Other Questions

National Drugs Strategy

Catherine Byrne

Ceist:

6 Deputy Catherine Byrne asked the Minister for Justice; Equality and Law Reform his views on the recently published Europol EMCDDA report on the cocaine market; his further views on the rise in cocaine seizures here; the way he is working to tackle this problem; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18974/10]

The recently published joint study of Europol and the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction, EMCDDA, on the cocaine market is very useful in providing insight into how cocaine is produced and trafficked into the European Union and in highlighting the scale of the problem in Europe. The report also refers to some of the specific supply reduction initiatives that have been developed at European level in response to such trafficking. The Maritime Analysis and Operational Centre, MAOC-N, of which Ireland is a founding and active member is one such focused initiative which has the specific objective of intercepting narcotic shipments, in particular cocaine, to the European Union from Latin America, and the value of its work has already been clearly demonstrated.

The Europol-EMCDDA study shows the scale of cocaine use in Europe, that such activity is by no means unique to Ireland and that the overall problem of drug misuse remains one of the most complex social ills faced globally. In terms of the Irish drug seizure and prevalence data referred to in the report, I have been advised by the Office of the Minister for Drugs that the data used to compile the report relate to 2001 to 2007. In common with many other European countries, our cocaine seizures and prevalence increased over that period, but the latest available data show a decrease in the volume of cocaine being seized here and that the numbers presenting for treatment in respect of cocaine use have stabilised in the last two years.

This is not to suggest in any way that I am complacent about addressing the problem. Efforts to tackle the issue of cocaine and other drug misuse have been broadly based to include measures aimed at both supply and demand reduction. A range of measures is being delivered by the Government and agencies, drug task forces and community-based projects to tackle the problem. Specifically, on the law enforcement side, drugs and organised crime are being prioritised by the Garda Síochána as a core focus for 2010, through the Commissioner's policing plan, which reflects Government strategies contained in our drugs strategy. Drugs units are in place in every Garda division which works in partnership with the Garda national drugs unit in tackling and targeting drug-related crime. Divisional and district policing plans also reflect the focus of the national policing plan in terms of drugs law enforcement.

However, it is clear we cannot tackle the problem of drug misuse through law enforcement measures alone. As set out in the Government's new interim national drugs strategy for the period 2009 to 2016, it is vital to address the problem in a co-ordinated way across the pillars of supply reduction, prevention, treatment, rehabilitation and research. I assure the Deputy that my Department, and all the agencies under its aegis, remain fully committed to this approach and to the implementation of the strategy.

I thank the Minister for his reply. We do not need statistics to tell us how much cocaine is on the streets; one need only walk around this city or the streets of one's own community. Cocaine has no boundaries as a recreational drug. For many young people it is their weekend pick-me-up, mixed with alcohol and other substances. It is causing devastation in communities throughout this city. What struck me about the report was that we only have statistics up to 2007. Where are the data for 2008, 2009 and thus far in 2010?

Does the Deputy have a question?

Yes. The report also shows that cocaine use is more prevalent in Ireland that in other countries. How does the Minister propose to prevent the illegal importation of the drug with one patrol boat and limited customs checks in a small number of areas? We are fighting a losing battle because we do not have adequate resources in place. The Minister referred to community-based projects. If any further funding is taken from projects in my community, the system will fall apart and many more people will end up addicted to drugs.

The Deputy is correct that the figures provided in this report are out of date. However, data available in the national drug treatment reporting system show that in 2008, 775 cases were reported for treatment where cocaine was indicated as the chief drug dependency, five more than in 2007. During the Celtic tiger years, there is no doubt that cocaine became a recreational drug for many people who would not normally be part of the drugs scene. The Deputy will be well aware from her own constituency of the problems that arise from addiction to cocaine.

