to the Garda Síochána. Generally, however, fear of reprisal is not one of them. In studies I have done and in the most recent survey of 800 people in four drug markets around the country, fear of reprisal was the main reason cited by people who do not engage with the Garda. It is a hidden harm and needs to be investigated.

There is also a strong reluctance to engage in community safety or policing initiatives. That is a major factor in terms of any attempt to engage with local communities. I wish to highlight a number of policy implications. When I was invited to examine the concept of gangland crime, I did not understand the definition. We need to broaden our conceptual understanding of the drug-crime relationship, and the nature of drug markets and how they differ across different communities and localities, as well as the nature of drug law enforcement, supply control and its impact, both routine and specialised. We need to talk not about individuals in the drug trade but about the thousands of people who are caught up in drug dealing networks. It is increasingly referred to in the literature as a network. As regards focusing on individuals, there is nothing an individual can bring to the drug trade that somebody else cannot bring within a couple of months if one person is taken out of circulation. We need to think about it as a market, so that where there is demand there will be supply.

We also need to appreciate the challenges of drug law enforcement. In drug-related crime - the Garda will explain this with more expertise - there is generally not an individual victim, and neither is there a crime scene. It is an intelligence-driven form of policing and, like the market itself, it is a hidden form of policing. It is often judged on seizures or arrests, but that does not account for all the other activity that goes on. However, we do not really know a lot about that; it is information that needs to be examined and researched.

We need to appreciate the complex interaction between drug markets and what I call their host communities. Drug markets bring a lot of crime and disturbance to many local communities, but they also bring cheap goods. For lack of a better term, they also bring employment to a lot of young people who are surrounded by unemployment. They have a complex interaction with the local communities in which they develop, so any response needs to recognise that.

The needs of communities should also be appreciated. In the research I conducted, people living in communities where drug markets tend to develop all identified the main reasons for drug use and drug-related problems as being high unemployment, boredom and a lack of facilities for young people. However, when I asked what was needed in response, an overwhelming majority said they needed more gardaí on the streets. The cause and response are very different, and a different level of understanding is required as to why that is so. Communities demand more gardaí as a primary response and they also demand more amenities for local youth. We need to provide community safety structures that can win local support. Ms Metcalfe will talk about the north inner city community policing forum, which is the model for community safety structures.

Given the fear of reprisal, in order to get people engaged we should focus on the priorities from a community perspective. In the study I conducted, for example, while people said they would be reluctant to engage with gardaí and report drug-related behaviour to them, when asked if they would report the involvement of young people in drug dealing to gardaí, the positive response was quite high. That was something people were willing to engage with. Or else, while they might not report young people dealing to the gardaí, they would report it to their parents or others in the community. Those are the things that people see as a priority.

Resources are required to provide community safety structures, as well as innovation to displace drug economies. For example, one issue that has always been there is asset seizure and the call for those assets to be returned to the communities they came from.

When one looks at a drugs market as an illicit economy, what one is looking at are ways of displacing that economy. In another country, I saw a local community centre funded from the proceeds of drug dealing. That had a significant impact from a community perspective in several ways. It was a positive influence on young people rather than the negative influence of the local dealer with the flashy car or clothes.

On broadening our understanding, policy responses need to be based, particularly in this highly emotive area, on empirical research. This is an area completely bereft of original empirical research, despite the resources that go into it. Research programmes at EU level and the development of ways to understand drug-related crime, illicit drugs markets and their structures, organisations and impact, as well as supply reduction activity, must be supported. Research that can identify the hidden harms associated with this invisible problem must also be supported. That is challenging research, as it requires not only national surveys but locally based research. Systems such as PULSE should be used to capture information on cases that do not lead to prosecution. We need to appreciate the limits of interventions. Not all drugs markets are equally harmful in terms of their impact on communities. Some involve open drug dealing while some might involve the open dealing of crack. Some are more violent while some involve young people. Given the challenges of law enforcement, in that very few drugs are seized and very few drug-dealing interactions will be intercepted, there is a hugely challenging environment. Given the demand for drugs, there needs to be a selective focus in areas of greatest harm.

We also need to appreciate the unintended consequences of drug laws and their enforcement. Successful drug seizures can actually lead to greater market disruption. If a drug seizure is made, a debt still has to be paid which can lead to new people being brought into the drugs trade, debts being called in and increased levels of violence. We need to look at the positive as well as the negative consequences of different interventions. There is ten-year mandatory sentencing legislation for people caught in possession of €12,500 worth of drugs. The Law Reform Commission recently concluded that this has had unintended consequences in that the market has adapted and, simply, what it has led to is an increase in the number of people in prison who are low down the scale in the drugs market, such as couriers from impoverished countries and people caught up in debt. The market will adapt to initiatives such as that.

Certain responses can lead to markets having a more violent impact. Strong law enforcement can lead to risk-tolerant people coming to the fore in a drugs market as distinct from risk-averse people. Research is finding that this can contribute to greater levels of violence.

I thank Dr. Connolly for sharing his fascinating insights into this extremely complex issue. I call on Mr. John Twomey to make his opening statement.

Mr. John Twomey

An Garda Síochána’s policing plan for 2015 sets out our continued commitment to proactively target groups and individuals engaged in criminal activity. Members of An Garda Síochána utilise all available resources and legislation, including additional legislative provisions introduced by the Oireachtas in 2009 which amended the Criminal Justice Act 2006 relating to organised crime. The force continues to develop and implement strategies to dismantle and disrupt criminal networks through targeted operations.

Criminal organisations involved in the trafficking and distribution of illegal drugs operate at a local, national and international level. We have various strategies to target these. An Garda Síochána co-ordinates drug trafficking investigations on a national and international basis through the Garda national drugs unit based in Dublin Castle. An Garda Síochána supports local communities in tackling drug dealing in their locality through various initiatives pursuing both supply and demand reduction initiatives as laid out in the Government’s national drugs strategy. We continue to tackle organised criminal networks involved in drug crime and drug importation, working closely with our partners in law enforcement nationally and internationally. An Garda Síochána is involved in a variety of activities including local and regional drug and alcohol task forces, Garda youth diversionary projects, the juvenile diversion programme, the Garda schools programme and the conducting of proactive operations designed to address drug supply in communities.

In 2014, more than €62 million worth of drugs were seized in the country and in excess of €310 million internationally. An Garda Síochána is committed to tackling the supply of drugs at all levels. We work with joint policing committees both at regional and city level. Community policing forums are based locally in individual Garda districts and sub-districts.

