I propose to take Questions Nos. 779, 796 and 797 together.
As the Deputy will be aware, the Department of Health leads on Government policy in this area and is guided by the national drugs strategy "Reducing Harm, Supporting Recovery - a health led response to drug and alcohol use in Ireland 2017-2025".
This represents a whole-of-Government response to drug and alcohol use in Ireland. Implementation of the Strategy is led by my colleagues the Minister for Health and the Minister of State with responsibility for Public Health, Well Being and the National Drugs Strategy, although the Strategy of course includes actions for all stakeholders, including my Department and An Garda Síochána.
I am aware of the issues raised by the Deputy in connection with nitrous oxide, as well as the potential negative health implications of the unintended and unrestricted uses of this product. The health issues related to nitrous oxide are proper to the Department of Health, the HSE and the Health Products Regulatory Authority (HPRA) and I understand that the HPRA has previously issued advisories on the misuse of this substance. I further understand that the HSE has recently added information with regard to nitrous oxide to the website drugs.ie.
The Garda National Drugs & Organised Crime Bureau has communicated with the relevant State bodies with regard to its experience relating to the possession and use by particular persons of nitrous oxide. However, at present, nitrous oxide is not a controlled substance under the Misuse of Drugs Acts.
The purpose of the Criminal Justice (Psychoactive Substances) Act 2010 includes the prevention of the misuse of dangerous or otherwise harmful psychoactive substances and the provision of offences relating to the sale, importation, exportation or advertisement of those substances. For example, the Act provides that a person who sells, or who imports or exports, a psychoactive substance knowing or being reckless as to whether that substance is being acquired or supplied for human consumption shall be guilty of an offence.
With regard to children, section 74 of the Child Care Act 1991 also provides for the offence of sale etc. of solvents. It provides that it shall be an offence for a person to sell, offer or make available a substance to a person under the age of eighteen years or to a person acting on behalf of that person if he knows or has reasonable cause to believe that the substance is, or its fumes are, likely to be inhaled by the person under the age of eighteen years for the purpose of causing intoxication. The section criminalises the sale and supply of solvents rather than the inhalation or consumption of substances by persons under the age of 18.
I am advised by An Garda Síochána that providing any provisional/operational figures in respect of arrests and seizures of nitrous oxide based on the data collected on PULSE is difficult due to the manner in which the information is recorded, and would require an inordinate amount of time and resources to compile.