Priority Questions.

State Property.

Fergus O'Dowd

Ceist:

96 Mr. O’Dowd asked the Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs if he has satisfied himself following the controversial circumstances around the sale of a holiday home complex in Connemara by Údarás na Gaeltachta, that measures have been put in place which will prevent this from recurring in the sale of other Údarás properties; and if similar deficient processes have not occurred during the sale of other Údarás properties in the recent past. [12131/04]

Section 8 of the Údarás na Gaeltachta Act 1979 sets out the functions of Údarás and specifies at subsection 8(7) "For the purposes of this section, an tÚdarás shall have power to acquire, receive on transfer, hold, sell, mortgage, lease, let or otherwise dispose of land, buildings, markets, premises or plant and to erect, alter or maintain buildings, markets, premises or plant."

The responsibility for the disposal of Údarás property, therefore, is a matter for the board of Údarás na Gaeltachta, in accordance with relevant State and EU guidelines and directives, which include the public procurement guidelines (1994) and the code of practice for the governance of State bodies (2001).

I have no function in regard to individual cases. However, I understand from Údarás na Gaeltachta that the board has set aside its earlier proposals of sale in regard to "Tithe Saoire Eanach Mheáin" following advice from senior counsel on rules pertaining to State aid. My responsibility as Minister is to ensure that the relevant guidelines and directives are adhered to and that best practice prevails. My officials liaise with the Údarás executive on an ongoing basis in this regard. In this case, and on foot of reports which have been received from Údarás, my officials are examining, within the framework of corporate governance arrangements, the processes and procedure which applied.

The sale of property owned by Údarás na Gaeltachta takes place directly on the Minister's instructions. He has asked Údarás to sell property worth €20 million over the next few years, while in the current year, property worth more than €7 million will be sold. Surely it is a matter for the Minister, having directed the board to sell its property, to insist on new criteria being introduced to Údarás, on the basis that the board — not the officials — proposed to accept the third lowest tender. Three tenders went before the board, the lowest of which was recommended. Did the Minister ask for a report on this sale? Did it make clear that there was a document outlining the business proposal contained in the third tender, the one accepted by the board? I understand that no such document was available on the day, yet the board moved ahead on the sale of the property.

I did not instruct the board of Údarás to sell any particular properties. I never give any direct instruction to Údarás to sell property. There were discussions between myself and Údarás na Gaeltachta because it said it did not have enough money for its capital programme. Discussions were held on the possibility of raising money through the sale of properties. We also had a number of studies carried out on the issue. In general terms, it is my obligation as Minister to ensure that the assets of the Údarás are used in the best interests of the people of the Gaeltacht. Under the Act, the responsibility in the case of any property the board sells, the choice to sell or not to sell, and the procedure it followed, are those of Údarás na Gaeltachta, as clearly laid out in the Act.

The Minister proposes to bring in a new Bill to amend the operation of Údarás na Gaeltachta in the year 2005. Will he bring in such a Bill immediately? On this side of the House we will facilitate such a change, because operations at the Údarás must change urgently. There should be a scheme of marking when proposals are brought before the board, to denote interest in the Irish language and business plans related to the Irish language. The Minister cannot deny that his office is ordering the board to sell its property. The board did not come up with this plan on its own. Is the Minister insisting that the Údarás budget be cut, and that the shortfall be met by the fire sale of its properties? Is this the worst possible time to do this, when transparent criteria are not in place, with the public not aware of what is going on? Does the Minister think the public should be so aware?

There are very clear criteria involved in this issue. They include the Public Procurement Guidelines 1994 and the Code of Practice for the Governance of State Bodies 2001. Many State bodies buy and sell property. For years Údarás na Gaeltachta has been in the business of both buying and selling State property. My role is to make sure that best practice is followed——

Exactly. Is it being followed?

Please, Deputy, allow the Minister to continue.

——by Údarás na Gaeltachta in the sale of any particular property. In this case — we have to be very careful here — the sale has not gone ahead. That is public knowledge because the board decided, on legal advice, that the procedures it had followed, specifically relating to State aids, was not compatible with good practice. It aborted the sale, therefore, and it is my understanding that the property might be put back on the market again. In those circumstances it would be inappropriate for me to comment on the details of any tenders made because further bids could be made.