Drug-related intimidation is a serious issue which impacts greatly on our communities and society as a whole, but most particularly on families. Whether a family or loved one has drug debts should not be a deterrent in seeking the help, advice and support of An Garda Síochána. We will take action against drug-related intimidation, as there are several policies and procedures in place to deal with this issue. An Garda Síochána, in partnership with the National Family Support Network, NFSN, has developed a framework, the drug-related intimidation reporting programme, which is now implemented at national level to assist persons who may be subject to the threat of drug-related intimidation. An inspector has been nominated in every Garda division throughout the country to act as a single point of contact. Inspectors are at management level within An Garda Síochána and have significant expertise, knowledge and experience. They liaise directly with their local superintendents on each individual case and will provide specific assistance in whatever way they can. An Garda Síochána continues to create awareness and promote the drug-related intimidation reporting programme in communities nationwide, with the assistance of the NFSN, relevant agencies, regional and local drug and alcohol task forces and community groups.

An Garda Síochána has several policies and procedures in place to deal with the utilising of young persons in the illegal drugs trade. A framework has been developed and is now in place at national level whereby an inspector has been nominated in every Garda division nationwide to ensure there is an appropriate Garda response to target adults involved in the drugs trade who use juveniles to engage in illegal activities associated with the drugs trade.

In line with action No. 38 of the national drugs strategy, a framework Pathways to Support programme has been developed, incorporating a treatment referral option for people who have been arrested by the Garda due to behaviour caused by substance misuse. This is in line with the overall strategic aim of the national drugs strategy to provide appropriate and timely substance treatment and rehabilitation services tailored to individual needs. This is being done with the local and regional drug and alcohol task forces, which, in turn, can refer persons to the appropriate drug and alcohol treatment and support services. This framework is in the advanced stages and it is envisaged that it will be fully implemented by mid-2015.

An Garda Síochána is satisfied that, in addition to the considerable volume of drugs seized in recent years, a significant impact has been made on dealing with the problem.

However, it continues to be an ongoing challenge for An Garda Síochána. We work covertly and overtly and we work in partnership with communities and all the other agencies involved in this area to try to address the particular problem.

Ms Marie Metcalfe

I am the co-ordinator of the community policing forum near the north-east inner city. The project was established because of the lack of trust between the Garda, Dublin City Council and the community. It relates to history in my community. We set up the project to ensure we can work with the Garda and Dublin City Council and engage with the community from a community perspective. Rather than the Garda or the council, it was the community that was calling a meeting. I believe the project worked because it came from the bottom up instead of from the top down. The relationship between the project and An Garda Síochána and Dublin City Council could not get any better. In respect of changeovers in An Garda Síochána, when most gardaí with whom I have worked in the past 16 years come back into my division, there is no need to start a relationship because I know them. There is no need to ask "Who am I and what am I here for? Have I got a hidden agenda?", so it helps when I know the gardaí.

The level of drug dealing in the north-east inner city is horrendous. I feel I have gone back to when I started my job and that I am starting off again. When we began 16 years ago, horrendous drug dealing was a massive problem. We engaged with the community and the gardaí and things started to really improve. I believe this was because of resources.

There is a mobile phone on somewhere. Could those present check their phones and make sure they are turned off or put in aeroplane mode? Otherwise, they interfere with the sound system. My apologies for interrupting.

Ms Marie Metcalfe

At the time, when I was engaging with the community and gardaí at small local meetings, I could nearly promise the community that I would address a problem in a particular area. I do not have that power now because my community is full of drugs. There are black spots everywhere. Two drug units were set up before Christmas. There are 18 in the entire team. I find them a great resource. I cannot say very much about them because I need to give them time. There has always been petty drug dealing in most complexes but over the past few years, things have changed. This is because of the credit crunch. People lose their jobs and resources are gone. We did not realise how bad it had become and how badly we were hit in respect of resources until this year. Since the closure of Fitzgibbon Street Garda station, we have lost 120 gardaí in the division. The number could be larger, but the last time I checked it was 120. We cannot afford to lose one garda, never mind 120.

Due to the water protests all over the country, gardaí must leave my division to police protests. This means that we are on our own again. It is all down to resources because I know the gardaí do their job and how well they can do it. I know how well they can communicate and engage with and support me. We do not have the resources, which is appalling. What I am looking at in my street is similar to what happened when I started. Intimidation is happening and it is appalling. I have attended meetings about meetings about meetings and nobody has ever come up with a safety net. That is what we are missing. There is no safety net for a woman who came into my office. Her partner owed a drug debt of €100,000. She cried and cried and I had to counsel her for nearly four months. She could not go to the Garda. Who is going to protect her and her family if she gives the information regarding the drug dealer - the person her partner owes the money to? She cannot do this. You try to do your own thing in communities to help the family because you cannot go to the Garda. There is no safety net. I always make sure I get the community to engage with the Garda, but on this issue I do not because there is no safety net for them. They go away and get the information.

When I began my job 16 years ago, I would have thought that raiding a house or any flats complex for drugs was amazing. I have changed my opinion, and I will tell the committee why. When the Garda gets information on a particular house, they carry out surveillance on it and then they know whether they have the right information. When they decide to carry out the raid, they go in. They might come out with guns, money or drugs, and it is absolutely wonderful for them. I am glad they get what they need, but it does nothing for us. The gardaí lead the raid at 7 a.m. and it might be 8 a.m. when they are finished. Within the next half hour, I can guarantee operations will have started up again.

I want to see three units in my Garda division - the drug unit, the community gardaí and a mini-Criminal Assets Bureau, CAB, unit. A mini-CAB unit would be an amazing facility for us. The babies who were in their prams when we were marching in 1995 might be drug dealers now, or they might be going around on bikes and getting €50 for moving hash. That is a lot of money for any child to make. Who would not want to make a few bob every day moving drugs on a bike? We need a mini CAB unit so that if I am a drug dealer and gardaí are well aware of me and know my assets, they can target me and find out where I am getting the money from, how I am able to live in this big house and how I can drive around my community in a huge Jeep. It is a case of "I want that and I am going to get it."

I am asking for more resources. I cannot complain about Dublin City Council and the gardaí in particular in respect of the way they communicate with my project. It is a brilliant initiative and I would like to see it happening all over the country. I have visited other community policing forums and I do not see them working the way we do. That is fine, because everyone has their own way of working, but I think we work very well. I have access from a young garda right up to the assistant commissioner 24 hours a day, so I cannot complain about access. What I must complain about are resources and the fact that a mini-CAB unit is not being used in local communities, because we are still losing children, people are still dying and mothers and fathers are still intimidated by debt. That is as raw as I can get.

I thank Ms Metcalfe for a very powerful presentation and for her honesty. There is a lot of food for thought there. I also recognise the presence of Deputy Maureen O'Sullivan. She is not a member of the committee but she is most welcome. I invite her to engage with the witnesses. Deputy Finian McGrath is the rapporteur and has indicated that he has a number of questions.

I thank the witnesses for attending, as well as those who have made written submissions to the committee. I will kick off with questions to Dr. Connolly. He spoke about how the nature and level of violence have changed in recent years compared with the 1980s. He also spoke about the impact of drugs and violent crime on communities. He said that in his study of 800 people, the big issue that jumped out at him was the fear of reprisal. Could he expand on that?

