Léim ar aghaidh chuig an bpríomhábhar

Dáil Éireann díospóireacht -
Thursday, 29 Nov 2007

Vol. 642 No. 5

National Drugs Strategy: Statements.

I am pleased to have this opportunity to address the Dáil on the National Drugs Strategy 2001-2008 and the mid-term review of that strategy, the outcome of which was published in March 2005. The operational timespan for the current national drugs strategy is drawing to a conclusion and I see today's debate as opening the process of drawing up a new strategy for the coming years. Already I have sought nominations to a steering group, which will be made up of representatives of various Departments, agencies and the community and voluntary sectors, to facilitate the development of a new national drugs strategy for the period 2009 to 2016.

I am very much aware that the current national drugs strategy grew out of the work done by Members of various parties in the second half of the 1990s. This included the first and second reports of the ministerial task force on measures to reduce the demand for drugs in 1996 and 1997, and much work subsequent to the finalisation of these reports. I acknowledge the work and commitment of all involved at that time. I pay particular tribute to Deputy Rabbitte, under whose tenure the report was published, to Chris Flood who was the first Minister with responsibility for this area and to subsequent Ministers for the work they have done, and for the co-operation the strategy has received both inside and outside the House from the various political parties.

I see today's debate as contributing to the formulation of the new strategy and I am keen to listen to the views of Members and to consider any proposals they have on how to address the issue of problem drug use in society. This debate gives an opportunity to Members, as elected representatives of the people, to contribute in a significant way to the framing of the review of the strategy. I look forward to engaging with Members of the Oireachtas as the new strategy is developed. The Government is determined that it will facilitate the tackling of the illicit drugs problem in a comprehensive and effective way.

Problem drug use is a complex and difficult issue. This is a global problem and no country has succeeded in coming to terms with all aspects of it. Our efforts to tackle it in Ireland must be seen in that context. However, the National Drugs Strategy 2001-2008 has achieved considerable success in reducing the hardship caused by problem drug use to individuals, their families and the wider community. The main broad achievements include the hugely increased level of drugs seizures by the Garda and the Customs and Excise service; under the prevention pillar, the SPHE and Walk Tall programmes have been rolled out to all schools — in that regard I have asked the Department of Education and Science to examine what might be done to sharpen the focus on senior cycle students in regard to drugs awareness; various awareness campaigns have been run.

A new national drugs awareness campaign, focused on cocaine and utilising modern media, is in preparation; and tremendous achievements have been made under the young peoples facilities and services fund, run by my Department; treatment facilities have increased significantly. Approximately 8,500 people are now in receipt of methadone, and a range of services are being provided across the statutory, voluntary and community sectors for various types of problem drug use. The research outcome longitudinal study in Ireland, known colloquially as ROSIE, undertaken by the national advisory committee on drugs, focused on outcomes for opiate users in treatment and showed that considerable success is being achieved. Their experience after the first year of treatment indicate that most service users have been retained in treatment leading to substantial reductions in drug use. Participants also reported substantial decreases in their involvement in crime and significant improvements in general health. Members will be aware of the recent study carried out by the Keltoi Centre in St. Mary's Hospital in the Phoenix Park which showed significant outcomes in terms of rehabilitation in particular. Research continues in areas such as drugs prevalence, cocaine, treatment outcomes and families and drugs, informing our current progress and helping towards the development of a new strategy.

Arising from the mid-term review of the national drugs strategy, rehabilitation became the fifth pillar of that strategy. Subsequently, the report of the working group on drugs rehabilitation was published in May this year and the implementation of the recommendations therein have been included as a commitment in the programme for Government. I am determined to press ahead with this work as a priority. The specific achievements of my Department under the strategy include the programmes developed by local and regional drugs task forces, capital projects developed under the premises initiative fund and preventative actions undertaken through the young people's facilities and services fund. The 14 local drugs task forces have been in operation for nearly ten years and they support approximately 300 interim-funded community-based projects employing more than 300 people. More than 100 further projects that started at local drugs task force level have been mainstreamed. These projects deliver a wide range of services and supports for problem drug users, their families and their broader communities. Currently an evaluation process on the interim-funded local drugs task force projects is nearing completion and it is hoped that the results of this will help to inform our ongoing efforts at community level. Since my appointment I have visited all the local drugs task force areas, met with representatives of the various task forces and visited many projects. I was impressed by the general quality of the projects and by the enthusiasm and commitment of those working on the ground. There is no doubt that much has been achieved. Too often the drugs problem attracts negative headlines but there is also a positive story to be told regarding the prevention measures, the help being given and the real improvement in the lives of many people.

Ten regional drugs task forces were established in 2003, thus ensuring that all parts of the country benefit from the operation of a drugs task force. It has taken time to get regional drugs task forces fully up and running, and some managed to progress more quickly than others, but they are now pressing ahead towards full implementation of their plans over the next year or so, at a full cost in excess of €14 million per annum. The Government is committed to making this sum available and the programme for Government confirms our commitment to develop and strengthen the range of projects being undertaken through drugs task forces. As in the case of the local drugs task force areas, I am also undertaking a series of visits to regional drug task forces and many of their projects, to hear at first hand what are regarded as the issues on the ground and to assess the response in hand so far. In the past ten days I have held meetings and visited projects in Athlone, Cork and Waterford and I hope to visit Sligo, Longford and Carlow next week. While progress countrywide varies, huge improvements are being made and the same spirit and commitment is in evidence around the country. I see my role as being truly on a national level and it is my intention to ensure that we are in a position to respond to drugs issues wherever they occur.

The young people's facilities and services fund was established to assist in the development of youth facilities, including sport and recreational facilities, and services in disadvantaged areas where a significant drug problem exists, or has the potential to develop. Earlier this week I opened Knocknaheeny youth "Link-Point" project in Cork and the Farronshoneen Youth and Community Centre in Waterford — two hugely impressive developments, substantially funded by the young people's facilities and services fund, that will bring great and immediate benefits to the youth of those areas. Overall, the main aim of the fund is to attract "at risk" young people in disadvantaged areas into these facilities and activities and divert them away from the dangers of substance abuse. The target group of the programme is young people in the age range of ten to 21 years who are defined as "at risk" due to factors such as family circumstances, educational disadvantage or involvement in crime or substance misuse.

To date, allocations totalling over €130 million have been made to nearly 500 facility and services projects in LDTF areas in Dublin, Bray and Cork, as well as in Galway, Limerick, Waterford and Carlow, all of which are currently in the operational areas of the fund. Indeed, building on the significant success of the operation of the YPFSF to date, the programme for Government envisages the expansion of the fund to further towns, mainly in Leinster, and I will be considering such expansion in the short term.

I have spent much of the first five months as Minister of State building on my knowledge of the drugs issue through meetings and interaction with service users and service providers in those projects operating in communities around the country. Apart from the extensive contacts that this entailed with the community and voluntary sectors, I have engaged with statutory and nationally focused bodies such as various representatives of the Health Service Executive, judges of the drugs court, whom I met last week, the Garda and the Irish Prison Service. I have been impressed by the range and quality of the work being undertaken and by the dedication and commitment of the people involved, working in the main under various actions of the national drugs strategy.

A theme that repeats itself across all my interactions is the importance of inter-agency co-operation, crossing statutory, community and voluntary sectors. Such inter-agency working to maximise the impact of initiatives for the benefit of problem drug users and the various clients of drug initiatives is something that we must aim to foster across all our work. Indeed, where it works well, as is the case with the young peoples' facilities I opened this week in Cork and Waterford, the benefits to the target group who will use these facilities is obvious and very encouraging. Through the new strategy, we must ensure that groups work together consistently in the coming years to maximise benefits. I ask everybody to support that as the way forward.

I have already spoken about some of the prevention measures under the national drugs strategy. Since my appointment I have repeatedly emphasised my particular focus on prevention — if we can prevent people starting a drug habit we can avoid the heartache and pain, as well as the expense, that arises as a result. In regard to prevention, I pay tribute to the fine supplement on drugs that was circulated with the Irish Examiner last week. This was indeed a timely, useful and thought provoking publication and I applaud all involved.

My other main stated focus is on rehabilitation — if we can facilitate people to become fully involved in the process of regaining their capacity for daily life from the impact of problem drug use through a continuum of care we will, in each individual case, achieve a great deal and facilitate a better life for many. Rehabilitation became the fifth pillar of the strategy arising from the mid-term review. The programme for Government commits the Government to implementing the recommendations of the report of the working group on drugs rehabilitation and I am determined to progress this quickly with inter-agency support and co-operation.

The key recommendations involved are an effective inter-agency approach based on a continuum of care for the individual; an expansion of the range of treatment options; building on the rehabilitative impact of community employment schemes; broader life issues including medical support, access to employment, access to education, housing, particular issues relating to the rehabilitation of offenders, child care, the role of families in the rehabilitation process; and research. The substantially increased focus on rehabilitation is very significant in the context of the preparation of the new strategy. It is most important that we go the extra distance to ensure that people are empowered to access the social, economic and cultural benefits of life in line with their needs and aspirations.

Implementation of the recommendations of the report will be led by the HSE and co-ordinated through a national drug rehabilitation implementation committee. In keeping with the national drugs strategy generally, the process will involve in-depth cross-departmental inter-agency co-operation in liaison with the community and voluntary sectors. The aim is to ensure that such co-operation is achieved from the top policy level to the implementation of the care plans of individual recovering problem drug users. Linked to the rehabilitation report this year is an allocation of €150,000 made by my Department for the further development of a family support network for families affected by problem drug use. This allocation will facilitate the development of the network as a national organisation, thereby ensuring a more co-ordinated approach to the issue of family support within the national drugs strategy.

Problem drug use can have a devastating effect on the family. I have long been of the view that it is particularly important to have appropriate, accessible and timely services in place to help these families to overcome the problems they face, very often in situations where problems of this kind were never envisaged by the people involved. While primarily focusing on the provision of support to the families of problem drug users, the money being made available to the family support network will also indirectly help to facilitate an increased involvement of these families in supporting the recovering drug users. This is in line with the recommendations of the report of the working group on drugs rehabilitation. That report, while recommending increased support for families, also called for increased inclusion of families in the rehabilitation process of their loved ones, thus more fully unlocking the potential that families have to aid recovery.

Meanwhile, the drugs situation in Ireland is constantly evolving and we must continue to be flexible in our attitudes and policies so that we can adapt our approach to meet whatever challenges arise. Thus, we are endeavouring to tackle the cocaine problem in a proactive way. It is only when the second national drug prevalence survey is completed — the first reports from which will be published in January — that we will have an up-to-date picture of the prevalence of illegal drug use, including cocaine use, in our society. However, it is clear from the previous prevalence survey, as well as from international evidence, that young adults, especially males, in the 15-34 age group are the key at risk group.

The national advisory committee on drugs publication, "An Overview of Cocaine Use in Ireland", which was published in March, brings together all available data on cocaine use in Ireland. It concludes that data sources indicate an upward trend in cocaine use, albeit from a low base. The report highlighted the extremely high risks associated with cocaine use, risks that are often underestimated by users, as was sadly the case in Ballybeg in Waterford city last weekend. I send every good wish to those who are seriously ill in Waterford and I hope they make a full recovery. However, incidents such as this will happen when people take illicit drugs — which by definition are open to adulteration with various substances, if they were not dangerous enough in any case.

Cocaine causes physical problems such as heart conditions, strokes, nasal problems and respiratory ailments. Mental health issues such as depression, anxiety, agitation, compulsive behaviour and paranoia can occur. On top of these risks are the financial, social and dependency issues that arise and the increased threat of crime and violence. Furthermore, cocaine is particularly dangerous when combined with alcohol and other substances and the messages on the real dangers associated with its use need to be brought home to users. I stress again the dangers associated with so-called recreational or weekend cocaine use and the glamorising of cocaine in some quarters. Apart from damaging themselves in various ways, such users cause social and economic harm to their families and to the communities that bear the brunt of the behaviour and criminal activity associated with the supply and use of cocaine.

Individuals have to take personal responsibility for their actions and they must consider the negative implications of their behaviour on other people when taking so-called recreational drugs. Their use of drugs such as cocaine is impacting on others, including people in some disadvantaged communities where we are witnessing violence, including murder, notwithstanding the wholehearted efforts of the Garda and other statutory, community and voluntary organisations.

The NACD report makes a number of recommendations, principally in regard to treatment, but also covering supply, prevention and research. A key conclusion of the report is that treatment, primarily in the form of counselling, can and does work and that there is no need to be unduly concerned by the absence of a replacement drug, as in the case of heroin. In regard to treatment, some stimulant specific treatment interventions are recommended although it is accepted that drug services generally should be capable of catering for the individual problem drug user, regardless of the drugs they use.

Recommendations in regard to the training of front line personnel to deal with cocaine issues are being followed up both by the HSE and by my Department. Indeed, my Department has already funded training initiatives as well as four pilot cocaine treatment projects to examine different methods of treatment for cocaine use. The HSE is currently rolling out appropriate training to service providers both within the HSE and in the community and voluntary sectors. Furthermore, under the emerging needs fund of my Department, six cocaine specific projects in local drugs task force areas have been funded and allocations have also been made under the fund in support of a further nine projects aimed at polydrug-cocaine use. My Department also sponsored a highly successful conference, organised by the SAOL project and the NDST in Croke Park last June, on the response to cocaine through shared good practice. A very useful resource pack for workers in the field was launched at thatevent.

Overall, it is my priority to closely monitor the progression of the implementation of the recommendations of this report as appropriate through the HSE, the Department of Health and Children, the Garda, the Irish Prison Service, drug task forces and others. I am co-ordinating this through my chairmanship of the interdepartmental group on drugs, where reports on implementation are a standing agenda item. The challenges posed by cocaine use are significant, but I am confident that we can deal with these challenges through a co-ordinated approach utilising the structures of the national drugs strategy.

As I indicated, I have initiated the process that will lead to the formulation of a new national drugs strategy for the period post-2008. I have long been of the opinion that the problems of alcohol and illicit drug use are interlinked so I will be stressing the need for synergy in the approach to these issues. Again, the formulation of the new drugs strategy will involve collaboration between Departments and agencies and the community and voluntary sectors. We will face many challenges over the coming years but I am confident that with a concerted effort by all involved we can build on our experiences and achievements to date and successfully tackle the problems presented over time by the evolving drugs situation. As I said at the outset, it is important that Members of the Oireachtas contribute to the development of a new national drugs strategy. I look forward to hearing the views of Members on this important matter.

I wish to avail of this opportunity to apologise to Deputy Byrne, who has just come into the Chamber, for not being present to take a matter on the Adjournment last week. It was an oversight on my part and I apologise to the Deputy for it.

