Léim ar aghaidh chuig an bpríomhábhar

Seanad Éireann díospóireacht -
Wednesday, 13 Nov 2019

Vol. 268 No. 4

Illegal Drugs: Motion

I move:

“That Seanad Éireann:

notes that:

- individuals, families and communities throughout the country have been devastated by illegal drugs;

- drug-related harm consistently clusters in communities marked by poverty and social inequality;

- drug-related deaths in Ireland are at the highest figure ever, increasing from 431 in 2004 to 736 in 2016;

- new drugs appear regularly on the illicit market while familiar drugs such as cannabis are becoming more potent;

- too many people are living daily with the nightmare of drug-related intimidation and violence;

further notes:

- the significant increase in drugs offences recorded by an Garda Síochána;

- the increase in the value of drug seizures from €29,706,281 in 2016 to €71,859,695 in 2017;

- not all drug users are addicts and there has been a significant rise in casual and occasional drug use;

- a changing pattern of drug use during the recent economic recovery;

- the latest drug treatment figures from the Health Research Board show a 50% increase in the number of cases presenting for cocaine treatment between 2017 and 2018;

- in 2018, a total of 10,274 cases were treated for problem drug use;

- the number of new entrants to treatment increased from 3,272 in 2012 to 3,962 in 2018;

- Ireland is one of six European countries where crack cocaine abuse has increased in the past five years;

- every cent spent on illegal drugs funds organised crime;

- the reduction in the number of Gardaí assigned to drug units;


- the importance of a public health approach to drug and alcohol misuse is paramount;

- there is widespread concern that the partnership approach, which has been at the heart of drugs strategies since 1996, is now in danger of collapse;

- community participation and interagency working is crucial to an effective response to an increasingly complex and challenging drugs problem;

- there is apprehension and frustration at the failure of Government to meet commitments on community involvement;

- investment in drugs task forces has stagnated in recent years with an increase of 1.7 per cent since 2015 compared to 28 per cent in overall health expenditure;

- there is a need for comprehensive services in prevention, detoxification treatment and rehabilitation;

and calls for:

- the Government to act as a matter of urgency to restore confidence in the National Drugs Strategy;

- An Taoiseach to appoint representation at a senior level from his own Department to the National Oversight Committee of the National Drugs Strategy;

- an increase in the level of funding for drugs task forces and treatment services;

- action to be taken against open drug dealing on city streets;

- the strengthening of criminal law against the use of children in drug trafficking;

- increased investment in the Juvenile Diversion Programme; and

- a major education and information campaign to be undertaken on casual drug use.”

We are all aware that the drug crisis in Ireland has reached epidemic proportions. Individuals, families and communities throughout the country have been devastated by illegal drugs. Drug-related harm consistently clusters around communities marked by poverty and social inequality. There have been many drug-related deaths in recent years, with the number rising from 431 in 2004 to 736 in 2016. New drugs appear on the market regularly while familiar drugs such as cannabis are becoming more potent. On a day-to-day basis, too many people and families across in rural and urban settings are living with the nightmare of drug-related intimidation and violence. Garda figures show that there has been a huge increase in drug-related offences across the country but also, thankfully, in the number of drug seizures. For example, more than €29 million worth of drugs were seized in 2016 and €71 million worth were seized in 2017. This is a huge and vast amount of money that funds crime.

Not all people who use drugs are addicts but there has been a significant rise in occasional drug use. This is a very worrying trend because it often goes hand in hand with psychiatric illness. Even drugs such as cannabis that are not considered potent by some people - I disagree because I believe it is very potent - have serious psychiatric manifestations and can cause psychosis and paranoia. There has been a changing pattern of drug use during the recent economic recovery. The latest drug treatment figures from the Health Research Board show a 50% increase in the number of cases presenting for cocaine between 2017 and 2018. Last year, a total of 10,274 people were treated for problem drug use. The number of new entrants to treatment increased to more than 4,000 in 2018. Ireland is one of six countries where crack cocaine abuse has increased in the past five years.

We can never allow ourselves to forget that every cent spent on illegal drugs goes to fund organised crime. There has been a reduction in the number of gardaí assigned to the drugs unit. The Government needs to look at this and redirect resources into the sector. We need a top-down and bottom-up approach to tackle the scourge of drug abuse in Ireland. The importance of a public health approach is paramount. There is widespread concern that the partnership approach at the heart of drug strategies since 1996 is now in danger of collapse. Community participation and inter-agency working is crucial for an effective response to increasingly complex and challenging drug problems. There is apprehension and frustration at the failure of Government to meet community involvement at community level. Investment in drug task forces has stagnated in recent years, with an increase of 1.7% since 2015 compared with 28% in overall health expenditure. There is also a need for comprehensive services in prevention, detoxification and rehabilitation.

The Government needs to take this problem seriously and it must act as a matter of urgency in order to restore confidence in the national drugs strategy. My colleague, Deputy Curran, has called on the Taoiseach to appoint senior-level representatives from his Department to the national oversight committee relating the national drugs strategy. We need to increase the level of funding for drug task forces and treatment services. We need to take action with community policing against the open drug dealing that occurs on a day-to-day basis on streets in cities, towns and villages, all of which have been affected by the scourge of drug use.

As legislators, it is our job to strengthen the criminal law against the use of children in drug trafficking. We need increased investment in the juvenile diversion programme and a major educational roll out in schools to highlight the dangers of drug use to children prior to using drugs to highlight the adverse mental health and physical manifestations caused by drugs.