Dr. Johnny Connolly

I read a book a while ago on the late Tony Gregory. With regard to the nature of violence, when the drug trade, particularly the heroin trade, emerged in the 1980s, there was fear, and one of the reasons for this fear was the fact that armed criminals were moving from other types of crime such as robbery into the drug trade. That immediately brought with it the potential for violence. It was violence that was confined within the drug trade itself - what we refer to as systemic violence.

I was an adviser in the establishment of the community policing forum and in 2001, I conducted a survey on fear of reprisals, which was a major issue at the time. The first meeting of the community policing forum was in January 2000 or 2001. Before that, we had distributed 3,000 leaflets and held 57 local meetings just to get people to come to Store Street Garda station for one meeting. A huge amount of work was required in the local community, much of it trying to engage with the fear that existed. There was cynicism and poor relations, but also a great deal of fear.

Around 2005, the National Advisory Committee on Drugs did a community study which identified the increasing number of young people involved in drugs. This may have brought higher levels of violence, as young people were trying to show off to older people. It also showed the impact beyond those involved in the drug trade in terms of debts. This was a new departure in that the violence was no longer confined to those buying and selling drugs but was impacting on their families. In 2009, the National Family Support Network heard about this and conducted a very detailed study with project workers. Again, they could not speak to the people who were victims of this, but they talked to people involved in various projects with which they were associated. The study showed very serious levels of violence, from petty violence and controlled intimidation to serious sexual assault and murder. Much of the violence was directed in particular against the mothers of drug users. The study showed the impact this was having on the families, not just economically but on relationships within families. For example, a drug user's mother might be trying to deal with a debt without the father knowing. This issue was largely hidden.

This issue of drug debts has become more serious. During the Celtic tiger era, as in the legitimate economy, there was a lot of credit floating around. There was a huge increase in the availability and consumption of cocaine, which was no longer a rich man's drug but was used across the social strata, as shown by much research. There was much disposable income and many people willing to give drugs on credit. The economic crash also had an impact on the illicit economy. The credit dried up and people wanted to recoup debts from anyone they could - the user, or anybody in their family who was working, such as their grandparents. If the dealers managed to get money from somebody, that person was seen as a soft touch, and then it became about extortion. It was no longer about the original debt, or the debt was increased. With younger people involved, there is a willingness to threaten very serious levels of violence for relatively small amounts of money, such as €100. Given that a gram of cannabis herb costs €12, a young person can get into €100 of debt over a weekend without realising, until the Monday, that he or she has to pay for the drugs that he or she thought had been given for nothing.

The nature of this violence and the fear it engenders are different. While we often hear about gangland crime and we constantly read about it in the newspapers, people generally do not make a connection with it. Somebody who reads about a person who lives around the corner or in the next estate being shot is very likely to know or be indirectly related to either the victim or the perpetrator. The impact of this death is far greater on such a person than on a person who lives in a middle-class area that does not have an active drug market. If an individual who is associated with the person who carried out the shooting threatens another person, knocks on his door or says in a pub that his son owes money, the person will pay up because it is a real threat. This is how I analyse the fear of reprisals.

Fear of reprisals was a serious issue for many people involved with the community policing forum in the north inner city, and Ms Metcalfe is the best person to testify about this. Much of the forum's success was based around the fact that she was trusted, the involvement of people such as the late Tony Gregory, the engagement of very senior gardaí and the way people said it was not a talking shop but would get real results which would be measured and evaluated. People believed they were engaged in something that might make a difference. Ms Metcalfe did not mention that it was resourced. Ms Metcalfe works with two other people. It takes resources to engage at that local level and it is the only initiative of its kind that has such a resource structure in place.

In Mr Twomey's submission he stated that drug-related intimidation is a very serious issue, which we totally accept. He said he had a number of policies and responses and in particular areas would have a senior Garda who would be the link-up person in the community. I know about this from personal experience in my area. People seeking the Garda's assistance can make contact and arrange to meet gardaí formally and informally. After this happens, it seems to break down, in line with what Ms Metcalfe said earlier. People may go to the local Garda inspector privately and report that a gang or group is intimidating people who live on a particular street, and it can affect an entire street sometimes. However, there is no way they will go public because of the points Ms Metcalfe and Dr. Connolly made. Does Mr. Twomey have any ideas on how one can deal with such intimidation from a policing point of view? I am talking about threats that a person will be shot or burnt out, examples of which I have seen happen over the past 20 years. Once a family has met the senior liaison officer, the next move is the crucial one, and we all seem to be stuck there.

Mr. John Twomey

It is a particularly difficult issue, as everybody in the room fully acknowledges and appreciates. We deal with it in a twofold way. First, we put a highly visible, overt uniformed presence into the area to prevent anything happening and to try to disrupt any movement or activities around the area. Then, based on whatever intelligence we have gathered, we endeavour to investigate the issue. While we may not have a specific complaint from the family or individuals involved, we endeavour to conduct our own investigations to get the necessary evidence to bring the case before the courts. We do not necessarily need a direct complaint from a specific person, although that is one very clear avenue available to us. Once we are aware of a threat of intimidation in a particular area, we endeavour to investigate it, gather the evidence and bring it to the courts. We take a two-pronged, if not three-pronged, approach. We also work with the local community projects to try to divert people away from crime. We have more than 30 youth diversion projects around the area and we try to break it up in that way. The fact that we do not have a specific complainant does not prevent us from investigating a specific allegation of intimidation.

Ms Metcalfe said that in recent years the drugs crisis has become absolutely horrendous and said the area is full of drugs. Why is that? She also called for the introduction of a mini-Criminal Assets Bureau, CAB, as part of the response. Would the mini-CAB be used to fill the resource gap for some of the issues she raised earlier?

Ms Marie Metcalfe

I did not mean a mini-CAB. My idea is very simple. We should have four to six Garda profilers who profile people. For example, if they profile me they would take all the information about me, any information I have on me and pass it to the national CAB, which would take me on. We would not have to change national legislation.

Would it require legislation?

Ms Marie Metcalfe

Nothing like that. One only needs specific gardaí in specific areas. That is what I would love to see in my division, on behalf of which I am fighting because if the drugs squad goes in, it does so because it has CAB backing it and everyone else sees that it is not so easy to hold on to the stuff he or she has. The kids see that it is taken off the people in question quickly.

Why does Ms Metcalfe think the drugs problem has been horrendous on the north side of the city in recent times?

Ms Marie Metcalfe

I put it down to Garda resources.

The problem is out of control.

Ms Marie Metcalfe

Anybody living in the north-east inner city will tell the Deputy that we do not see enough gardaí on the street and that there are not enough resources to prevent drug use. We were doing well in the St. Mary's Mansions flats complex. The Garda raided it because I promised the community that would happen. I had to have a private conversation with gardaí, but they came up trumps. Every time I get a call at the weekend - the main time - I ring the inspector and it is sorted. Dealers will know that they cannot deal there anymore and they are finished. This can work, but we do not have enough resources. That is why the drugs problem is as bad it is.

