Saincheisteanna Tráthúla - Topical Issue Debate

Post Office Network

I welcome the opportunity to raise this important matter with the Minister. I want him to halt the relocation of the post office in Mountmellick from O'Connell Square to Connolly Street. The relocation will have a huge impact on the town centre. It is not just in Mountmellick that this happening; it is also being done in Thurles, where the post office is being moved from Liberty Square to a shopping centre on the outer fringes of the town. Its current location adjacent to the square is perfect and there is loads of parking available. I have never driven into that square and been unable to find a parking space. The square is suitable for pedestrians, particularly elderly people who would have to travel from the likes of Wolfe Tone Court, Emmett Terrace, Chapel Street, Twomey Terrace and other parts of the town.

An Post has stated that it is making this move to provide a modern service and that moving to a new location means it can provide more facilities. I am of the view that it could have modernised the existing service on offer in the current post office - because there is loads of space there - rather than taking the option of moving to another premises. There are also other options available on the square in Mountmellick. There are other retailers there that have substantial floor space available and that are willing to take this on.

The Government makes many claims and makes much play of putting the heart back in town centres and regenerating our small and medium-sized towns. I welcome this as a good policy and Sinn Féin supports it. However, what we have here is that one arm of Government is effectively doing and saying one thing while the other, namely, the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment through An Post, is doing the complete opposite. The irony is that An Post is using money provided by the Government for the modernisation programme to carry out these so-called modernisation moves and, as a result, the taxpayer is funding the destruction of town centres such as that in Mountmellick.

I want this to halt. I want the Minister to press the pause button on this so that it can be looked at in more detail and scrutinised. He should not allow what is proposed to proceed immediately in its current form.

I welcome the opportunity to raise this important issue for the town of Mountmellick. On Friday last at 3.22 p.m. I received an email from An Post confirming that it had moved the post office and that it was sending me the notice that it had already issued to the local media. This is an awful way to treat members of the public and their elected representatives. The post office was in this location for 114 years. It is a large and substantial premises in the town centre. There are other large and substantial premises, supermarkets and big shops in the immediate vicinity and my real question is whether these were all examined before the decision was taken to move the post office to an out-of-town supermarket.

Day in and day out we hear that the Government has a policy in respect of towns and villages and maintaining town centres. It is not just one arm of the Government doing one thing and the other arm doing something else. The same arm of the Government is doing both and it is effectively speaking out of both sides of its mouth when it gives a commitment to protecting main streets and town centres and then states that it is providing substantial funding to An Post to invest in out-of-town shopping centres or supermarkets and locate post offices there.

An Post is 100% State-owned. This is the people's money being invested in moving a post office to a new premises. I want to know if a detailed examination was carried out and whether other premises were considered. Was the current premises examined for expansion? As I have stated, it is a substantial property. Were other locations in the town considered or was there a quick arrangement arrived at out of convenience?

An Post has been planning for this for some time. I walked the length of the entire main street and other streets of Mountmellick on Monday and the number of premises that are closed is extraordinary. Premises that used to be home to vibrant businesses are closed and we find that the one premises owned, run and provided for by the taxpayer is moving out of the town centre due to Government policy. The Minister can wash his hands and state that it is nothing to do with him but he sets the policy for An Post, which then implements it.

I thank the Deputies for raising this matter. I know it is of concern locally and I understand that. Deputy Stanley and, in particular, Deputy Fleming, having been chairman of the Oireachtas committee on State-sponsored bodies for many years - I enjoyed my time working under him there - will know that these State bodies have been set up under law in such a way that Ministers are not responsible for the day-to-day decisions relating to them. We have to recognise that this is the situation which we in the Oireachtas have created. We have not created a situation where Ministers would be intervening in the day-to-day decisions the companies in question make.

The Deputies will also be aware of the serious financial backdrop against which An Post has had to develop a strategic plan. It faced serious financial meltdown in recent times. It faces a long-term secular decline in its postal business of 8% per annum. It has had to devise a new strategy to carve out a future for the postal service within the communities it serves. That is what it is doing, and successfully so.

In the case of Mountmellick and Thurles, I understand from An Post that it has found that the existing premises from which it is operating are not consistent with the vision it has to provide a better, modern service that recognises the digital transformation that is occurring, the opportunities that exist in the context of the postal service and the company's desire to expand into financial services and be close to where there is a footfall that would be relevant to its services. An Post has recognised that it needs to up its game to serve places such as Mountmellick and it is in that context that it has made this decision. Clearly, An Post should talk to its customers and explain what it is doing.