We know it is a complex issue. Not only does it affect the people who take the drugs, it also affects their loved ones and the communities in which they live. Drug abuse is not limited to particular sectors of society. It is both a rural and an urban problem; it knows no class and it crosses all boundaries. Drugs are far too readily available and, sadly, the age at which young people and teenagers start to take drugs is lowering all the time. That is a very worrying trend. The use of young people as runners by drug gangs is frightening. For many people, taking drugs can lead to a lifetime in mental health services. I saw this myself when I worked as a GP and in psychiatry at St. Ita's Hospital in Portrane. I worked too in the mental health sector in Artane and in the accident and emergency department of Connolly Hospital Blanchardstown. I saw on a day-to-day basis the physical and mental manifestations of drug use. These were the so-called benign drugs such as cannabis. In my opinion, there is no such thing as a benign drug.

Drug use leads to anti-social behaviour and to crime, directly and indirectly and more needs to be done. We must tackle our crippling drug problem and we need a major reform in our approach to do that. Sweden is an excellent example of what happens when we take illegal drug use seriously. Drug use in Sweden is just one third of the European average while spending on drug control is three times the EU average. There is a direct correlation between the amount of money spent on drug prevention programmes and the use. For 30 years, Sweden has had consistent and coherent drug-control policies, regardless of which party is in power. It would appear to have adopted a Sláintecare-type approach to the issue with a ten-year strategy so that regardless of which party is in power the policy does not change. There is a strong emphasis on prevention, and extensive treatment and rehabilitation opportunities are available to users. The police in Sweden take drug crime seriously and are adequately funded for this task.

This is a timely motion and I hope it will gain the support of the House.

I second the motion.

Across this country, lives are being devastated by drug use, drug addiction, drug dealing and drug-related deaths. This Government has not invested the correct amount of funding to fight the war on drugs and the result has been a staggering rise in the consumption of drugs, addiction, social breakdown, drug-related deaths and tragedies. The situation is so bad that we saw only last month all nine former Ministers who held responsibility for the national drugs strategy come together to call on the Taoiseach to act now to reinvigorate drugs policy because the problem has reached epidemic proportions. Having steered the national drugs strategy over a 20-year period between 1996 and 2016, the former Ministers expressed concern and frustration at the failure of this Fine Gael Government to honour its commitment work in partnership with community groups.

Despite constant drug seizures by very capable Garda drug units throughout the country, we seem to be in a state of denial about what is happening when it comes to drugs. The position has changed dramatically in the 22 years since the State acknowledged that Ireland's drug problem was primarily an opiate problem, mainly caused by heroin, and principally a Dublin phenomenon. That is by no means an accurate reflection of the current position.

In June last, the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction, EMCDDA, published the European Drug Report 2019: Trends and Developments. The statistics were stark. It found that drug use among young people in Ireland is growing, with use of ecstasy among 15 to 24 year olds quadrupling between 2011 and 2015. Drug-related deaths have shown an upward trend since 2009, with 224 such deaths recorded in 2016. This data is from 2017, the most recent year for which data are available, and was compiled by the EMCDDA from a variety of sources.

According to the most recent global drug survey, more than half those surveyed who are using cocaine want to stop but need help to do so. However, help is not available, which is a serious problem. Despite this, the Minister of State with responsibility for the national drugs strategy stated last month that there had been an increase in the allocation for the development of a strategic health initiative by the HSE drug and alcohol task forces. Throughout the country, service providers dealing with people who are suffering as a result of drug use or addiction are facing closure because of a lack of funding and increased demand. I know of one rehabilitation service in Carlow which needs funding to help the young people with whom it works to rebuild their lives which have been significantly influenced by drugs. The service is in such difficulty that it is threatened with closure, which would leave a number of service users without the vital help they need.

The funding being allocated to local and regional drug and alcohol task forces in communities falls far too short. Investment in drug task forces has stagnated in recent years, having increased by 1.7% since 2015 compared with a 28% increase in health expenditure overall. The 2019 HSE service plan was very disappointing as regards the provision of new funding to tackle Ireland's drug challenges. The plan was devoid of references to drug and alcohol task forces or the funding to be provided to them. The task forces also receive direct funding from the Department of Health.

It is also evident that the HSE is finding it difficult to meet some of its targets. For example, the 2018 service plan set a target of three days for the average waiting time from referral to assessment for opioid substitution treatment. The outturn was five days. The 2019 target is four days.

We are now well into the third year of a new national drug strategy and if commitment to implementation is to be judged by the funding of services provided, this plan gives great cause for concern. There has been a significant increase in the use of crack cocaine and in the number of drug users in the young population. The latest drug treatment figures from the Health Research Board show a 50% increase in the number of people presenting for cocaine treatment between 2017 and 2018, while opiates remain the most common drug reported among those treated for drugs use.

Cannabis is the second most common drug for which people receive treatment. It is very often perceived as largely non-harmful and it is an extremely popular recreational drug, second only to cocaine. The use of drugs is on the increase and people need to be educated about the links between drug use and the long-term mental health issues. If we had greater investment in the local drug and alcohol task forces, we would achieve change. The task forces are experiencing great difficulty recruiting youth outreach workers as there is no budget to do so. We need more support in local communities that are being ravaged by drugs.