The situation Ms Metcalfe has described in the north inner city is replicated in the suburbs to the north and west of the city, although perhaps not to the same degree, but there are pockets which have similar drug problems. I was interested in Dr. Connolly's comparison of the drugs problem to a market where the price went up or down depending on how much money people had and his reference to the unintended consequences of drug enforcement, including violence. Will he identify the violence that occurs when all of these factors are at play?

Dr. Johnny Connolly

In terms of the violence that occurs, somebody might report it to someone such as Ms Metcalfe, but he or she will not want it to go further. People often try to deal with the issue themselves. For example, they will try to pay a debt or try to avoid people. Sometimes they go to the local authority to ask to move house, but they will not say it is related to a drugs debt, although that is what it will be about. Somebody might report violence to the Garda, but he or she would not want it go further. It will then not appear anywhere. We are, therefore, not being told about the true extent of the violence. I am involved in a study with CityWide in which are we trying to conduct an audit of drug-related and community violence and intimidation. One of the factors that distinguishes a licit market from an illicit market that is there no regulation of disputes in an illicit market and if somebody gets a bad deal, he or she has no one to go to. In the study I conducted all of the violence was associated with debt. A Garda drugs seizure is an indicator of successful law enforcement, but the debt relating to it will continue to stand and follow the person. He or she might end up in prison, but the debt might follow him or her into the prison environment or affect his or her family outside prison.

One of the most in-depth studies of this kind was carried out in Limerick and it showed the different layers, including the extreme violence, about which we all know. The study was entitled, Understanding Limerick. The violence occurs in a continuum. There was a story about a woman who was driving along a road in a certain housing estate in the city. A five year old child was standing in front of her on the road and as she was about to blow the horn, she saw the child's parent at the door of the house. She realised the parent was connected to somebody involved in a gang and, therefore, drove in a different direction. People's houses are attacked and petty vandalism takes place, but this is choreographed to a certain degree. There are, therefore, layers of violence and its impact is in layers.

Another study entitled, The Iceberg of Intimidation, was conducted recently in Blanchardstown. It was not conducted by a professional researcher, but he was trying to describe the impact of the violence which occurred. He described it as lower order violence involving young children, middle order violence involving people participating in the drugs trade, including drug users, and higher order violence involving the serious players. Each form of violence is different and the responses need to be different. What is done with a five year old who is caught up in this or a 12 year old who is running drugs is different from what would be done with a serious player high up in the dealing chain who never touches drugs and is never seen with them. The violence impacts on the different levels and is insidious. Sometimes families report that they do not know whether to pay the debt. They might be advised by the Garda that they would be better off paying. Sometimes it will depend on whether they trust the threat and whether they believe whoever is behind it is serious. I have heard of people outside the dole office while claimants were queuing collecting money off them on a weekly basis. How this impacts on somebody who is trying to deal with other debts, austerity and so on and come up perhaps with €400 a month and the stress and pressure it entails is hidden.

People frequently look to transfer out of estates on the north side. They will approach us privately and say the reason is there is a drugs problem and so on. In some cases, they up and leave and become homeless as a result of fear and intimidation. This comes back again to the problem of people not openly declaring who is harassing or threatening them with violence or who has assaulted them. Everyone will say it would be better if they could tell the Garda who it is because that is the only way to deal with the problem and stop the person perpetrating the violence. How can this problem be overcome?

Mr. John Twomey

We will continue to work as closely as we can with the community to give people the confidence they need to work with us. It is a difficult and complex problem. Once we get the information we need, we will investigate it and work with all of the agencies involved. However, we will carry out our own separate investigation. The work with all of the agencies involved is positive and good. It can be improved, but, from a policing perspective, we will look to protect the community involved and investigate. We will continue our efforts to do this. Under the national drugs strategy, we have an individual in place. It is a specific attempt to provide confidence for the people affected that there is a single point of contact and that it is a particular individual who has the skills and expertise required in this area.

The committee was carrying out work separate from this recently and it was pointed out that there had been a noticeable increase in drug use and so on as the economy appeared to be on the upturn. Ms Metcalfe's evidence was powerful in this regard; it is almost as if she is starting again on the same challenge.

Have any of the witnesses reflected on the failure of the war on drugs internationally and the $100 million or so that has been invested in this war across the world? The Global Initiative for Drug Policy Reform is looking at different approaches. When I talk to people in communities affected by drugs, it makes them very angry to think that drug use would be decriminalised or even tolerated, considering how they have been fighting the effects of this, and that is entirely understandable.

Every show about gangs in America is about drugs. We talk about criminal gangs; they are drug gangs. Drugs are what make criminals wealthy; it is something like a $500 billion industry around the world. It is the third largest economic industry, all in the hands of criminals, not in the hands of people who pay taxes and invest in health services and education systems and so on.

Whatever is being done collectively and internationally right now is not working. Is there any debate in Ireland about new approaches to all of this, or is it something that would be seen as defeatist?

Does Dr. Connolly want to reply to that?

Dr. Johnny Connolly

There has been the emergence of a tentative debate. Another thing that is happening on a global level is a large meeting in the UN called UNGASS, which is planned for 2016, and will review the so-called war on drugs.

There are three different dimensions to the debate. One is the arguments for legalisation, which have been heard here from different perspectives. Legalisation is being advocated from a legal perspective; it is argued that it is a human right for people to do with their bodies what they want to do. Much of the emphasis has been on cannabis in particular, and there have been developments in North America in which many states have legalised cannabis.

Research has been carried out recently on the head shop phenomenon. I think that injected a dose of reality into the debate to a certain degree in that it showed that people who might not have previously experimented with psychotropic substances or mind-altering substances did so when they were made available to them, and locally available. It challenged the argument that is often used in the legalisation debate that it does not matter what the law says because people will use drugs anyway, and it does not matter what one says or does. I think the head shop phenomenon really challenged that and it made people realise that availability and access do matter and the law does matter. That is one side of it.

The other area in which there has been interest here, in particular, is decriminalisation. The CityWide Drugs Crisis Campaign has recently urged a debate on decriminalisation. I think it is important to make a distinction between legalisation and decriminalisation. When one talks about legalisation one is talking about the regulation of a drug. A lot of this pertains to cannabis. What impact will it have on a community that has a serious drug problem if cannabis is dealt by the same person who is dealing crack? Young people might smoke cannabis but not touch crack, but if the two drugs are in proximity to each other one has to take account of the impact that might have.

