Priority Questions.

National Drugs Strategy.

Michael Ring


1 Deputy Michael Ring asked the Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs the position regarding the development of a national drugs strategy from 2009 to 2016; if a steering group has been nominated to develop the strategy; when it is expected this group will meet; the timescale for the development of the strategy; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5683/08]

My Department has commenced work on the development of the new national drugs strategy for the period 2009 to 2016. I have established a steering group, comprising representatives of the key statutory, community and voluntary interests involved in tackling problem drug use, to make recommendations on a new strategy to me as the responsible Minister. The first meeting of the steering group was held on 10 January.

Over the coming months the steering group will be examining the progress and impact of the current national drugs strategy, the degree to which it continues to be relevant and the operational effectiveness of the structures involved. It will also examine developments regarding drug policies at EU and international levels. Following on from this work, the group will consider how a new strategy should address problem drug use and finalise recommendations to me in that regard.

A comprehensive public consultation process will be undertaken over the coming months as part of the work of developing the new strategy. I intend to be involved directly in many of the consultation meetings that are being planned at present. I also invite the spokespersons from the other parties to participate in that process, whenever they wish.

I intend to bring proposals for a new national drugs strategy to the Cabinet committee on social inclusion, children and integration by the end of the year.

I am delighted the steering group met on 10 January. It is important that the strategy is devised as quickly as possible. When does the Minister of State intend to publish the strategy? Has the Minister of State had meetings, separately, with the Ministers for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Education and Science and Health and Children concerning the drugs strategy? If the Minister of State cannot answer my next question today, I ask him to write to me with the information I seek. What happens to drugs that are seized in this country? People are worried that some of these drugs, for whatever reason, may end up on the streets again. What happens to the drugs? Are they disposed of and who witnesses that disposal? I ask the Minister of State to inform me, the House and many people who are concerned about this matter. There is an enormous amount of drugs in this country, which is creating major problems. I wish to know how seized drugs are disposed of, by whom is such disposal witnessed and what is the usual process.

With regard to the publication of the drugs strategy, the public consultation process and the evaluation, by consultants, of the strengths and weaknesses of the current drugs strategy should be completed by the end of July. I estimate that approximately 30 meetings will take place, in various parts of the country with different interest groups. The draft strategy will then be discussed by the steering group and I would expect it to go before the Cabinet committee on social inclusion, children and integration before the end of the year. I am pressing very hard to ensure that the strategy is published before the end of this year so a new strategy will be in place for 1 January 2009.

Discussions with the Ministers for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Education and Science and Health and Children are ongoing but more formalised discussions will take place as part of the strategy formulation process. I am already in discussions with the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform on a number of issues in areas for which it has responsibility. The Departments of Health and Children and Education and Science are represented at the inter-departmental committee on drugs, which I chair. The next meeting of that committee will take place within three weeks.

The issue of the disposal of drugs was raised recently by way of a written parliamentary question by Deputy Ring's colleague, Deputy Seán Barrett. However, for the benefit of the House and if the Leas-Cheann Comhairle wishes it, I can inform the House of the position as it was outlined to Deputy Barrett.

When drugs come into the possession of the Garda authorities, they are destroyed upon the determination of court proceedings. Drugs classified as controlled in the Schedule of the Misuse of Drugs Act which are seized by members of the Garda Síochána, are destroyed under the supervision of a detective inspector from the Garda technical bureau, following analysis, evidential requirements and the written authorisation of a member of the Garda Síochána, not below the rank of inspector, from the Garda district where the drugs originated. The Garda technical bureau also facilitates destruction of controlled drugs which have been received at the bureau from customs officials, under the supervision of a Garda inspector and with written authorisation from an appropriate customs officer. Each operation is documented and all associated records are maintained by the Garda technical bureau. For security reasons, the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform cannot divulge further details of the disposal logistics.

People are worried and there should be more openness around the way drugs are disposed of in this country. Certain allegations have been made to me and I would like some public input into the way drugs are disposed of.