Time and again, at joint policing committee meetings all over the country, the drugs trade is cited as one of the most challenging problems in society. According to those who are dealing with this blight on society, there are more drugs available now than there were in 2018. Some 55 new psychoactive substances were detected in Europe for the first time last year, bringing the total number of such substances monitored by the EMCDDA to 730. It has become easier to find and buy drugs online, in the local pub or club and in schools and colleges. We have a massive problem and society is losing the battle.

Local and regional drug and alcohol task forces play an essential role in communities across the country by providing a targeted response to emerging trends in drug and alcohol use. They cannot continue to do this good work, however, if they are overstretched and underfunded. Their work very often extends beyond dealing with addiction to dealing with anti-social behaviour, public drug use and drug litter. The task forces are under enormous pressure. The bottom line is that if their progress and work is to continue making a meaningful difference to people's lives and in communities, they must be consistently supported financially. Funding is the big issue in this regard.

The Fianna Fáil Party spokesperson for national drug policy, Deputy John Curran, has prepared draft legislation to tackle the use of children in the distribution side of the drugs trade. The new Bill would see the introduction of two new criminal offences. It would become a criminal offence to purchase drugs from a person under the age of 18 or to cause a child to be in possession of drugs for the intent of sale and supply. The use of minors in drug distribution networks is appealing because, owing to their age, there are fewer criminal consequences if minors are caught. This Bill seeks to change that and, in doing so, it would make it less attractive for those higher up in the distribution chain to use young people in this manner. We hope that the combined effect of these two new offences will be to protect young people against getting involved in the drug economy.

The number of gardaí committed to drug units across the country has reduced significantly since the beginning of the decade despite a spike in drug crime. While there has been a modest increase in the number this year, the overall trend since the beginning of the decade continues to be that the strength of Garda drug units is declining. As of September, drug units across the country had 232 Garda members, including inspectors and sergeants. The increase by ten in this number over the previous year was only the second such increase since 2011. The other increase was in 2015 when just four gardaí were added to the specialist units. In 2011, drug units nationwide comprised 359 gardaí. This figure had decreased to 253 by 2014 and to 222 in 2018. During this period, the number of gardaí in the drugs unit in Dublin decreased from 147 to just 80, Limerick lost half of the 20 gardaí in its drugs unit, while the number of gardaí in the Cork city drugs unit decreased from 38 to 23. In the Carlow-Kilkenny region, my local area, we lost 75% of our drugs unit, with numbers falling from eight members to two. The strength of the Wicklow drug unit decreased from 11 in 2011 to four this year. Donegal, Laois and Louth saw numbers in their drugs units halved, while Clare lost two thirds of the number of gardaí in its unit. Most other counties saw minor decreases, while numbers in Kerry, Kildare and Waterford have increased since 2011 and numbers in Mayo, Meath and Tipperary stayed the same. These figures are very worrying. The decrease of more than 35% between 2011 and 2019 comes as the number of controlled drug offences increased by 13% in the same period nationally, from 17,571 in 2011 to 20,153 between June 2018 and June 2019. Calls are made for more resources at all meetings of the joint policing committees. Extra resources are badly needed in these divisions, not reductions.

Fianna Fáil believes in examining the feasibility of decriminalisation as a means of help us to turn a corner in efforts to reduce drugs use. The leading Irish drug project, Ana Liffey, recently launched its campaign, #SaferFromHarm, in collaboration with the London School of Economics, to emphasise that health not criminal justice should be at the core of the State's response to the possession of drugs for personal use. Drugs were once considered to be an issue only for city areas with lower socio-economic status, including areas of Dublin where there was an issue. The problem has spread across the country and is huge.

In an ideal world, no legislative response would be necessary. We do not live in that kind of world, however. We live in the real world and the crisis of public drug use, associated gangland criminality and open drug dealing requires us to explore possible solutions to a broadening public health crisis we can no longer ignore. We are conscious that there are many ethical considerations, but drugs are impacting every town, every village and every household nationwide. We either ask ourselves difficult questions or we continue to leave vulnerable people suffering in addiction and being exploited by merciless drug dealers. The traditional methods of prohibition are not working and we need to listen to the experts in this area to inform ourselves of the challenges ahead. That is crucial.

In our submission for the 2017 drugs strategy, we stated that there should be an exploration of the introduction of a delayed criminalisation model where those committing drug offences currently defined as being for personal usage are directed towards proper treatment and intervention. It is important that this model would be properly codified, constructed and formalised to ensure that people with a drug addiction are given the opportunity to overcome that addiction. We also feel there is an urgent need to review the methadone treatment protocol, as the last review was conducted almost ten years ago. While methadone has a significant role to play in harm reduction, our concern is that more than 10,000 people are now on a methadone treatment programme and it is being used as a long-term solution without any integrated care plan for each patient. More than 6,000 people have been on methadone for five years or more, while more than 4,000 people have been on it for over ten years. That is a long time to be on an opioid substitution treatment.

There appears to be a lack of patient-centred care plans for those receiving methadone. It is particularly concerning that since 2016 some 70 to 80 teenagers have been on a treatment programme. There must be better outcomes and pathways to recovery. I believe that all of us working together can achieve better outcomes and fight the war on drugs with better tools, funding, resources, policy and education. We need a national education awareness campaign and we need to give the tools to just say no to our young people if we are going to tackle this scourge in our society.