Decriminalisation is a different type of thing. That means taking the sanction of the criminal system away from somebody who might be caught in possession of drugs for personal use - any drug, perhaps. The person may have an addiction. The evidence from the model that has been adopted in Portugal, which was the first European country to introduce decriminalisation in 1990, has been quite positive. Initially it led to a slight increase in the prevalence of drug use, but that has now stabilised and Portugal has seen a sharp drop in drug-related deaths, for example. That was decriminalisation of all drugs for personal use in a public health context, with people being diverted away from the criminal justice system into a dissuasion commission which looks at social work issues, legal issues, treatment issues and so on. Many countries around the world have engaged with different forms of decriminalisation.

The third dimension is the need to recalibrate the balance between the criminal justice system - where many countries have focused much of their resources - and the public health system to try to find a more appropriate balance between law enforcement and criminal justice approaches and the public health response. Maybe there is work that can be done in that respect.

Does Deputy Mac Lochlainn have another question?

Around $100 billion is spent per year spent on fighting the war on drugs. It is estimated that the illicit drug trade is worth about $450 billion a year, all in the hands of criminals. Of course, that is what drives drugs gangs; that is what drives criminal gangs. This debate must be interlinked with policy on drugs. It is mostly disadvantaged inner city areas that are affected. I am a rural TD and my constituency is also affected, as is any area where there is an urban conglomeration. I do not have a strong view one way or the other, but what I know for sure is that what we are doing now is failing and has been failing for a long time. We have talked about the Portuguese model, but it might be useful to look at other models in the Czech Republic, Switzerland, and Spain. It is not that people are told that taking drugs is fine, but the focus is shifted from a criminal justice perspective to a health and education perspective. We have work to do on this, and obviously while we have the policy we must also support communities and An Garda Síochána.

I apologise for making comments rather than asking questions; I will try to get to a question as quickly as I can. It is difficult to avoid commentary on this issue.

When I speak to people who work at the front line against drugs they tell me that, as with all community voluntary groups, they face cutbacks in the resources available to them. The Garda Síochána faces cutbacks in the resources available to it, and now there is apparently an upturn again in the use of drugs. It is a cycle. For me the temptation is to do something that takes the power away from the criminals and gives it back to the community - deploying resources in health and education and in communities to help people who feel the need to take drugs - rather than what is being done now. I suppose I would like more debate on it from people on the panel.

What is coming across for me - and, I am sure, for Deputy Mac Lochlainn as well, is how complex this is. One could probably fill the community with gardaí all the time and it still would not solve the problem because it is so complex and entrenched. I have one or two questions myself, if I may. Dr. Connolly mentioned a presumptive drug testing system for the possession of cannabis; could he say a bit more about that please?

Dr. Johnny Connolly

I did not mention that. Perhaps one of the gardaí mentioned that; it is a system introduced by the Garda.

It is in your study.

Dr. Johnny Connolly

This is an initiative that was introduced, and the Garda will be in a position to update the members on it. One of the objectives of this system was to alleviate the resource pressure on the Forensic Science Laboratory, so that if somebody admits to cocaine or cannabis possession for personal use there might be a prosecution but they would not be prosecuted for supply. There would be a presumptive testing regime rather than having to go to the Forensic Science Laboratory, which is usually resource intensive. It is quite a pragmatic way of dealing with the problem, which at least alleviates some of the resource pressures, particularly in view of the fact, for example, that 80% of drug prosecutions are for what is called simple possession - section 3 possession of cannabis for personal use. That is not where all the resources go, but a prosecution has to go through a trial and so on.

In many countries measures have been introduced, particularly at the level of possession, to find different ways of diverting people, and there have been a number of different experiments throughout the world in which they have focused on that particular dimension. One of the initiatives here was the presumptive testing initiative. Many of the gardaí I spoke to in the study I did felt that they would like some discretionary power to be able to deal with certain cases of possession, not necessarily specifying what that was - perhaps a different approach that could be adopted for certain types of offence where they believed a warning might have been more appropriate.

They did not state what it would be, but that they would like to be able to adopt a different approach to certain types of offence where they believed a warning might be more appropriate. That is the type of initiative involved.

Mr. John O'Driscoll

I am head of the Garda national drugs unit for a short period of time. At an earlier time I was one of the first to sit on the local drugs committee, with Ms Marie Metcalfe, the late Tony Gregory and others. I will address some of the issues involved, having dealt with them at local level and now at national level.

On the suggestion of a mini-CAB, this was something for which Tony Gregory fought hard. When I was chairperson of the supply sub-committee in the north inner city, the head of the Criminal Assets Bureau who later became Commissioner of An Garda Síochána, Mr. Fachtna Murphy, came to the local committee and met the task force. The outcome was that the first eight, nine or ten targets of the Criminal Assets Bureau were people nominated by the local drugs unit in the north inner city, having interacted with the community. A very important target in the north inner city was an entire family involved in drugs supply. The father received 20 years in prison, while four or five members of the family were arrested. All of their assets were seized. A "Prime Time" programme at the time showed the local community marching outside a house in the north inner city, off the North Strand. It came to us and within weeks the house was the first property to be frozen by the Criminal Assets Bureau and the person responsible received 14 years in prison and his assets were taken from him. Coincidentally, he died on the same day as Tony Gregory. He was a main target of the local group at the time.

As Ms Metcalfe stated, she was concerned because some of us who worked with her in the community were disappearing to move elsewhere. We have come back, in my case, as head of the drugs bureau. Someone else who was very much involved at the time is now in a senior position in the Criminal Assets Bureau. Mr. Stephen Courage replaced me in the drugs unit in the north inner city. We are more than willing to meet those with whom we worked at an earlier time to look at assets and put this to the fore in the targeting by the Criminal Assets Bureau.

Many issues to do with anonymity and staff are raised with regard to having a criminal assets bureau, mini or otherwise, outside that which is in place. In looking at alternatives and understanding the alternatives in tackling the drugs problem, after I left the north inner city drugs unit and went elsewhere, my organisation sent me to study drugs policy to masters degree level at Trinity College Dublin, where I was joined by a number of doctors, senior people in the health boards and judges. Members of An Garda Síochána have been sent abroad - I have worked with a drugs unit in Copenhagen in Denmark. We have studied and understand. We realise it is for the Legislature to decide what drugs it wants to legalise, but we bring our experience - let all concerned learn from it - through, for example, the north inner city drugs forum. Mr. Courage represents the Garda in dealing with the national drugs strategy.

On the sale of tobacco, organised crime takes place, but it an area in which we have had significant seizures in the State, involving An Garda Síochána and other agencies. Tobacco is for sale on the shelves. Therefore, one must be cautious about looking at particular options. If it was decided to decriminalise drugs, could Ireland do so on its own? What about the shipment in which I, Mr. Courage and others in the national drugs unit were involved at the tail end of last year, when hundreds of millions of euro worth of drugs were seized in a vessel off the south-west coast of Ireland? An Garda Síochána was very much involved in the seizure. If cannabis, cocaine or heroin was in nice little packets on shelves in chemists and it was lawful to sell it, do committee members think this shipment of cocaine, or part of it, would not have arrived into Ireland to be sold in an illicit market, just as the tobacco business has an illicit market element to it, even though tobacco can be bought legally?