I am disappointed the Government did not take a case against Justine Delaney-Wilson, who made serious allegations affecting a small group of people in this House. I do not believe the allegation, but I am surprised the Cabinet as a group did not take a case against Ms Delaney-Wilson and RTE because this serious allegation has been left to hang over 15 Ministers. It is wrong that somebody should make an allegation such as this against Ministers, judges, airline pilots and other professional people. When the furore hit the airwaves, Ms Delaney-Wilson went on holidays, which is also wrong. If she had the evidence it should have been produced. If there is a person in the Cabinet who is taking drugs that person should be identified and she should not be afraid to identify him or her, but she should not be using the good name of members of the Cabinet, judges or airline pilots to sell her book. I wish to put on record my disappointment that the Government did not take a case against her.

This week in Dublin 160 gardaí have come from all over the country to police Operation Freeflow. I wish that 300 or 400 gardaí would come to the city today to stop the free flow of drugs in the capital and every other town and village in the country. It sends out the wrong message. If the Government were serious about fighting the drug problem, we would see a major clampdown on the drug pushers that are walking around this city and around every town and village. Drug pushers represent one of the largest and most serious attacks on the community. It is time this House, the Government and the people agreed to put in place the resources, the money and the personnel required to get rid of these drug pushers. They should not be on the streets but behind bars. That is the attack we should be carrying out today.

This discussion on the national drugs strategy is timely given the sad events of the last week, which have unfortunately brought home the reality of the looming drugs crisis. It is clear to everyone that drugs are now widely available in every town, village and city. It is no longer a problem restricted to urban disadvantaged areas but affects people from all backgrounds, income levels and professions and is steadily spiralling out of control.

The recent supplement on drugs published by the Irish Examiner provided very worrying evidence of the trail of destruction left by drugs on the lives of people across the country. It gave a snapshot of the number of deaths, illnesses, family breakdowns, financial hardship and other devastating social problems caused by drugs and provided further proof, if it were needed, that we are fighting a losing battle. It is clear now that cocaine use is rife across the country. Addiction is becoming more and more prevalent not just in Dublin, but nationwide, and polydrug use is now the norm, with alcohol and other substances regularly mixed with potentially dangerous or lethal consequences.

The figures speak for themselves. Last year, more than 1,700 new injectors presented at the Merchant's Quay needle exchange service in Dublin city centre. It is reported that the numbers seeking assistance with treatment increased by 900% between 1999 and 2005. An Garda Síochána reported an increase from 180 to 968 in the number of cocaine-related offences under the Misuse of Drugs Act between 2000 and 2005. Nearly two tonnes of cocaine have been seized so far this year, the biggest annual haul in the State's history. In addition, more than a tonne of herbal cannabis has been seized this year, compared to 290 kg last year. Deaths attributed to alcohol have doubled in the past ten years. The number of heroin addicts seeking treatment outside Dublin jumped by 500% from 1998 to 2005. Between 2000 and 2005, there was a sixfold increase in cocaine detection in post mortem examinations. Perhaps the most worrying trend that has been highlighted by those working in drug treatment services is that we are now facing polydrug use among many of those presenting for treatment. Of those who reported cocaine as their main problem drug between 1998 and 2003, 93% reported using more than one drug. Often, ecstasy, cannabis and alcohol are used in combination with cocaine to lethal effect.

The Minister has set up the national drugs strategy, but we have been waiting to find out approximately how many people are actually taking drugs. Now is the time for the Minister to receive that report, and it should be published as quickly as possible. We have an epidemic in this country and we need to respond to it. In the past, the Garda Síochána used to focus on working class areas in which there was a lot of crime. The Minister should have a meeting with the new Garda Commissioner to send out a strong message as we approach Christmas. Taxi drivers in this city will testify that at weekends they regularly bring professional people to buy drugs which are then brought to parties. As well as targeting working-class areas, the Garda should focus on middle class areas and the rich. It should target these parties coming up to Christmas. We need to see some raids and to see the law applied equally across the State, not just in working class areas.

The Minister knows a lot about this problem because he serves an area that has been ravaged by drugs over the years. He understands it and is committed to doing something about it. Let us have equality in the way in which this problem is tackled. I ask the Minister to meet the Garda Commissioner about this issue. A plain-clothes unit should be set up to talk to taxi drivers and find out where these parties are being held, and there should be equality in the way in which raids are carried out. We have a serious problem which has resulted in the setting up of many centres working with people who use drugs. The national drugs strategy is not working. If it is working, why are more and more people getting involved with drugs?

We do not have a sufficient number of detox beds. People who want to be looked after by the State are presenting themselves for treatment but the beds are not there. It is time we got the extra detox beds that are needed so we can treat the people who want to be treated, who are crying out for help. In my constituency people are presenting with drug problems, which did not happen ten years ago in rural Ireland. We now see people being arrested in rural areas that never previously saw or heard about drugs. They are in every corner of the country now. We need a zero tolerance strategy on drugs. The Garda Síochána should be given the resources it requires, as should hospitals and drug centres.

We must send out a clear message from the Government and from the House that selling or taking drugs will not be tolerated. The people who take drugs are encouraging the drug pushers and making them millionaires. The President recently commented to the effect that the people who were buying and using drugs were every bit as bad as those selling them because they make the pushers rich and encourage them to bring more drugs into the country. She is right about that and this is the first thing that must be addressed.

We must put treatment facilities in place. We must provide resources to those dealing with these people on a daily basis. We cannot have people who need help waiting for it. We must give them the help immediately. When they cry out for help, the State must give them it. I know of mothers and fathers who are very upset. For example, recently there was a meeting in Castlebar and over 500 turned up due to concern about the abuse of drugs and alcohol.

Alcohol is also a drug. It is one of the drugs most abused in this country. We speak about the hard drugs, but we walk away from addressing alcohol. We support alcohol use. We see alcoholic drinks companies using sporting organisations to promote alcohol. Alcohol is the most abused substance. It is the most prominent family breaker in this country. We have a tolerance for the abuse of alcohol. It is time we got tougher and, in particular, that we dealt with it by bringing legislation through this House to stop sporting organisations advertising alcoholic drinks and having alcoholic drinks companies sponsoring their events. Surely there are companies other than alcoholic drinks companies which should be encouraged to provide sponsorship for sporting organisations. Sporting organisations should be promoting people's efforts to get fit and healthier, not promoting alcoholic drink. Their promotion of alcoholic drink is wrong and it is a matter for which legislation should be brought through this House quickly.

I welcome this debate and I am glad the Minister of State, Deputy Pat Carey, will answer questions from Members in a question and answer session. I wish more Ministers did so.

There are questions which Members want to ask. My colleague, Deputy Catherine Byrne, is my party's spokesperson on drugs. I assure the Minister of State that she is like himself. She comes from an area from which she has gleaned a great understanding of the matter. She works in this area and she has points to make which she has spoken to me about and she will make these points in the Dáil today. She wants something done because it is awful to see communities, families and areas being destroyed by drugs.

This is the one aspect which upsets me most and which I have raised in this House previously. It is awful to see that these drug pushers, who are not working and who are unable to show where they get their wealth, are driving around in big cars when everybody in the community knows they are drug pushers, and yet the Garda Síochána does not have the manpower and cannot get the evidence to put these people behind bars. It is wrong.

Over the past year we have seen the amount of drugs found. We saw the find by the coast guard in Cork. That was only one find. What about the rest of the coastline? The coast guard has only one boat. How can we protect our coast? These are highly sophisticated people with plenty of resources because they are making big money out of drugs. These people have resources and the State must be given the resources to fight them, to keep drugs out of the country and to deal with those who are selling drugs and working in the drugs trade.

I ask the Minister of State to ask his colleagues, particularly the Tánaiste and Minister for Finance, Deputy Cowen, to commit to giving the resources. Every Minister, when he or she gets the opportunity, should condemn drug pushers. We should have a strong message for such people that the State means business when it comes to drug pushers. That is not the message being sent to and received by these people. These people think they can break the law, walk over everyone and do what they please.

We need to give the resources to the Garda Síochána. Second, we need to give the resources to the people who are dealing at the coalface with those who want to be treated for drug abuse. Third, we must get into the schools, which is the big issue. We must teach young people and show them the effects of people taking drugs. We should have videos and show them in schools. We must ask whether that is the life they want and show them a person in a drug treatment centre and the effects of the drugs on them.

Young people think it is cool to take drugs. It is not cool to take drugs. Families have been very badly affected. Husbands have lost their families, their wives and their homes due to the abuse of drugs and young people, who are now better educated, should know better.

Drugs are not the way forward. We should tackle the matter in the schools. We should have a programme on the curriculum that shows young people the effect of drugs. That is the way forward.

We must get the report and find out the position. The present strategy of the Minister of State does not seem to work, although I recognise that people are doing their best with the resources provided. We must get a new strategy. We must find a new way to tackle and deal with this.

I am pleased this debate is being held and the format it is taking in that the Minister of State will take questions at the end of the submissions. I thank the Minister of State for his efforts and dedication to this portfolio. He has been helpful to me, as my party's spokesperson for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs. His input shows the importance he places on addressing this issue. As the Minister of State will be aware, it is not an easy one. As Deputy Ring stated, one cannot identify a constituency that is not affected by drugs. Whereas some constituencies may get highlighted more than others due to major crimes such as murder due to drugs, it does not mean that those constituencies are different to any others. Unfortunately, in every town and village the illegal drugs trade is seen as an easy means of making a living.

I will help the Minister of State in every way possible and I will be as constructive as possible in trying to put the best strategy together. The Labour Party will support him in every way possible in trying to achieve that goal.

The national drug strategy has pinpointed four areas as being crucial in any attempt to address the life sentence that is drug use. The first area mentioned in the strategy is the reduction in the supply of drugs. The cold-blooded nature of recent drug related killings leaves us all asking what can be done. I am sure that looking at that aspect of it we see that, because of the vast amounts of money available, immediately a drug baron is taken out — to use their term — someone else takes up that particular plot. Given the large number of people involved in the illegal drugs trade, that poses a considerable problem in addressing the issue.

In founding the Criminal Assets Bureau, CAB, the then Minister for Finance, Deputy Quinn, certainly set something in motion that would be a success but we must develop that further. In doing so, we must supply the CAB with every possible assistance and we must feed into that from each Garda district the information affecting each constituency. Why can we not support a CAB initiative to address people driving big cars, as Deputy Ring stated, and seemingly living the high life without any visible means of income? Why do we not work with the Garda in this?

I have been involved in public life for 15 years and the one matter that has really begun to annoy me is the movement towards isolating the Garda from the community. The Garda is blamed for everything now. I do not blame the Garda. I blame the Government for not giving the Garda the resources to address the problems. It is wrong that we isolate the Garda as a unit, but we should work with it and pressurise the Government into providing the Garda with the necessary resources. That is where we are losing the momentum in many of these matters. We are isolating the Garda when it is not its fault. It is the Government which is not supplying the Garda with sufficient gardaí, funding and training to address problems. We must give CAB additional personnel, provide them with additional training and determine from the international scene how countries using a similar directive address the issue. We should send CAB's members abroad to ensure we follow the top trends in detecting drug barons and removing them from society.

Unfortunately, drug barons are moving into my constituency because of Garda pressure in the cities etc. They are moving into the suburbs, as Kildare is viewed in respect of Dublin. We must continue to fight the battle. It will be tough because of the money available to the drug barons through their illegal operations and the fact that someone will always replace them. We must continue with our work and vigilance, but the Government must support the CAB system and provide the Garda with the funding, personnel and expertise to match this difficult problem.

Educating and raising awareness among communities is important. The time has come to see gardaí back on the beat working directly with communities and building contacts therein that would allow residents to report suspicious activity instead of living with the fear of reporting such crimes, a fear that is prevalent in many communities. I do not need to remind the Minister of State that my constituency of Kildare South has no community gardaí. The entire county has four community gardaí, two fewer than at the beginning of the year.

We blame the Garda, but this is not its fault. Money has not been invested and bodies have not been deployed to create the community activity required for them to work together. In many instances, the communities suffer and are in fear because of drug barons pressuring them to hide guns and drugs and not to inform the Garda of what is occurring. If we do not care for communities and if the people are not behind us, no strategy will work. This is the problem, namely, ensuring that the community is involved and wants to work with the Garda towards freeing the former of drug barons and threats to individual families and making it active and vibrant so that it can prosper, survive and care for everyone therein.

Any national drugs strategy must recognise the importance of the Garda winning the fight against the supply of drugs. Without proper resources, appropriate training and sufficient manpower, we are giving criminals an advantage on which they have recently built.

Recently, I spoke to a member of my GAA club, a secondary school teacher who took a course on drug awareness for the first time and was amazed by what was occurring. The teacher is a good community worker and is involved in every aspect of his community, but he was taken aback. He told me that, while he was grateful to know what was occurring, the follow-up was terrible because he had heard nothing since.

The Minister of State's most difficult job is to try to make the drugs issue relevant to communities on a weekly or daily basis while keeping it on the national scene. Newspaper pages will always be concerned with drug barons being taken out in Dublin, but the Minister of State, Deputy Pat Carey, will not be given the same page space to show the fear, dread and destruction caused by drugs. This problem is ours and the Minister of State's as the lead in this matter. Newspapers will cover everything else.

The Irish Examiner is to be congratulated on marvellous journalism, albeit frightening to read. The photograph showing the damage done to a young woman by drugs over a period was unthinkable, but it was the first time the position was outlined in a national newspaper. The Minister of State will never again be given such an opportunity to detail the problem or to try to align it with people so that they will attend seminars to ensure their children know what drugs can do. Were the photograph to be on the wall of any house to show children what destruction drugs can do, it would be a wonderful day’s work. I hope the Irish Examiner will benefit.

The demand for drugs is at an all time high. As we approach Christmas, parties are prevalent. Last week, a terrible incident in Waterford led to 11 people being rushed to hospital because of drugs. The person in question, who is in receipt of disability allowance, is before the courts. We can now see how he makes money to supplement his lifestyle, namely, the supply of drugs, and to give him everything he could not attain due to a lack of income. I have submitted a question to the Minister in this respect for next Wednesday.

Christmas is supposed to be peaceful, happy and wonderful, but how will we highlight the types of problems that arose in Waterford? How will we get it into people's heads that this is an awful situation into which to lead someone? When children go places, families and parents in particular must know what is transpiring. If there is a house party, parents must ensure it is clean, enjoyable, well organised, well policed and one from which their children will come home. Everyone who goes to a party should not be searched, but there should be an overview of authority, namely, the person who allows children to go out or to house parties must lay down the law to the effect that, while they can enjoy themselves, there is a limit on how that enjoyment should be attained.

Drugs pose a problem in every constituency. Senior gardaí have noticed that the demand for cocaine has picked up in recent years as the country's wealth has increased. If the demand comes from people with money, there will be a supply, at which time we will realise the size of the problem. The actor Robin Williams joked that cocaine is God's way of saying that we are making too much money, but words of approval continue to be associated with its use. The words "recreational" and "lifestyle" only add to the problems in the continuing fight to educate and increase awareness, which must be the cornerstone of any strategy.

The Minister of State complained about a man who appeared on the "Late Late Show" and stated that recreational drug use was wonderful. The man stated that he could not have done some things without using drugs. How could this be allowed by the national broadcaster? How could Pat Kenny stand up and tell us that it was fine for the man to——

The Deputy has one minute remaining.