The suggestion by both Deputies, however, that I should intervene to prevent a company from doing what we as an Oireachtas have given it a statutory responsibility to do is simply not the right way to do business. An Post has an independent board. If a strong case is to be made, it needs to be made to An Post, which can evaluate it against the criteria.

From my understanding, An Post believes that Mountmellick will be the first of a new type of postal service outside of Dublin and that the quality of service it will deliver there will be cutting edge. It has evaluated the situation carefully in the context of the transformation programme it is undertaking. Given that An Post faces a continuing decline of 8% per annum in its postal services, the key to its survival is being able to transform its business and generate new customers from a society which is changing in what it needs. It must move with what its customers require. My responsibility is purely a high-level governance to ensure that An Post operates to the standards of governance set for them and that it is in a financially sound position. We must have faith in the board we have established under law to make these decisions in the best interests of An Post's customers, its workers and the communities it serves. By all means, I will convey to An Post the concerns that Deputies have outlined but the responsibilities lie with it and we have charged it with those responsibilities very consciously.

While I thank the Minister for his reply, I am disappointed with it. The State has made a major cash injection in An Post that is being used to cause damage to other Government policy, which was supposed to put the heart back into commercial town centres. There are a number of empty and occupied premises around Mountmellick, within 100 yd. of the existing post office, that would facilitate co-location. Have they been approached?

I have a copy of a letter from the local business association and Tidy Towns. They have asked how, in light of the many initiatives and reports funded by public money to breathe life into town centres, the Government can explain the decision as anything other than running contrary to those policies. They understand the matter. The Mountmellick local area plan states one of its strategic aims is to "[i]mprove the quality, vitality and vibrancy of the Town Centre." It goes on to state its policy is to "[e]ncourage and facilitate the reuse and regeneration of derelict and vacant sites" in the town. The decision, however, goes completely against the town plan and Government policy. I understand that the Minister does not want to get into the nitty-gritty but this is a policy direction issue for the Government. The Minister, on behalf of the taxpayer and the public, is the sole shareholder. The public signed a petition three years ago to recommend that the post office should not be removed from the town centre. Will the Minister give policy direction to An Post on this matter? We cannot let this be simply an executive matter for An Post to move the post office on a whim.

The Minister made a few interesting points and mentioned the management of An Post. I am making a formal request to the Minister to convey to the management of An Post an invitation to meet Deputies from the area. That step needs to be taken immediately and we want to see it happen in the coming days.

The Minister has just given a death notice to every town centre post office in Ireland. He said post offices must move with the customers and consider where business is moving, and that these types of old premises do not fit the future vision of An Post. That can be interpreted as saying Mountmellick is the first town to move Government business from the town centre to the edge of town areas. Eventually, some Minister some day will announce €100,000 to renovate the town centre and footpaths and build new kerbs in the area. That will be the response of the Government. It will renovate the footpath and think that it is great because a town renewal grant was obtained. We want to keep post offices, businesses and Government businesses in town centres. We look forward to the Minister facilitating that meeting with the management of An Post and Deputies.

Interestingly, I recently visited Mountmellick and found it to be a thriving community with great enterprising initiative being undertaken. It is using the fund of €1 billion the Minister for Rural and Community Development, Deputy Ring, has made available. It has competed for the fund, developed projects and is a shop window of good examples of how towns are taking their revival seriously. It has also revived old buildings to bring them into new uses. From my point of view, however, I must ensure that An Post, which has been given legislative independence, is allowed to ensure that the postal service it delivers is in tune with the needs of the community it serves. There is no future for us if An Post cannot develop the types of services on which it has based its strategy. We need to see it being a more vibrant servant to the community. It needs to move away from providing a service in decline, namely, the standard post mail, and develop the new opportunities that exist. It has been remarkably successful in that regard. It has achieved an agreement with its unions that has allowed it to transform its business and grow new business in different areas. It must be able to respond to the direction of its business.

It is untrue that the decision spells a decline of rural towns. If we do not have thriving postal services, or thriving broadband access in our regional communities, or regional enterprise strategies, or the rural development fund, which allows people to develop initiatives from the bottom up, rural Ireland will decline. They are the modern tools of ensuring thriving towns, villages and rural communities. We must ensure we create a framework through which rural Ireland can thrive and grow, which is the basis for the decision. Such an outcome cannot be achieved by telling a progressive company seeking to carve out a new role that Ministers will interfere in their day-to-day operation, as the Deputies have suggested. That is not what Ministers do and it would be inappropriate for that sort of direction to be issued by a Minister to a body trying to rebuild its strategy with long-term services for the community it lives among.