There is a distinction between decriminalising and legalising. There is the impact on youngsters found with a small amount of cannabis. Some 80% of drug prosecutions are for possession offences, involving cannabis in many cases. This must be prosecuted and the young person then has a criminal record for the rest of his or her life, which can have other consequences later if he or she needs to travel abroad. Mr. O'Driscoll's ideas and thoughts on the distinction between criminalisation and legalisation would be useful. We all bow to the wisdom of the delegates.

Mr. John O'Driscoll

In early days of the north inner city drugs task force, with the Tony Gregorys of the world, Mr. Stephen Courage and me from An Garda Síochána, we also had Dr. Joe Barry in the middle of it. For us, this was very important because in An Garda Síochána we did not know how best to treat people who, unfortunately, had got involved in drug use. We do not pretend to know how they should best be treated. In the holistic approach in the Garda we deal with law enforcement and will certainly enforce whatever legislation is decided on by everybody coming together in the interests of the victim. Drug users are victims in this business. We will play our part and provide whatever information we have. We certainly have huge sympathy, as Ms Metcalfe will state. We have dealt in a very sympathetic manner throughout the city, particularly from my experience of the north inner city, with people who, unfortunately, have become victims through using drugs.

With regard to intimidation, in the early days the problem was that people would not come to us with information on drug suppliers. Now drug suppliers, as well as drug users, come from within the community. Historically in the north inner city, dating back to the Lock-out, the relationship between gardaí and the community was poor. In the mid-1990s an element of trust was built. All of a sudden, others in the drugs unit and I could walk into houses in the north inner city and people were not afraid that we would be seen walking in. There was a genuine level of co-operation. This continues in the north inner city, as the assistant commissioner, being in charge of policing in Dublin, is aware.

Money lending has become intertwined with the drugs business and the people creating or causing the intimidation live in the community. We must go to those in the community and state we will do our best and whatever is possible, but we need their help, difficult and all as it is, and will do our damnedest to try to bring people before the courts to let them decide what should happen to them.

Interestingly, Ms Metcalfe has stated a shortage of gardaí is an issue, but according to Dr. Connolly's study, the main cause is unemployment and the main solution recommended is more gardaí. If one asks anybody what is the solution to unemployment, he or she will not say more gardaí. The problem has developed to such an extent that it manifests in a way which must be dealt with by the Garda. However, if unemployment is what is causing drug use - it is not a question of passing the buck because in interagency drug projects we all do our bit and sit around one table - solving unemployment is a major part of the solution.

We will continue to do the law enforcement bit and help with all of the other aspects to the best of our ability as an organisation.

I thank Mr. O'Driscoll.

I will follow up on what Mr. O'Driscoll stated. We all accept that poverty and socioeconomic disadvantage are major factors in the drugs problem, but our focus is on how we can assist communities that are being intimidated. In my previous day job I worked in the north inner city and knew about the activities of the Mockies - the nickname of the undercover drugs squad. Mr. O'Driscoll was its leader. Gardaí on the ground earned the respect of the community by being with them. In the past ten or 15 years has a gap developed between the community and the Garda? Has it widened in recent years or has the position improved? In some of the communities that I visit there is a wide gap between families and the Garda. Is there a way to bridge it? Ms Metcalfe is working on the issue in her area, but the gap is very wide in others. Either Mr. O'Driscoll or Mr. Twomey can respond.

Ms Marie Metcalfe

I agree with the Deputy. I have visited those areas. The Garda's relationship with the community is not as good as it would be with a project leader. Personalities matter in a job like this. One needs to be able to work with people and know the buttons to push on each side.

I will make a comment, although it is not on my own behalf. In recent years the Government has not taken the issue of drugs seriously. We do not have a Minister with sole responsibility for it, as we should. We used to have one when the Labour Party was involved. Having a Minister fighting the battle helped. Even if we did not meet him or her every day, we knew that he or she was there.

My project's resources have been cut, although I do not want this to be about my wages, as I would work for €100. I am not in my job for the love of money. If members knew how much I was being paid, they would tell me to go on "the labour". My job has been cut to four days per week, although I still work seven days. That is not a problem because I love my job. It is my community and that is what I should do. If the Government is cutting a project that means something to a community or if it does not care about those who are trying to help people, it does not care about the people. Resources across the board have been badly hit, particularly in local communities. We have been hit; the Garda has been hit; everyone has been hit. When the little people on the ground like us are hit, it is serious trouble.

As a Government Deputy, I agree with Ms Metcalfe on the need to have a drugs Minister.

Ms Marie Metcalfe


To support Deputy Pádraig Mac Lochlainn's comments, this is not just an issue in urban areas; it affects rural areas across the State.

Ms Marie Metcalfe

It is to be found everywhere.

We need to focus on it more. It is a serious issue. I am also concerned about the health aspect. This is not the health committee, but the issue has an impact on the health service also. It impacts on a range of matters across the board. Perhaps there should be an Oireachtas committee specifically devoted to this issue, as it is so important.

Ms Marie Metcalfe


Does Mr. Twomey wish to contribute?

Mr. John Twomey

On the Chairman's last point-----

I asked a question about the Garda also.

Mr. John Twomey

Yes. On the Chairman's last point, an holistic approach is required. All of the agencies around the table must play their part. No one agency has the solution; there must be a combination. We have a number of initiatives in place in the city centre through which we work with drug treatment centres, the local authority and the drugs task force. The initiatives work very well. There has been a great deal of discussion of the issue of resources. The issue poses a challenge for everyone. We have community policing teams across the city. Recently, we installed a drugs unit specifically for the north inner city to deal with the issues raised by Ms Metcalfe. We will continue to address them on a local basis. We have good relationships with the local community and do a great deal of good work which, obviously, we must continue doing. Where there are gaps in the relationship, we will try to address them. The good work being done should be remembered, although there is a need and a demand for increased efforts.

Water protests were mentioned. Are they taking resources away from the work the Garda is doing?

Mr. John Twomey

The water protests require the allocation of resources, yes.

Does Deputy Finian McGrath wish to ask a further question?

Yes, on the issue of gangland crime and the intimidation of communities. Is it true that there are 150,000 unlicensed guns? Can anything be done about them? There are 200,000 licence holders, but it must be a major concern for the Garda if the figure of 150,000 illegal guns is accurate.

And possibly linked with the drugs trade.

Is the figure accurate?

Mr. John Twomey

We would have to confirm it; I cannot confirm it now. There are unlicensed firearms in the community and we know that a number of guns, including handguns, are involved in the commission of crime. I will have to revert to the committee with a specific figure.

As Mr. Twomey probably knows, we are working on the licensing of firearms.

Did Mr. Twomey give the figure?