I will say no more on that matter. I will revert to the Minister of State via questions. Alternatives must be considered. We must ensure alternative activities, such as sport and recreation, are involved. The Howard committee, which the Minister of State has attended, has published 13 reports, 11 of which reflected this. Reports are good but they must be acted upon. I hope some of these reports will be examined positively. I will be seeking to drive forward alternative activities and educating people on the consequences of drug misuse.

Tá mé buíoch as ucht an deis seo a fháil labhairt an gceist rí-thábhachtach seo. Ba mhaith liom aitheantas a thabhairt don meon úr atá glactha ag an Aire Stáit i leith na ceiste seo ó tháinig sé isteach ina post nua. Tá sé ag déileáil leis an gcruachás in bhfuil an tír faoi láthair ó thaobh drugaí de. Measaim go bhfuil an mí na meala thart anois, áfach. Tá súil agam go bhfeicfí táirgí ón obair a rinne an Aire Stáit i rith an tsamhraidh, go háirithe, nuair a bhuail sé leis na grúpaí difriúla timpeall na cathrach. Níl a fhios agam ar éirigh leis dul lasmuigh den chathair chun bualadh le grúpaí ar fud na tíre.

Caithfimid díriú isteach ar an obair mór atá romhainn agus tabhairt faoi i gceart. Nuair a ardaigh Teachtaí Dála agus móran den phobal ceist heroin go luath sna 1980í, dúirt gach éinne go mbeadh fadhb ollmhór againn faoi dheireadh. Nuair a fhorbair an epidemic sin, níor éirigh leis an Rialtas freagra a fháil ar feadh 15 bliana. Tá Sinn Féin agus eagraisí áirithe atá ag cuir seirbhísí drugaí ar fáil ag rá le blianta anuas go bhfuil fadbh mór ann ó thaobh cocaine. Níl freagra tapaidh go leor ag teacht ón Rialtas. Aithním go bhfuil obair á dhéanamh — níl mé ag caitheamh anuas ar — ach tá i bhfad níos mó ag teastáil. Ní leor scéimeanna píolótach.

Tá mé ag tabhairt faoi ndeara go bhfuil fadhb níos mó ag teacht anuas ar an cocaine, an heroin, an alcól agus hash agus a leithéid. Tá fadhbanna ag teacht chugainn maidir le crack cocaine agus crystal meths. Ní gá ach féachaint ar cad atá ag tarlúint timpeall an domhain maidir le crystal meths chun a thuiscint cad a tharlóidh anseo.

Six years after it was set up, the National Drugs Strategy 2001 to 2008 has failed to deliver, despite it being conservative in its targets. There is a great need to discuss a new strategy after 2008. The new strategy needs to be imaginative and far-sighted as there are major challenges ahead of us. It needs to be realistic and effective as it must deliver. The evidence of failure of the current strategy can be found in the fact that last year 1,700 new heroin injectors presented to the Merchants Quay Ireland service. This is an indictment of our failure and society's failure to address this major drug problem.

Cocaine-related deaths are on the increase. The Dublin County Coroner, Dr. Kieran Geraghty, issued a stark warning during the summer on the lethal nature of even small quantities of cocaine after he dealt with five cocaine-related deaths in one day. The frequency and volume of seizures across all categories of illegal drugs are at a record high level and prevalence and use are increasing, and that is happened during the lifetime of the national drugs strategy.

Why has the strategy failed to deliver? First, the Government has refused to throw its full weight, in the form of resources, behind it. Second, the Government has refused to respond quickly to changing trends and to heed the warnings. The 2007 budget and previous budgets resulted in major funding shortfalls and as a result emerging needs, in particular, could not be met. We are still in the pilot phase of many projects, in particular those for cocaine, despite the early warnings of service providers.

If the Government approached the heroin and other drugs crisis in the same way it approached foot and mouth disease, our society would be better off. Some may argue my claim is ridiculous as foot and mouth disease would be a cost to the economy. Putting aside the death and destruction drugs cause to human life, we should calculate the cost to our economy of illegal drugs.

Take, for instance, the cost of the numbers of drug addicts presenting at accident and emergency departments because of complications from drug-taking. There is the cost of drug users who have contracted hepatitis C, HIV-AIDS and other disorders. There are days lost at work because of the effects of drugs. There is the cost of unemployment and disability benefits paid to those who cannot work because of their drug dependency. There is the cost of guardian payments, which are not enough, for grandparents who must rear orphaned children because their parents have died from drugs or are incapable of looking after their children. The HSE is struggling with its budget. What moneys could be spent on other medical programmes which are diverted to methadone and other drug-related health programmes? In the past, up to 70% of crime, such as burglaries and criminal damage, were drug-related. What was that cost to our economy and society? There is a large financial cost, apart from the human cost. The Government must approach this issue as a crisis.

There is also the human cost of drugs. Last year, I had to go to a neighbour's house to confirm that her son had died of a heroin overdose. I have known quite a number of people who have been caught up in drugs who have died or are so incapacitated by drugs they cannot function properly in society. I have attended many services of remembrance and I know that the Minister of State, Deputy Carey, has as well.

That is the effect drug addiction has on communities and families. It causes great heartache. Those who live with a family member who is addicted to drugs hope they can come off them through an addiction programme, but often their hopes are dashed when he or she relapses. The children of parents who are addicted to drugs are also affected. That is their symbol of parenthood. There is also a cost to the community with the intimidation of neighbours and the threat and reality of violence from drug dealers. Th situation is extremely urgent. We have failed to take the matter as seriously as it deserves.

| cannot stress enough the importance of well resourced intervention at the earliest opportunity. That is why I have warned about crystal methamphetamine — meths. Last week a feature report in The New York Times warned that meths is gaining a foothold in Europe. The article quoted Thomas Pietschmann, an expert at the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, who said the sudden growth of the drug in the United States and its expansion from a regional to a national issue should serve as a warning. He warned it must be feared that something similar could happen in Europe.

The number of European countries reporting seizures of meths more than doubled from 11 in 2000 to 25 in 2005. Over the same period the quantity seized increased by a multiple of four. Hopefully when people realise that there is a cocaine epidemic, it will not explode overnight as it did when we realised the extent of heroin addiction. That will not happen if we take the necessary action. Crystal meth is already available in our cities, towns and in some rural settings. There have been consistent seizures since 2004 and although the quantities are relatively small, they are rising and it may have cost several lives already. We do not know. The consequences of taking crystal meth can be aggression, psychosis, addiction, abscesses, liver or kidney disease. The Government must commit to not repeating the mistakes of its past and must respond promptly to the new threats identified by communities and service providers.

In the past two years, the heroin crop in Afghanistan has been the highest ever. Consider what that means for our society. The large haul off the coast shows that cocaine shipments are increasing tenfold. Drug suppliers are increasing the potency of cannabis. Artificial drugs are on the increase. There has also been a significant increase in alcohol consumption, particularly by young people, as well as older people. The open sale of other herbal drugs needs to be shut down as quickly as possible.

We must keep an eye on the development of a new strategy based on the five pillars of the national drugs strategy which must be implemented with determination and full financing, and in full partnership with communities. In addition, a cocaine specific action plan must be drawn up as quickly as possible.

The five pillars of the strategy must be pursued vigorously. My party made a range of recommendations on supply reduction in its submission to the Garda policing plan 2008. These include at least the doubling of resources for national and local drugs units. That is vital because there is no way we can win this battle unless the Garda Síochána is properly resourced and has the trained personnel to respond positively. There is a need too for a non-Garda phoneline to receive reports of drug-related crime, based on the "dial to stop drug dealing" initiative successfully piloted in Blanchardstown. This will address lack of confidence in, and reluctance to be seen to co-operate with, the Garda Síochána. We should invest in any method that will get information by hook or by crook to the Garda to stop drug dealing in our communities. I have mentioned this programme in Blanchardstown many times. We must tackle open drug dealing if we are to re-build confidence within our communities.

I could show anyone here the streets in my constituency and state the time at which drug deals take place. I am not alone in that. Consider the fear that causes among the elderly in our communities and the message it sends to young people who pass by and think drug dealing is okay. That must be stopped. The Garda needs to examine the consequences of its operational decisions on tackling open drug dealing and decisions to allow some dealers ply their trade in deference to the big picture.

Given the increasing prevalence and use of drugs serious work remains to be done across the board particularly to dispel the commonly held myth that cocaine is somehow a harmless drug. There can be no ambiguity about this in any quarter. The glamorization and acceptance of cocaine as a clean, safe and sociable drug needs to be tackled. Cocaine abuse continues to result in serious health deterioration, mental and emotional problems, chronic addiction, debt and rising gangland killings and reprisals. There is also a worrying development in the increase in those injecting cocaine, which can result in serious medical implications with users experiencing abscesses and wounds and even serious infection leading to amputation of limbs.

While cocaine is no longer exclusively the drug of the middle classes, everyone, particularly those who are well-off, seem oblivious to communities scourged by drugs. Everyone should examine his or her conscience the next time he or she does a line of coke, drops an e-tab or smokes a joint and realise that their actions have repercussions for communities gripped by fear of drug gangs, who are parasites destroying predominantly working class areas. Their actions have repercussions for families which have had to bury loved ones after overdoses, drug-fuelled aggression or related gun attacks or suicide. Using cocaine or any drug is not merely a personal choice; it has major ramifications for society at large.

I appeal to the Minister to continue the work he started in the summer but also to appeal to the Minister for Finance to give him and those in communities who are fighting a good fight the resources they need to ensure that we start winning this battle.

Tá athas orm deis a beith agam cúpla focail a rá i dtaobh fadhb na ndrugaí. My Department is totally committed to continuing work on the drug scourge. I compliment the Minister of State, Deputy Pat Carey, on the great personal effort he has made in his role since joining the Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs. We must tackle this significant challenge to society. We can consider this on three levels — the abuse of substances generally, including alcohol which is often a gateway to other types of drug, including prescription drugs. There is also the cocaine issue as mentioned by the previous speaker and the problems of drugs associated with deprivation.

I was interested in the Deputy's reference to foot and mouth disease. In that case ordinary people in urban and rural areas made a conscious decision to ensure that it would not spread in this jurisdiction. Over 90% of the people were fully committed to this decision. Unfortunately, the challenge in respect of drug abuse is that too many people in our society, many of whom are well educated and have had great opportunities in life, do not have the same attitude towards various drugs. The prevalence of the misuse of cocaine in so-called middle class society is testament to the challenge we face in trying to change people's mindsets. It is obvious that we cannot possibly police everybody in the State. The good functioning of society depends significantly on people making personal choices in respect of these matters. It is important to get the message across that this involves personal choice and that the abuse of any substance is unacceptable in society.

The use of heroin and other drugs in deprived communities is a slightly different issue. Many of these communities have suffered serious inter-generational problems, lack of opportunity and life expectation and isolating the drug issue from the other social issues is futile. It is for that reason the Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs was set up and that many community programmes, including partnership programmes, community development programmes, the Revitalising Areas by Planning, Investment and Development, RAPID, programme and drugs programmes, operate from within one Department. The idea is to achieve joined-up thinking in tackling the multi-dimensional problems that face communities.

As Minister with special responsibility for the RAPID programme and the areas under its remit, I believe it is an important element in tackling the problems these areas face. The programme helps ensure that we do not see the drug issue as separate from the overriding issues of lack of development and facilities. We have, for the first time, come to realise that creating a dependency on other people to make decisions for these communities, such as a local authority making decisions instead of giving people a say, is a fundamental flaw if people are to be active citizens and full participants in society. I have, therefore, put great emphasis on the need for the area implementation teams to have adequate community representation and for that voice to be heard. My belief is that, even if State funding is used, if people do not have a say in their future, it is difficult to expect social change to occur. The leverage funds and dormant accounts fund provided by my Department specifically for RAPID areas have always come with the proviso that community members of area implementation teams, AITs, must have special input into how these funds are used in their areas.

Over the few years the RAPID programme has operated I have seen how communities have grasped the initiative and have been willing to work with the process to try to cause change from within. The process is slow and, as I have stated, RAPID areas need a long period to develop; residents must understand that their areas will not be removed from the programme as soon as it makes progress. I believe a minimum of 20 years is necessary to bring about the type of social change we seek. In the short history of the RAPID programme it has already brought about not only physical change in terms of better facilities but psychological change in that where the programme works successfully, people believe they have a bigger say in issues that affect them. We must provide the social and educational opportunities that more fortunate people in society take for granted, which means the provision of playgrounds, sports facilities, recreation facilities and activities.

I noted with great regret the terrible events in Ballybeg, Waterford, last weekend but, while it was a tragedy, I do not think it is indicative of the good things that are happening in that housing estate. I visited the area recently to open the sports centre and saw the huge amount of work being done. I compliment Waterford Crystal, a partner in development in the area, on trying to bring about change. Some days one wonders if progress is being made but I believe by working consistently to provide services and back-up we can bring about change in these communities.

Young people are the key because those who have access to organised activities are far less likely to become involved in drugs than those who are idle. The provision of facilities through the young people's facilities and services fund, the staffing of those facilities, the development of services and back-up and encouraging young people to get involved in community activities such as sport, art and drama are central to changing mindsets. I was guest of honour at an awards ceremony for children from Dublin's south inner city recently and I admire the work in many communities that seek to give new outlets to young people for different activities. We must continue to build on this type of diversionary process, which will give people new aspirations and connections.

Is díospóireacht tábhachtach í an díospóireacht seo. Tá go leor oibre le déanamh mar tá fadhb uileghabhálach ar fud na tíre againn maidir le cúrsaí drugaí. Ní féidir linn na maidí a ligint le sruth. Mar atá ráite ag chuile dhuine, is fadhb idirnáisiúnta í seo. Ní féidir balla a thógaint timpeall na tíre. Caithfimid a dhéanamh cinnte go dtéann muid i gcionn ar mheon an phobail, go leanann muid ag rá, arís agus arís eile, nach nglacfaidh muid leis go bhfuil sé sásúil go mbeadh drugaí á thógáil ag daoine. Caithfidh daoine freagracht a thógáil as a gcuid gníomhaíochtaí. Ag an am céanna, caithfimid leanacht leis na cláracha ar nós RAPID, an community service programme, CSP, agus na cláracha éagsúla sna pobail is míbhuntáistiúla, le deis a thabhairt dóibh siúd atá go mór faoi míbhuntáiste teacht aníos ó na fadhbanna atá acu agus teacht ar réiteach ar chuid de na fadhbanna atá sna pobail sin le trí nó ceithre ghlúine anuas.

I listened with interest as the Minister spoke of the RAPID programme and, as a councillor of many years standing in the south-west inner city, I have much to say on the regeneration of communities and the consultation process. I too was at the awards ceremony the Minister attended and it was clear to me that such awards are important to young people at the early stages of their lives as they give a new insight into who they are and they help them feel they are achieving something. Many of the children who received these awards at the ceremony will go on to do greater things as they get older. The contribution of the South West Inner City Network, SWICN, has had a huge impact on young people in schools in the inner city and the Liberties and I welcomed the Minister's words at the ceremony.