One of the unfortunate aspects of this matter is the innocent parties, so to speak, the people who in good faith put in their tenders and provided what would normally be considered, in a tender process, confidential information before that process has been completed. The problem is that they have had details of their tenders put into the public domain. If the process was completed all the information would have to be made available but, as the Deputy is aware, where a process is not completed a certain amount of discretion is afforded because of good procedure.

I stress once again that there is an absolute obligation on Údarás — I have made this clear — to use the property portfolio to the best advantage of the people of the Gaeltacht. If Údarás is using the revenue raised from the sale of certain properties to provide other properties or it disposes of certain properties — Údarás has always had that policy and has disposed of certain properties — it is wise for it to do that. There is no doubt — we did studies on this — that I have encouraged Údarás to be much more proactive in ensuring best value for money from its extensive property portfolio, which runs to well over €100 million. That is something on which all of us in this House would agree.

My question is very simple. Was best practice followed in this case? If it was not, and nobody can argue that it was, how can the Minister ensure best practice will be followed from now on? If that means he has to introduce legislation to change the way the board operates, will he not do that? That is the key issue. The innocent people in all this are the taxpayers because they are not getting the best value for their money.

My obligation is to make sure that best practice is followed. The primary obligation, however, is on Údarás to ensure it follows best practice because they are the people doing the selling. In this case, as the Deputy is aware because it is on public record, there was a problem in regard to State aids and for that reason they have not proceeded with the sale. The Deputy can take it that there was a flaw in the process. That is public knowledge. They aborted the sale. My officials have been in constant contact with Údarás on the basis that the next time it proceeds to sell this or any other property it must ensure that best practice is followed.

In regard to changing the law, there are many State agencies — Údarás is not unique in this respect — which can buy and sell property. I believe there would be major resistance in this House if the sale of particular properties became a ministerial function. It would be a drastic step to take the power away from Údarás and not from any other State agency to buy and sell property and vest that power in the Minister. If I attempted to do that, the Deputy would be quickly on his feet to tell me there was undue interference by the Minister in the day-to-day affairs of Údarás na Gaeltachta.

Official Languages Act.

Brian O'Shea

Ceist:

97 Mr. O’Shea asked the Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs if his attention as been drawn to concerns expressed by some heads of State agencies at a recent meeting of the chief executives of public bodies regarding the implementation of the Official Languages Act 2003; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [12068/04]

The meeting concerned consisted of a presentation by an official of my Department followed by a question and answer session. This is one of a series of presentations being made by officials of my Department to public bodies on the provisions of the Official Languages Act. I understand that participants at the meeting sought clarification on a number of factual issues in relation to the legislation, the timescale envisaged for its implementation and the supports available to them as public bodies from my Department and elsewhere in this process. I also understand that the Association of Chief Executives of State Agencies regrets that such a negative report of the briefing was carried in the press. In its view, the briefing was most informative in helping its members understand the requirements of the new legislation for their agencies.

While, as one would expect, questions were indeed raised about possible resource issues, I am told that the overall sense of the meeting was one of welcome by the chief executives for the measured, flexible and practical approach being taken by the Department to the implementation of the Act. I understand that the tone of the meeting was positive and it addressed on a down-to-earth and business-like basis practical arrangements and ideas for improving the delivery of our public services through Irish.

Does the Minister believe it is desirable that the chief executives of State agencies are not prepared to make public statements on the implementation of this Act on two bases as reported, first, that they are reluctant to criticise what they term the sacred cow and, second, they believe the Minister is not to be reasoned with? What initiative is the Minister prepared to take to make the chief executives come forward, without fear or favour, and say what they really think, and not have reports appearing in the press from people who are afraid to disclose their identity?

The answer to the Deputy's question is "No". A number of issues arise in this regard. My Department and I are simply implementing an Act of the Oireachtas passed by this House without division. The fundamentals involved here are not to do with me as a person but something on which the Oireachtas clearly decided.

The second issue is that if a chief executive believes he cannot raise issues in respect of this Act because he believes somebody else thinks it is a sacred cow, that is the chief executive's problem. I would say to that chief executive, "Why don't you try?". One chief executive wrote to me and I have written a very reasoned reply, but aside from that I do not believe, off the top of my head, that any other chief executive has written to me. Issues were raised, and these have been dealt with reasonably.