I welcome this important motion from the Fianna Fáil Party on the scourge of drugs in our society. I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Catherine Byrne, to the House. For many years, she has represented communities, parts of which have been badly affected by drugs. She is on the ground and knows exactly the consequences drugs use has for people. She has first-hand experience of this issue as a former Lord Mayor of Dublin, councillor and Deputy of the impact of drugs on people's lives. In all of the Oireachtas, certainly in the major parties, we could not find somebody better equipped to deal with this issue. I know the Minister of State listens to the wisdom of this House.

When I look at these issues and consider who knows what happens, has a better handle on the issue and how to come up with a solution to overcome the problem, it is Senator Ruane; she inspires us to do better. We can, will, should and need to do so. We should always aspire to do better and that is what this motion does. It calls on all of us to do better and we are all united in appreciating that there are challenges and this is not an easy problem to solve. It is most difficult for the families directly impacted and the communities affected by violence, and the consequences of that violence, arising from the drugs trade. That is worrying.

We have to approach this issue from a number of angles. We need to deal with the major drug dealers, the big boys. I dispute the figures mentioned, particularly for Clare. I refer to the drugs unit being reduced. That is not what has happened. A core group works full time in the drugs unit and then rotates. That is a far better system. A number of gardaí go into that unit for six months and work there exclusively for that time. They will then be redeployed and replaced by another group of gardaí. I discussed this issue and sought clarification as recently as last Monday with the chief superintendent in Clare. While it appears as if the drugs unit is reduced, more gardaí are actually getting direct experience working in the drugs unit. Those gardaí bring their acquired knowledge with them when they are redeployed into other units and are far better equipped to deal with the drugs issue.

An Garda Síochána tends to get what it looks for and it is the Commissioner's responsibility, and that of his senior management team, to decide how resources are deployed. We have more gardaí now than we have had in some time and in real terms we have more gardaí on the beat than ever before because of the upscaling of the back office civilian element of An Garda Síochána. Within a few years, more than 20,000 people will be on the payroll of An Garda Síochána and at least a quarter of those people will be civilian staff, dealing with the stamping of forms, passport applications, human resource issues, public relations and all of the other necessary paperwork and supporting administration required for an organisation as large as An Garda Síochána. Heretofore, the vast majority of that work was done by gardaí who were qualified and could have been on the beat. A significant recalibration is happening and the results will percolate right down to gardaí on the beat.

I would like to see all gardaí who have worked in drugs units having understanding and compassion. That is important and many gardaí do have compassion. The most import thing we need to do, however, is deal with the criminals. I refer to the inner-city gangs, not just in Dublin but in every other city. Those gangs are making fortunes. We passed legislation in this House some years ago that empowered the Criminal Assets Bureau, CAB, to target not just major criminals, but lesser criminals as well. I refer to the people driving flashy cars who may not be making tens of millions of euro from the drugs trade but are certainly making hundreds of thousands of euro each year from their criminal activities. Last year, CAB made seizures valued at about €7 million or €8 million. The unit had more seizures in 2018 than ever before and that was because the Oireachtas equipped it and changed the legislation.

A determined effort is under way against the drugs trade. I spent an hour and a half with the Garda Commissioner yesterday talking about the drugs issue. I will come to that in more detail in a minute. The other area we need to examine concerns people using drugs who find themselves addicted. That is a health issue and not a justice issue. I went to Portugal as part of a delegation from the Joint Committee on Justice and Equality during the last Seanad term and we witnessed how the drugs issue was dealt with there. It is not a perfect system, but it is certainly a far better approach and a health-driven one. I bow to the immense experience in the area of medicine of our friend and colleague, Senator Swanick. He knows what he is talking about and he will appreciate where I am coming from on this aspect of the drugs issue. A justice approach is not the way to deal with people who have addictions. It should, instead, be a health-led approach and we are moving in that direction.

Another approach has to involve educating middle Ireland. We should let the people going out on Saturday night, who are snorting cocaine and taking other drugs, know that they are, ultimately, destroying their own health.

I am convinced that in 20 or 30 years, there will be medical conditions as a result of using these substances that we do not have experience of today. We should point out in simple English that they are fuelling organised crime and gangs such as the Kinahan and Hutch gangs which murder people on the streets over money, territory and territorial claims. I was out with Garda Commissioner Harris yesterday because I was with an organisation called Think Before You Buy, a fantastic group from Blanchardstown which is running a campaign to try to educate and make middle Ireland aware that there are consequences for going out on Saturday night and taking a strip of cocaine. The Commissioner was taken by the contribution that this group had made. He had already done his research, seen its videos, sat down with its members and listened to their arguments and case. He could see the logic in it and will work with the group on a development and education campaign to determine how it will work. What it has done on a pilot basis in Blanchardstown, which has produced evidence and results, can be turned into a national campaign.

Over the years, we encouraged people to give up smoking with anti-smoking campaigns. I am afraid the same approach will have to be adopted with regard to middle Ireland, the middle class, so-called educated people using drugs. Unfortunately they are using them in their droves and do not see anything wrong with it or any consequence from it. Much is wrong with it and there are significant consequences. We have much work to do in this area. We are not the only country with work to do but I always believe that Ireland punches above its weight and that we should set international best practice, as we have in many other areas. Now is the time to set international best practice in dealing with this issue.

My friends on the opposite benches have honourable motivations. They are fantastic public servants and I know they are trying to do the right thing. I know they appreciate that the Minister of State is trying to as well. As I said at the start of my remarks, we are lucky to have a Minister of State with empathy, understanding and experience on the ground. That is the kind of Minister of State who can, will and intends to make a difference.