The Government has put considerable resources into enforcement of the law, and hardly a day goes by that the Garda does not intercept a drug shipment. As I said, we are part of the MAOC-N project, at a cost of €70,000, and have several officials in Lisbon. We are part of the maritime operation there in collaboration with other countries, and it has been very successful in stopping large shipments of drugs, including cocaine, coming into this and other countries on the western side of Europe. It is interesting that the data from this report indicate that cocaine usage is far greater on the western side. Perhaps it is to do with proximity to the sea and Latin America. The other reason may be the relatively greater affluence of countries on the western side of Europe as compared with the eastern side.

I appreciate the Minister's frank answer. Yesterday I stood in a church with several hundred people who had buried their children because of drug addiction. I listened to the archbishop of Dublin appealing to public representatives and the Government to raise the bar in terms of efforts to combat drug addiction and in terms of drug seizures. If we cannot do that, there is no hope for the people in Dublin 12, 10 and 8.

I assure the Deputy that while there are fewer resources generally, we will not take our foot off the pedal in regard to enforcement. That is the responsibility I have through the Garda Síochána. I am sure I speak also for the Revenue Commissioners in that respect. Action is being taken on a multi-agency basis. Ultimately, however, it is not just about enforcement but also about addressing demand. Demand has declined in middle class communities because of reduced resources. However, we are conscious that usage remains high in some communities. We have done much in terms of helping communities such as those in Deputy Byrne's constituency to deal with these issues. Unfortunately, we must manage with fewer resources into the future.

What is the Minister's assessment of the dial to stop drug dealing campaign? Is he aware that it is being starved of funding? I spoke to the Minister responsible, Deputy Pat Carey, today. I understand that announcements will be made in the near future on the matter, which will be positive.

State Laboratories

Damien English

Ceist:

7 Deputy Damien English asked the Minister for Justice; Equality and Law Reform the number of recommendations made by a person (details supplied) in relation to the State’s forensic science laboratory facility that have yet to be implemented; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19418/10]

In 2006 Professor Ingvar Kopp, the former head of the Swedish Forensic Science Laboratory, was engaged by my Department to review the resource needs of the Forensic Science Laboratory and his report was published in January 2008.

His review has been of immense value to the laboratory's modernisation process. It has contributed greatly to the mapping out of the future development of the State's forensic science analysis service, especially in the area of DNA analysis. Overall, the review found that the laboratory compares well in terms of productivity with similar forensic science laboratories in other jurisdictions and that effective quality control mechanisms are in place.

The primary recommendations of the review include the construction of a new modern laboratory built to world-class standards, the establishment of a sophisticated DNA database to meet national and international obligations and to greatly up-skill our domestic response to detecting and prosecuting crime, and the provision of improved technical, professional and administrative staffing resources.

Considerable progress is being made in the implementation of the recommendations. For example, 12 new forensic scientists and 14 new laboratory analysts have been recruited. Further administrative staff, including an assistant principal IT manager, have been assigned to the laboratory. The overall authorised staffing complement of the laboratory has increased by more than 30 posts since December 2006. This substantial extension of the Forensic Science Laboratory's capacity represents an increase of almost 50% in approved staffing.

Planning for the implementation of the DNA database is continuing, although the database cannot be established until the legislation that is currently before this House is enacted. I have allocated €4.1 million to facilitate the development of the database——

I have allocated €4.1 million.

Work is under way to provide as a priority a new purpose-built facility for the Forensic Science Laboratory. Deputies will be aware that the site is located at the Backweston Complex in Kildare adjacent to the State Laboratory and to the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food's Agrilabs. This world-class state-of-the-art facility is a major public investment and will facilitate the effective operation of the criminal justice system — including the DNA database — for many generations to come.

The Office of Public Works is managing the delivery of the project on behalf of my Department, and I am advised that a Part 9 planning application for the new facility is currently with Kildare County Council. It is expected that the tender for construction phase will commence in the coming months with a view to work starting on the site around the end of the year.