I thank the Minister of State at the Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs, Deputy Pat Carey, for his reference to the words I spoke last week, which I will not go back over. Some weeks ago Deputy Enda Kenny called me into his office to ask me to speak on the national drugs strategy on behalf of Fine Gael and I was taken aback because I am not an expert in the area. I cannot pronounce the names of many of the drugs available but I can speak at length on the real problems drugs have introduced to communities. I lived in a close-knit area of Inchicore but in the 1980s one could not enter one's front garden without seeing a person shooting up there. Many elderly people had to change their post office books to receive their allowances from another area because they were afraid to walk the streets of Inchicore. Drugs had a devastating effect on the community, businesses and residents there and brought Inchicore to its knees.

I grew up in the area and, as the Minister knows, was involved in community work so I saw young people at the youth club who clearly would not reach their teenage years due to drugs. I visited such young people in hospitals through the years, I sat beside many as they died, I sang at their funerals and attended many services, as have other Deputies, to commemorate the loss of young lives. I will never forget, at such services, seeing the faces of family members etched with distraught and anguish at the loss they suffered. I have known the Minister of State, Deputy Pat Carey, for some time and I am aware of his commitment to communities and particularly this issue. I know the Government is making progress but I think we have some way to go. That is why I welcome this review. It is important that, every so often, we dust down these glossy documents and go through them again. It is only then that we can review what has been done.

As the song says, a picture paints a thousand words. In the Irish Examiner last week, we were shown graphic images of what drugs can do to a person’s body, mind and soul, and the damage they cause to communities. The media are sometimes deserving of blame in the manner in which they highlight such issues. However, this particular report illustrated the devastating effect of drugs on society.

The media has a major role to play in how all of us, particularly young people, view drugs. Drugs are often glamorised on television and in magazines and the dangers are not highlighted. By contrast, the Irish Examiner should be commended on the approach it took. Young people are targeted by the media, which often show the glamorous version of what drug abuse entails. As a parent of young children, I am aware that many popular music idols, soap opera actors and film stars are openly abusing drugs. We cannot protect our children from this type of exposure but we can educate them about the damage drugs can do to their bodies and general well-being and to their families.

An anti-litter advertisement is currently being shown on television in which a young woman walks down the road dropping litter. While she continues to believe she looks beautiful, her image gradually changes in other people's eyes. We must take the same approach in regard to drugs awareness through the media. The anti-litter advertisement and the one warning of the dangers of drink-driving, in which a young girl is seen in a wheelchair in a graveyard, have had a profound effect on many young people, including my own children. The reform of the drugs strategy should include a consideration of how the media can be utilised to further its objectives.

There is a large and ever increasing cocaine abuse problem in Dublin and throughout the State. Although we have known about this for ten or 12 years, an effective rehabilitation programme is still not in place to assist people to overcome their addiction to this drug. Some small pilot projects are in operation but those working in local task forces insist that this is inadequate. We are talking about people, including young children, with a serious addiction. Teenagers as young as 14 or 15 years are taking cocaine. We must ensure the facilities are in place to offer rehabilitation to young people as soon as they request it.

The lack of psychological services for those abusing drugs is another aspect of the problem. Many addicts who attend services provided by local drugs task forces are doing their best to overcome their addiction. However, one can only access some of these services if one has already stopped taking drugs. A person who approaches a local drugs task force and asks to be included in a rehabilitation programme will only be admitted if he or she is clean of drugs. I do not understand this approach.

Many of the responsibilities taken on by staff of local drugs task forces go beyond their official capacity. I know of staff who have waited for hours in accident and emergency departments, sometimes at night, with people who have presented in a terrible condition. These people are trying their best to recover and are in a vulnerable position. The only way in which staff can seek psychological support for them is to take them to an accident and emergency department. Urgent action must be taken to address this shortcoming in psychological support services. Addicted persons who are fortunate enough to have the money can check themselves into a private clinic where they have a good chance of resolving their addiction. However, that help is not available to those without the resources to obtain it privately. One must be clean of drugs before being admitted to publicly funded addiction support services.

I understand that more than €200 million was spent last year under the national drugs strategy. Given that level of expenditure, it is sad to discover that a significant proportion of drug users undergoing rehabilitation are still in school. This is shocking. The social, personal and health education, SPHE, programme in schools must be expanded. I put a parliamentary question to the Minister for Education and Science this week asking when the SPHE programme will be rolled out for senior cycle in all schools. The Minister states in her reply:

A programme in social, personal and health reduction for senior cycle is currently being developed by the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment, but no proposals in this area have as yet been submitted to by Department. The council has consulted widely on a draft curriculum framework, and there has been general acceptance that it should cover such areas as mental health, gender studies, substance use, relationships and sexuality education, and physical activity and nutrition.

The SPHE programme should be extended immediately, because we cannot afford to wait any longer. Many young people begin by dabbling in drugs at parties and a great many are pressurised by their peers to experiment.

If I were granted one wish in regard to the fight against drug abuse, it would be that we begin again. We must recognise the importance of education and ensure that children are informed of the dangers as soon as they begin primary school. There must be a thorough review of how such issues as substance abuse, health and well-being are communicated to pupils from the beginning of their primary schooling right through to senior level and on to third level.

I welcome the review of the national drugs strategy and I look forward to addressing some questions to the Minister at the conclusion of this discussion.

I propose to share time with Deputy Joe Behan.

The annual report for 2007 of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime states that the total number of drug users worldwide is now estimated at some 200 million. This is a shocking figure, equivalent to approximately 5% of the global population aged between 15 and 64 years. We must constantly strive to ensure that the measures and policies in place to address the problem of drugs are appropriate and flexible enough to respond to what is a global and dynamic issue.

The Government remains resolutely committed to tackling the problem of drug misuse through the National Drugs Strategy 2001-2008. The strategy addresses the problem under pillar headings of education and prevention, supply reduction, treatment and rehabilitation, and research. It is firmly founded on the principle that drug misuse must be addressed in an integrated manner across these headings through a co-operative approach involving the statutory, community and voluntary treatment sectors.

The Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs, under the stewardship of the Minister of State, Deputy Pat Carey, is the lead Department in co-ordinating the implementation of the national drugs strategy. This co-ordinated and integrated approach, involving all the relevant players concerned with the issue, is the only way in which real and meaningful progress can continue to be made in tackling the drugs problem. Significant resources continue to be allocated to a range of measures dedicated to addressing the issue. A good example of this is the allocation of €50 million to the Vote of the Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs for the drugs initiative this year. This represents a 16% increase on the 2006 allocation.

We must evaluate the current drugs situation, harness our experiences during the past six years of the strategy and utilise what we have learned from the outcomes achieved when developing a new national drugs strategy for the period 2009 to 2016. Under the remit of the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform, the area of drug supply reduction and drug law enforcement remains a key feature of the Government's drug policy framework. Enforcement of the law relating to drugs very much continues to be a key element in the Government's policing priorities. Underpinning this approach, the Garda Síochána will continue to invoke a number of broad strategic responses in addressing the issue. I would like to see dedicated Garda drug squads in every division, which we had in the past. Some of those have disappeared over time but there is a great need to have such drugs squads.

Under the strategy, the Garda national drugs unit co-ordinates large-scale operations against drug dealing and trafficking and unit personnel either investigate such cases or assist local investigation teams. Policing operations continue to dismantle drug trafficking networks and have led to the arrest in recent times of major criminals based here and abroad involved in drugs. Such measures must continue to be vigorously pursued by the Garda Síochána.

There is also a role for the community alert programme, a national initiative I am involved with under Muintir na Tíre. There is a role for neighbourhood watch schemes and community policing. It is vital we have community support and activity to look out for each other.

Additional Garda resources are coming on stream all the time. Such resources will facilitate the new Garda Commissioner, Fachtna Murphy, in the allocation of additional manpower to areas most in need, including areas with significant drug problems. There can be no room for complacency in our response to drug misuse and the implementation of the national drugs strategy is a crucial part of the Government's work in the coming years.

The Government's integrated approach to addressing the drug problems that threaten the fabric of this country must be viewed by our constituents as a bipartisan commitment by the Government to ultimately achieving a drug-free environment. This would not be unlike the efforts expended in creating a smoke-free environment in workplaces and places of recreation, which have had unprecedented results.

I join Members on all sides of the House in welcoming the opportunity to take part in this debate on an issue of very significant importance for people from all walks of life throughout the country. I contrast the tone of this debate with that experienced in the health service debate over the past two days. This debate has not been swayed by party politics and the views expressed have been genuine, particularly by people such as Deputy Catherine Byrne, who is involved with community work and knows what she is speaking about in this area. I hope the comments will feed into a very practical review of the national drugs strategy.

I congratulate the Minister of State, Deputy Pat Carey, on his appointment as Minister of State with special responsibility for this area. I know from people working on the ground that they appreciate his level of engagement and work in this area. As a colleague in Fianna Fáil, I am very impressed with his grasp of detail and his serious intention to try to bring about a radical and meaningful review of the drugs strategy. I hope an effective strategy will be drawn up for the years from 2009 to 2016.

The Minister of State acknowledged the cross-party contribution to this area going back many years. If I am not mistaken, Deputy Pat Rabbitte was the first Minister of State with responsibility for the drugs strategy. He set the ball rolling quite effectively and I pay tribute to all Ministers and Ministers of State involved since then.

When I knew I would speak in this debate I conversed with some people involved in the area in my home town of Bray. I appreciate the work of people in a particular group in my home parish called The Get Along Gang. This is made up of a number of parents who got together in 1995 to establish a support network for parents and families of people involved in drug addiction. They have stayed the course for the past 12 years despite initially having no help from anybody. The group is now engaged with the HSE, which is welcome.

An issue they have outlined to me which I will highlight for the Minister's attention is family support, particularly increased funding for the family support network. People involved in this do much good work in trying to ensure families are supported, tackling the matter of a son or daughter who is a drug addict and helping families to rehabilitate that son or daughter. In his speech the Minister of State said that €150,000 will be given to the family support network to continue the work. I welcome the funding and hope the amount will be increased in time to come.

In Bray and other parts of the country, cocaine is becoming a major scourge, with some people arguing it is almost out of control. It is said it affects only the higher income groups but in reality it affects all classes. I know the Minister of State is aware of this and I am confident he will address it in the new strategy.

I welcome the Minister of State's reference to alcohol abuse. We cannot discuss drug addiction and abuse without remembering alcohol and the damaging role it has played in society over many years, particularly with regard to social problems and the devastation it can cause for families and the person who is addicted to alcohol. If we are to have a meaningful strategy, it is important alcohol abuse is linked to drug abuse and forms an integral part of future action.

The Minister, Deputy Ó Cuív, made a very valuable contribution, as he always does in debates such as this. He has a genuine commitment to community affairs and solving these problems. As I come from an area with a successful RAPID programme, I welcome and endorse the Minister's view that RAPID should have a minimum of a 20-year timeframe to be effective and bring about meaningful social change. I am glad he made the comment in the House.

I acknowledge the presence of the Minister of State, Deputy Haughey, and thank him for sitting in on this debate on a matter which affects our young people. It is important we educate these people on the dangers of drugs, which are a major problem in today's society. Today, in many areas of Ireland, people as young as ten or 11 are using drugs and drinking alcohol, a situation which must be urgently addressed. Early intervention is needed to cover the crucial period during adolescence and early adulthood.

Cocaine abuse has hit a record high, with the drug now the third most commonly used illegal drug in Ireland. There is a shocking report that states that 3% of 15 and 16 year old school children have used cocaine in the past year. Seizures of cocaine in Ireland have increased dramatically, from 206 in 2000 to 1,342 last year.

The shocking incident in Waterford that left three men hospitalised last week highlights the need for a nationwide awareness campaign to focus on the potentially lethal effects of cocaine. The drug is being taken regularly at parties across the country and in many cases is the stimulant of choice in preference to alcohol. People have a personal responsibility to themselves and their health to say no to cocaine. The State has a responsibility to hammer home the lethal risks associated with cocaine, particularly as the drug is increasingly being mixed with other hazardous substances.

We need a nationwide information campaign to highlight the potentially lethal consequences of cocaine use. The Garda Síochána and schools have a major role to play in getting the message out to communities. I call on the Minister to facilitate the daily screening of advertisements on television to portray to people the damage drugs can do. I want to see advertisements on RTE showing the effects an overdose has on an individual as a campaign showing the damage caused by drug taking will reduce the numbers of people sampling drugs.

I commend the work done in this area by the health promotion unit in the Department, which provides informative leaflets on alcohol, drugs, relationships and healthy eating. Schools can access a supply of these leaflets, which are useful for teenagers. Drugs education should feature on a weekly basis on the school curriculum. In secondary schools, students have access to one class a week on social and personal health education. In this class, topics such as alcohol, drugs and relationships are supposed to be addressed.

In many schools not enough time is devoted to these subjects, as demands exist from other disciplines such as career guidance. In addition some teachers do not feel they have the experience or the confidence to deliver information on these topics. Videos should be circulated to all schools highlighting the damage that drugs do to people. An outside body should conduct these weekly classes. I hope this area will not be neglected in the forthcoming budget.

Drugs are rife in our prisons. I welcome the introduction of sniffer drugs in our prisons, as they will help to reduce the number of drugs in our prisons. These dogs should patrol our prisons on a daily basis. However, nothing has been done about the number of drugs being thrown over prison walls. Those responsible for this activity must be laughing at the Government's failure to address this problem. Proper nets need to be installed in our prisons to address this problem. Drugs are being thrown over walls on a daily basis. The 2006 report by the visiting committee to Mountjoy Prison suggested that more CCTV cameras should be provided and an increased Garda presence would help this problem. The committee also asked for nets to be erected, but this has not happened to date.

Facilities for our young people are badly needed. In my constituency of Dublin North-East, many local groups are fighting for facilities for young people. If young people had somewhere to go they would not be so tempted to take drugs. Many organisations in my constituency are doing great work in helping to alleviate the drug problem. I commend KCCP, Kilbarrack Coast Community Programme, which works with 150 recovering drug misusers. KCCP was set up in 1998 to provide aftercare and rehabilitation for those affected by drug addiction.

Does the Government intend to introduce dedicated treatment for people suffering from dual diagnosis? Dual diagnosis is used to refer to drug misusers who have another problem, for example mental illness. Drugs agencies want research done to quantify the numbers of people suffering from dual diagnosis. Ireland has a good policy and students conducting research would be led to believe that Ireland has the situation under control, which is not the case. In reality, there are few resources available and the service is bad. People with drugs problems are offered methadone, but there is no alternative. There are limited opportunities for counselling for drug users. Problematic drug users are not receiving individual programmes. If a drug user drops out of treatment, nobody does anything. Des Corrigan of the national advisory committee on drugs has called for individual programmes to be drawn up for drug users, with which I agree.

The Kilbarrack Coast Community Programme recently published a report entitled Young People and Drugs. The report noted that a majority of young people from urban and working class areas will take cannabis at some point in their lives. Education is badly needed to make young people aware of the dangers. The perception of cannabis as a harmless drug needs to be challenged by accurate information and education. Movie stars and models who appear in daily newspapers should not be allowed to glamorise drugs and cocaine in particular.