Many people complained that the last national drugs strategy did not target the people who needed it most. I hope the Minister of State will learn from that because the problem is even more serious now. More people than ever are taking drugs. Those working in the area feel that we were targeting a very limited number of people and that the strategy did not really work. I hope we have learned lessons from the last strategy. We must do more with regard to the targeting of people. We must broaden our horizon on the amount of people taking drugs and not pretend we do not have a problem. We have a serious problem. We probably have the biggest drug problem in Europe.

Yesterday I watched a television programme on BBC which dealt with drugs entering the UK. The authorities undertook an operation that went on for six months. Hundreds of police officers were involved and a massive amount of drugs was seized. They also arrested the people who were supplying the drugs. However, they only caught some of those involved in the trade, which will not stop the drug trafficking. Nevertheless, we must do something like that here.

I will convey to the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform the Deputy's wish that a more open system for the disposal of drugs is put in place.

The Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs, Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív, the Taoiseach and I attended a meeting of the British-Irish Council this morning, which was held in the Royal Hospital in Kilmainham. Attending were representatives from the governments of this jurisdiction, Northern Ireland, Scotland, Wales, England, Guernsey and Jersey. The topic for discussion was drugs, with a focus on how we can support families and communities. In discussions at the plenary session of the council and on the margins, with my counterparts in the other jurisdictions, it emerged that the strategies are very similar across all the administrations. The issues are not dissimilar.

I take on board that we have a serious drugs problem and I have never said that we have not. It is an ongoing challenge and we must have a very robust strategy to counter it. The issue which I am throwing into the mix, for debate, is one which I have referred to consistently since I was appointed, namely, how alcohol misuse must form part of the discussions on the formulation of the next drugs strategy. It is part of the strategy in some of the other jurisdictions and I would like us to at least have an open debate about its incorporation into our national strategy.

Jack Wall


2 Deputy Jack Wall asked the Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs his views on whether the recent welcome seizures of drugs by the Garda, including the seizure of an estimated €10 million worth of cannabis in County Kildare, reflects the continuing widespread availability of and demand for illicit drugs; the steps he plans to take to reduce the demand for drugs in communities; if he is satisfied with the work of the local drug task forces in this regard; if he plans new initiatives to reduce demand; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5688/08]

I welcome the major drugs find in County Kildare, to which the Deputy refers, and congratulate the Garda Síochána on the seizure. I also welcome the recent overall significant level of drugs seizures and associated arrests made by the Garda. I understand that the recent Garda successes are directly attributable to increased law enforcement at all levels, through intelligence-driven operations.

However, it is difficult to know the extent to which these seizures reflect a continuing widespread availability of, and demand for, illicit drugs. While drugs seizures are often interpreted as indicating widespread availability of drugs, no definitive evidence is available to illustrate the degree to which this may be true. Different organisations quote varying percentage relationships between seizures and the overall market, but these are purely estimates, taking little account of improved investigative work, better equipment, such as x-ray scanners and dogs, the planned final destination of drugs that are seized and so on, not to mention the clandestine nature of drug trafficking.

However, I accept that sizable increases in seizures, though welcome in themselves, raise concerns about the amount of illegal drugs getting into the country. The best estimate we have about the changing nature of drug prevalence in our society come from the results of the all-island drugs prevalence survey 2006-07, of which I launched the first bulletin last month.

The survey found that lifetime and recent, that is, in the last year, drug use in the population had increased, though the level of current, that is, in the last month, use was stabilizing. The order of the increase in lifetime use for all drugs from 18.5% to 24% was expected. This is because older people tend to have less exposure to, and usage of, drugs over their lifetimes. Hence, lifetime prevalence rates are likely to increase for a considerable period as the current younger population ages. The increase in recent use, though less marked, is of more concern and emphasises the ongoing challenge we face in tackling illegal drug use in Ireland. I am sure the Deputy will agree that the stabilisation of current use — "last month" use — is to be welcomed. A further key finding of the survey concerned increased use of cocaine, particularly among the 15-34 year age group.

Additional information not given on the floor of the House.

Under the current national drugs strategy, a number of approaches are being taken to address prevention, education and awareness raising in our society. Given the strong correlation between social disadvantage and heroin use, the strategy focuses in particular on the problem of early school leaving in local drugs task force, LDTF, areas. Through a variety of LDTF programmes and the Young People's Facilities and Services Fund, YPFSF, my Department funds activities that complement the work of the Department of Education and Science in respect of early school leaving.