The officials of my Department, who have consistently met the public bodies explaining the issues involved and discussing the draft regulations, are very reasonable people who listen and take on board reasonable issues raised.

As regards myself, my door is always open. I am willing to engage but I can only do so within the confines of the legislation passed by this House. It is surprising that during the long debate that took place in the Oireachtas and over five years of public consultation, with all the accusations made against us to the effect that we were delaying matters, a chief executive did not make some representations during that entire process on the Official Languages Act.

There is a basic point in all this. There is something wrong when chief executives of State agencies who have concerns are only prepared to articulate those concerns under the protection of anonymity. We were all here when the Act was passed. However, there is a strong perception that the Minister tends to be unreasonable when it comes to criticising the sacred cow. Another chief executive made the point that, regarding resources and time, if everything produced must be translated, the result will be that one has less information coming from those bodies. With some of the smaller ones, that could be a real problem. Before it becomes such, the Minister should address the matter and find a way of assuring the smaller agencies that they will not be curtailed or limited in the amount of information that they wish to provide because they must produce translations.

I must accept that there was such a chief executive. It appears we are talking about one person out of 600 bodies, which means, by logical extension, that 599 are happy. That is not a bad majority. However, if the person has a difficulty, he or she should stand up and come forward to see if I am reasonable.

No one in this House could argue but that I was willing, sometimes perhaps to the point of boring Deputies, to go through points again and again on the various stages of the Bill as it was passing through the House. We also made a large number of amendments, and much of the early criticism to which I was subjected by the Opposition was that the Bill did not go far enough and that I was being too reasonable and not doing enough. I remember a great many amendments being tabled asking me to go much further. I had to explain patiently why that was not possible in practical terms. Regarding the resources of small bodies, I do not believe they have or will have a problem. The problem relates to mind set more than anything else. In most countries this would be considered the norm.

Second, as someone who worked in a small voluntary body which, because it was a Gaeltacht co-operative, inevitably had to do everything bilingually, I am more than aware of the realities. We had to produce everything bilingually. As the Deputy knows, the Act provides only for major policy documents and the annual report to be translated. Most bodies have already moved to the stage — and this has not yet been implemented — of producing their annual reports bilingually. Údarás na Gaeltachta has always had to do that. It has never received extra resources for doing such things, and I cannot understand, if it has been practical for a great many bodies to do that for the past 20 years, why it becomes absolutely impossible for some of the major agencies to do the minimum required to ensure that the status of Irish as the first official language is more than a token gesture and that we recognise that there are two official languages here. Those who use Irish are entitled to basic services through that language. As I said, the reality appears to be that one chief executive has raised an issue.

At least two are quoted in the article.

Two out of 600 is still good.

Those were the ones prepared to speak when they were guaranteed that their contributions would be confidential.

These are chief executives of State bodies. As such, they should show more respect for the office of the Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs and for the Oireachtas. If they have a problem they wish to raise, the least that they could do is come forward through the normal channels. Each has a line, since every State body is responsible to some Department. If they feel they cannot come to me, surely they can go to their own Ministers and raise the issue with them. This is a cop-out on the part of certain chief executives who are too lazy to do the minimum to ensure that the rights of Irish speakers are preserved. If they have any guts, they would come out and say who they are and identify their problems, and I will deal with them reasonably.

Dormant Accounts Fund.

Marian Harkin

Ceist:

98 Ms Harkin asked the Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs if he will reconsider his decision not to use the existing and effective structure of ADM to distribute the dormant accounts fund. [12139/04]

As I have outlined to the House on several occasions recently, decisions on the disbursement of funds from dormant accounts moneys are currently a matter for the Dormant Accounts Disbursement Board, an independent body established under the Dormant Accounts Acts.

The board is currently deciding on the disbursement of up to €30 million. In that regard, the board has engaged Area Development Management Limited, or ADM, to administer the initial round of funding on its behalf. The closing date for receipt of applications for this round of funding was 5 March 2004, and I understand approximately 1,500 applications had been received by the closing deadline. The process of appraising and evaluating those applications by ADM is under way, and to date the board has approved 46 projects totalling approximately €5 million.