The dangers of drug use should be raised in schools on a weekly basis. Unfortunately drugs have taken over too many communities. The Government needs to take the issue seriously and put its money where its mouth is by providing adequate education and resources to help save our young people from drugs.

I wish to share time with Deputy O'Connor. I welcome the opportunity to contribute to the debate and I welcome the points made by the speakers on all sides and in particular by the Minister of State. Our economy has made tremendous progress in the past 25 years with many positive benefits particularly with job creation, the increase in the standard of living etc. There was an old maxim that improving the quality of living for a society helped address the problems associated with social exclusion and therefore by including people in society it had a better capacity to allow them to live their lives in a more responsible way. Unfortunately that has not happened. While we have seen the benefits and the quality of life has improved, we have also seen the darker side associated with the preponderance of abuse of both alcohol and drugs, which we would not have expected 25 years ago. A significant effort has been made to deal with social exclusion through various programmes rolled out by successive Governments, and the required funding was allocated. While they have had an effect they have not had the effect to the extent they should have had.

However, the most worrying aspect is that the taking and abuse of drugs is no longer limited to the socially excluded groups. While I do not want to dwell on any specific case, I was somewhat concerned at how the incident in Waterford over the weekend was reported. The initial reports indicated that people were hospitalised, some in serious conditions, and that it was probably related to a toxic batch of drugs. The notion that some horse sedative was added to the drug was put forward as the reason for the young people having fallen ill necessitating them being hospitalised. However, in truth the addition of a horse sedative or any other compound is not needed to make drugs as we know them toxic or lethal. We need to be careful. The way it was reported almost gave the impression that the consumption or abuse of drugs was acceptable and the bit that caused the problem was the notion that some extra toxin had been added. It would be dangerous for us to accept that.

We have a real challenge to try to deal with the abuse of drugs among the professional class — people who should know better but have made a choice based on education, information and a good upbringing to consume drugs as a recreational choice in the same way that many other people would either smoke a cigarette or consume alcohol. That is very dangerous and needs to be addressed.

I am also concerned at the "High Society" television programme recently aired by RTE. While I acknowledge it has given rise to some debate in this House, regardless of whether it was factually correct about drug use by a politician or an airline pilot, if information exists that people in such responsible positions as airline pilots, surgeons or politicians are prepared to brag about their consumption of cocaine or even believe it is acceptable to use cocaine, we have reached a very serious and dangerous situation. I know the Minister of State has been in discussion with RTE. I hope the authorities show the kind of responsibility necessary. It is not right that people in responsible positions who brag about their use of cocaine should remain in their jobs, regardless of whether they are Ministers, Members of this House, surgeons or airline pilots.

Regardless of whether that information is true, people getting on aeroplanes today including some people who may not travel very much, are rightly concerned that the captain of the aircraft might not be in the full of his or her senses. If it was an allegation that a pilot consumed ten or 15 pints every night, there would have been uproar. I am not sure why it has been almost accepted by society. It indicates a greater acceptance of the abuse of drugs than I thought existed.

I thank my colleague, Deputy Dooley, for giving me an opportunity to make a brief contribution to this important debate. I welcome the partnership approach that is central to the national drugs strategy. Statutory, community and voluntary groups are working together to tackle the drugs problem. While many statutory bodies are clearly wholehearted in their support of the partnership approach, some of them are dragging their heels to a certain extent. The Minister of State recently announced that the national drugs strategy will be reviewed in 2008. I hope the review will recommend the setting of protocols to ensure total compliance with the spirit of the strategy on the part of all the statutory bodies.

Like my colleague, Deputy Rabbitte, I was in Tallaght on Tuesday to welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Pat Carey, to the annual service of hope and remembrance in Killinarden parish for those who have been affected by drugs. The community addiction response programme, which hosted the event, welcomed visitors from other parts of Dublin, including the Tallaght rehabilitation project, the SWAN family support group, Jobstown assisting drug dependency, St. Dominic's Community Response Project and St. Aengus's Community Action Group. I mean it sincerely when I say that my colleague, Deputy Rabbitte, did a lot of progressive work when he was Minister of State with responsibility for this area. I am sure he does not mind me praising him and I am not a bit afraid to do so. I appreciate the work that has been done by successive Ministers of State, including my constituency colleague, Chris Flood, on the drugs problem.

I am glad that the Minister of State, Deputy Pat Carey, has taken the baton. The manner in which he is going about his business is impressing many people. When I was at the service in Killinarden on Tuesday, many people praised the time and energy he has devoted to his task over the past six months. I do not wish to be parochial when I mention that he has been to Tallaght on three occasions since he took office, which is greatly appreciated in the area. Somebody reminded me the other day that the Minister of State used to work as a teacher in Finglas, which is an area with high levels of early school leaving, and is therefore familiar with the need to do something about this problem. That person asked me whether the Minister of State has been able to persuade his Government colleagues, the Ministers for Education and Science and Finance, of the need to roll out early school programmes in all areas that are encountering problems with drug use, particularly heroin use. I understand that the person in question also raised this issue with the Minister of State. There is a view that if a full roll-out cannot be done immediately, plans will have to be put in place to initiate early school programmes in all RAPID areas, including parts of Tallaght, within a given timeframe. They can then be rolled out in Leader areas and, finally, in all other parts of the country. I understand that international research shows that the best way of preventing the misuse of drugs is to educate people as early as possible.

In the Minister of State's remarks in Tallaght on Tuesday, he referred to the reluctance of some statutory bodies to adopt a partnership approach, a problem to which I alluded at the beginning of this speech. Will representatives of the community sector have to resign again to ensure that the statutory bodies play a full and proper role in responding to the drugs crisis and getting involved in political engagement? While I do not want to repeat everything I have said, I feel I should mention again that the reputation of the Minister of State, Deputy Pat Carey, is very strong in the Tallaght area. He could easily be a Dáil candidate in Tallaght if he wanted to be. He has been out there several times. The Minister of State has shown a great deal of understanding of the problems of urban communities. He spends a great deal of time in urban constituencies.

What about the Minister of State, Deputy Haughey?

I am always pleased to welcome Ministers and Ministers of State to my constituency. The Minister of State, Deputy Haughey, and others should understand the merit of coming to my constituency as often as possible.

What about the Minister of State, Deputy Conor Lenihan?

The various drugs groups have asked the Government to explain why no mechanism for collating needle exchange data has been put in place. I appreciate the opportunity to make a brief contribution to this debate. I wish the Minister of State, Deputy Pat Carey, well.

I would like to share time with Deputy Costello.

As I have not spoken on the issue of drugs since the last general election, I would like to start by congratulating the Minister of State, Deputy Pat Carey, who is now responsible for the national drugs strategy. I wish him well with the task he faces. Like most of us who are present in the Chamber for this debate, he represents a constituency with many communities that are suffering from the disease which is the misuse of drugs. We are familiar with the devastation caused by drugs in many communities. Drugs are often at the root of the criminal behaviour that is wreaking havoc in some parts of Dublin and other cities throughout the country. This debate is important, therefore. If the Minister of State wishes to bring new energy to the national drugs strategy, he should listen to Deputies on all sides of the House. That energy is required because we are at a new stage.

My constituency colleague, Deputy O'Connor, was kind enough to remind the House that I established the national drugs strategy in 1996. If I make one point during this debate, it is that the success of the strategy since 1996, under the stewardship of those who succeeded me, such as the former Minister of State, Chris Flood, has been built on partnership between statutory agencies and community organisations. The achievements that have undoubtedly been recorded as a result of the strategy can be attributed to such co-operation.

I worry, therefore, when people who are involved with community organisations, most of whom have garnered extraordinary experience at the coalface, tell me that the partnership approach is being undermined in some areas. Such people feel there is a reversion to the time when the statutory agencies sought to control the strategy in that the agencies are starting to assert themselves in certain areas once more and trying to diminish the role of community representatives. For example, the agencies are not as responsive to the community organisations as they should be. They are starting to veto new ideas and thwart initiatives. In some instances, the statutory agencies are beginning to send people of a lower rank than used to be the case — I do not mean they are necessarily of a lower calibre — to participate in drugs task forces. The impression being formed by some community representatives is that those involved with the agencies are not really engaging with them in the same fashion as their predecessors did in the early years of the national drugs strategy.

I can give a tangible example of the point I am making. I am advised that there is a palpable desire on the part of the Health Service Executive to take control of the needle exchange programme. The HSE wants to deal with it on an outreach basis, to the exclusion of some of the community treatment centres. A community treatment centre in my constituency that runs a successful needle exchange programme funds its activities from the pockets of those who run it. The programme helps to clean the detritus of syringes etc., which can be found around the place. That is my net point.

I would like to respond to the comment Deputy Dooley made in passing about recent events in Waterford. The case in question seems to bring home to all of us the need to put more emphasis on harm reduction strategies. We need to send out a message, by means of public advertising, for example, to communicate our acceptance, whether we like it or not, that this kind of drugs misuse event happens all too commonly when young people gather in our towns, villages and cities. We must acknowledge that this is a harsh fact of modern life and that we ought to address it with harm-reduction strategies and so bring the problem to the attention of young people.

I wish to say a word of deserved praise for the HSE's support of the cocaine project. I ask the Minister of State to outline the funding available up to 2008 and to say what will be the situation after 2008 because it takes a lot of time, investment and energy to build up a strategy.

Is there any plan to share the Dublin experience with other communities? Parts of the country are still resistant to admitting there is a drugs problem in their midst. I find it disturbing that clients are returning to Tallaght who may have relocated or been relocated to different parts of the country. They are returning because there is no service for them. This highlights the necessity for us to share the valuable experience we have garnered.

Will the Minister of State say whether there has been an increase in HIV-AIDS? I am advised there has been and that it needs to be addressed.

I thank my colleague, Deputy Rabbitte, for sharing his time. This is an appropriate occasion for a review of the national drugs strategy and the 2005 mid-term review as this day next week the lights on the Christmas tree at the Hope monument which is at the junction of Seán MacDermott Street and Buckingham Street will be lit. The Archbishop of Dublin, Dr. Diarmuid Martin, will perform the ceremony. This is an important annual event in the area where hundreds of people died from drug abuse in the 1980s, 1990s and up to the present.

I join with those who have commended Deputy Rabbitte who, as a Minister of State, established the initial drugs strategy and identified the key necessity to ensure a multi-agency approach between the statutory and health and education and justice agencies and to include community groups and local politicians. The strategy package included tough legislation dealing with the supply and control of drugs, the proceeds of crime and the establishment of the Criminal Assets Bureau. A significant momentum was established but I do not believe the national drugs strategy from 2001 to 2008 retained that momentum. A conservative estimate of the value of the illegal drugs industry is well in excess of €1 billion. While use of hard drugs was confined to Dublin, there is now a nationwide network which means drugs are readily available throughout the length and breadth of the country along with the associated violence.

Cocaine use is a serious drug problem and its distribution is nationwide. It has arrived on the scene during the time of the drugs strategy but no corrective measures have been taken in time to deal with the problem.

I could not believe my ears when I listened to the Minister, Deputy Ó Cuív speaking about the wonderful work of the RAPID programme and the dormant accounts funds. The Minister must realise that the national development plan funding of €2 billion was to be invested in disadvantaged areas the length and breadth of this country. All the preparatory work had been done in these areas and the projects had been identified. However, the fund was cannibalised by the Government after 2002 and the scheme was never introduced. The hundreds of millions of euro funding coming from the dormant accounts fund became a political slush fund for the same Minister, rather than being part and parcel of a coherent, holistic approach to dealing with the drug problem. As a result, the local drugs task forces have been deprived of long-term planning because the resources were not available. They have been operating from hand to mouth. This situation must not continue. I compliment the Minister of State with responsibility for drugs and I know he will do a good job. The new strategy will cover from 2009 to 2016 and new pillars are in place. I am confident that under the new Minister of State there will be a new commitment which is required to ensure that the resources are provided and to avoid the incoherent approach which dogged the last strategy and caused it to be a failure.

I wish to share my time with Deputy Cyprian Brady.

I wish to reiterate the dangers associated with drug use, which have been graphically illustrated by the recent incident in my own city of Waterford where 15 people were hospitalised as a result of taking an illegal substance at a party. Thankfully, most were discharged from hospital but unfortunately, two young men are still in a coma and from what I hear, the prognosis is not very good. Our thoughts are with the Grey and Doyle families at this time. It is hoped that this incident will be a deterrent to others from getting involved in drug abuse even though it may be too late for those two young men.

I compliment the Minister of State, Deputy Pat Carey and his predecessor, Deputy Noel Ahern, on their tremendous work in this area. Both represent the constituency of Dublin North-West and will be well acquainted with the problem which they will have experienced on the ground in their constituency. Deputy Pat Carey was in Waterford last Tuesday to open a new community and youth building in Farranshooneen, which is in my own area of the city. It is ironic that 12 months ago, the Minister of State, Deputy Noel Ahern, turned the sod for this building while the Minister of State, Deputy Pat Carey, cut the opening ribbon. There is a little bit of Dublin North-West down around the Dunmore Road area of Waterford.

While in Waterford, the Minister of State met the regional drugs task force. Members of the task force were very impressed with the Minister of State's commitment to eradicate this problem in so far as possible. They were impressed with his common sense approach to the problem.

Much of the funding for the building to which I refer came from the young people's facilities and services fund. Waterford and other areas of the country have benefited from this fund. Diversion is the key tactic to be used. An effort must be made to divert young people before they become involved in drug or other substance abuse. The Minister of State also visited another building nearing completion close to the city centre. Waterford regional youth services have been proactive in providing these facilities.

Waterford City Council also is coming on board. In the past, many local authorities have been criticised, probably rightly, for simply building houses or allowing developments without putting in place other necessary facilities. Waterford City Council may be the first city council to have begun to so do. In the Carrickphierish-Gracedieu area of the city, playing fields for a GAA club already are being installed. The council also hopes to establish soccer fields there and has allowed for a school and a library. In addition, the council has spoken to the Minister regarding a community building in which it is prepared to invest its own funds. The provision of such facilities is the route to take.

I was struck by a comment made last Tuesday by Eoin O'Neill, a director of youth services in Waterford who drives such initiatives. He referred to much of the funding that has been distributed to different projects through the national lottery, the sporting bodies or whatever. He noted that, frequently, those who are in need of help do not have access to such facilities as the latter levy charges that are too high for them to afford. Often such clubs are obliged to charge for their facilities because they must match whatever funds are provided by the Government. His vision is that in the main, usage of such community facilities should be free or at most at a nominal cost, in order to encourage their use by those who require help and who should be diverted from other activities.

I thank Deputy Kenneally for sharing time and welcome the opportunity to speak briefly on this important and timely debate. The abuse of drugs continues to be one of the most pressing social problems faced by Ireland. The 2007 report of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime states that the total number of drug users in the world is estimated to be 200 million people, which is equivalent to approximately 5% of the global population aged between 15 and 64. This is a global phenomenon and Ireland must continue to make it a top priority and to maintain its focus in this regard.