Illegal Dumping

I apologise that the notice of my Topical Issue matter may be slightly different from the content but I ask the Minister to bear with me because it is an important matter. In recent years, I have been inundated by people contacting me about illegal dumping and problems within local authorities. In County Meath, for example, the Garda and the Environmental Protection Agency, EPA, are dealing with the alleged dumping of 16,500 tonnes of illegal waste on farm land. The contractor at the centre of the allegation was working for, and under the supervision of, Meath County Council and its consultants at the time. I have inspected the lands personally and found materials such as carcinogenic coal tar, which is used on the bases of roads, mixed with bitumen, pipes, tyres and many other waste materials. Meath County Council carried out a tier-one investigation of the issue and stated the material was for agricultural improvement uses, although it is clear that bitumen, tar, wheels, axles, tyres and so on are not for agricultural improvement. The EPA, however, refused to accept the outcome of the investigation and as a result Meath County Council carried out a tier-two investigation of the dumping of this material. It did so at a desk, however, without inspecting the land or digging any holes there and the EPA refused to accept the outcome of that investigation too. The EPA is seeking legal advice on how to proceed with the matter and on whether it can force Meath County Council to remove the 16,500 tonnes of waste material from the land.

I cannot say for sure which body is wrong or right and I do not claim to be able to do so, but a family with acres of contaminated land has approached the council, the EPA and even the Committee of Public Accounts for help. A number of Deputies, including me, have tried to help them but the problem has gone on for years and nothing has happened. The land remains barren, while aquifers may be contaminated under it. The owner cannot even obtain insurance for the land, such is the state of it. I know that the EPA has hundreds of files on its desks that are similar to this and that they all need serious investigation. From contact with the Garda, I know it is in a similar position. Justice happens at glacial speed at best, if it happens at all.

A number of things are wrong and I want the Minister to consider this issue with regard to the future development of the sector.

I will discuss in a moment a number of other areas where this has happened. Local authorities are policing their own issues. It is alleged that they may be the transgressors and also investigating what happened. The EPA has a role but it is not powerful. It can refuse to accept the findings of the local authority but it finds it very difficult to go in, police it and force a resolution. The resources to investigate and deliver justice in this regard are nowhere near what is necessary. In the case I am speaking about, such is the pressure created by the disaster in this family's life that it has caused great illness and stress for the family members. Under the current trend of activity, it is highly likely this will not be satisfactorily fixed, at least not in the lifetime of the family who are suffering.

As the Deputy indicated, his question is somewhat different from the generic question submitted. I cannot comment on an issue where there is, from what the Deputy has said, an apparent dispute between the EPA and Meath County Council. The Deputy is aware that Meath County Council is, in the first instance, responsible for enforcement. However, the EPA has significant powers and it oversees the adequacy with which local authorities perform their functions under the Acts. From what I read, it does not seem to be a very weak power, as the Deputy described it. The EPA has the power to request information and to require its advice and recommendations to be implemented. It can issue directives, which the local authorities needs to take, and it can prosecute the local authorities if they fail to take such direction. I have no reason to believe the EPA has reached any of these conclusions. I am sure, from what the Deputy has said, that it has requested the information and is scrutinising what has occurred but it has powers available to it.

On the wider issue raised by the Deputy, I fully recognise that illegal dumping is a huge issue. We have sought to improve the structures by having national and regional structures. At national level, a multi-agency approach is taken involving the Garda, enforcement officers and the EPA. These key players can help to ensure an integrated approach is taken to the issue of illegal dumping. We have provided additional resources for this as well as making a more general call on public authorities and communities to support individual initiatives that seek to improve areas scourged by illegal dumping.

I recognise there is a very serious problem. If I thought the law was weak, I would certainly look at it. Additional resources have gone into this area. I do not have the details chapter and verse but, from memory, the resources allocated to address illegal dumping have increased. We also recognise there is systematic dumping. This year, there is an initiative to see if a more multi-agency approach can be identified to ensure issues do not slip between the inspectors and those calling out dumping. This is part of what the Department, through the EPA and the national regional network, seeks to achieve.