I have kept a close eye on the project, and the OPW has the resources in its current budget to begin it once the tenders come through.

I impress on the Minister the importance of proceeding with the project, with particular reference to organised crime and so-called gangland activities in Dublin and beyond. The Minister referred to resources, and I welcome the fact that those have been set aside.

The Minister mentioned appointments. He will be aware that Professor Kopp recommended 40 new posts at the State Forensic Laboratory. I know that 20 have been approved——

Thirty have been approved?

No — Professor Kopp said 30.

So ten posts remain. My understanding is that he said 40. A full quota is needed if the DNA database is to be operable.

I ask the Minister to comment on remarks by Professor Kopp to the effect that one in three DNA and drug samples sent for testing by the Gardaí was not being processed. He concluded that crime detection was suffering as a result, which is a fairly obvious conclusion. He also remarked that Garda intelligence in vital areas was being lost. What steps are being taken to ensure the drug samples sent for testing are all being processed?

My understanding is that he recommended 30 posts, and we have more than 30 extra people, which is a 50% increase in the staffing complement in a short time. This is a good story, because the resources were put in place, and so many staff were employed that they had to move out into an extended location. It is a good thing that so many people are working in the laboratory, albeit in two locations. That is why we need a new location.

On the issue of examination by the Garda, Professor Kopp was dealing with the historical issue. There has been big investment in the past two years, and I am not aware of any problems.

My Department has taken a hit in other soft areas, as they are known, for which the Deputy has criticised me in the House. However, I make no apology for targeting the resources I have as much as possible on the fight against crime, which is one reason I have ensured that substantial resources are available to the Forensic Science Laboratory.

Controlled Drug Sales

Aengus Ó Snodaigh

Ceist:

8 Deputy Aengus Ó Snodaigh asked the Minister for Justice; Equality and Law Reform the steps that are being taken in advance of the ban on mephedrone and various other substances coming into effect including whether head shop owners and other distributors are being asked to hand over the substance prior to the ban taking effect [19654/10]

Head shops have been exploiting the availability of potentially dangerous products and undermining the existing legal framework by the sale of substances which are not regulated but have the same effects as controlled drugs such as cannabis or cocaine. As part of a multi-pronged approach targeting the activities of head shops, the Government made two important decisions earlier this week.

The primary vehicles for regulating psychoactive substances are the Misuse of Drugs Acts, 1977 and 1984. Accordingly, the Government made an order declaring certain substances, including mephedrone, to be controlled drugs for the purposes of the 1977 Act. The Minister for Health and Children has made the necessary statutory instruments to control these substances, which include the mainstream of psychoactive substances being sold in head shops. The instruments make the possession and sale of these substances illegal and subject to criminal sanctions and they can be dealt with using all the powers available under the Misuse of Drugs Act.

However our experience with head shops has shown that new psychoactive substances can appear with little notice. These can be exploited by suppliers who make them available without regard to the well-being of individuals or society at large before they are subject to regulation. I believe that the public safety issues are too serious to allow such a situation to arise again.

Accordingly, the Government has approved my proposals for a general criminal justice response to deal with the supply of new psychoactive substances as they emerge, which will operate in addition to the Misuse of Drugs acts controls. The Criminal Justice (Psychoactive Substances) Bill, which the Government has approved for drafting as a matter of priority, will bring the full force of the criminal justice system to bear down on the activities of head shops or any other supplier engaged in the sale of unregulated psychoactive substances.

Under the proposed Bill, I am providing that the sale or supply of unregulated psychoactive substances for human consumption will be a criminal offence. In addition, I intend to give appropriate powers to the Garda and to the courts to intervene quickly in a non-criminal procedure to prevent the sale of such products by way of appropriate prohibition orders. The Bill will also contain full search and seizure powers for the Garda Síochána and the Office of the Revenue Commissioners.

I welcome the recent announcement on the banning of certain products. I also welcome the Minister's announcement that he will present to the House legislation on psychoactive substances.