Schools use a skills-based approach with respect to drugs education through both the Walk Tall and the social and personal health education programmes at primary and secondary levels. It is important that students consider the drugs issue and understand the reasons substances are controlled, in particular, the inherent health dangers involved, as well as the associated public order and crime issues. Regarding the diversion of young people from drug use, more than €130 million has been allocated by my Department under the YPFSF to support nearly 500 facilities and services projects in disadvantaged areas aimed at young people, aged ten to 21 years, at risk of drug misuse. Currently, the fund operates in LDTF areas in Dublin, Bray and Cork and in the urban centres of Galway, Limerick, Waterford and Carlow. In this context, the Deputy should note that I intend to expand the operation of the fund to more towns in the coming months.

Overall, I am satisfied with the work of the drugs task forces, both at local and regional levels, in the area of prevention and I will be providing them with additional funding this year to facilitate a regional and local drugs awareness campaign, which will dovetail with the national campaign focusing on cocaine that I launched on Monday last. Illicit drug use is a societal problem and requires more than a Government response. I believe that people must take personal responsibility for their actions and it is vital that all drug users consider fully the negative implications of drug taking for themselves, their families and their communities. Through the implementation of the national drugs strategy and the co-operation of the various Departments and agencies, as well as the community and voluntary sectors, I am confident that we will continue to build on the considerable progress made to date in tackling problem drug use in our country.

I thank the Minister of State for his detailed reply and I wish to be associated with the congratulations offered to the Garda in respect of the recent finds.

The problem in my constituency relates to what one would call drug barons' safehouses. When they live in an area, they create a mechanism whereby drugs can be hidden while being moved in and out of or around the country. What linkage is there between the Departments of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs and Justice, Equality and Law Reform and the Garda in accumulating all of the relevant information? The success of intense surveillance, etc, is obvious. The books of crime correspondents agree on this matter. People can tell where there is a drug baron in a constituency.

What is the next stage? The seizure in question was a perfect example of good policing, but how can it be expanded upon? What linkages are there between the Departments referred to, the Garda and the drug agencies in, for example, County Kildare? Residents are deeply concerned by what is occurring. Given the deaths in Dublin and the number of people who are of the drug baron standard, the question I am asked regularly is when will the same occur in Kildare.

The matter of safehouses to which Deputy Wall referred is of serious concern. In that regard and in respect of other matters, we have been engaging with the Garda at the interdepartmental committee on drugs and elsewhere. The Garda and the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform are represented at the former, which I chair.

The most effective system of policing is the intelligence-driven and intelligence-led operations mounted by the Garda. The Garda drugs unit liaises with local units on the ground to gather local information and is supported by the community, an important part of this issue, so that it can get a profile of these types of drug operations. Recently, and as included in the programme for Government, profiling of lower level operators has been introduced. These are the people to whom the Criminal Assets Bureau might not have paid attention until now and who are now being paid attention at Garda district level. The Garda Commissioner has arranged for the training of officers at district level to ensure they are able to identify the common factors around the major gangs, namely, their lifestyles, the approaches they tend to take and other matters the Garda will not even discuss with me. There are indications that a number of these operations have been successful.

All communities should be aware of the issue of safehouses. Whatever information exists should be passed on to the Garda. Local policing committees, which have been established in co-operation with local authorities and the Garda, comprise a good vehicle for making this type of information available to the Garda so that issues can be pursued.

I agree with the Minister of State regarding policing committees, but something is missing. In the area inside the Wicklow-Kildare-Meath-Louth circumference, there are no community gardaí mixing with the communities. This is an ideal opportunity to put a mechanism in place to determine what can be done. If the Garda does not interact with the people, there will be no interaction at all. We want community gardaí in the area. Through the Minister of State's representations to the Garda and the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, what can be done to determine how to put community policing in place alongside policing committees so that we can ensure all of the information on the drug barons is made available?

Without pre-empting the next strategy, I thank Deputy Wall for raising this matter because more attention must be paid to the arc to which he refers — the Drogheda-Navan-Arklow area. I call them the new commuter towns, those that are within 50 km of Dublin city. The resources provided, including community policing, which has been a significant factor in bettering the situation in areas where improvements have taken place, are the way forward in the newly developed areas to which the Deputy referred. As I stated previously, we will extend the remit of the YPFSF to towns in the region.