Mr. John Twomey


I am sorry; I thought he had. It is something I would like to know. If there are so many weapons available in dealing with the drugs problem and teenagers are getting high on cocaine and newer drugs entering the country, there is a major danger to society. We must focus on this issue also.

Mr. Stephen Courage

I will provide clarity on the issue of presumptive drug testing, an initiative that is up and running in the organisation. The Garda has no discretion as to whether a prosecution for drug possession takes place; rather, the initiative has been designed to accelerate the process, reduce the work of the Forensic Science Laboratory and get people through the system as quickly as possible.

Will Mr. Courage provide details of what it involves?

Mr. Stephen Courage

If a person is arrested, there is a garda present who has been trained in testing for controlled substances to determine whether they are cannabis or cocaine, the substance turns out to be either and the person arrested with it accepts the garda's on-the-spot testing result, there is no need for the sample to be sent to the Forensic Science Laboratory where it would have to go through the entire process and create a backlog. This initiative accelerates the process; the person concerned is brought to court and the case is dealt with quickly, but there is no discretion in whether a prosecution takes place.

We visited the Forensic Science Laboratory last week. It needs extra resources and support, but we were impressed by the work it did.

Dr. Connolly stated we needed to broaden our understanding of the issue. Is our understanding too narrow? He referred to amenities, the drugs market and employment. There is a drugs market in certain areas, some of which are more advantaged areas, for example, among the equivalent of middle class Ireland. Is it the case that committees such as this, politicians and police officers need to broaden their understanding before having a go at solving it?

The need for more research was the main point.

Yes. Dr. Connolly mentioned it, as if not enough had been done.

Dr. Johnny Connolly

My study of the illicit drugs market was collaborative research, in that it involved a great deal of co-operation from the Garda drugs unit and the Forensic Science Laboratory, which performed an analysis of drug seizures. It was the first such study ever conducted in Ireland and one of the first in Europe.

Despite the many concerns about the issue, we know very little about its basic elements, for example, how markets evolve in certain areas, how they are structured and organised, the impacts locally, what law enforcement agencies do and the rationale for same. I interviewed many senior gardaí, as well as gardaí in the drugs units, in the four markets I studied. I wanted to know what was their thinking and what were the challenges they faced and them to describe what they did.

For me, this information is important in the context of the provision of resources, yet we are almost completely bereft of this type of analysis.

In terms of gangland crime and the whole concept of the hierarchy and violence, not all markets are violent. Some are more violent than others and others are geographically displaced. One can go into a community and find a drug market in one corner that is thriving while around the corner there is nothing happening. The are also many new markets, including on the Internet. There is now a whole new form of buying and selling drugs that does not require a physical space or require people to even know each other or have any contact other than over the Internet. They all pose different types of challenges.

In the context of the discussion around community impact, given the demand that exists in society for drugs and our legal system and the approach we have taken, the most optimistic estimate is that 20% to 25% of the drugs in circulation at any one time will be seized. The amount of drugs that remain out there is so large we can only ever have a limited impact. In the study I carried out the Garda acknowledged the reality that it can disrupt the market temporarily but it will recover very quickly. There is a need for a more holistic and broader approach which requires us to think about what we actually mean when talking about gangland and to identify our concerns in that regard. For example, are we talking about youth getting involved in gangs and how we interact and prevent this at an early stage? Are we speaking in particular about violence? Interestingly, the number of so-called gangland shootings has decreased recently. Why is that? What is going on that the number has decreased?

Did Dr. Connolly say that the number of gangland shootings has decreased?

Dr. Johnny Connolly

Yes, but only recently.

There were two such shootings in the past 24 hours.

Dr. Johnny Connolly

I am speaking about prior to that. We need to look at what is happening in the market to explain that change. We need to identify the harms we are trying to address and to acknowledge that while the Garda might be able to disrupt a market temporarily there will still be people who are looking for drugs who perhaps need to be diverted into treatment. It is essential that the Garda work with treatment organisations, and it is. In terms of a policy approach, both actions must go hand in hand. We need to change our conceptualisation in terms of the language we use and to focus our energy and resources on what we think are the most harmful aspects of a market. For example, in one of the areas I studied there was an open thriving market for crack cocaine in a particular shopping centre. As there is only one real shopping centre in this area one can imagine the impact this is having on the local community, in particular the young people in that community. That is a clear priority.

While it will not be possible to remove that market in its entirety, intensive engagement is required to disrupt it, not only because of the harm associated with that particular drug but because of its visibility. That in a sense is what I am talking about. This is what is happening on a European level. A worthy Irish focal point is the European monitoring centre on drugs and drug addiction based in Lisbon which, along with the Irish representative of that agency, Europol and the European Commission is looking at how we can improve our monitoring of the links between drugs and crime, drug markets and supply control activities in trying to develop an evidence base in this area.

As I mentioned earlier, I am currently engaged in a study with CityWide which is trying to put a number on the amount of incidents of intimidation on society. We all know this is happening. It has been reported to councillors and Deputies but it is not appearing in any official picture. From a Garda perspective this information, even if does not result in any prosecution - this is something that the Garda Inspectorate recently commented on - should be counted. Threats in this area generally escalate. As in the case of domestic violence, the first threat should be recorded somewhere because it will probably tend to escalate. Even if a reported incident does not end up in a prosecution we will, at least, at a policy level be able to get a handle on the extent of the problem, including who is making the threats and if they are coming from the same individuals and so on.

Mr. Stephen Courage

In regard to intimidation and the reporting programme, we are satisfied that there is an uptake in this regard. People are engaging with our inspectors in this area. We have feedback to support this and have in place an accounting mechanism in regard to the number of people engaging with us. This is not information we would put in the public domain. People are engaging with the programme and are happy with the service we provide.

On the appointment of inspectors, every inspector appointed in this area has been through a training programme with the family support network. It is not a case of inspectors being nominated. Every inspector throughout the country has attended a course. My team and I have travelled around the country with the family support team and have engaged with support workers. The inspectors also attend the workshops. They do have the skill-sets required. It is a programme that is being used. There is an uptake of it on a national basis.

Mr. O'Driscoll's comment that just because a decision is made to decriminalise a particular type of drug does not mean the criminal drugs gangs will not continue with their enterprise is very important. Cigarette smuggling was referenced in this regard.

Retail Excellence Ireland appeared before the committee recently on a different matter. That agency stated that it would be willing to fund the use of scanners of containers at ports. This would require the provision of hand held devices which could be used to scan containers to see if, for example, cigarettes were legal or not. Many people say we should ban cigarettes. However, they are legal. Those who smoke pay a huge amount of tax on the cigarettes they purchase, which tax will be used to fund the health services they will probably require when they end up in hospital at some future point because they smoked so many cigarettes. When speaking about drugs it is important we speak about all things that damage our health, including alcohol, cigarettes and drugs. Currently, it is approximately €10 for a pack of 20 cigarettes. However, it is possible to buy them illegally for half that price. This means a reduction in taxes for the Exchequer and a consequent reduction in health services provision. Cigarettes are legal on the basis of the amount of taxes they bring in for the Exchequer. That is the understood public principle in this regard. Therefore, cigarette smuggling undermines all of this.