I welcome the Minister of State. I echo what Senator Conway said about the Minister of State. I have always found her to be a decent person who is empathetic and supportive on this issue. She has always taken a responsible lead against sometimes stiff opposition.

Not all drug users are addicts. We need to keep remembering that. In every walk of life, there is misuse of drugs and of drink. Alcohol is a terrible drug and a scourge on our society, as are drugs, and prescribed and non-prescribed medication, which is an issue that arises repeatedly. When gardaí stop people for drug issues, they have sometimes taken prescribed or non-prescribed drugs that impair their driving. It tells us about the dependency on drugs, whether prescribed or not, and I include alcohol in that regard. We all know people, including friends, colleagues or politicians, dare I say it, and certainly businesspeople who I know, regularly use cocaine and other hard drugs. That is the reality and we are fooling ourselves if we suggest anything else, that a marginalised or disadvantaged group is somehow more prolific in the use of drugs. People with a disadvantage do not necessarily have the same supports early on in life and that feeds into the issue. This crosses all spectrums and strata of society, life, our communities and our families. We must always be conscious of that. It is not an issue which only affects someone unknown to us. It affects our families, friends and loved ones that we deal with daily. When one tries to understand that and talks about the issue in the context of a brother, sister or family member, one takes a different perspective on it. I like to apply that perspective to this issue.

This is a health issue and we need to treat it as such by implementing the necessary supports. We should do so locally. I was involved in Dún Laoghaire for many years as a county councillor. There was a constant barrage of criticism suggesting that people were coming in from outside the area. In an ideal world, we would have local treatment, supports and therapies across all of our community. We do not have that ideal situation at present. I thank the Minister of State. I thank Fianna Fáil for raising the issue. Let us keep it simple. This affects all of our lives. We need to be fair, compassionate and responsive to the needs of people who are reliant. Some use recreational drugs and get away with it since it does not seem to affect them. It impacts people in different ways. It is important that we give all the support that we can, and that we humanise and take away the mystique from around this, because it is very near us in our work and our life.

This motion calls for the Government to act urgently to restore confidence in the national drugs strategy. It calls on the Taoiseach to appoint a senior representative from his Department to the national oversight committee on the drugs strategy. It refers to funding and supports in place and to strengthening criminal law against the use of children in drug trafficking. Of course we do not want children involved in drug trafficking, as we do not want children involved in prostitution, begging on the streets, or in many other things. There is obviously no place for children in any of that. I want to hear about the supports. Unless we educate, help and assist people in their communities, we will go nowhere. I am interested in hearing from the Minister of State how she can better resource the work that she is doing. Can she give us any feedback on the positive engagement that she is getting from communities?

This is a matter of leadership. It is a matter of all Members' party colleagues and Ministers, county councillors, neighbours and friends engaging. We can come in here, bellyache and talk about all the shortcomings. If we feed into negatives about this issue in our communities, then we are failing our communities, citizens, family and friends. The challenge for all of us is not to point at anyone, but to collectively take that responsibility, show compassion and concern, and to give all of the supports needed on a difficult journey of rehabilitation that will have many setbacks. We must try and try again. It is an ongoing issue but we must put the supports in place and stop pointing the finger. We must support the Minister of State and her strategy to bring about change.

The Minister of State is very welcome. On behalf of Sinn Féin, I welcome this motion from Fianna Fáil. It is important that as public representatives we are discussing such an important issue, particularly considering the statement issued Iast week and signed by several former Ministers with responsibility for drugs, expressing their concerns that the national drugs strategy is failing. While shocking to hear, that is not news to most of us. I acknowledge the point about the Minister of State having empathy. I know that she goes into local communities and talks to people at the coalface. She knows first-hand that there has not been a noticeable or substantial change in the drugs crisis for many local communities. Matters are getting progressively worse for many local communities, certainly in Limerick, where my colleague, Deputy Quinlivan, has been involved in the regional task force for more than a decade. He was involved in that task force when its funding was cut to ribbons by Fianna Fáil. The recent budget was an opportunity to turn this deepening crisis around. However, the Government's priorities lay elsewhere and not with those areas most affected by the drugs crisis. That was an opportunity for Fianna Fáil to press for additional funding for the task forces since it is supporting this Government.

Why did it fail to do so? Perhaps when Fianna Fáil Senators are summing up, we will hear about their continuing failure to deliver substantial changes in terms of funding.

While the drugs crisis affects every demographic and community, it is most severely felt by disadvantaged areas and vulnerable communities which have had many services and supports cut by this Government and previous Governments. The local drug task forces established in the mid-1990s were a response to pressure from communities devastated by drugs and addiction. A dedicated Minister of State with responsibility for the national drugs strategy was appointed. Drugs task forces became central to combating the drugs crisis in our communities. They liaise with statutory agencies and local public representatives and help oversee strategies that help develop responses to the varying aspects of local drug problems. They are responsible for many local initiatives to help people affected by drugs problems. Task forces across the country have developed many projects in their areas to address issues such as prevention, education, treatment and rehabilitation. More recently, tackling the alcohol crisis has been added to their remit without corresponding funding or any additional resources. Funding for drug task forces has been cut every year between 2008 and 2014 and funding has been frozen since 2014 without any consideration for inflation.