Irish Language.

Michael Ring


3 Deputy Michael Ring asked the Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs if the Cabinet level committee established to consider recommendations arising out of the linguistic study of the usage of the Irish language in the Gaeltacht has met [5684/08]

As the Deputy is aware, the Government, having noted the report of the linguistic study on the use of Irish in the Gaeltacht, decided late last year to establish a Cabinet-level committee to consider matters arising in the context of the analysis and recommendations of the report and to agree an integrated action plan to secure the future of Irish as the community language in the Gaeltacht. The first meeting of the committee is scheduled for later this month. In addition, a series of public meetings has been under way in recent weeks regarding the findings of the report and it is expected that the feedback from those meetings will be made available to assist the committee in its deliberations.

Did the Minister state that the committee has not yet met, but that it will meet this month?

I am disappointed. The report was published before Christmas and the House was told that, in light of its recommendations, a Cabinet sub-committee had been set up. I expected the committee to have met, not once, but every week since then given that, the day it was debated in the Dáil, there was such concern regarding the report.

There is a considerable problem in terms of the usage of the Irish language. We are told that the Government is serious about the issue, but if that is the case and the report was published in December, why has the committee still not met by the middle of this month, St. Valentine's Day? This does not show concern or a commitment to the Irish language. When does the Minister expect a decision to be made on the report, when does he expect a strategy to be drawn up, will consultants be hired, how much money was put in place for the strategy and how much of that money will be spent on consultants? I am disappointed, as I believed the committee would have met already.

There was a recent debate across the country, including in my county and in respect of Dingle-Daingean Uí Chúis in County Kerry. What is the Department's opinion? People are concerned, particularly in terms of tourism, about being unable to understand where they are. I have no problem with three quarters of a signpost being in Irish if there is something in English to explain to people where it is they are going.

I do not know whether the second question is relevant. I would suggest——

The Minister could answer it anyway. He rolled out so many, I found it difficult to ask any questions.

I will answer the question if the Deputy wishes me to prioritise it. The situation since 1970 has been that, legally, if one is going to Belmullet, the signpost in Bangor Erris states "Belmullet" whereas the signpost across the Gaeltacht boundary states "Béal an Mhuirthead" while "Belmullet" has disappeared. The Deputy is correct that this has caused significant confusion. In fact, it has caused more confusion in Deputy McGinley's constituency. The problem in Letterkenny was a place named Dungloe ceased to be called that around Glenveagh National Park and began to be called An Clochán Liath. This change made no sense to people and, to put it mildly, was a farce.

What of Baile na nGalloglach?

Sin ceann eile. The problem was since 1970 these placenames were required to be in Irish only due to a legal regulation passed by the then Minister, former Deputy Bobby Molloy. Outside these places their names were in English and Irish and the maps were in English only so if ever there was a recipe for disaster that was it.

I agree with Deputy Ring that this issue must be resolved through rational debate. There is no point in us viewing this Irish problem through Irish eyes because it largely affects foreign tourists and consistency is needed. I have often had to explain to tourists in Connemara that Carraroe is not on signposts there and that it is called An Cheathrú Rua on signposts in the area, despite the fact that maps refer to Carraroe. We all understand Dún Laoghaire in Dublin and we have no problem with Portlaoise because these placenames are consistent on maps and signposts — once the two agree there is no problem. This would also be the case if maps referred to An Cheathrú Rua.

I have previously suggested that if people want to debate this matter in a rational way the best place to do so is the Joint Committee on Arts, Sport, Tourism, Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs. I am more than willing to go through the options, as I did previously, in search of a rational solution. Any person who suggests the 1970 regulations were reasonable from the point of view of tourists did not see them applied in practice.

In answer to the question the Deputy meant to ask, there are two studies and I think he has confused them.

I believe the Minster is both asking and answering questions but he has less than a minute before I ask Deputy Ring to table his final supplementary question.

Does the Deputy seek an answer on the matter of a timeframe?