What is the Garda Síochána strategy and approach to tackling cigarette smuggling? This is related directly to the topic we are discussing now. If we are to consider decriminalisation of particular drugs we need also to ensure that we tackle the criminal enterprises. An education policy only is not sufficient. There will always be a role for law enforcement and tackling those who are acting illegally. If we are to allow people to legally take alcohol, cigarettes and drugs then there needs to be a tax return to support the health services that will be required into the future to help them when they experience health difficulties. This is where the criminal justice agencies come in. What is the Garda Síochána strategy around cigarette smuggling? Is it working with Retail Excellence Ireland to tackle the issues and take on board the offer it has made? Can we then with confidence say if we ever were to consider decriminalising drugs that the same approach would be taken in that regard?

There is a difference between legalising and decriminalising something. I note that Customs and Excise have a huge role to play in that area but that the Garda Síochána are also very involved.

Mr. John O'Driscoll

The Chairman is correct that Customs and Excise is the main player in this area.

We also seize cigarettes. Very often, they are on the street, as distinct from the larger quantities detected by Customs and Excise.

We also have an issue regarding the land Border, where there may be a different tax regime. All the law enforcement agencies of this State, with the relevant law enforcement agencies of Northern Ireland, meet in what is called the cross-Border organised crime forum. We publish a threat assessment every year and detail the activities in which we engage. Through a combination of activities on both sides of the Border, the combined law enforcement authorities on the island tackle the illicit sale of cigarettes. Primarily, it is a Revenue issue and that is how most of the seizures take place. Our colleagues in the Revenue Commissioners can enlighten members about the equipment it has in Dublin Port and the other mechanisms for discovering the movement of tobacco.

I am temporarily responsible for two bureaus, including the Garda National Immigration Bureau. We have put a particular emphasis on removing people from the State who are foreign nationals engaged in crime. In 2014, among the people we removed were 68 people with criminal convictions, with many of those relating to the drugs industry, although some related to the selling of illicit cigarettes. There were 29 EU nationals removed. Where there is an effort by people coming from within or without Europe engaging either in the selling of drugs or illicit cigarettes, we make every effort to enforce removal and deportation orders, etc., or whatever mechanism is necessary to lawfully remove these people from the jurisdiction.

I agree with both the Chairman and Ms Metcalfe that we need a Minister with responsibility for tackling the drugs problem. We have discussed the issue before and we should communicate that view to the Government. It is very important that we have a Minister with a sole focus on this problem.

There is a question of decriminalisation and Portugal has been mentioned. That country depends much on tourism and I went on holiday there approximately five years ago. I stayed in a resort where I discovered one part at night was solely given over to the sale of drugs. Everybody else avoided the area and the only people who went there seemed to want drugs. It is not a desirable way to manage a drug problem. How do other countries deal with such problems?

We can deal with that question of decriminalisation and legalisation now.

Dr. Johnny Connolly

The Deputy referred to sale of drugs, which is still a criminal offence. If somebody is caught in Portugal in possession of drugs deemed for personal use, the person is transferred from the criminal justice system into a dissuasion committee. The essence of the Portuguese system is that it would take such an individual out of the criminal justice process and into a process that is more related to the public health system. It also involves an infrastructure built around the concept of drug treatment and education. The supply of drugs is enforced equally strongly. The Deputy would have seen people selling drugs which is still illegal, although one would see it in nearly every European city.

It is not illegal to buy drugs in such countries.

Dr. Johnny Connolly

It is illegal to buy and sell drugs but if drugs are found on a person for personal use, that is when diversion is introduced.

In some cases the drug problem is connected to the tourist industry. Mr. Twomey mentioned the seizure of a large shipment of drugs off the south coast. Is the country being used as a "trans-shipment" area as we have a very open coastline? These yachts and boats can come in with large shipments of drugs and not all the coastline is protected or guarded.

Dr. Johnny Connolly

Being an island nation, we are exposed to the fact that there is all kinds of movement on the seas around us. Ironically, the base within Europe where the combined nations of the European Union tackle this issue is in Lisbon. Mr. Courage on a regular basis would represent the Garda Síochána and the national drug unit in the organisation in Lisbon which tackles the movement of drugs on the high seas. We are regularly involved in tackling that aspect of the problem. These vessels move through the seas in our jurisdiction but that does not always mean the drugs are destined for Ireland, although they are in some instances. It is just another part of the business that needs to be dealt with at an international level through the combined efforts of EU member states and the broader international law enforcement community.

I apologise as I had to speak in the Dáil. The comments from the witnesses have been important and quite moving. I was shocked by Ms Metcalfe's description of an appalling vista involving intimidation, drug use and so on. We need tougher sentences for the professional criminals. Although we cannot do it today, the only way to stop this is by picking a generation that must be prevented from being involved with this problem. We must intervene in early childhood and education, in schools or even preschool. There must be support from others, better housing and more involvement with housing associations, for example. There should be more involvement with communities. We need major investment in communities that suffer the greatest.

There was an article some years ago in the The Journal of Health Gain in which an academic indicated that district electoral divisions of Dublin could be pinpointed where people would die younger, spend more time in jail, have worse education and suffer higher unemployment. I am sure that has not changed much in the ten or 15 years since that was written. Part of the answer is to intervene at the earliest possible stage with the next generation. I am not saying we cannot change what is happening now, as we can but we need much more money and analytical thinking to change the next generation and ensure those people do not fall into the trap. Creating employment is a major element.

Our work today and previous to today is multifaceted and complex, going across several agencies. It is not a simple process.

I thank the Chairman and all who made a contribution today, as it was a good exchange with important information. We can probably take some of the ideas a bit further. My colleagues on the committee will include them in the report. There is a major problem and there is no point in simply throwing our hands in the air and saying we cannot do anything about it. We owe it to the people who, in my case, came to my clinic because they were intimidated and put under pressure. We must do something for them.

Ms Marie Metcalfe

There was mention of a mandatory sentence. It would be important, for example, that somebody would get a ten-year sentence if he or she has drugs worth €10,000 or over. It is not happening. One young person had over €10,000 of heroin and we are living next door to him on a little road. A neighbour's life is hell, whether he or she knows the family or not. We were expecting him to get ten years but he got a suspended sentence.

Thank you. We must be careful not to identify anybody. I thank everybody for their attendance today and for their engagement with the committee on this important and serious subject. We are spending a fair amount of time on it, and it interacts with other work we are doing as well. If there are further points of view or suggestions you wish to bring to our attention, feel free to contact the clerk to the committee and let us know.

The joint committee adjourned at 4.10 p.m. until 2.30 p.m. on Wednesday, 25 February 2015.