Will the Minister agree that the failure to respond for such a long time to the threat posed by products being sold in head shops allowed demand to be created, and allowed the emergence of a far wider customer base than simply those people who would normally be attracted to that type of product? Does he agree that that has resulted in the development of drug dependencies by those who might otherwise not have engaged with that type of substance misuse?

What steps were taken in advance of the ban, which came into effect this week, to prevent the likes of mephedrone and snow going directly on to the black market? In England and Wales, local government officials were contacting head shops to seek their stocks of substances well in advance of the ban taking effect. Was that the case in Ireland? Has the Garda, since the ban came into effect, ensured that the products are not on sale? Has it raided warehouses where mephedrone has been stockpiled, for instance? To my knowledge, mephedrone is transferred by head shop owners to Ireland.

I have a final supplementary question——

I will call the Deputy again.

I assure the Deputy that the Government has taken the matter very seriously for the past few months. We have been working as fast as we can. It is a complex area. We considered the experience in the UK, particularly regarding the way in which the matter was dealt with there, as the UK has grappled with the problem. We are intending to chase a moving target, which is why we need a belt-and-braces approach. As soon as we ban a certain substance, new substances come on-stream.

I am under no illusion that although a lot of the head shops have closed, some are continuing to trade, and an effort will be made somewhere in this country to bring in new products that are not on the banned list. That is why the Government decided it needed to examine this matter both generally and specifically. That work will continue and I hope to be able to publish the legislation within the next week or so. This is subject to the views of the Attorney General.

It is not an easy issue to address because we do not want to introduce a ban with unintended consequences, such as the banning of medicinal products, food products, tobacco products or poisons. We must be very careful in that respect. We are subject to the EU technical standards directive but we have got over this, as evident from the recent announcement.

With regard to the Deputy's question on the Garda Síochána and co-ordination, I thank the Garda Commissioner and his team, particularly Deputy Commissioner Callanan, who drove this initiative. As of 11 a.m. this morning, the Garda was working on a list of 102 head shops nationally, some of which were more prominent than others or perhaps of an underground nature. Sixty-six of these have now been closed and banned substances have been handed to the Garda. Thirty-six remain open but have handed over banned substances and claim their businesses now relate only to non-banned substances. Three distribution centres were visited and they also handed over banned substances and claim their businesses now relate only to non-banned substances. The shops and distribution centres remaining open will be monitored closely to ensure their activities are within the law. The Garda does not yet have a figure for the weight of the substances handed over but the best estimate is that they would amount to at least three large truckloads.

Reference was made this morning to the advertising, by way of leaflets in some areas, of mail ordering and phone ordering of banned substances. I encourage the Minister to ask the Garda authorities to pay special attention to any such activity, which is now a criminal offence.

When will the remainder of the dangerous legal highs be dealt with? Is it a matter of waiting for the legislation? There are 13 substances, called cathenones, and 37 chemicals, called pyrovalerones, that remain to be dealt with. They are still for sale.

The Minister mentioned the fact that the Garda is chasing a moving target and that the Chinese laboratories are producing one substance per fortnight. I welcome the announcement that the Bill will be available within a week or two. Is the Minister confident that it can be passed by the summer or will it take longer?

It is definitely our wish. Drafting has been prioritised and the Office of the Attorney General is aware that the Bill must be passed before the summer recess. I hope we can publish the Bill in the next week or so.

The definition of "psychoactive substance" is the one that is causing the most difficulty. One must ensure substances for normal use are not banned. It is intended to refer the Bill, when ready, to the Commission to get its approval under the technical standards directive. We will be using the emergency procedure in this regard. Given that we already obtained consent on the emergency procedure regarding the existing products, I believe we will succeed in obtaining approval.

With regard to other products, the Department of Health and Children is considering the specific issues to which the Deputy referred. The products banned in the past couple of days are some of the most significant on sale.