I thank the Minister. As I said, I am not trying to catch him on the hop. I acknowledge that I have deviated from the Topical Issue submitted, for which I apologise. I will give a couple of other examples. In County Meath, Paddy Shiels, who supplied services to Meath County Council for years, found his company and his equipment was being used to supply to Meath County Council some services without his knowledge. He claims there was a loss of millions of euro and damage to his company as a result. There was a court case and the defendant pleaded guilty. Further allegations have been made, which were not answered, and Paddy Shiels has never been compensated. I and other Deputies, including Deputy O'Dowd, have been battling on behalf of Mr. Shiels for a number of years and Frank Connolly of Village magazine has asked questions of Meath County Council. The local authority has finally decided to initiate a public inquiry.

In another example of this type of difficulty, last month, Councillor Brendan Thornhill of Aontú came into possession of sworn affidavits on alleged malpractice and corruption in the planning department of Wicklow County Council, which resulted in millions of euro in losses. It is alleged decisions were made by Wicklow County Council without the knowledge of councillors. I understand this information was brought to previous Ministers with responsibility for the environment but nothing has happened. Years have passed without the individuals in question being able to get justice. Thankfully, owing to Councillor Thornhill's activities, the Garda has decided to initiate an investigation into the allegations.

With regard to dumping and the environment, Waterford County Council has had similar allegations made against it. A significant amount of illegal infilling has been taking place in Tramore landfill, Kilmacleague, Crough Wood in Rinn and Knockboy graveyard. It is alleged that in these cases there is a conflict of interest. On the one hand, Waterford County Council is the planning authority with the statutory obligation to protect European habitat sites and enforce the applicable environmental legislation while, on the other hand, it is also a transgressor. This is the key element.

An Bord Pleanála has confirmed that in the Comeragh Mountains planning permission was required but not sought by the council. I will give an example of how this costs money. In the Comeragh Mountains, Waterford County Council paid €110,000 for a group to dig up a special area of conservation and then had to pay €250,000 to restore it. There is another site in Middle Quarter in County Waterford about which I have just received an allegation that Waterford County Council is involved in an illegal infilling of a protected European habitat. If true, it will cost millions of euro to resolve. It is the transgressor-cop issue that is at the heart of these problems.

It is important to draw distinctions. Local authorities are the regulators of illegal activity and they have a role to ensure regulatory compliance. However, being regulators does not make them liable for the damage being done by private bodies. It would be impossible to carry out regulation if, as the Deputy suggests, local authorities were to become in some way financially responsible for breaches they discover. That is not their role.

In this case, the local authority gave planning permission.

In addition, the Deputy has made allegations that I cannot substantiate one way or the other that local authorities themselves are involved in illegal activities. In this respect, I go back to the points I made. The EPA has a supervising regulatory role in respect of local authorities and if there are instances of this nature, the EPA has enforcement powers. These powers include not only investigating but also issuing directions and taking prosecutions in respect of local authorities. Besides the obvious civil injury that may be involved, there is a route for these allegations to be presented to the EPA and for it to evaluate them, draw conclusions and exercise the powers available to it. There is a system in place. I cannot test the evidence one way or the other in respect of what the Deputy correctly described as allegations. It is not my job to evaluate them. There is a process whereby the attention of the EPA can be brought to any local authority believed to be transgressing its responsibilities and the EPA has the powers to pursue it. If the Deputy wants to present information, it would certainly be made available to the EPA for assessment.

National Drugs Strategy

On a point of information before I start, I asked for the Minister of State with responsibility for the national drugs strategy to be present to hear the debate and I want to check whether she is coming. Will the Minister of State who is present inform me as to where she is before I start?

I received a call half an hour ago asking me to step in for the Minister of State, Deputy Catherine Byrne, and I am delighted to do so. She was delayed at another event. She could walk in the door; I do not know.

For the Deputy's information, during health questions earlier, the Minister for Health, Deputy Harris, apologised on behalf of the Minister of State and took her questions.

I am very unhappy with this. I cannot think of anything more important for which the Minister of State with responsibility for the national drugs strategy should be present than to listen to me speak as a representative of a community suffering greatly because of drug crime.

People have been shot at and have been petrol bombed. Communities have been left unaided and unsupported by the Department of the Minister of State, Deputy Catherine Byrne. I do not say this lightly. I use the words from a report the Minister of State herself launched yesterday in County Louth. The report, A study on how families are affected by substance misuse in the North East Region of Ireland, includes findings that in the north-east region there is a long waiting list for treatment and a paucity of community treatment, insufficient counselling services, lack of dual diagnoses and mental health services, insufficient methadone prescribing GPs and very few family support services. Additionally, participants spoke of a perceived lack of professional standards, accountability and transparency by some treatment services towards patients.