I have been making the point for a long time that we must begin to think outside the box regarding drug prevention and treatment. In that context, I visited the European Parliament earlier this year and met senior officials who were responsible for policing and drug control. Their analysis of the worldwide problem of drug trafficking was not encouraging. It is universally accepted that 2006 was a record year for the growth of the poppy plant in countries such as Afghanistan. It is also accepted that two or three years can elapse from the harvesting of the poppy plant to its appearance on the streets of cities such as Dublin as it finds its way across Asia and Europe. Effectively this suggests that soon, we again will be faced with an influx of cheap heroin. Obviously this will lead to serious problems for Ireland against which we must protect ourselves.

I have witnessed at first hand the fantastic and amazing work that is being done on the ground by individuals and small groups. I will take this opportunity to mention one of those individuals. I refer to a young Salesian, Father Joe Lucey, who passed away suddenly earlier this week. The enormous crowd that turned up to Seán McDermott Street church yesterday was a testament to the work Father Joe had done in the north inner city over the years. He had been working away quietly and no one had ever heard of him or had read about him in the newspapers. Nevertheless, he touched a great many lives in the north inner city. I refer in particular to young people who were highly dependent on drugs.

However, one must continue. Deputy Rabbitte's contribution to the establishment of the task forces was mentioned earlier. In the early 1980s, the communities took to the streets and demanded action from both the Government and the statutory agencies. Much progress has been made under the drug strategy as it was put in place. While a review was carried out in March 2005, different aspects of the strategy must be considered. For instance, the effectiveness of the methadone protocol should be examined. The general consensus regarding methadone is that it only suits some people. An issue also arises in respect of its long-term use and consequential health effects as some addicts are approaching their 20th year on methadone. While some groups are of the opinion that the only effective treatment for drug addiction is a completely drug-free approach, I believe there is room for both methods.

Drug supply reduction and drug law enforcement are two key features of the Government's strategy at present and the national drugs unit, the National Bureau of Criminal Investigation and the Criminal Assets Bureau have all played a pivotal role. I have witnessed such co-operation at the local community policing forum in the north inner city. The community has co-operated closely, with the result that the drugs squads have made significant seizures and arrests and the people consider that the information they are passing on is having an effect. This is working to a greater degree. I was delighted to hear the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy Brian Lenihan, mention recently that drug dealing at any level is unacceptable and that both small and large scale dealers will be pursued. This was mentioned in the policing plan for 2008.

This issue faces everyone and one sees it day in and day out, whether one is a parent of young children or through involvement in local communities. I refer to the potential devastation the misuse of drugs can have on individuals, their families and communities. I commend the Minister of State with responsibility for this issue, of which he has a good grasp given his background and the years of work he has put into his own locality. He has a great knowledge of the problems caused by drug misuse and undoubtedly he will be extremely successful in bringing on the strategy in future.

I welcome the opportunity to say a few words on this subject, on which I worked in recent years. As it is no longer my brief, I may not have all the up-to-date facts and figures possessed by the Minister of State. I welcome the new Minister of State with responsibility for this issue although he now has been in office for some months. He brings a genuine interest in and knowledge of this subject and will make a difference. I have stated repeatedly in the House that I was not fully convinced that the Government as a whole realised the urgency associated with this issue. However, I expect the Minister of State will get across to the Government the point that it should be dealt with. This issue is bigger than a single Minister and must be tackled by all politicians, both from the Government and the Opposition. They should get out the message as consistently and frequently as possible that drugs are bad and lead to serious problems in respect of one's health and family, as well as economic and social problems.

The major problem is that young people, particularly those who are approximately my age, do not realise the dangers that drugs pose to their lives. They believe that dabbling in drugs at weekends or once a month will not harm them. The Minister of State and I both know it will, as do most of those who have studied the subject to an extent. However, this message is not getting out. Young people think they are invincible, which can be seen from the behaviour of young drivers. The attitude is wrong as such drivers are convinced it will never happen to them. The same is true of those who take drugs. People I know who use drugs are convinced that nothing bad will happen to them as a result of so doing. While they are intelligent people who would not take drugs if they thought it would affect them personally, they are convinced there will not be an effect and carry on doing it. Such people play the lottery every week because they are convinced they will win. However, everyone knows the odds of winning the lottery are extremely slim while the odds of being affected by drugs are extremely high. Consequently, the message must get through and people's attitudes must be worked on and sorted out.

The Minister of State's contribution mentioned facilities and so on for young people, which is extremely important and the more done in this regard the better. However, education is an important avenue by which such people may be reached. No matter what it takes, people at both primary and secondary school must be made aware from a young age that drugs are not good for us. This may entail bringing in those who have suffered from drugs in the past or who are actors or anything we can do to get the message across.

I am glad the Taoiseach has entered the Chamber for this debate because last February or March, I took exception to his comments in which he more or less dismissed the suggestion that we have a drugs problem. While they are not ubiquitous, they can be found in most towns and villages and serious problems exist in this regard. Ireland's leaders, the Taoiseach included, should speak on this issue and let people know it will be taken head-on and beaten.

This leads me to the recent incident in respect of the reporter and her mystery Minister. I do not believe any Minister takes cocaine. Certainly, I do not believe any Minister would admit to so doing to a journalist. This issue must be nipped in the bud and sorted out. Mysteriously, the journalist's tapes have gone missing. I would not settle for this and would prove her to be wrong to end this myth. This would demonstrate that the Government and Members are determined to rule out the possibility of drug use among those with whom they work because they do not agree with it.

That will send out a strong message that we say no to drugs. We are very serious about that. We have to send that message out clearly, from the Taoiseach, Ministers, Ministers of State and everybody else as well. We must get the message out that drugs are wrong. This message must be on the tip of our tongues.

I welcome this debate. We do not always have to debate legislation in the Chamber. It is no harm to have discussions and debates. I would prefer if they were interactive rather than it being a case of me making a speech while others talk and where Members make speeches of ten or 20 minutes. This does not get to the point. I would welcome an interactive debate. Perhaps the Minister of State, Deputy Pat Carey, could facilitate a round table discussion, similar to committee debates but outside that structure.

We are doing it this afternoon. When we finish this debate, we will have a question and answer session.

I accept that. I am not giving out. I am saying it is grand, but apart from the question and answer session it would be useful if the Minister of State could call together those who are interested to have a round table discussion on this area in order that we can offer ideas and solutions. In his speech, the Minister of State mentioned he would welcome any input from us and that he is willing to work with us. I believe the Government wants to work with us. The other day we had a very good round table discussion with Deputies of all parties about the future of transport in Dublin. It was very informative. We can do the same with this issue, not necessarily in committees or in the Dáil Chamber, but where those who are interested can meet and work together. The Minister of State, Deputy Pat Carey, served on a useful committee that related to child care where he was an effective participant. I accept there are benefits in that approach.

This is part of the review of the previous drugs strategy. While that strategy has done much work in terms of organisation and preparation, it did not achieve a reduction in the level of drugs consumption or succeed in protecting people from drugs. It has helped certain people but the number of people involved in drugs has increased, especially in terms of cocaine use. Reports show that drug use has increased sevenfold or eightfold. It was revealed in a committee that over 300,000 people between the ages of 16 and 25 admitted to using cannabis. We must face the fact that the number of people using drugs has increased. Any review should acknowledge that but the review was trying to be too nice. While we gained, we have not gained enough.

The future strategy must have solid targets in areas in which we want to achieve so as to reduce the amount of drugs in which people dabble. It is important the future strategy has targets and proper review limits. A review that takes place five years after the strategy has been put in place and does not get discussed on the floor of the Dáil for a further two and a half years is not very effective. We had a useful discussion of this in committee but it would not have been any harm to have had a debate in the Chamber and get the message across to the wider public.

I will send in writing to the Minister of State, Deputy Pat Carey, specific issues I have not had time to raise. We must target our message at parents. They need to realise we can solve the drugs problem. They do not believe this and until the problem knocks on their door they do not get involved. We need to get parents fully behind this campaign and put pressure on State agencies to tackle this problem. Leadership is required in order to encourage people and convince them we can solve the problem. The perception is that politicians cannot solve problems or get anything done. I believe we can achieve something but we need to get everybody involved, especially parents.

Local drugs task forces have worked well in some areas of Dublin but the regional drugs task forces were not encouraged enough in the early years. It was almost four or five years before most of the regional drugs task forces presented us with a plan of what they wanted to do. I blame the Department for not pushing the agenda and making sure these plans were produced earlier. They are in place now and money has been allocated in recent years. The Minister of State referred to the allocation of €14 million. We need to drive the drugs task forces because they can provide solutions. It is important to share the experiences in this area nationally and internationally with the task forces and ensure they get results. We should not be happy that people are just discussing the problem or handing out cheques to certain groups, we should demand results and set targets for the drugs task forces to achieve.

I spoke extensively in the past about pilot schemes to tackle drug use. We do not need pilot schemes. We know what works here and what has worked in other countries. Too much time on pilot schemes is spent adding figures and fixing reports for the following year to ensure funding is guaranteed. We should allocate money to different projects and let them get on with it. We should not be worried about getting results. If we get it wrong we will just try some other scheme. We should not tie up projects with too much red tape. The Minister of State referred to youth groups and youth centres where progress is being achieved. I hope every town and village will soon have top class youth centres and facilities. A great deal of red tape gets in the way of running youth centres. It takes a lot of time and effort to draw down money. We should try to fast-track this system and get money to where it is needed. It is all very well announcing on budget day that millions of euro are being allocated to certain projects but we want to get it spent where it is needed in helping those who are affected.

I am sure the Acting Chairman would give me longer anyway.

The review of the strategy highlighted the area of community policing. We have failed in this area in terms of tackling drugs. Youth and community policing should be a major part of the strategy and could be effective in tackling soft drug use in particular. It can also be important in terms of picking up information and finding out who is involved in what. We need to expand community policing if we are to have a chance of tackling crime. Through community policing, younger members of the Garda have a great chance to reach out to young people in an advisory capacity and prevent them from getting involved in drug use.

I welcome the Minister of State's comment that his main aim will be prevention. That is the right approach to pursue. Rehabilitation is important also, as the Minister stated. I know the subject of ex-offenders leaving prison and the rehabilitation of drug addicts back into society is dear to the Minister of State's heart. Reference was made by him to education and employment. It is important that when people leave prison a care plan is put in place for them to get re-educated and to provide whatever help is necessary to get them back into society and functioning. This will keep them off drugs and away from crime.

We must also convince taxpayers that it is worth spending a lot of money on drug prevention and rehabilitation. It will save money in the long run. We have not been getting this message across to them. There is no widespread support to spend money in this area and we need to convince people of the merits of doing that. This is part of the Minister of State's job and I am happy he will do what is necessary. I hope when we review the next strategy in a few years we will have real figures to talk about and something about which we can clap ourselves on the back. We need to produce real results and reduce the number of people who are on drugs.

Tá mé sásta go bhfuil díospóireacht againn inniu faoin straitéis náisiúnta drugaí. When this issue was raised for debate last week, I was happy to encourage the Dáil to consider the subject. A number of important issues arise in terms of the use of illegal drugs in society which need to be addressed. In addition, I wish to set out the Government's strategy for dealing with this issue. All the elected representatives from my constituency are involved in this debate. Deputy Gregory and Deputy Costello are due to speak and Deputy Cyprian Brady has already spoken. We have all been dealing with this issue in our political lives, as has the Acting Chairman, Deputy O'Connor, in his constituency for the past quarter of a century. We have always taken a keen interest in this issue.

The impetus for raising this issue was the excellent supplement produced by the Irish Examiner. Its research and informative guide led to a focus on this matter. I congratulate the newspaper which I believe has further plans in this regard. It is most commendable of a national newspaper to carry out that task.

The Government is deeply committed to tackling this ever-evolving challenge. We have been working hard in recent years to bring about real changes through a multifaceted approach to education, crime prevention and detection and rehabilitation. I have had the honour of working with the Minister of State, Deputy Pat Carey, my brother, the Minister of State, Deputy Noel Ahern, and former Deputy, Chris Flood, a colleague of Deputy O'Connor, in the past ten years. I have had the opportunity of chairing the Cabinet committee on social inclusion which has met on a regular basis, at least monthly but sometimes more often, where we have been dealing with this issue. I accept what Deputies have said; this issue is challenging and difficult for all of us.

This week is just another week but the recent incident in Waterford shocked many. Sadly, this type of event is becoming too familiar in towns and cities. I accept that it is a problem in cities, towns and even villages throughout the country.

I welcome the opportunity today to highlight, particularly for younger adults and young people, the health risks of using illegal drugs. Some people try illegal drugs once or twice thinking that simply experimenting has no significant consequences and that they will escape serious injury. Everybody can understand somebody making that attempt and not understanding what they are getting into. Young people will always try things out of a spirit of adventure but in this case we must warn them and guard them from the devastating effects. It is not the case that one can just try them once or twice. The physical and mental health risks are so high that an experiment need only go wrong once for serious, and sometimes fatal, consequences to arise for the drug misuser, their families, friends and members of the wider community.

Recently, there has been an increased incidence of young people using cocaine. There are extremely high risks associated with cocaine use. Serious physical and mental health problems can arise. It is particularly dangerous when combined with alcohol, as we have seen recently, and other substances. I have always maintained that the cornerstone of our efforts to tackle the drug problem must be the maxim that prevention is better than cure. In this regard, education and awareness are crucial to combating the menace of drug abuse. Deputy Pat Carey, with his long experience as a community activist and his long teaching career, is aware of this. His advice and statements on the issue not only in his current capacity, but also over the years, have been important.

There have been a number of major drug awareness programmes organised over the past number of years. Some have been targeted at both parents and younger people. Some run through the local drugs task forces have been focused directly on people in their own local areas. These all have an important role in providing information to people about illegal drugs and in getting the message across about the serious health risks. The health promotion unit of the HSE is currently working on a new targeted and long-term awareness programme. Many of the programmes in the past 20 years or so have been very useful in keeping people off drugs and on the straight and narrow. Of course, not everybody has been kept away from drugs but that does not mean that the programmes have not been extremely beneficial in the education system and in communities. Community activists and organisations in my constituencies and others have been funded and do a very good job. They have saved many people over the years.

The Government's strategy as outlined in the National Drugs Strategy 2001-2008, augmented by the joint national advisory committee on drugs, the national drugs strategy team's report on cocaine and the report of the working group on drug rehabilitation, is the correct one. The national drugs strategy, which was launched by the then Minister of State, former Deputy Eoin Ryan, will be reviewed over the next year with a view to putting in place a strategy to cover the period from 2009 to 2016. This is important, as are debates such as this and other consultations taking place in communities throughout the country.

