I am informed by the Garda authorities that during 2003, 21 offences for possession of cocaine were detected in Tralee. Eleven of these cases could be described as minor in nature, and related to possession of small amounts for personal use. The rest of the offences detected related to small amounts, which could be described as being available for sale and supply. There was one seizure with a street value of €10,000. It should be noted that these statistics are provisional and subject to change.
I am further informed by the Garda authorities that this apparent increase in cocaine use could be attributed to a lowering of street value which has increased availability, and to increased detection rates due to successful targeting of cocaine users by the Kerry Garda divisional drugs unit.
To address the problem, the divisional drugs unit is actively seeking to detect drug taking. This resulted in continued success throughout 2003. The Garda Síochána continues to co-operate with other agencies particularly in the education of young people regarding the dangers of drug abuse, including making school visits and addressing young people at various fora for youth issues and dealing with young people on a one to one basis.
As the Deputy will be aware, the Government's overall policy to tackle the drug problem is set out in the National Drugs Strategy 2001-2008, Building on Experience, and responsibility for co-ordinating the implementation of the strategy lies with my colleague, the Minister of State at the Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs, Deputy Noel Ahern. My Department's remit in this issue lies in the area of supply reduction, updating legislation and in strengthening co-operation among law enforcement agencies.
Garda authorities advise that there are indications of an increase in the availability and use of cocaine in the recent past. However, offences involving cocaine still represent a small proportion of the overall number of drug offences annually. The Garda authorities have also informed me that, in accordance with a commitment in the annual policing plan for 2003, the Garda research unit in conjunction with the Garda national drugs unit is conducting research into cocaine usage and criminal activity and will bring forward policing recommendations accordingly. The objective of this research is to provide a better insight into the links between cocaine use and criminal activities and inform police management on appropriate policing strategies.
As a feature of our national strategy, the Government in 2003 established regional drug task forces in ten designated areas, co-terminous with the regional health board areas and including the three health boards that comprise the Eastern Regional Health Authority. The town of Tralee comes under the jurisdiction of the southern regional task forces.
All of the regional drug task forces, including the southern RDTF, are mapping out the patterns of drug misuse in their areas and the level and range of existing services. Where cocaine use is found to be a problem, this can be reflected in the measures proposed in its action plan which may include targeted actions against drug misuse in particular towns within the region including Tralee.
The Minister of State at the Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs, Deputy Noel Ahern has already stressed that the matter of cocaine use will be kept under close review. In this regard and as a result of reports indicating increased levels of cocaine use in Ireland, the National Advisory Committee on Drugs recently presented the Minister of State with an overview study on cocaine use in Ireland for his consideration.