What is the Minister of State with responsibility for the national drugs strategy going to do to tackle this serious outbreak of drug related activity in our town? In fairness, the Minister of State, Deputy Catherine Byrne, has visited Drogheda three times when she met with the Red Door project. Nothing happened, however, after she left. We got no money. There is a chart in her report that shows there is inadequate support for families. There are no outreach services in Drogheda. There are zero outreach services. I believe it is the duty of the Minister of State's Department to provide those. The Red Door project does its very best with drug treatment but there is a four month waiting list for people who wish to get treatment. A person contacted me yesterday, the day before that and last Friday. Sadly, he is in a very serious state with regard to his mental health and unfortunately is in a very difficult situation. He is waiting to get treatment and feels that if he does not get it his mental health will disintegrate. That is just one example of one person who has contacted me on this issue.

What is the solution? I put it to the Minister of State, Deputy Byrne - who is not here - that the Red Door project is looking for €200,000. This would provide two outreach workers and one family worker to address the issues. These workers would work most effectively and efficiently in the Moneymore estate, which includes a population of more than 800 young people under the age of 16. There is a lack of adequate community facilities and youth facilities in Moneymore - there is none - but here are sites where a community facility could be built. They have produced a report that I would be glad to hand to the Minister of State, Deputy Byrne, which she could act upon and work with to ensure the issue is addressed.

This is not just an issue for Drogheda. It is an issue for the whole State. It is a fact that in the last calendar year 730 people in the State died as a result of drug abuse. This is two people every day. Compare the figure for these tragic deaths - they are tragedies - to the 186 people who, also tragically, died as a result of road traffic accidents.

I am not saying there is no money going into drug treatment services, of course there is, and I am not saying the HSE is not doing its best, but we need to fund it properly. It is unacceptable to me that we do not have outreach workers in Drogheda.

As Members are aware, I welcome the initiatives of the Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Flanagan, in providing gardaí to tackle the crime issues and the drug dealers and those who are shooting and petrol bombing in the area. These people are giving our town an appalling name that it does not deserve and which it never had before two drug gangs fell out with each other. It will not, however, be solved by criminal justice. Criminal justice is not the solution. It is part of the solution. Social supports, caring for the community and acting in the community are the way forward.

I contacted the Health Research Board today to try to identify what are the issues. I can give a figure for the last calendar year in County Louth for the needle service, which operates through pharmacies: there were 44,000 needles exchanged in pharmacies in County Louth in the last 12 months. Obviously, that is not 44,000 people or anywhere near it but we do not actually know the number of people who use this needle service. The Health Research Board tells me that 45% of all drugs misused in Ireland are heroin or opiates, so it is a significant number of people. If there is anything good about that number it is that these people are using clean needles and hopefully they will avoid the other health implications of their drug taking.

I thank Deputy O'Dowd for raising this important issue. I am well aware of it and I understand his concerns. I also give apologies on behalf of the Minister of State, Deputy Catherine Byrne. I got the late call and was asked to step in for the Minister of State who has been delayed at another event.

From my point of view, and from the Government's perspective, of course the Minister of State takes this issue very seriously. The Minister of State visited Dundalk and the north east yesterday to hear about drug related issues in the area and the impact on families. The Minister of State is aware that key State agencies, led by the local authority and involving the Garda, the HSE, the Irish Probation Service, Tusla, education and training boards and the north-east regional drug and alcohol task force are working together on ways to address this important issue.

The Minister of State understands that the HSE has appointed a senior counsellor with the priority of developing and supporting counselling services in Drogheda. The Minister of State also welcomes the HSE’s commitment to recruit an additional outreach worker in Drogheda to enhance its existing service. The Minister of State is pleased that the north-east regional drug and alcohol task force has offered to assist with access to support for people in addiction to the community-based addiction support services at the Red Door and elsewhere in the HSE.

In March 2019, the Minister of State announced additional funding of €1 million for the implementation of the strategy Reducing Harm, Supporting Recovery 2017-2025. The Minister of State will shortly notify all task forces regarding the allocation of this additional funding, including information on the guiding principles and the application process. The north-east task force will be able to apply for additional funding under this initiative. The Minister of State would point out that the introduction of measures to address drug related activity in the Drogheda area primarily come within the remit of our colleague the Minister for Justice and Equality in the first instance.

I do not accept that.

The Minister of State understands that 25 additional Garda members are to be appointed to Drogheda over the coming weeks and is sure that every effort is being made to disrupt the activities of criminal groups involved and to arrest and prosecute offenders.