It is important to acknowledge that there have been significant achievements under the current national drugs strategy. There is now either a regional drugs task force — which were set up in 2005 — or a local drugs task force — these were set up in 1997 — covering all areas of the country. The level of drugs seizures by the Garda and the customs service of the Revenue Commissioners have been well in excess of the strategy targets. I congratulate the Garda on its success. However, gardaí face daily challenges in tackling the sale of illegal drugs in the State by the highly organised criminal gangs who now confront them.

The Government has also been engaged with those involved in service-response development at a more strategic level — from drug task forces at local and regional level to nationally based organisations, such as the Health Service Executive, the Garda and the Irish Prison Service. I have had the opportunity of listening to their presentations and seeing the agency reports in my capacity as chairman of the committee on social inclusion. For the past ten years, the Government has invested in approximately 450 projects under the local drugs task force plans. Those plans are mainly in force in city areas; there are not yet as many throughout the country. Many of those plans provide tremendous community facilities. They are costly but very beneficial.

I commend the dedication and commitment of the people involved in the development and delivery of services under the aegis of the national drugs strategy. These services are having a meaningful impact on the lives of the people availing of them, be they problem drug users, their families or the local communities, within which many of the services are set. The strategy has been complemented by the RAPID programme tackling urban disadvantage and by the community services programme.

Drug treatment and rehabilitation services are being delivered primarily through the Health Service Executive. These treatments include addiction counselling, detoxification programmes and methadone treatment programmes. The programmes have advanced a great deal. Not many years ago we had great difficulty trying to sell them and explaining their benefits to people. However, understanding has now moved to a different level. Through the HSE there was an allocation of €85.05 million in 2006 directly attributable to drugs programmes. Rehabilitation has been included as a fifth pillar of the national drugs strategy. This need was identified in 2005.

In addition to highlighting the serious health risks from illegal drugs, the Government recognises the importance of diverting young people from drug misuse now and in the future by supporting their involvement in other activities, hobbies and in sports. In the long run, the best way to keep young people away from drugs is by providing other outlets to them. We are providing facilities and services for the most "at risk" young people through the young people's facilities and services fund in particular. Almost 500 facilities and services projects are being delivered through the fund, including the employment of 228 youth and outreach workers and 27 sports development officers, to divert young people away from drug misuse. This funding supports sports facilities, youth cafés and recreational activities for young people.

It is important to remember that illegal drug use is a global issue and so our efforts to tackle it in Ireland must be seen in that context. Significant progress has been made internationally in reducing the supply of drugs and in providing treatment facilities. Needless to say, however, no country has succeeded in coming to terms with all dimensions of the problem. We will continue to facilitate and support agreed international responses while pursuing our own goals through the implementation of the various actions contained in the current national drugs strategy.

I wish to conclude by reiterating my point on the health risks associated with illegal drugs. They are illegal because they are toxic; illegal drugs are a serious health risk and must remain illegal for that reason. The Government can only do so much. Individual citizens must see that there are serious physical and mental health risks attached to using illegal drugs. Our people also need to see the links to criminal activity associated with what is perceived as recreational drug use or weekend drug use. I acknowledge that much remains to be done to tackle the problem but I equally believe that progress is being made through the Government's national drugs strategy.

I commend the work of the Irish Examiner in highlighting the problem and supporting efforts to tackle it. I was anxious to participate in this debate today to support the Minister of State, Deputy Pat Carey, and his officials in their efforts on this programme. We must continue to build on the excellent work that is being done by communities the length and breadth of this country. Go raibh maith agat, a Cheann Chomhairle.

We are glad to see the Taoiseach back in the House on a Thursday.

Whenever the debate is interesting I will be here.

I congratulate the Minister of State, Deputy Pat Carey, on his appointment to this portfolio. I wish him well. I also acknowledge his generous availability in my constituency. His visits to communities there are welcomed and appreciated.

I welcome the opportunity to speak in this debate. Every year, in different parts of my constituency, I attend commemoration services for people who have died from drug addiction. These events include memorial Masses, the production of quilts that are carefully and lovingly embossed with the names of the deceased and tree planting ceremonies. Invariably, the attendance includes the families, parents, partners, siblings and children of the addict. It is important for the families that this commemoration is available to them and it helps them in their grief. However, the message must be that we should not have to have these commemoration ceremonies. We must put an end to the misery and destruction caused by drugs in our communities.

My heart sinks when I look around and see the level of open drug-dealing going on in the streets and laneways of this city and in many pockets of my constituency. Modern technology has aided and abetted the drug dealers. The use of mobile phones has been a significant contributing factor in their battle against the system. Then, of course, there are those who are pushing back the frontiers in the manufacture of illicit chemicals. They are clever, immoral and greedy and they care not a whit for the consequences of their actions. Much of this technological development takes place in other countries, but we do hear regular reports of such activities here, often taking place in a garage or garden shed. It is not high-tech but with enough know-how they are able to concoct these lethal cocktails with which they proceed to exploit anybody unfortunate enough to fall into their clutches. These people need to be hunted down, brought to book and made to pay for their crimes. I am not recommending the banning of mobile phones or putting a stop to research, but I am pointing out the challenges that are now commonplace and give advantage to the criminal element which is ready and able and has sufficient resources to exploit such technology.

This morning, Deputy Pat Rabbitte introduced two Bills designed to combat serious crime. I hope we will get the opportunity to debate these Bills in the near future. The witness protection programme urgently needs to be placed on a statutory basis and nowhere is such protection more needed than in dealing with the major, and some lesser, criminals who are destroying the lives and security of many decent and long-suffering people in our communities. Much of this criminality is based on drug-dealing. The second Bill is designed to give the Garda the power to undertake electronic surveillance of criminal suspects. Gangland killings most frequently have their origins in the illicit drug trade and whatever powers are needed by the Garda should be made available to ensure that these criminals and murderers are caught, charged and convicted. The dealers swagger around in their big cars, live in posh houses and seem to have absolutely no difficulty getting access to guns, organising hit-men and moving on to their next unfortunate targets. We need these two pieces of legislation to reassure our communities and to catch and remove the drug-dealing parasites from these communities.

In addition to these Bills, there is also a need for enhancement of basic policing activity. Local residents who suffer due to low-grade drug-dealing activity in their communities always tell me that the presence of community gardaí is the only effective deterrent to this kind of activity. In addition, the presence of community gardaí reassures people who are frightened and vulnerable and who most often become unfortunate targets. It is also the case that good local police work is often underrated. It can make a significant contribution to knowledge and information on local criminal activity. More patrols, more visibility and more support for the community gardaí are fundamental to driving out the pushers and dealers.

I particularly wish to draw the Minister of State's attention to the need for support and intervention for families who live in disadvantaged areas. I speak of positive intervention to support individual parents and families who, for whatever reason, including drug-related problems, are unable to look after their children on their own. Is it acceptable that small children are left literally to their own devices? They never get a decent meal, they are frequently missing from school and they do not participate in any structured way in what might be called normal society. I raise this point because I know of such children. They will never have a chance to participate in a normal home environment. Not all, but very many of these children come from homes in which drug addiction is, unfortunately, the norm. I speak of all drugs including alcohol. I challenge the Minister to ensure that the provision of the services needed to give these children a chance is undertaken as a priority. Without this intervention, the vicious cycle of dysfunction, misery, illiteracy and all the attendant problems will continue.

There is a need for intervention in many areas of the drugs business, but I am convinced that unless positive support is provided within the family home no real progress will be made. Children, I am told, frequently see school as their only safe haven. They have a decent breakfast, some order and structure, and a bit of security. However, at 2.30 p.m. or 3.30 p.m. they return to the dysfunction within their own families. I ask the Minister to consider this and to do whatever research is required, access all the facts and provide the resources to deliver for these children. They are the innocent victims, directly or indirectly, of the vicious drug barons, at whatever remove it may be.

Increasingly, heroin use is no longer confined to the Dublin area. It is one of the major drugs that has blighted communities for a long time. Serious heroin problems are now reported not only in our cities, but also in towns around the country. Everybody who has spoken on this today, no matter what part of the country they represent, is unfortunately only too well aware of the drug problems within their own communities.

The issues surrounding the drugs business have been identified by everyone who has spoken. The laws of supply and demand apply to drug dealing as to any other commodity. Unfortunately, the consequences of this type of dealing are quite different from those of other trading activities. We are talking about a business which is being run by dealers and drug barons. The consequences, which bear repeating, include some of all of the following: drug addiction; health problems, including hepatitis and HIV, and eventually death; job loss; unemployment; anti-social behaviour; robbery, violence, murder and intimidation; homelessness; fear and intimidation within the community; family destruction, breaking up of homes and neglect of children; and all-round, absolute misery. These consequences, unfortunately, are widespread in the communities that suffer due to the drugs problem.

It is not just the drug user that suffers. The net is spread far and wide and draws in the vulnerable, the disadvantaged, the young and the innocent. The list I just gave relates mostly to illegal drugs, but let us not forget the legal drug that is alcohol and the effects of abuse of that drug. Recent proposals have made a case for legalisation of certain so-called soft drugs. Let us knock that on the head. As a society, we have enough trouble dealing with the legal drug of alcohol. That issue has been rehearsed by other speakers.

I welcome many aspects of the work of the drugs task force, including the roll-out of treatment places and the methadone scheme. The increased use of GPs and pharmacies has helped within communities. We need closer monitoring of our ports and coastal waters and investigation of the methods used to obtain drugs and introduce them into our communities. The issue of drugs in prisons may have been raised already, but it is an important point that needs to be considered. We must try to get to grips with this problem. Ex-prisoners need to be rehabilitated, managed within the community and given the security and support they need to break away and stay away from drug addiction.

I wish to share time with Deputy Tony Gregory.

Is that agreed? Agreed.

I welcome the opportunity of participating in this important debate on the national drugs strategy because this is a major national issue. I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Pat Carey, to the debate and wish him well in developing sensible policies to deal with this problem. To illustrate my direct experience of this issue, last week I attended another funeral of a past pupil of mine who died due to drugs. We must accept that we are losing many sensible young people to drugs. Things were bad in the 1980s when we had a major heroin epidemic, but in 2007 we still have a significant problem.

I ask Deputy McGrath to withdraw his offer to share time so that I can facilitate Deputy Gregory until 3.05 p.m.

That means Deputy Gregory has ten minutes.

If Deputy McGrath takes seven minutes, Deputy Gregory will have eight.

That is fair enough. Drugs are a major problem in the country in 2007 and we must accept that it is no longer an issue confined to particular disadvantaged areas. It is now a cross-society issue. It hits every family in the country — working class families, poor families and middle class families. In recent events we also have seen the massive violence and intimidation that goes with the drugs issue.

We must take a broader view when tackling the issue and coming up with solutions to the abuse of drugs. We must include issues such as poverty, educational disadvantage and housing as part of the solution. I welcome the fact that these are included as a sensible part of the solution. I welcome the radical proposals emerging in some areas throughout the city.

I particularly welcome the new Cromcastle plan in my area in Dublin North-Central which will provide new centres, new sports facilities and housing projects around the Northside Shopping Centre. It will develop the Cromcastle area in a positive way. I commend Dublin City Council and all those directly involved in the project. These are issues that I raised in my agreement with the Taoiseach and they are covered in sections 7, 9 and 11 of the agreement. I repeat that the focus must be on educational disadvantage, housing issues, developing communities and tackling poverty.

Since 2007, €7 million was given to 42 projects to assist young people. This is a positive development, particularly the worthwhile projects that are working with young people and with the families of addicts, but we need to ensure this money goes in the right direction and goes deep down to meet the needs of people in the community. Some people working within the community have concerns that sometimes the resources do not necessarily get to the people who need them most. I know this from speaking to parents and families of addicts and also those who have a major contribution to make to the drugs issue.

The solution to this issue lies in communities, in families and in policing. It is important that we focus on these. If there are poor, disadvantaged families and young children at risk, we must intervene at an early age. I welcome the sensible projects being rolled out, particularly across the northside of Dublin, addressing educational disadvantage and assisting these young people, particularly young pupils between the ages of four and six. That is part of the solution and we can save many young people if we deal with issues such as literacy and low self-esteem at an early age. Such issues are important in creating a better person for the future. There are many good sensible projects, but we also need to develop them and ensure they are rolled out.

Quality policing is an important strategy in the campaign. We need community gardaí. We need professionals talking to and reassuring residents, but we also need the super squads in the form of the Garda drug squad directly involved to take out the violent dysfunctional criminals because they are causing havoc.

Let us also accept responsibility. There is a demand in society for drugs. If there was not a demand, there would not be a market. We must face that reality as well. If our neighbours, friends, children's children or somebody in the wider community is contributing to that, it is important we highlight it.

We should re-examine the role of the Criminal Assets Bureau, CAB. I commend my colleague, Deputy Gregory, for his magnificent work over the years, particularly in new radical ideas about making CAB relevant to communities but also in his consistent work on drugs issues. I urge people directly involved, particularly Ministers, to listen to individuals like Deputy Gregory who have a massive contribution to make, both at national and community levels. That is accepted on a cross-party basis in this House. If one is talking about a strategy, one must include the views and sensible solutions for the way forward. Deputy Gregory and others like him should be supported.

We should look at the positive ideas coming from all Deputies in this House. I have seen all-party agreement on issues such as Irish emigrants and climate change, and there is no reason we cannot look at the drugs issue in the same light.

Statistics show the level of drug seizures by the Garda and the Customs and Excise have been well in excess of the targets set in the strategy, and I welcome that important development. However, it shows that we have a bigger problem than sometimes people think.

On the violence and intimidation I mentioned, it is appalling that there are young families suffering and the level of violence involved. In my constituency, there was the slaughter of the young mother, Donna Cleary, which was cocaine related. We must accept the reality that this is the downside. As I stated last week in the Dáil although nobody seemed to take any notice, it is not acceptable for smart-alec journalists to state on television that it is all right to take cocaine and drugs. Every day in our clinics in our constituencies we see the reality of drugs and the violence and intimidation. Incidentally, many people who are not involved in politics do not see the reality. Many people come to Deputies, councillors and Senators with significant information on violence and drugs issues in their communities and it is important to take these views on board when dealing with the issue.

I welcome this opportunity to make a contribution to the debate. I commend the Minister of State, Deputy Carey, for the work he has done. I urge him to listen to the people directly affected in coming up with solutions because there is a enormous crisis and we need to act now.

I would point out to Deputy Gregory that the Chair is obliged after seven and a half minutes to ask the Minister of State to take questions for a period not exceeding 20 minutes.

I thank the Acting Chairman for the opportunity to say a few words, but I doubt that I will need the seven and a half minutes.

I take the opportunity, as Deputy Cyprian Brady did earlier, to pay tribute to the late Fr. Joe Lucey who did magnificent work — I am not overstating it in any way. Our Lady of Lourdes Church on Seán MacDermott Street was packed last night as a tribute to his work. He is certainly an immense loss to that community in the north inner city and to the marginalised young people in the Crinan Youth Project and in other projects with which he worked over the years.

