Wednesday, 26 June 2019

Questions (39)

Jim O'Callaghan

Question:

39. Deputy Jim O'Callaghan asked the Minister for Justice and Equality the actions which will be taken to address the use of social media and technology in the cocaine trade, and the increase in cocaine use; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26869/19]

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Oral answers (7 contributions) (Question to Justice)

Earlier this month, the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction published a report that was quite worrying for this country. It recorded that the use of cocaine and crack cocaine is increasing faster in Ireland than in most European countries, and that cocaine has become purer and more plentiful due to what is referred to as the "Uberisation" of the trade. What is the Government's response to dealing with this increase in use of cocaine? How does it intend to deal with the fact that social media and iPhones seem to be used for the purpose of advancing this trade?

I am aware that An Garda Síochána is reporting increased seizures of cocaine, evidence of increased circulation of the drug, which I accept is a worrying development. The expansion of drug markets to the online environment, including via social media, is proving challenging for law enforcement worldwide, as the Internet and the darknet facilitate the movement of drugs, money and information across global borders. I understand that international experience is that when a website selling illicit substances is taken down, it will almost immediately be replaced by another active site.

I am sure the Deputy will agree that interagency and international collaboration are, therefore, critical in disrupting online markets. An Garda Síochána liaises with Revenue, the Health Products Regulatory Authority, HPRA, and its European and international counterparts to comprehensively disrupt trading activity and online markets at the earliest opportunity. However, we have to accept that prosecutions for drug-related cybercrime are by their nature difficult. An Garda Síochána has adopted a multidisciplinary approach to tackling drug-related cybercrime via improved control, risk management and profiling to detect, investigate and prosecute the persons involved. The Garda National Drugs and Organised Crime Bureau leads in tackling all forms of drug trafficking and the supply of illicit drugs in Ireland, including monitoring and tackling the sale of drugs online. Gardaí from the bureau participate in various European projects such as the European multidisciplinary platform against criminal threats, which is co-ordinated through Europol and the Council of Europe's Pompidou working group on drugs online. This working group seeks to harmonise the approach to the investigation of cyber-enabled drug trafficking and serves as a point of contact for all appropriate partners, including engagement with the private sector.

I understand the Minister has a long and detailed reply. He will have an opportunity to come back in.

It is worth reading the report produced by this European centre closely. They examined 30 European countries and recorded that more people in Ireland had used cocaine in the past 12 months than in any other country apart from the United Kingdom and Spain. That is a worrying development. The report also indicates that the trade in cocaine has changed and has become, in a way, similar to trade in other products on the Internet. It recorded that the use of social media and technology had assisted the sale of cocaine and advanced the cocaine trade. Providers of the illegal drug - drug pushers - were able to provide added service, namely that they would deliver the cocaine to where the users are. This needs to be approached this in two ways. First, the Government needs to get our messaging right. People need to be informed of the dangers of cocaine and associated with it. They also need to be informed of the link between cocaine use and the murder of people in this country.

I assure the Deputy that this matter is taken seriously by my Department and me, and by the Garda Síochána. That is why I referred to the engagement on the part of the Garda with a range of other agencies on the international stage, seeking to ensure that we adopt international best practice here and that the Garda is engaged in a way that ensures a rapid exchange of information and best practice to combat the sale and trafficking of drugs online, including the use of postal express courier services, emerging techniques and dealing with the engagement on the darknet.

As well as European engagement, An Garda Síochána also liaises with the United States Drug Enforcement Administration. Ireland is also represented at the international drug enforcement conference, which is attended by more than 100 countries annually. It is important that we build these relationships from a criminal justice perspective and from a national point of view. We will continue to advise on the dangers of engaging in the use of illegal drugs, in particular cocaine, and on the fact that those who are engaged in its consumption are responsible for many of the gangland, organised crime and drug-related deaths in our communities.

I agree with the Minister. The Government and society needs to provide more information to the public about the link between cocaine use and criminal activity. We see how people respond to information when it is given to them. Many people now realise the risks associated with the use of plastic and, because of that, they are changing their practices. They recognise that there is a threat to the planet because of the use of plastic. If we can apprise people of the dangers associated with the use of cocaine and the fact that by using it, they are supporting and indirectly funding the killing of people in other parts of the city, they will respond. The problem is that nobody is putting that message forward. We do not read about campaigns on the Internet linking the usage of cocaine to criminal activity or the killing of other people. The responsibility has to rest with Government. An information campaign should be run. Ministers spend their time in government giving information to people about matters that are dangerous to them. The public should be better informed about the dangers associated with taking drugs and the link to criminal activity.

I accept that a multi-agency response is required, and that is what we have. I refer, for example, to Ireland's national drugs strategy, Reducing Harm, Supporting Recovery: A health-led response to drug and alcohol use. This advises the public in respect of the dangers of cocaine use. I refer also to the criminal justice response, which is to ensure those convicted of trafficking or promoting the sale of illicit drugs are brought to justice. Last year, for example, the Criminal Assets Bureau successfully seized assets from an individual involved in drug trafficking in a number of jurisdictions. Just yesterday, the annual report of the Criminal Assets Bureau was published and it highlighted ongoing activity to ensure the scourge of drugs within our society is stamped out.

Question No. 40 replied to with Written Answers.