Drug-related intimidation is an area of concern that the Minister of State believes requires special attention. It presents a real threat to public safety in communities and the Minister of State is aware that it is a significant issue in the north-east region.

The national drug-related intimidation reporting programme, which was developed by the national Family Support Network and An Garda Síochána, provides a framework to allow reporting of an incident of intimidation to a nominated inspector. Last week the north-east regional drug and alcohol task force held the first in a series of workshops on the drug-related intimidation support process in Drogheda. This workshop was run with the support of An Garda Síochána, the Family Support Network and TUSLA. Officials in the Department of Health will shortly meet with An Garda Síochána and the Family Support Network to see how this programme can be supported and better resourced.

I appreciate that the Minister of State, Deputy Finian McGrath, has read the statement he was given but I take serious issue with the last paragraph that said "The Minister of State would point out that the introduction of measures to address drug related activity in the Drogheda area primarily come within the remit of our colleague the Minister for Justice and Equality in the first instance." I repeat that at my invitation the Minister of State, Deputy Byrne, kindly visited Drogheda to discuss this issue, not once, not twice but three times. The outcome from those visits has been zero. Nothing has happened. I spoke to the Red Door project today. These are totally professional people who are committed to assisting and helping people in the community who suffer from drug abuse. The project has no family resource or outreach workers. That is a fact. Nothing but money from the Minister of State's Department will change this. I welcome that the Minister of State, Deputy Byrne, has said she has allocated €1 million for implementing Reducing Harm, Supporting Recovery 2017-2025, but €1 million will not go anywhere near addressing the money that is needed. Drogheda needs to employ people as an emergency to go out and work with the families today and tomorrow.

According to Red Door, it could have these people in place within one month at a cost of approximately €200,000. If Red Door is provided with that funding it can address the issues immediately. I ask the Minister of State, Deputy Finian McGrath, to pass on the message to the Minister of State, Deputy Catherine Byrne, that we want action on the part of her Department. The Minister of State, Deputy Catherine Byrne, has committed in the past to examining this problem. There is no point in committing to examining a problem when the situation is exploding in our faces. There is no point in the Minister of State, Deputy Finian McGrath, coming here to deliver a response which does not provide us with something tangible to work with. What am I to tell my community? Am I to tell them that the Minister of State, Deputy Catherine Byrne, was not present for the debate and that the reply delivered by the Minister of State, Deputy Finian McGrath, did not reference any additional money to deal with the biggest problem in this country and, in particular, in this community which suffers most? As a Member who has backed up all the decisions of this Government, I am angry that this community is being neglected in this area.

According to the Garda Chief Superintendent we are going to lose an entire generation of young people in this country due to drugs and drug abuse. He did not make that statement lightly. The Garda Chief Superintendent looked me in the face as he made those remarks. I now look to the Minister of State, Deputy Finian McGrath, and ask what does this Government propose to do about this situation? People are entitled to an answer and young people are entitled to a future, which they are not getting in the current situation. The community in Moneymore, which is a fantastic community, has produced a report in regard to a community facility. I will provide the Minister of State, Deputy Catherine Byrne, with a copy of that report, which I ask be brought to the attention of the Secretary General of her Department and taken on board. What does the Department propose to do? Its lack of action is unacceptable and the lack of funding is unacceptable. Families are crying out for help. I was told by one woman that two of her family members had to leave the country for fear of being shot if seen anywhere in the land. This is the extent of the problem. The Government must wake up and deal with this issue now.

I understand Deputy O'Dowd's frustration in regard to this particular issue. The Minister of State, Deputy Catherine Byrne, wishes to assure him that Government is committed to tackling the problem through all the mechanisms available. As Minister of State with responsibility for the drugs strategy, Deputy Catherine Byrne, intends to continue to work with all the relevant stakeholders across the statutory community and voluntary sector to achieve better outcomes to the problems of drug and alcohol users.

On a practical level, the HSE has appointed a senior counsellor to counselling services in Drogheda. It has also given a commitment today to recruit an additional outreach worker in Drogheda and to assist people in addiction in accessing the community based addiction support service at the Red Door and elsewhere in the HSE. The north-east taskforce will be able to apply for additional funding under this initiative.

I understand the anger and frustration of Deputy O'Dowd in regard to the widespread intimidation and people having to leave the country. I know from my experience on the northside of Dublin that gang warfare and feuding destroys communities. I agree that action is needed. I will bring Deputy O'Dowd's concerns to the attention of the Minister of State, Deputy Byrne. Hopefully, there will be action taken over the next couple of weeks.