I thank the Senator for raising the issues that arise in the north east which are of particular concern to me. I was in Drogheda in July and met the same group as the Senator. I was concerned when I heard about the experiences of some of the addicts. I compliment the Ana Liffey Drug Project in Dublin which has come to the aid of the strategy and is providing services with the help of the HSE and my Department. We will be building on this work shortly.
Solid progress is being made on the implementation of the various actions of the national drugs strategy across its five pillars of supply reduction, prevention, treatment, rehabilitation and research in line with the Government's commitment to address problem drug use in a comprehensive way. From the establishment of the Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs in 2002 up to 2009, in the region of €197 million was made available for drugs initiatives, in the main through local and regional drugs task forces. I am satisfied that the drugs task forces are continuing to make a positive impact on the drugs problem and a further €36 million has been made available by the Department of Community, Equality and Gaeltacht Affairs this year. In excess of €31 million in current funding has been made available to fund the activities of the task forces, of which €21.045 million has been allocated to the local drugs task forces and €10 million to the regional drugs task forces. This funding will support some 500 initiatives that the task forces have prioritised for investment in their respective areas. In this regard, it should be noted that the steering group for the national drugs strategy recognised the key role that the local and regional drugs task forces have played in addressing the drugs problem in recent years and "believed that the Drugs Task Forces will continue to play a strong role in the coming years". I am a great believer in the local and regional task forces. I acknowledge that both are stretched, geographically and in terms of resources.
The allocations for the north eastern regional drugs task force, NERDTF, were €590,000 in 2006 and €1.04 million in 2010. The Senator will note the somewhat reduced allocations in 2009 and 2010 which reflect the pressures on the public finances. I advise him, however, of the sustained incremental funding in previous years which facilitated,inter alia, the rolling out of projects and initiatives in the regional drugs task force areas, the introduction of new initiatives and responses to address cocaine usage, measures to support rehabilitation and the ongoing investment in capital projects. These are recognised by the Government as key initiatives to support communities to address the harm caused by problem drug use and deliver meaningful solutions. Our primary concern has been and continues to be the protection of front-line community-based services delivering vital programmes and initiatives in the areas worst affected by problem drug use. I am satisfied that the investment being made, including €1.04 million made available to the NERDTF, will continue to address problem drug use in a meaningful and real way and protect front-line services to the greatest extent possible.
In terms of a national comparison between the north-east region and the national position, from a funding perspective, total funding has more than doubled since 2006 across the regional drugs task force areas, notwithstanding the reductions in 2009 and 2010. I understand from the task force that, given the reduced budget for 2010, following similar reductions in 2009, the NERDTF had a renewed focus on ensuring projects delivered consistent and effective services across the four counties of Cavan, Louth, Meath and Monaghan. In some areas, this led to restructuring of services in order that there would be a clear focus on ensuring there were small multidisciplinary teams in place in each HSE local health office area which would be able to respond to the needs of their community and work co-operatively with other key service providers. This transformation could not have been achieved without the support of the voluntary sector addiction service providers which proved their willingness to adapt to the new requirements. I am additionally informed by the NERDTF that it now has in place key front-line services which are able to ensure people who are experiencing difficulties due to their addictions and who are willing to address them can quickly access a range of addiction services in a localised community drug and alcohol team setting. These core front-line services consist of the Meath Community Drug and Alcohol Response Project, the Cavan/Monaghan Drug Awareness Project and the Louth community drug and alcohol team.
In addition to the work of the NERDTF which is funded by my Department, HSE addiction services in the north eastern counties are provided through a range of services. These include an addiction service for counties Louth and Meath managed by the Louth local health office under the direction of the drug service facilitator; an addiction resource centre in counties Cavan and Monaghan, managed and delivered through the mental health services; and a methadone programme in the north east providing services for counties Louth, Meath and Cavan and Monaghan, managed through the Louth local health office. I understand HSE expenditure on the addiction services for counties Louth and Meath was just under €800,000 in 2009 and €500,000 on the addiction resource centre for counties Cavan and Monaghan and that 1,111 clients from the north-east region received treatment for drug and alcohol use.
My Department has also provided funding for the provision of needle exchange and other services in Drogheda. The service commenced there in October and will cover the north east. I look forward to continuing co-operation with all drugs task forces, including that in the north east, and greatly appreciate the work being done.
Let me address the four issues raised by the Senator. The Liberties-style initiative and the community employment scheme issue are linked. The initiative in the Liberties is long established and based on rehabilitation, well thought through strategies and the use of community employment schemes. There are 1,000 ring-fenced community employment schemes nationally for drug misusers. I am working with representatives of FÁS on the oversight group on drugs which I chair. We are working on how we can ring-fence community employment scheme places nationally to assist the rehabilitation of drug misusers. I will be happy to discuss how we might go about doing this with the Senator.
On the issue of the new Irish, the oversight group has recently produced a report on what we call communities of interest, including the new Irish. Issues have arisen as part of the study that need to be addressed. They will have to be incorporated into the strategy, both at regional and local level.
The Senator referred to alcohol abuse. When I was in charge of the national strategy some years ago, I started the process of trying to align the national drugs strategy with an alcohol strategy. That process is well advanced. A group co-chaired by the Department of Health and Children and my Department is working to prepare a draft strategy and a number of significant recommendations have been made. The draft report is all but ready. However, some of the recommendations will be challenging. There are already fears among some groups, including sports organisations, that some of the traditional funding streams for sponsorship, etc., might be interfered with. More important, we will be addressing the issue of the accessibility of alcohol and the fact that it is increasingly the gateway drug used by most people. When I visited a treatment centre in Clare recently, I met a woman who told me she had taken her first drink of alcohol at 11 years of age. It was given to her by her mother. As the Senator rightly stated, the mother was smoking cannabis.
I am under no illusions about what lies ahead, but I am anxious to have an aligned alcohol and drug misuse strategy in place in the new year. There are a number of locations at which groups have come forward offering to pilot the strategy. If the Senator or anyone else has an area in mind in which a pilot project could be rolled out, I will be more than happy to work with him or her and try to provide resources. In County Donegal there is very good group, the North West Alcohol Forum, which does extremely good work. It is very important that we work with local groups to determine whether we can design local solutions.