One issue is the preparation of a national, 20-year strategy for the Irish language and the other is an Staidéir Teangeolaíochta ar Úsáid na Gaeilge sa Ghaeltacht, the linguistic study. We intend to have made decisions on both of these by the end of the year. No more consultants will be hired for the linguistic study as we have already paid consultants for that but, regarding the 20-year strategy, we will pay for consultants with international expertise. It is logical to treat the Irish language inside and outside the Gaeltacht as one and produce a common answer. There was a meeting of Foras na Gaeilge yesterday and I said no matter how slow the start is the finish line is fixed. This matter will be concluded not later than 31 December 2008.

Regarding the report, the Minister spoke of the promotion of the Irish language and its regeneration in the Gaeltacht. Can the Minister explain how the Minister for Education and Science, Deputy Mary Hanafin, will have English taught in Gaeltacht areas? It seems the Minister for Education and Science seeks to have part of the curriculum in gaelscoileanna taught through English. How does this fit in with Deputy Ó Cuív's policy?

That question goes well beyond the scope of the Deputy's original question and is more appropriate for the Minister for Education and Science.

I think the Minister will answer.

If the Minister cannot restrain himself he may give an answer.

I cannot restrain myself and would hate to disappoint my good colleague from Mayo.

I knew the Minister would answer, fair play to him.

The linguistic study of the Gaeltacht makes some radical proposals regarding education and these, along with the other proposals, will be considered by the Cabinet sub-committee. It is too early to say what decisions will be made.

Staidéar Teangeolaíochta ar Úsáid na Gaeilge.

Dinny McGinley


4 D’fhiafraigh Deputy Dinny McGinley den Aire Gnóthaí Pobail, Tuaithe agus Gaeltachta an eol dó an míshásamh mór atá ar phobal Rann na Feirste go bhfuil siad curtha isteach i gcatagóir B sa Staidéar Cuimsitheach Teangeolaíochta ar úsáid na Gaeilge sa Ghaeltacht; an aontaíonn an tAire é féin gur i gcatagóir A ba chóir do Rann na Feirste a bheith, ceantar atá chomh saibhir ó thaobh Gaeilge, litríochta agus cultúir de; agus an gcuirfidh sé ina luí ar chathaoirleach an chomhchoiste aireachta agus orthu siúd uile gur i gcatagóir A ba cheart do Rann na Feirste a bheith; agus an ndéanfaidh sé ráiteas ina thaobh. [5099/08]

Mar atá a fhios ag an Teachta, cuimsíonn an tuarascáil chríochnaitheach seo torthaí taighde an Staidéir Theangeolaigh ar Úsáid na Gaeilge sa Ghaeltacht. Cuirtear anailís agus faisnéis ar fáil sa tuarascáil a thugann léargas chomh cruinn agus is féidir ar úsáid na Gaeilge sa Ghaeltacht chomhaimseartha. Moltar go dtabharfar aitheantas do phobail Ghaeltachta de réir catagóir A, B, nó C. Bhainfeadh catagóir A le pobail go bhfuil breis agus 67% d'imeachtaí an phobail i gcoitinne tré mheán na Gaeilge. Bhainfeadh catagóir B le pobail go bhfuil idir 44%-66% d'imeachtaí an phobail tré mheán na Gaeilge. Is pobail i gcoitinne comhdhéanta de ghréasáin éagsúla Gaeilge a bheadh i gceist le catagóir C.

Tá cinneadh glactha ag an Rialtas coiste ag leibhéal comh-aireachta a bhunú chun breathnú ar shaincheisteanna a thagann chun cinn i gcomhthéacs na hanailíse agus na moltaí atá sa tuarascáil. Tuigim an díomá atá ar phobal Rann na Feirste faoin mholadh atá déanta maidir lena gceantar féin ach, mar a chuir mé in iúl le déanaí, is moltaí amháin atá déanta sa tuarascáil. Níl cinneadh déanta ag an Rialtas maidir le aon mholadh sa tuarascáil ag an bpointe seo.

Mo bhuíochas don Aire as an freagra sin. Tá lúcháir orm go dtuigeann an tAire an míshasamh atá ar phobal Rann na Feirste — chuala mé é ar Raidió na Gaeltachta — go bhfuil siad curtha isteach i gcatagóir B. Ní shílim go bhfuil ceantar Gaeltachta eile sa tír a bhfuil an saibhreas cainte, Gaeilge agus cultúrtha acu agus atá ag ceantar Rann na Feirste.