The mushrooming — if that is not an inappropriate word in this context — of the establishments in question happened over the past nine or ten months in particular. While the Minister says this is a complex issue, the decisions taken in the past week were proffered on the Government over those months, the point being that an entire new generation of children has been seduced into the drugs business in the belief that because certain substances were on sale on the high street, some kind of approval was conferred on them and that they were legal and not harmful. The children's habit will now be fed by the drug barons, who will have a new market.

What does the Minister say to the proposition that it is the drug barons who have been involved in burning down some of the head shops, including some in his constituency? Is there a turf war to win the new market that has been built up over the past year, during which time the Government might have proceeded with more haste to cut off that possibility?

The Deputy does not give the young people of our State enough credit. They comprise a discerning group and the vast majority know that the substances on sale in the head shops are not substances that any normal, right-thinking person would want to take. However, of course there are youngsters who have entered head shops and who have become hooked on the substances on sale. That is a source of regret. The existing legislation was not sufficient because this was a new phenomenon. I understand the UK authorities announced the ban on mephedrone without obtaining approval of the Commission within three months. Therefore, the authorities would not be able to ground any prosecutions they would take. We have the confirmation and did use the emergency procedure because we regarded this matter as extremely urgent.

The Garda has been very conscious of the allegation that there is an element burning the head shops because they are bad for the business of the former. The Garda has been very active in investigating the burning and attacking of head shops and I understand a number of prosecutions may very well be taken in that respect.

With regard to Deputy Ó Snodaigh's point, a number of prosecutions for reckless endangerment were already taken and the cases are before the DPP. Existing legislation was being used, even before the most recent events.

I pledge the support of the Fine Gael Party to the Minister's forthcoming legislation and agree with him that it is in the interest of us all to have this matter dealt with by way of legislation by the summer recess. Is he satisfied that the Garda has been sufficiently resourced to deal with this issue? I refer in particular to the changing composition of the various substances. Is the Minister satisfied sufficient training is available for gardaí to facilitate their identification of the substances involved?

Absolutely. The Garda carried out raids on head shops previously and was in some instances successful in seizing some products. In other instances, it entered head shops and found there was nothing illegal under the current legislation. It was able to visit up to 106 head shops nationally within 24 hours of the Government obtaining consent from the Commission. That was no coincidence and was co-ordinated with the Government. I thank the Garda for this.

The substances that have been impounded or taken will be analysed and if there are prosecutions to be taken, they will be taken. The important point is to ensure that no new potentially psychoactive products are made available for sale. If they are, we must deal with them, be it specifically or more generally under the proposed new legislation. We must ensure the head shops that continue in operation, and the distribution centres for head shops, have no banned substances therein.

Garda Strength

Róisín Shortall

Ceist:

9 Deputy Róisín Shortall asked the Minister for Justice; Equality and Law Reform the number of applications received during 2009 for applications for early retirement from members of the Gardaí, broken down by rank; the way this compares with each year from 2002; the number of applications received in 2010 to date; his views of reports that a significant number of senior Gardaí are planning to take early retirement; the implications of such retirements for policing; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19607/10]

The numbers of applications received from 2002 to 2009 for retirement from the Garda Síochána are set out in the following table. The figures show that there was a significant increase in retirements in 2009. One factor in this may have been the three-year increase in the retirement age for members at the rank of garda in 2006, which had the effect of deferring some retirements until 2009. The rate of retirement has since slowed, with approximately 80 applications — a relatively low figure — for early retirement received so far this year. It must be remembered that there has been a considerable increase in Garda resources in recent years, with the number of attested gardaí rising from 11,895 at the end of 2002 and 13,755 at the end of 2007 to 14,547 at the end of 2009. The Deputies opposite will agree that there has been a substantial increase. Some 900 student gardaí became attested in 2009, which was almost double the number of gardaí who retired that year. There have been more attestations in 2010. There are over 2,000 civilian support staff in the Garda Síochána, which represents an increase of over 300 on the start of 2008.

