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.