Tá súil maith agam go bhfuil ceist ag teacht.

Nuair a cuimhním ar cheantar Rann na Feirste, cuimhním ar an Bhlascaod, scríbhneoirí, ceoltóirí, stiallaithe, seanchaithe, rinceoirí agus mar sin de. Cad is féidir a dhéanamh ag an bpointe seo le déanamh cinnte go mbeidh Rann na Feirste san áit is dual dó a bheith, is é sin i gcatagóir A, mar is áit é Rann na Feirste ina éiríonn le 97% de na daltaí scoile scéim labhartha na Gaeilge a bhaint amach? Ní shílim go bhfuil scoil eile sa tír a bhfuil céatadán níos mó ann. Cad is féidir a dhéanamh chun Rann na Feirste a chur isteach i gcatagóir A? Tá coláistí Gaeilge, turasóirí Gaeilge leis na cianta i Rann na Feirste agus dá bhrí sin, cén fáth nach féidir leis dul i gcatagóir A seachas catagóir B? An féidir é a bhunadh ar cheantar scoile in ionad teorann cheantair?

Tá nós agam nuair a bhfaighim tuarascáil gan cur isteach ar an tuarascáil sin. Tá nós agam freisin gan a rá riamh go nglacfaidh mé glan le moltaí na tuarascála. Sa chás seo, beidh siad á scrúdú ag coiste comh-aireachta. Tá go leor moltaí sa tuarascáil seo, cuid acu atá thar a bheith réasúnta, ciallmhar agus stuama agus cuid eile anonn is anall a bhféadfainn locht a fháil orthu.

Tá an coiste comh-aireachta le breathnú ar seo ar an gcéad dul síos. Más rud é go nglactar leis an gcur chuige seo maidir le catagóirí A, B agus C, caithfear dul ansin agus reachtaíocht a thabhairt isteach. Dá dtabharfainn reachtaíocht isteach, bheadh orainn é a phlé sa Dáil. Má tharlaíonn sin, beidh dóthain ama agus deise ag an Teachta a chás a dhéanamh. Is fada uaidh sin muid ag an bpointe seo. Ní féidir liomsa a rá an bhfuil nó nach bhfuil muid ag glacadh leis an moladh áirithe sin sa tuarascáil, fiú faoi catagóirí A, B agus C, mar bheadh sin ag dul roimh obair an choiste chomh-aireachta.

De réir mar a thuigim, séard a tharla anseo ná gur roghnaigh siad toghrann ceantair agus sin atá san áireamh. Chomh maith le sin, caithfear breathnú ar an tuarascáil. Don dream sin atá buartha faoi chatagóirí A, B agus C, caithfidh siad breathnú ar an tuarascáil agus a rá cén difear a dhéanann sé bheith i gcatagóir A, B nó C. De réir mar a thuigim a bheidh i gceist ná an cur chuige pleanála a bheidh i gceist. Ach, mar a dúirt mé, is fada uaidh sin atá muid.

Os rud é go bhfuil Rann na Feirste i gcatagóir B, téann sin ina luí ar an phobal taobh amuigh a thugann cuairt ar an Ghaeltacht. Freisin, an féidir leis an Aire réiteach a dhéanamh le údair na tuarascála castáil le coiste athshlánú Rann na Feirste agus iad a chur ar a suaimhneas agus míniú a thabhairt dóibh?

Níl aon fheidhm ag údair na tuarascála. Tá an tuarascáil curtha ar fáil. An t-aon rud a rinne na húdair ná cruinnuithe a eagrú le heolas a thabhairt do dhaoine céard atá sa tuarascáil. Ní fhéadfaidís é a athrú anois mar tá an tuarascáil críochnaithe agus faighte. Mar a deirim, níl ann ach tuarascáil. Caithfidh muid oibriú ar anois agus déanfaimid sin. Maidir le coláiste Gaeilge agus rudaí mar sin, tugaim faoi deara go bhfuil Corr na Móna i gcatagóir C, cé go bhfuil coláiste Gaeilge den scoth ann agus tarraingt na ngasúr air. Ní cheapaim go gcuirfidh an tuarascáil isteach ná amach ar choláistí Gaeilge.