We are losing experienced and talented people from the task forces and the various projects they run. This is a loss of irreplaceable organisational knowledge that can only be detrimental in the fight against drugs. These crucial workers have not received a pay rise since 2008. We are also in danger of losing a vital connection with the community if task forces cannot properly function. Many local and regional task forces provide a focal point for the community and community representatives, allowing discussion to take place on drugs issues. They provide a crucial link to tenants' organisations, youth workers, the Garda, statutory agencies, community projects, public representatives and many others. Such interactions help task forces set and identify priorities and help co-ordinate the implementation of plans and agreed actions.

Task forces are important in identifying and responding to the needs of those affected by the drugs problem. They are at the coalface of this problem. Consulting the community is imperative in the fight against drugs in the community and the task forces are best placed to carry out such consultations. Funding needs to be reinstated to 2008 levels with a comparative increase in funding to reflect the additional remit of alcohol. We must keep the knowledge and experience the staff in task forces and community-based drug and alcohol projects have acquired over decades. In order to do that, it is only reasonable to ask that those who work in the projects should also expect decent pay and conditions. Staff should have their pay restored and those who are entitled to increments should also have those restored. It is no wonder that we are also having a recruitment problem with regard to these organisations and projects.

Communities devastated by the drugs problem are also being terrorised and intimidated by those involved in the drug trade. Families are concerned about the increasing use of children who are being groomed for use as drug couriers. Sinn Féin fully supports the great work and dedication of the staff of local and regional drug and alcohol task forces. I disagree slightly with my colleague, Senator Martin Conway, from Fine Gael. Having had a recent conversation with a senior garda in Limerick, I am very clear that drug task forces are significantly down on resources.

That is first-hand information. Task forces need to be able to operate and function independently of the HSE. They should continue to draft and implement local strategies in consultation with the community. There is a number of other measures that can be taken in conjunction with increasing the funding for task forces. We need to re-establish the emerging needs fund and the young person facilities and services fund. Those funds allowed local drug task forces to respond quickly and effectively to new challenges. We need an inter-agency approach to tackle the drugs problem and, as such, task forces must be supported by State agencies, including the HSE, the Garda and local authorities. Sinn Féin previously called for a dedicated Minister for the national drugs strategy and I repeat that call today.

The national drugs strategy is causing a disconnect with the communities most affected by the drugs crisis. Isolating or marginalising groups such as the drug task forces will only exacerbate the drugs problem not help solve it. A bureaucratic solution, as envisaged under the national drugs strategy, will not combat the drugs crisis but prolong it. I look forward to the Minister of State's response to those issues.

I move amendment No. 1:

In the first paragraph under "notes that", to delete "illegal drugs" and substitute "the harms of drug use and the drug trade".

I second the amendment.

The amendment relates to the language used and tries to make it much more inclusive of how people who use drugs like to frame themselves. It also moves slightly away from the idea that we need to strengthen laws instead of focusing on prevention. Much of the language in the motion is very much focused on strengthening the criminal law, which seems unusual in that we are also talking about removing some elements of the criminal law relating to drugs. In general, this is not how I would have written the motion but instead of completing rewriting it, I attempted to change some of the language.

Listening to the contributions of other speakers, I am conscious that it is hard to even begin to unpack the issues they addressed. Sometimes that is the problem. We are talking about drug dealing and people who use drugs in the same breath. We should not do that because if, when we speak about people who use drugs and services that need support, the discussion becomes wrapped up in criminal law and drug dealers, people become afraid to discuss decriminalisation or loosening up the law in any shape or form. We need to begin separating those two issues. One conversation is about how we tackle supply and provide the resources to do so. How we resource services and work with communities that are most affected by drug use is a separate matter.

I disagree with framing this discussion as one of drug use and drug addiction knowing no geographical space. That is not the case because it does. Addiction in more affluent communities looks very different from how it looks in less advantaged communities, as I am sure the Minister of State will agree. Of course addiction creeps into households in other communities, but it does not cause devastation in affluent communities in the way that it devastates our communities. It does not kill in the way that it kills in our communities. That is because problematic drug use in our communities is not about fun. It is not about snorting cocaine at the weekend, as previous speakers mentioned. It is about self-medicating the impacts of trauma, poverty, isolation, depression and other mental health issues, all the things that come from intergenerational poverty, lack of employment and lack of education. When those issues are matched with drug use, the outcome for a community is very different from what happens in other, more affluent places. What we have is a whole community where people are seeking to escape the reality of their lives.

Drug use and drug abuse are two different things. People have been taking mind-altering substances in some shape or form in every country in the world since the beginning of time. The "war on drugs" is a term we should not use because it is a war on people. Just Say No campaigns do not work. We must acknowledge that there are different types of drug users and that usage can affect people's lives in different ways. We must have the appropriate responses in place in each case.

I work in areas where people have been most devastated by drug abuse. Reference was made to the prevalence of ecstasy use but, in fact, a very small number of people have died as a result of using that drug. Heroin, benzodiazepines and those types of drugs cause many more deaths on a weekly basis. We need to get real in terms of how we unpack the conversation around the types of drugs and drug users. There has been talk about the potency of cannabis. The weed that is available now is more potent than the hash we used to buy in the 1980s and 1990s. It is a different substance in terms of its strength. However, it is neither accurate nor proven to say that it causes mental health issues. What we see is that most people, when they get to the stage where they start displaying mental health issues, begin to overuse weed to suppress those problems. It becomes a chicken and egg question of whether the mental health issues or the addiction issues came first.