The Deputy will be aware that the Government decided last December to make several changes regarding dormant accounts. Legislation to give effect to the proposed changes is currently being drafted and will be published in the next few weeks.

I emphasise that the objectives of the disbursements scheme as set out in the board's first disbursement plan will remain unchanged, that is, funding to assist programmes or projects targeting three broad categories of persons — those affected by economic and social disadvantage, educational disadvantage, and persons with a disability. It is also important to note that the Government decision provides that decisions in the area be taken following a transparent application and evaluation process.

The Government proposes key roles for the board, with particular regard to advising on priority areas to be considered annually for funding and preparation of the disbursement plan.

Furthermore, the board will critically assess the additionality and impact of spending on a regular basis. That is of critical importance, and arrangements will be put in place to ensure that spending under the Dormant Accounts Disbursement Board be kept separate from the normal Estimates process so that additionality can be verified.

On the possible future role of ADM following the legislative changes proposed regarding dormant accounts, the Deputy will appreciate that arrangements for processing and so on have yet to be worked out. I point out, however, that arrangements to be put in place will have full regard to best practice in the disbursement of public moneys while seeking to avoid undue bureaucracy and excessive administrative and overhead costs.

I asked whether the Minister would reconsider his decision to allow ADM to disburse the dormant accounts rather than set up a new board. The Minister did not address that. Does he not agree that ADM was set up by the EU to provide an independent conduit for funds to communities, voluntary bodies and others and that the critical aspect is that it is an independent body not influenced by political manoeuvring, not dependent on being in a Minister's constituency and not a slush fund?

Does the Minister agree with the comments of the Minister of State at the Department of Education and Science, Deputy de Valera, at the weekend when she said that politicians need to get back to the basic principles of honesty and integrity if people are not to become cynical about politics? Does the Minister acknowledge that it is cynical in the extreme that the Minister for Finance, Deputy McCreevy, said in 2001 that the dormant accounts fund would not be used as a slush fund, and yet two years later, that decision was rescinded, with the dormant accounts fund to be used as just that, out of the hands of independent bodies such as ADM?

I recently asked the Minister, Deputy Ó Cuív, about ADM, and his reply to me was that it was not right to detach taxpayers from their money. Does the Minister of State accept that, according to the Minister, it is not right to detach politicians from the disbursement of money? These funds are not tax raised by the Exchequer. This is money on which tax has already been paid, and such moneys should be disbursed by an independent body. I ask the Minister's view on that.

The board currently distributing the money is independent. ADM was hired by the board, since the latter was set up without staff, a structure, expertise or processing staff. In the short term, the board is therefore hiring ADM to carry out the job of evaluating and processing applications against certain criteria. In the future, that may continue. However, it is not a slush fund. Having examined what was set up, we feel that there are gaps and deficiencies in it.

What are the deficiencies?

It was set up as a board to distribute €30 million a year with no structure.

ADM has a structure.

It does not have a structure. The board is the legal authority and does not have its own staff. In the short term the board exists, with some seconded civil servants. Other people are being hired, namely ADM, to do a processing job for the board. It just proves the point that the board was set up without a staff or a structure. Giving it seconded staff from within the Civil Service works in the short term, but it is not a proper way to go about matters for the future. From the viewpoint of accountability, the part-time chairman is legally accountable and responsible for perhaps €170 million. That is unsustainable. There were gaps in the way it was set up and we are trying to improve on and correct that.

Why was the Dormant Accounts Disbursements Board set up? An independent body, ADM, already existed which, with a few extra seconded staff, could have carried out that function. In effect, what this means is that decisions in this matter will rest with the Minister. They will be political decisions and will not be taken by ADM. The body will appraise the projects etc. The Minister of State says it is accountable and transparent, but the decisions will ultimately be political. A body such as ADM was set up because the EU recommended the need for an independent body. I have asked the Minister of State a question and still have not received an answer. What was theraison d’être to change from ADM to the Dormant Accounts Disbursements Board when a body was in place that could have done the job adequately?

The Deputy has misunderstood. There is no reference to ADM in the legislation setting up the dormant accounts board. ADM——

Why set it up?