Drug Treatment Programmes.

Catherine Byrne


5 Deputy Catherine Byrne asked the Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs the steps he is taking to alleviate the situation which has resulted in more than 9,000 people being on the methadone treatment scheme in Dublin city alone; the way he proposes to deal with the fact that methadone is leading to the deaths of more addicts than heroin; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5685/08]

At 31 December 2007, a total of 8,595 people were recorded on the central methadone treatment list prepared by the Drug Treatment Centre Board. This is the national register of those in receipt of methadone and records the number in treatment nationwide. The register covers the four Health Service Executive regions, including those in treatment in prisons and directly through the Drug Treatment Centre Board. A breakdown of the number of people in receipt of methadone in Dublin city is not available but it is accepted that a large proportion of the overall number comes from the greater Dublin area.

I do not accept the assertion that methadone leads to more deaths than heroin and there is no evidence to support the claim. Studies of opiate related deaths reported to the coroner in 1999 indicated that most such fatalities involved a combination of drugs. The national drug related death index being prepared by the alcohol and drug research unit of the Health Research Board will provide a national estimate of the role of methadone in drug related deaths. The index for the period from 1998 to 2005 is being finalised and will be published in the coming months.

At the same time, methadone is an opiate and I accept the danger from it is significant. It is vital it is taken under medical supervision with regular testing, whether in a clinical or community setting. The introduction some years ago of the methadone protocol to manage the distribution of methadone and minimise the risk of diversion has been largely successful. However, we must continue to work to minimise the diversion of methadone for onward sale.

While methadone has brought significant life improvements for many, I am committed to empowering people to access the social, economic and cultural benefits of life in line with their needs and aspirations through the implementation of the recommendations of the report of the working group on drugs rehabilitation in line with the programme for Government.

I thank the Minister of State and welcome the figures he provided. Unfortunately, I am not surprised by his reply. More people on the methadone treatment programme are dying than ever before. It does not make a difference whether 8,000 or 9,000 people are on the methadone treatment list because those taking the substance are in the middle of a life sentence. One can spend upwards of nine years on methadone.

The Minister of State and I recently visited a project in Bluebell where many people have been on the methadone treatment programme for several years. They are trying to get their lives back and hope to be free from drugs some day.

The Deputy should ask a question.

In the context of a new national drugs strategy for the period from 2009 to 2020, what programmes will be introduced to reduce the large number of people on methadone treatment programmes and give them hope that they will be able to avail of the 36 beds in the detoxification units? These beds cannot be used because they are not clean.

To a certain extent, the Deputy almost answered the question she raised. We need to establish a variety of treatment options which are appropriate on medical grounds. Methadone should not be a life sentence and options should be available to allow people to leave the programme. These options include detoxification and medical alternatives such as suboxone and naloxone currently under exploration.

I discussed this issue with my colleagues on the margins of the British-Irish Council meeting this morning. We are all taking the same action on medical and clinical grounds. We must be able to offer to clients on methadone options which enable them to stop using the substance. Not everyone is ready to stop taking methadone.

I attended a conference yesterday organised by the Ballymun drugs task force at which two experts from Scotland noted that some people had become addicted to methadone. We should not inflict this life sentence on anyone. I am determined to ensure, as far as possible, that options, including detoxification, are available and the commitment to increase detox beds contained in the programme for Government is met. To this end, the Department is in discussions with the voluntary sector and Health Service Executive.

Time is running out for many people and a proper programme must be put in place immediately. The Minister of State pointed out that these steps will be taken in future but every day young people in our communities are becoming addicted to all types of drugs. In five or six years they will be placed on methadone treatment programmes and will probably continue on methadone until they reach their 30s and 40s. The Minister of State must listen to pleas to take immediate action on detoxification facilities.

The report of the mid-term review of the national drugs strategy, commonly known as the Rehab report, was published last May. Its recommendations form part of the programme for Government. As I indicated, I am determined to ensure the essential continuum of care is available. I started this process this year in the allocations I made to a number of projects and will continue with this approach for the rest of this year and, I hope, into the next phase of the strategy.