That is why we need to have only the conversation about dual-diagnosis care plans. We must not have a conversation about whether addiction or mental health issues came first because then the person never benefits from an adequate response to his or her situation. At that stage, does it really matter what came first? The person is presenting with two conditions, one being addiction at the other being mental health issues.

Let me outline what we need. I do not believe it falls under the Minister of State's remit. Rather, it comes under the remit of her colleague, the Minister of State, Deputy Daly. We lost the co-ordinator for dual diagnosis two years ago. There was an interview but nobody else was put back into the position to address dual diagnosis. Has the position just evaporated? What are we doing? Are we recruiting somebody so we can move towards responding to mental health issues and addiction in a genuine way?

Senator Gavan mentioned the idea of grooming kids. I resist the implication a little because the same thing that creates problematic drug use in our communities is the same thing that creates drug dealing. It is inequality and an inability to succeed within one's own community and have what other people have. That is what attracts young people to drug dealing. The only research in this country on middle-ranking drug dealers was carried out by Dr. Fiona O'Reilly and me . Everybody is afraid to touch the subject. I do not understand why we are we not engaging in conversation with drug dealers. We keep talking about what we need to do to address the problem but nobody is actually having a conversation. Ten years ago, when we carried out the research, which is the only research still being referred to now, we met ten middle-ranking drug dealers. We framed them as middle-ranking because they were not heroin users. They were not opioid users so they were not selling and did not get into selling purely to feed their own habits. We wanted to rule such dealers out. We wanted to really understand the obstacles to exiting drug dealing, the advantages to beginning drug dealing and the attraction.

When we carried out the research, we discovered a theme. Some of the dealers used drugs such as cocaine and ecstasy recreationally but made a decent profit from drug dealing. The thread running through the research was that the dealers were 12 and 13 when they started. They were not groomed and certainly do not groom others, but younger siblings definitely end up getting involved. It almost becomes know as the way to make money. Some communities are literally operating on the back of funds that should be coming from the State but that are actually coming from a market we would prefer them not to come from. Various clubs and societies, including boxing clubs and football pitches, benefit. Jerseys may be purchased with the proceeds. One will find that we need to have a conversation. The entrepreneurial and business skills of drug dealers are skills on which we should be engaging. If in a few years we move towards a model based on legalisation, drug dealers should definitely be involved in the conversation.

We did not just survey the ten dealers; we spent considerable time with them. It emerged that they were 12 and 13 and when they started selling drugs. One said that when he started, he did not want to wear his brother's hand-me-downs anymore. I have circulated this research before. Another dealer said he did not want to have to eat cereal out of the sink anymore. He had a large number of brothers and sisters and there were not enough bowls in the house. Another said that all the houses that had money within his estate were getting Weatherglaze windows. This was before the council decided to upgrade. The individual said he wanted to try to save enough money because everybody on the road believed he was poor because he could not get Weatherglaze windows. He wanted to buy them for his mother. These were the reasons young men were deciding to start trying to make money. When they start, it keeps escalating. We use the word "gangland" as if it were something separate from us; it is not. Those concerned are our community members, family members and friends. They live in communities and estates. Their society is not separate from ours. We need to engage with them.

I support many aspects of this motion. I could talk about it for the next hour but I do not have time. We need to engage with drug dealers and stop being afraid of that. We can never move forward if we do not understand the root cause of engaging in drug dealing in the first instance.

I have one question for the Minister of State other than my question on dual diagnosis. It concerns something I believe will be crucial in moving more towards community involvement of the kind that has not occurred in the way we would like. It is not that there has been none at all but it has not occurred in a real way to a great enough extent. During this Government's term, we seem to have moved to a point where the HSE took over the role appointing co-ordinators to the task forces. The task forces have been excluded from the process of recruiting co-ordinators. This means that co-ordinators went from working for the task forces and community to working for the HSE. This put the role very much back towards the centre and caused a considerable amount of distrust among several task forces. Can we move back to a community model where the task force has responsibility for employing the co-ordinator, as was always the case? The co-ordinators now seem to believe they work for the HSE and not the task forces.

I welcome to the Seanad John Dineen and Colm Curtin, students from St. Colman's College, Fermoy. They are guests of Deputy O'Keeffe. They were in the Visitors Gallery a few moments ago but I forgot to welcome them.

I was looking around wondering where they were. I welcome them too.

I now have the unenviable task of following in the footsteps of Senator Ruane, who is an acknowledged expert in this area. There is very little that she has remarked upon that I would take issue with. As the Minister of State knows only too well, the community I represent and in which I am proud to live and have grown up is in the grips of a vicious feud. I will call it a gangland feud and I make no apologies for doing so. I call it a gangland feud for a range of reasons.

Senator Ruane articulated very eloquently the spectrum of issues communities experience in terms of problem drug use, drug abuse, casual drug use and the fallout from these. We all know in this Chamber the variety of reasons for which individuals may decide to choose to engage in drug use of one form or another. There are many multifaceted reasons. There absolutely is a distinction between the kind of addiction we all know about and have encountered and the casual drug use referred to by my colleague Senator Conway. He referred to those who are taking drugs occasionally, including at weekends, and not understanding, or perhaps choosing not to understand, the impact of casual drug use.