Also last night I attended a meeting in Store Street Garda station of the community policing forum in the north inner city. This is an initiative which I was involved in setting up where the local authority, the Garda drug unit and the community come together in their efforts to counter the drugs problem in the north inner city. After at least 25 years of a drugs plague and scourge in Dublin's north inner city, last night when the Garda drugs officer made his report of drug seizures over the past couple of months throughout the north city area, despite all the hype we hear about cocaine being the new drug, seizures of heroin were reported everywhere, right throughout the north city.

Previous speakers have pointed out that heroin is rooted in social disadvantage and in marginalised vulnerable young people, and there is no doubt about that. It is a great shame on all of us that we have failed to use the affluence that has been available to this country over the past ten or 15 years to make any radical inroads into that impoverishment from which so many young people still suffer in some of the areas of our city and country.

That was the reality last night. A variety of drugs have been seized, but I hope the seizure of crack cocaine in the north inner city was an isolated one. In terms of seizures, the most prominent drug or the drug on which the drugs unit, having learned from the past, concentrated used to be heroin. The Minister of State is by no means new to this issue because he is as long around as any of us and his constituency has as large a problem as, if not larger than most.

The national strategy includes the idea of community policing fora in every drugs task force area. Having one in the north inner city is a great help according to the local authority, Garda and community, which must be brought together if there is to be an effective approach to countering the drugs problem. I hope similar fora will be set up throughout task force areas.

Not far from Leinster House this morning, I attended a joint policing committee review, which is another strand of the strategy. I hope initiatives such as community policing fora and local authorities' joint policing committees are a step towards the democratisation of the Garda. I would like to believe that when there are directly elected mayors in some areas such as Dublin city in a few years' time, the Garda will fall under the local authorities and mayors' remits. This may be a long way off, but it is necessary.

Will the Deputy go for it?

Next weekend a local drugs unit comprising a sergeant and five gardaí will be established for the first time in the Minister of State's constituency, perhaps due to his position. From P. J. "The Psycho" Judge to Marlo Hyland, that area has been to the forefront of the drugs crisis and has suffered more than most. I raised a number of Dáil questions concerning the establishment of such a unit in the area because it is common sense to focus resources such as gardaí in areas with the highest incidence of and greatest problems with drug crime. However, this simple logic seems to have escaped the Garda. It would not have done so were the Garda under any form of democratic control, a direction in which we must head. The people, local representatives and local authorities see what is occurring on the ground at first hand. The Garda must work hand-in-hand and under the direction of locally and democratically elected people representing the areas.

The Deputy's time has concluded.

I was going to conclude with a few remarks on the Criminal Assets Bureau, which is probably outside the remit of the Minister of State, Deputy Pat Carey, but I addressed it a number of times previously.

It is high time to review the powers of and resources available to CAB. The Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform stated that he would provide additional resources and referred to profilers, namely, each Garda district would have a profiler to get and forward drug dealers' details to CAB. This will not help because CAB is effectively a small, centralised bureaucracy. While profilers across the country will send their information to CAB, it will not have the resources to respond. The only way to get at drug dealers through their assets is with local units of CAB in the areas where they are needed or where there are serious drugs crises.

I have gone over time and, as the Acting Chairman has been lax with me, I will leave it at that.

"Tolerant" is the word. Deputy Deenihan has one minute. If I can facilitate him when questions are being asked, I will be happy to do so.

I welcome the Minister of State, but we are losing the battle against drugs. No longer an urban phenomenon, the drugs issue is widespread and will demand more concerted and direct action.

The national drugs unit sent some of its people to Tralee in County Kerry some time ago and they were successful. A large number of convictions were achieved principally because members of the local drugs unit, while effective, are well known by the drug pushers. The national unit's people spent a weekend going into bars and got a large number of convictions. They should be sent all over the country. There must be an interdepartmental approach to this matter.

Last night, I watched the film about Veronica Guerin, who took on the drug barons in the mid-1990s. Unfortunately, she put so much pressure on them that they murdered her. If the Garda had the resources to put drug barons under similar pressure, they would not murder gardaí and would be weeded out where possible. We should take a lesson from the film, that is, while her bravery and courage cost her her life, she proved that putting the people in question under pressure is the only way to eliminate them.

The Chair is obliged to point out that the Minister of State shall take questions for a period not exceeding 20 minutes. I will call on Deputy Ring first and the Minister of State will reply to each question.

I will ask my three questions together to give everyone else a chance. First, when will there be mandatory drug testing, which is important and has been debated for many years? Drugs are lethal and people are being killed on the roads. Second, does the Department plan to set up a pilot scheme to target urban and rural schools with a video showing what happens to someone who takes drugs, the available treatment and the effects on families? Third, is the Minister of State happy with the support he is receiving from his Government colleagues in terms of resources and funding? What does the Minister of State most want from the forthcoming budget to tackle the drugs epidemic?

On another serious matter, I ask that the Minister of State speak with other members of the Government regarding Ms Justine Delaney-Wilson as it is wrong of her to castigate and put pressure on Ministers and judges who have served the State well. They comprise a small body of people and some legal advice should be taken to make Ms Delaney-Wilson confirm or deny her statements.

We have held a number of discussions with the Garda, medical professionals and those with ideas concerning the matter of mandatory drug testing. It can only be done on a voluntary basis in the workplace and cannot be applied compulsorily.

It is disturbing that a large proportion of those tested as part of the drink driving campaign have been found to have substances other than alcohol in their bloodstreams. To answer the Deputy's question simply, we are working on the problem, but we are not unique. Other jurisdictions such as Australia have not satisfactorily mastered mandatory testing, although there are several provinces in Australia that are further ahead than others.

Local-based campaigns for schools are proving to be extremely successful. Deputy Catherine Byrne will know that last Saturday morning the Ballyfermot youths' service, under the aegis of the local drugs taskforce, launched a very good information campaign targeting transition year students. Up to 120 transition year students met at a nightclub at 10 o'clock in the morning on the fringe of the Dublin South-Central constituency. They were talking about the programmes devised by them on heightening the awareness of alcohol and drug misuse. I believe the two, alcohol and drug misuse, must be aligned.

Members referred to a campaign in Blanchardstown. A DVD was made by a group in Drogheda, which I have not seen but I believe is very effective. I am in discussions with the Irish Examiner newspaper about getting its supplement distributed more widely to schools and other outlets. We need to heighten awareness of drug misuse.

One of the best campaigns I have seen is in County Kerry. Deputy Deenihan knows of the Kerry education for life project. It has two mobile units that travel to schools in the county under the aegis of the regional drugs taskforce. Children as young as four years of age are shown how to understand what happens to their system when one takes tea, coffee or crisps. It works up along to show what happens to one's system when one takes cannabis, cocaine and heroin. The campaign, borrowed from a UK idea, is having much success. Other campaigns are potentially worthwhile such as those in Crumlin and Dublin inner city groups.

At a more formal level, we are in discussions on how to target an information and awareness campaign that will hit the upper second level age group to the 35 year old group. I have been examining using newer media such as Bebo and Facebook as a way of getting through to this age group. Focus groups are working on the content and the direction of this campaign, which will be coming to fruition soon. It needs to be done sooner than later.

As Deputy Wall stated, coming up to Christmas is a good time to highlight the dangers of drugs. If ever there was a lesson to be learned, it is unfortunately the one learned from the ingestion of cocaine at a recent party in Waterford. Unfortunately, that could have happened in any village, town or city. It is to be hoped that it will be a wake-up call.

From the published Estimates, funds will be provided for the roll-out of the strategy. We are working with other Departments in getting additional resources to implement the drug rehabilitation report. It contains 13 recommendations, including the provision of additional detox beds, accommodation, education and training of frontline workers.

It has been suggested that those services available in Dublin need to be rolled out to the rest of the country. I say "Amen" to that. Every community needs to take ownership and responsibility of the problem. Dublin-based Members will recall how difficult it was to get needle exchange and methadone maintenance programmes developed in Dublin. I suspect the same challenges will be posed in communities where there is already a reluctance to allow such programmes be developed.

On Tuesday I visited in Cork where, under the aegis of the HSE, a centre of excellence is proposed to be built. It will incorporate all services such as needle exchange, methadone maintenance programmes, counselling, psychological and psychiatric support in the one centre in the Arbour House development. Every community needs its own residential and day treatment centres so a continuum of care is in place. Waiting lists in many Dublin centres, such as those in Ballyfermot and Clondalkin, are building up because of people presenting from other parts of the country.

I am slow to be drawn on the Justine Delaney Wilson issue. I have already stated my views on this. Neither the book nor the programme made a contribution to helping address the issues surrounding cocaine. If anything, it simply glamorised it. As to whether the Government will take any action on it, I am awaiting the outcome of the RTE investigation to see what it feels its response ought to be. Whether any action will be contemplated after that, we will await that development.

On the proposed campaign, will the Minister of State consider including all national sports organisations and holding a national seminar to highlight an alternative to drugs?

Education campaigns in schools are vitally important as well as research. In the past several days, we have learned of various new mixes of drugs and alcohol. Research into these will have to be conducted and information given to the various bodies concerned.

In the drugs taskforce for Kildare South, there is one taskforce employee to 54,000 people. In other areas, such as the south east, it is one to 17,000 of the population. This is out of sync given the geographical position of County Kildare to the greater Dublin area. The south east should not match such a determination to that extent.

The campaigns will be very important. The young people's facilities and services projects fund will be extended. For no other reason but to get maximum benefit, I will be engaging with the youth and sports organisations in the Leinster area. I will keep in touch with the Deputy on that matter.

Education is the key to this strategy. The DEIS programme must address those issues raised by Deputy Upton and others and the SPHE programmes must be further rolled out. I am keen the senior cycle in post-primary schools is appropriate to their needs which it currently is not.

The work on the all-Ireland prevalence study has been completed and will be published before the end of January 2008. It will give a good indication as to prevalence levels of various drugs. Other research from the EU monitoring report will show increases in some areas in the use of some drugs.

A potential model of good practice for regional drugs taskforces is evident in the south east. It has county-based sub-committees of its taskforce. The experiences and concerns with drugs in Carlow will be different from those in Waterford. Such sub-committees are the best means to address local need. That is why I am anxious that we all engage in building up the next strategy.

Does the Minister of State have a view on the role of the Criminal Assets Bureau? In the past ten years approximately €5.5 million worth of assets have been returned to the Exchequer, which seems incredibly low, maybe because of the seven year freeze on assets.

What does the Minister of State think of the recommendation of the financial action task force, the EU monitoring group, that the seven year freeze be reduced to three to make CAB's powers more effective? Does he feel that in an area as heavily affected by drug dealing and related crime as his constituency a local unit of the CAB would be another effective tool against those activities? We need to do more to take the assets from drug dealers at all levels because their affluence attracts young people into the drug-crime spiral.

I do not engage day-to-day with CAB but the new Garda Commissioner's background in that area will inform much of the policing. The profiling the Deputy mentions operates in my area and has potential for other areas. Asset freezing may be a matter for domestic legislation but it is worth exploring the possibility of reducing it from seven years. CAB has begun to localise many of its operations but I am not sure whether that is happening de facto or de jure. The results of policing in some parts of the city indicate that CAB is closely involved there.

Is the Minister of State satisfied that the €7 million rolled out in September is being well spent and is getting down to the young people and communities? There are many excellent educational programmes in primary schools but does the Minister of State accept that we need to update many of them as some are five or six years out of date?

Does the Minister of State have a good relationship with the Irish Pharmaceutical Union, particularly in light of its recent row with the Health Service Executive? Pharmacists are an important part of any anti-drugs strategy.

The Deputy need only go to places such as Clondalkin boxing club, Waterford, where I was on Tuesday, or to Knocknaheeny in Cork to see the high quality buildings funded by allocations from the €7 million young people's services and facilities fund. In Knocknaheeny there is a preschool child care centre, a community centre, a family resource centre and a community development project, working closely together. That is what I want to see everywhere.

Deputy Finian McGrath and I come from a teaching background and we believe that educational programmes always need to be updated to take account of the new attitudes of young people.

Community pharmacists are important in the delivery of the drugs strategy. We will not, nor should we, provide a building for a methadone clinic on every street corner. We will work with general practitioners and community pharmacists to make sure that service is delivered.

I am now required to call on the Minister of State to make a statement but I will allow three Deputies to put questions, the replies to which the Minister of State could encompass in his statement.

What action is the Government taking on this issue? Is there joined-up thinking across Departments? Is there a Government sub-committee discussing it or does the Minister of State operate in isolation? Can the Minister of State direct the national drugs unit to visit large towns? Education is an important strand in dealing with this issue but it is not the only one.

We will have a new strategy which the Minister of State will implement over the next five years and an extra pillar, rehabilitation, will be added to the four existing ones. How will we integrate the five pillars and will the Minister of State be able to monitor them to see that they operate effectively? Has the Minister of State included the prison system in the strategy?

Is there a plan to introduce much needed psychological services to operate at ground level with the local drugs task forces? The Minister of State mentioned something about this but it may apply only in rural areas.

I will mix my replies with my wind-up speech. The national drugs strategy involves not only me, but all of us. I chair the interdepartmental committee on drugs which will meet again on 13 December. Participants come from Departments, State agencies, the community and the voluntary sector, the Garda and so on.

I was referring to ministerial level.

There is a Cabinet committee on social inclusion which meets as well and feeds into Government policy. I almost annoy people at this stage when I say inter-agency co-operation and collaboration is the only way forward. I do not want to see every partnership, community development project, family resource centre and drugs task force doing its own thing. That is of no value and is counter-productive.

Last week I was at a conferring ceremony in UCD for drug addiction counsellors, I was at one in Coolock the previous week and will attend another in Ballymun tonight. Trained addiction counsellors are being provided in some areas. Many come from the voluntary sector but they have a great deal of expertise and are very good.

I thank everyone for their contributions. This has been a worthwhile debate in which there have been many contributions. The next strategy will stretch as far as 2016 — it would be foolish to ignore the fact that we are dealing with a radically different Ireland — which is the centenary of the Easter Rising and of the 1916 proclamation. At the risk of cherry-picking from the proclamation my ambition is that we would by then be able to treat all the children of the nation equally by the goals we set and our achievements on their behalf.

Drug use changes every day. People are now engaging in polydrug use, alcohol being the common denominator. I am anxious that we have as far as possible a united strategy for alcohol and drug misuse. There is no point in doing this any other way. There has been a great deal of research in this area but more is needed. I was in Milwaukee during the summer and saw some of the research taking place there. Members have mentioned crack cocaine and crystal meth. We need to be ahead of the posse. The researchers are on top of strategies to deal with these drugs as are the Garda and others in the area who plan programmes. There is a good regime of counselling people who misuse cocaine.

The Irish Prison Service has contracted the Merchant's Quay Ireland group to provide counselling services in prisons and that is being rolled out. In my view this will be extremely successful. There is a very good arrangement on prison links whereby a number of drugs task forces have workers dealing with how prisoners will be treated on release with regard to accommodation, education, training and so on. I am confident that a dramatic change of approach has occurred in the Irish Prison Service to the benefit of prisoners.

I hope the Minister of State will forgive me shaving a minute from his response time but he did receive three minutes extra for his opening statement so there may be some balance achieved.