Léim ar aghaidh chuig an bpríomhábhar

Dáil Éireann díospóireacht -
Thursday, 24 Oct 1996

Vol. 470 No. 6

Adjournment Matters. - Treatment of Drug Pushers.

Thank you, Sir, for allowing me to raise this matter and the Minister for coming in to reply. We are all aware of the drug marches organised in recent months throughout the inner city and suburbs against the drugs scourge. Local residents' and tenants' groups who feel betrayed and let down by the system have taken to the streets to highlight the social consequences of the problem in their areas. The cry "pushers out" is a common one as tenants try to reclaim their areas. According to reports, several tenants have left their local authority flats and houses following requests and hassle from concerned tenants. Some left before they were thrown out and, regardless of whether we like the methods used, they have been successful.

The understanding is that drug pushers evicted by tenants or legally by local authorities have set up house a mile or so down the road and are still carrying on their drug pushing activities. Worse still is the perception that the State is giving them a rent allowance towards accommodation costs. Is data of all evictions, legal or otherwise, collated by the four Dublin local authorities and supplied to the Department? Has the Department issued specific instructions that drug pushers be refused rent allowance? It is unacceptable that these people should qualify for rent allowance.

I hope the Minister does not quote regulations to the effect that everybody has a statutory right to apply for rent allowance. I am aware that legislation is promised, which will be introduced soon, but we need answers. Regardless of whether there is a statutory base for action it should be taken. There is a perception that the State is helping drug pushers who are only laughing at the rest of us. Let a do-gooder of a solicitor take the Minister to court on behalf of a pusher client, if he or she so wishes, but we must take a commonsense approach. I hope the Minister will tell me I am wrong but there is a perception that these people qualify for the allowance.

I thank the Deputy for affording me the opportunity to reply to this question which is a moot one in certain parts of the city.

The supplementary welfare allowance scheme provides for a weekly or monthly supplement to be paid in respect of rent payments to any person in the State whose means are insufficient to meet their needs. The purpose of rent supplements is to assist with reasonable accommodation costs of eligible persons living in private rented accommodation who are unable to provide for their accommodation costs from their resources and who do not have accommodation available to them from another source.

To be eligible for such a payment the claimant must satisfy the general conditions of entitlement to supplementary welfare allowance set out in the Act and the conditions of entitlement to a rent supplement set out in the regulations. Those generally excluded from receiving assistance under the supplementary welfare allowance scheme include people in full-time employment, full-time education and involved in trade disputes.

Entitlement to a rent supplement is determined by the health boards and supplements are normally calculated to ensure that the person, after payment of reasonable rent, has an income equal to the rate of supplementary welfare allowance appropriate to the family circumstances, less £6. This represents the minimum contribution which claimants are required to pay from their own resources.

The grounds on which an application for rent allowance may be refused are also set down in the regulations. While I accept and understand the points made by the Deputy — this problem was not foreseen when the Acts were framed — under the regulations health boards cannot automatically refuse a rent supplement to a tenant evicted from local authority housing by the local authority concerned. Unauthorised evictions are not recognised.

They are recognised by the local authorities.

If it is deemed that a person is engaged in illegal activity — it is an offence to trade in drugs — one would assume other statutory bodies are taking an interest. One should not presume however that he or she is guilty until a conviction has been obtained in the courts.

Each case would have to be decided on its merits, taking account of the legislation and the unique circumstances of the case. The legislation would have to be amended to specify that it is a condition of entitlement to a rent supplement that a person must not have been evicted from local authority accommodation under section 62 of the Housing Act, 1966. While this is an emotive and serious issue, it has to be recognised that introducing such a condition would have serious implications for the dependants of any person evicted from local authority accommodation.

It is proposed by the Department of the Environment to introduce legislation to give community welfare officers the right to refuse an application for a rent or mortgage supplement in cases of this type. The legislation will be introduced as soon as possible. It is intended to define the term "anti-social behaviour" in a way that will meet the requirements mentioned by the Deputy and at the same time ensure there is no abuse. It is the statutory authorities alone which determine whether a person is engaged in antisocial behaviour.

They are being assisted to move into private estates.

They have to satisfy the means test.