Whatever about the reason it was set up, it has nothing to do with the dormant accounts board. It was hired by the board on a short-term basis to do a job. ADM is not in charge of the dormant accounts fund.

Exactly.

It was not part of it.

It should have been.

That is the Deputy's view. I do not know that anyone else expressed that view when the legislation was going through the Dáil a few years ago. She will have an opportunity to express it again when the legislation is brought forward in the coming weeks. We may be changing the dormant accounts board and its functions, but not ADM. The board could have employed anyone to do the temporary processing of the applications. It has employed ADM but that body is not part of the process. It is just being employed and paid in the short term to do a job.

Rural Social Scheme.

Seymour Crawford

Ceist:

99 Mr. Crawford asked the Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs when the rural employment scheme announced by him on 3 December 2003 will be brought into place; if this scheme will be run separately from community employment schemes at local level and so have two different supervisors; if a farmer’s child who is on disability, even though he or she may have no herd number of his or her own, will be eligible given that the district veterinary offices are reluctant to give second herd numbers; if this scheme will be up and running in the summer of 2004; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [11714/04]

The rural social scheme aims to provide certain services of benefit to rural communities by harnessing the skills and talents available among low-income farmers and fishermen, and provide income support to low-income farmers and fishermen who are in receipt of specified, primarily long-term, social welfare payments. I envisage that the arrangements for the scheme will be put in place during the coming weeks. The scheme is distinct from the community employment scheme which aims to provide training to allow participants re-enter the labour force. Both schemes can operate in the same area but with different management arrangements. Care will be taken at local level to ensure that there is no overlap or wasting of resources in a particular area.

The scheme is aimed primarily at farmers who are in receipt of long-term social welfare payments, but the rules will admit low-income fishermen also. To be eligible to participate, an individual should be in receipt of farm assist, unemployment assistance or unemployment benefit if previously on community employment, or disability allowance and have a herd number.

It is envisaged that up to 2,500 places will be provided on the basis of the criteria outlined. A review of eligibility and impact of the scheme will be undertaken subsequent to its operation over 12 months having regard to demand and available resources and the question of possibly broadening the eligibility criteria for participation in the scheme.

This scheme was announced on 3 December. It is now the end of April and the Minister says arrangements for the scheme will be put in place in the coming weeks. The reply is not that different from his reply to my previous question on this issue six weeks ago. Does the Minister accept that this scheme was thought of the day before the budget without any real research or planning being put into it? Does he accept that the fact it will be run in small local communities separately from the community employment scheme means that extra expense must be involved? Can it not be run under the same structures? Will there be funding for these workers to deliver jobs? I am told that, as yet, funding has not been suggested for the labour that will be undertaken. That is another major issue.

I asked the Minister a pertinent question whether, in the light of difficulties with district veterinary officers, a son or daughter of a farmer, if he or she has a disability problem, would be able to avail of the scheme without a herd number. As the Minister knows, it is almost impossible now for a son or daughter to obtain a herd number.

It is important to recognise that to try to run the two schemes as one would be to have a trainee and work scheme under the one umbrella. They would not be compatible and therefore separate structures will be needed. We will try to co-ordinate them in such a way so that there is no unnecessary duplication. However, two different jobs are in hand.

Funding is in place and I am ready to proceed. I can also confirm that I brought a memorandum to Government and that has been approved. It is fundamentally the same scheme as was prepared prior to the budget. Some technical difficulties had to be resolved and discussions have taken place in this regard. There have never been problems with the structure of the scheme, but there were issues about who would carry out the recruitment tasks, pay the cheques every week etc., and responsibility at that level. I am in the final stages of determining those issues and am hopeful that the scheme can be up and running in three weeks.

The final question is relevant, fair and good. I am aware of this difficulty. It does not apply only to people on disability allowance. For reasons to do with means testing, many older people have held on to ownership of the herd number. One will find a young person living on the farm — maybe not in the same house — who does much of the day-to-day farming. We all know the reasons for that. In the short term, the applicant or partner — the adult dependent on social welfare — will be the only eligible person. My philosophy is that if something is begun with tight criteria, it is much easier to loosen them if one finds they are too tight. If, however, one begins with wider criteria and loopholes present themselves, it is much more difficult to row back. I will keep in mind the issue raised by the Deputy. It is a valid one. A person in the circumstances he outlined would not be eligible. However, it would be possible in such circumstances because the one great reason for not transferring herd numbers from older to younger people — something we have encouraged for years — would be taken away. In such situations what can happen is that the herd number may be transferred from the older person to the younger.