While the moratorium on appointments and promotions applies generally to the Garda Síochána, I have continued to seek to obtain the sanction of the Minister for Finance for a number of promotions at all ranks. I recently secured agreement for the filling of 12 chief superintendent posts, 22 superintendent posts, 28 inspector posts and 120 sergeant posts. The Garda Commissioner is closely monitoring the level of Garda strength around the country, taking into account the level of retirements and recent attestations of students. I will continue to consult my colleague, the Minister for Finance, on the question of when a resumption of Garda recruitment will be necessary to keep Garda numbers at approved levels. My priority is to maintain Garda operational strength. A necessary step will be a competition to establish a panel of approved candidates. As I recently indicated, I believe this should take place later this year.

Applications for Early Retirement from the Garda Síochána

Year

Deputy Commissioner

Assistant Commissioner

Chief Superintendent

Superintendent

Inspector

Sergeant

Garda

2002

2

6

9

48

168

2003

1

6

39

201

2004

2

4

6

66

244

2005

2

8

10

62

202

2006

3

8

9

54

162

2007

7

6

36

128

2008

1

1

2

13

52

174

2009

1

14

25

29

177

474

Total

1

2

23

61

88

534

1,753

Can I ask the Minister if he or his Department anticipates that the same rate of exodus that happened in 2009 will happen again in 2010? Is the Department contemplating additional measures, such as an increase in the retirement age? Given the slowdown and stoppage in recruitment, what will Templemore be engaged with for the remainder of this calendar year? Can I ask the Minister to comment on the disquiet in the ranks of the Garda Síochána? Can he give Dáil Éireann his response to the remarkable speech at a conference of the Garda Representative Association? There must be serious disquiet throughout the ranks of the Garda Síochána to cause a speech like that to be made at a Garda conference.

I have given the figures for retirements. There have been 80 retirements so far this year. If that rate continues, the annual rate for this year will be below the normal rate. We have prepared for approximately 400 retirements over the course of this year. That would be the normal level. There were approximately 700 retirements last year, when particular circumstances prevailed. The successful conclusion of the Croke Park deal is one of the issues that will be on the minds of gardaí when they think about whether to retire. It behoves political parties in this House to indicate where they stand in relation to the deal. We know where Deputy Rabbitte stands on the deal — I understand he supports it — but funnily enough, we do not know where his party leader stands. It is clear that the issue of pensions and gratuities was the main driving force behind the inordinate level of retirements last year. It is obvious that the gardaí are not that exercised by it at present. If Deputy Rabbitte supports the deal, I suggest he should tell his party leader to get off the fence, for all our sakes. It is an important matter. I do not accept the suggestion that politicians should not involve themselves in this issue. That is a cop-out.

Templemore will continue to be used to bring students through. A number of students are still going through Templemore. It is used not only to train student gardaí, but to facilitate the lifelong learning and constant retraining of gardaí. It was redeveloped at a cost of millions of euro over recent years to ensure that gardaí continue to receive retraining, as required, throughout their careers.

I accept that disquiet is expressed at all conferences of parties, representative associations and trade unions. I have my views on such conferences. I do not accept the words that were expressed. In fairness to the vast majority of Members of the Oireachtas, including Deputy Rabbitte, they do not think it is right for members of our police force, which has a special position under our Constitution, to utter the type of phrases that were used. On a personal basis, I would not countenance anyone accusing me of corruption, nor should I expect——

That is not the case.

I do not think anyone accused the Minister of corruption.

The very people who are charged with investigating corruption in our society——

They may have identified someone from the Minister's party, who spent some time——

They are saying the Government has been corrupted by years of power.

Does the Minister have any plans to meet the GRA? I assume he does.

My door is always open.

Written Answers follow Adjournment Debate.