I am advised by the Garda authorities that there have been increased seizures of cocaine and evidence of increased circulation of the drug in Ireland. The same trend can be observed in other European countries, which is an unfortunate and worrying development.
As the Deputy may be aware, from a health perspective, cocaine remains the third most common drug reported among people presenting to treatment in Ireland. Since 2014 there has been a steady increase in the proportion of new cases for treatment reporting cocaine as a main problem drug in Ireland, rising from a low of 297 cases in 2013 to 568 cases in 2016. And in 2016, 12.3% of cases reported problem cocaine use, the highest proportion since 2010.
I can assure the Deputy that An Garda Síochána continues to prioritise tackling drugs and organised crime as a core focus of its work, including the continued disruption of the supply of all illicit drugs as a key priority.
Multi-disciplinary approaches are used to ensure that those involved in illicit drugs activity are effectively targeted, including through the use of drugs legislation, the Proceeds of Crime legislation, money laundering legislation and the powers of the Criminal Assets Bureau.
Gardaí are pursuing a number of strategies to tackle drug trafficking by organised criminal gangs including:
• gathering intelligence on those involved in the distribution of drugs;
• conducting targeted operations on criminal networks based on intelligence;
• working with the Criminal Assets Bureau to seize the assets of criminals and disrupt their activities; and
• working in collaboration with other law enforcement agencies, both within and outside the jurisdiction.
An Garda Síochána also continues to work closely with communities to address any drug-related issues, including through high visibility patrolling by uniformed personnel and through intelligence led operations targeting known criminals. Investing in capacity building measures to support the role of law enforcement authorities is important in dealing with emerging trends in relation to drugs.
Given the global nature of the drugs trade, international law enforcement co-operation remains a key element in the overall response. In this regard, An Garda Síochána has strong and strategic partnerships in place at an international level targeting drug trafficking including working closely with relevant law enforcement agencies such as Interpol and Europol and participating in the Maritime Analysis Operations centre for Narcotics based in Lisbon (MAOC-N). The seizure of 2.2 tonnes of cocaine found aboard a vessel off the coast of Cape Verde last month following exchange of operational information with MAOC-N is an example of the excellent work done by these agencies.
In addition to the work of An Garda Síochána in co-operation with international agencies, it is important to remember that other state agencies are tasked with important responsibilities in this regard. Government policy in relation to drug and alcohol misuse is set out in Ireland’s National Drug Strategy, ‘Reducing Harm, Supporting Recovery’, a health led response to drug and alcohol use in Ireland 2017-2025.
The Strategy represents a whole-of-Government response to the problem of drug and alcohol use in Ireland. It draws upon a range of government policy frameworks in order to reduce the risk factors for substance misuse. It also commits to address the harms of drugs markets and reduce access to drugs for harmful use. Responsibility for overseeing the implementation of the strategy rests with my colleague, Minister of State Catherine Byrne TD in the Department of Health. My own Department has responsibility as the lead agency or partner in a number of actions, including keeping drugs legislation under review as the joint lead agency with the Department of Health.
Through the National Drugs Strategy, the Deputy may also be aware that the HSE is working to strengthen early harm reduction responses to current and emerging trends and patterns of drug use, create greater awareness and expand the geographical spread and range of treatment services. The Deputy will also be aware that in July last year my colleague, the Minister of State with responsibility for Health Promotion and the National Drugs Strategy, Catherine Byrne TD, launched a harm reduction campaign in relation to cocaine and crack cocaine which was developed by the Ana Liffey Drug Project and the HSE.