I believe that only a small number of people are in this category. I make no apology for saying that. I have a particular case in mind where a young man has been on FÁS schemes but cannot be allowed to continue. He is not capable of working a 40-hour week and this type of scheme would be ideal for him. We should try to be cognisant of this type of situation.

It is now nearly the end of April. Who will run this scheme? Who will pay the participants and will there have to be a hierarchy of personnel overseeing two or three people in a parish or whatever numbers are involved? We are tied down to the numbers on farm assist as being those who may enter the scheme. The number of parishes that may take it up is limited. Under community employment an overseer dealt with several different areas. How can we administrate this? It is necessary to have clear criteria because this has been happening since December.

We are in the final stages of sorting out who will pay. There were interdepartmental issues to be resolved and that has caused the delay. Anyone who has experience of the system understands that while one may know where one wants to go on a large scale, the detail always causes a delay. We are close to the end of the process and I hope we can get the scheme up and running very quickly.

I would like to see parish schemes, whereby a parish and its organisation will come together and create a scheme which would provide a critical mass of applicants. There would be a supervisor for that group but some might maintain sports or community facilities, tidy towns, day care and so on. That has been ade facto pattern under the community employment scheme even if that was not intended in the beginning. It might have been intended under the SES which was a work scheme. To an extent we are returning to the point at which the Deputy started. The CE schemes were not aimed at progression but work. Farmers are not unemployed and under the law they do not have to be seeking a job to receive their payments. That has always been recognised but they are underemployed and underearning.

Exactly.

It is about time we did something for them and used the many skills they have to provide a service in the community to provide us with services, which they are begging to do. By coincidence, I received a letter from my parish outlining a problem similar to that which the Deputy raised. I have, however, only 2,500 places no matter how I approach this and would prefer to start with limited criteria, which I can extend, than start with possible loopholes. I would like to get the project up and running and then I will take on board Deputy Crawford's valid point.

Will the Minister say when this will start and who will run it?

In two to three weeks I hope but there are some elements yet to put in place. We are considering the possibility of the Leader companies administering it at the intermediate layer because they cover all rural Ireland, unlike, for example, partnerships. My Department will carry the ultimate responsibility. There is a link with the Department of Social and Family Affairs because for the first time we are using the saving in social welfare as part of the funding for the scheme. That is a very rational and progressive step because it enables one Department to recognise the savings in another Department, from the taxpayers' point of view.

National Drugs Strategy.

Ruairí Quinn

Ceist:

100 Mr. Quinn asked the Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs his views on recent media reports that drug dealers are flooding streets here with cheap cocaine; his further views on whether an entire generation of young persons will become addicted to cheap cocaine; if he has met community workers to discuss the cocaine problem; the efforts his Department is making to combat cocaine abuse; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [11834/04]

I am aware of the evidence of an increase in the prevalence of cocaine use, particularly through the local drugs task forces and the research done by the national advisory committee on drugs. Initial results from the 2002-03 drug prevalence survey of the overall national position, launched last October, showed that 3.1 % of the population between the ages of 15 and 64 have ever used cocaine, 1.1 % used it in the past 12 months and 0.3% used it in the past month. Results for the 15 to 34 year age group show slightly higher usage: 4.8% have ever used cocaine, 2% have used it in the past year and 0.7% reported usage in the past month. Compared with similar surveys undertaken in other European countries, these figures suggest that use in Ireland is perhaps slightly above average.

Bulletin 2 of the survey was launched last week and contains data for health board areas. The figures show that prevalence of all drugs varies considerably across the country, although there appears to be a higher prevalence in the east, particularly in the ERHA region. The numbers presenting for treatment of cocaine are, according to the most recent figures available, still very low and make up approximately 1% of the overall number of people in treatment. Garda authorities advise me that there are indications of an increase in the availability and use of cocaine. Offences involving cocaine, however, still represent a small proportion of the overall number of drug offences annually, approximately 5.5% of all such offences, according to the most recent Garda annual report.

The increase in Ireland appears to coincide with an increase in the availability and use of cocaine in Europe generally, as a result of increased production, particularly in Colombia, and a consequential drop in the street price. Through the implementation of the 100 actions in the National Drugs Strategy 2001-2008 and through projects and initiatives operated through the local drugs task forces and the young people's facilities and services fund, the problem of cocaine use can be addressed. Each of the local drugs task forces has in place an action plan to tackle drug use in its area based on its identified priorities. These projects deal with supply reduction, prevention, treatment and rehabilitation for a range of drugs, including cocaine. We must be aware that most drug users engage in poly-drug use and projects should be able to address this pattern of usage rather than concentrating on one drug to the exclusion of others. Since 1997 the Government has allocated or spent over €65 million to implement the projects under the two rounds of task force plans.

Regional drug task forces have been established in each health board area. Where cocaine use is found to be a problem, this can be reflected in the measures proposed in their forthcoming regional action plans. The Deputy will also be aware of the valuable preventative work being done through the young people's facilities and services fund whose aim is to attract "at risk" young people in disadvantaged areas into facilities, programmes and activities that will divert them away from the dangers of drug misuse.

Additional information not given on the floor of the House

Over €72 million has been allocated under the fund to support in the region of 450 facility and services projects. It is vital that we continue to invest in facilities and services in areas worst affected by drugs if we are to stop the flow of young people into a life of addiction. There is no substitution treatment drug for cocaine and I am advised that existing services such as counselling and behavioural therapy are the best treatments available. In this context, it should be noted that the three area health boards of the ERHA have recruited additional counsellors and outreach workers in recent years. I am keeping the matter of cocaine use under review.

Furthermore, the strategy provides for an independent evaluation of the effectiveness of the overall framework by end 2004. This will examine the progress being made in achieving the overall key goals set out in the strategy and will enable priorities for further action to be identified and a refocusing of the strategy, if necessary. The need to amend the strategy to reflect changing patterns of drug use will be considered in that context. In recent months I have visited several local drugs task force areas and discussed with community representatives and others the nature of the drug problem in their areas, including cocaine use. I have asked the national drugs strategy team to consider how best to develop proposals to help address this issue at local level.

Does the Minister of State have any new ideas for dealing with this increasing widespread poly-drug use? The situation in Ringsend suggests that the drugs rehabilitation groups and other organisations need a major increase in funding. Many who experiment with drugs progress and leave them behind but those whom the drug culture captures need extra, sustained help to get out of the drug habit, to be rehabilitated and get opportunities for training or retraining to enable them to progress to full-time employment. Will the Minister of State say what action, if any, he proposes to take to reinforce those rehabilitation agencies?

Cocaine was always used by certain categories of people but it is cheaper now and is being used by a different group, including those in disadvantaged areas. Many of those using it are in treatment for heroin addiction or other problems. The Deputy was very involved in the strategy which runs from 2001 to 2008 and will undergo a half-term evaluation this year. An in-house team and a group from outside will study it later this year. The strategy concentrated on getting heroin misusers into treatment. The number of those receiving methadone treatment exceeds the target set because communities cried out for substitute treatment. One hears fewer stories today about elderly people being mugged by people looking for their next fix. However, some of the 100 actions listed in the strategy have received more attention than others. The main drive has been to encourage people to take methadone. That scheme has been more or less ring-fenced, although there were objections from communities to it. There are a number of schemes.

Are general rehabilitation schemes and drug-free programmes getting enough resources? With 7,000 people on methadone, that is the kind of issue under discussion at present. The mid-term review of the strategy will give us an opportunity to look at that. Everyone agreed that getting addicts onto methadone was the way to go. Now that we have got there, I accept there is some validity in the argument that we should be looking at other more long-term measures. While methadone works for some people, it is not a long-term solution. The mid-term review will allow us to look for a solution to this problem.

Some 1,000 people remain on FÁS schemes. However, I accept we would benefit from more places. We get feedback on a continual basis from people but the mid-term review will provide a formal way to evaluate what we have done in recent years and examine if we should move in other directions.