As the Minister of State knows only too well, my area has been blighted over the past 18 months by an ongoing feud over control of the local drugs trade. It has claimed two lives. The Garda was very slow to respond with additional resources to deal with criminality. I am referring to the operation of the drugs trade at a high level in my area, comprising Drogheda, south Louth and east Meath. The fact of the matter is that it is working class communities, the communities I represent, that have been absolutely blighted and affected by the fallout from intimidation and victimisation. People who have nothing whatsoever to do with criminal activity are having their homes fire-bombed and their cars attacked. People's lives are in danger. Given my political philosophy and ideology, I would be the first in this Chamber to stand up for civil liberties but when individuals are tormenting the communities in which they live, it is simply not good enough that they are allowed to continue to walk the streets and get away with what they are doing with impunity. We have seen some success in recent days on the part of the local gardaí in that it seized cocaine worth €1.5 million. There were significant arrests for the possession of firearms. These are firearms that would be used to execute or assassinate people in my community. Regardless of where people stand on the so-called war on drugs, which is a term I never really accepted, I believe it is a war that can never be won in any event.

We need to get real about drug use and accept that it is a reality of life. We need to look at decriminalisation, regulation and moving from a criminal justice to a health intervention perspective when dealing with the drugs issue. This war on drugs will never be won. It is impossible. Trillions of euro have been spent across the world in tackling this but to no avail. We are still seeing these issues in Drogheda, north Dublin and elsewhere.

I congratulate the Garda on the work it has done in recent times and using the additional resources at its disposal. I will issue a word of warning, however. The funding An Garda Síochána received in my locality for the additional deployment of gardaí and other resources to help tackle this problem has run out. The Garda has used these resources smartly. I appeal to the Minister for Justice and Equality and the Garda Commissioner to ensure that funds remain available in my area because this feud is still very much alive and well. We will not rest until our community gets back to normality and until such time as people in the area can live safely and securely without fear.

The Minister of State, Deputy Catherine Byrne, has visited the local drugs service in Drogheda, the Red Door Project, which I have supported for a long number of years. The Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection, Deputy Regina Doherty, visited it last week. With all due respect, if it were down to ministerial visits alone, the Red Door Project would have all the funds it requires to run the kind of outreach services we need in the Drogheda area to deal with addiction and problem drug use. We do not have that, however. It is an area gripped by a criminal feud and problem drug use but does not have the outreach workers in the communities most adversely affected by this problem. That is simply not good enough. If ministerial visits were worth anything, we would be rolling in clover and would have all the resources we need but we do not. I always take any commitments made with a pinch of salt. We have seen commitments made in the past but not delivered on. To be frank, it is simply not good enough. People are working extremely hard to tackle this issue in our community using the kind of approach in which I believe, namely, a health-based and community development approach, but not getting the resources they need.

We can focus many of the resources we have available to us battling the gangs. That is important and should happen. However, we need to look at the root causes of why people decide to use drugs, self-medicate and do not have opportunities. We need to build up communities with self-respect, dignity and opportunities. I, along with my colleague, Councillor Pio Smith, who works with the Red Door Project and who the Minister of State would have met during her recent visit there, have been engaging with Louth County Council to ensure the communities most adversely affected by the ongoing feud in Drogheda and problem drug use are resourced properly. We have requested that Louth County Council establish a task force with organisations such as the local education and training board, SOLAS, local schools and further education bodies to take a community-based, education-led and employment-led approach to the problems in those areas. We have been told that, if the council and other authorities can produce a report on some actions to deal with these issues, it will be funded. I will believe that when I see it, however. We need the kind of approach involved in the Mulvey report and the resources which were invested in Dublin’s north inner city. We need that to be directed towards places like Drogheda if this is not to be a recurring problem in my community.

Will the Minister of State consider the strong argument that resources obtained by the Criminal Assets Bureau, such as expensive vehicles, watches, cash, property and so on, in raids in Drogheda over the past two years, should be directed right back into the communities from which they came? This would ensure we can build community facilities and fund projects, as well as resource community workers to tackle the problems I am encountering and dealing with, day in and day out, on behalf of the people I represent.

With respect, will the Minister of State listen to the former incumbents of her office and properly resource the national drugs strategy? Will she do the kind of actions I think she wants to do but may not have the resources to do?

I support this motion and compliment previous speakers, in particular Senator Ruane. Senators Ruane and Nash speak about their experience from predominantly urban areas. I am speaking from a rural perspective. Without being flippant or smart, when I speak of rural I am referring to very remote areas. If somebody passes my house, he or she either lives further up the road or is lost.

We did not have this drug use issue but we have it now. This became a problem in the cities and urban areas some 40 years ago. It is now coming to the most rural areas. We are still talking about potential solutions to tackle the problem. Why have we not learned from the past? Why are the institutions, methods, resources and personnel which have got to grips with this problem and learned by its evolution in urban areas not in place for us now in rural areas? Instead, we are still asking what can be done and how can we handle it. That aggrieves me. I live in a remote area. Even if we had all the resources requested, they would be given to rural towns such as Tullamore, Mullingar and Athlone. In remote rural areas we are struggling with GP access. How are we going to get a solution to what is becoming an endemic problem? I am 54 years of age and have never come across drug use until recently.

When education is thrown out as a solution to a problem, I always question it as it cannot be the answer for everything. We need to deal with education of communities. One of the most significant issues in my community is not ignorance but denial. The pillars of our communities, such as the GAA and other social clubs, become the extended arms of families in times of need and crisis. They are ignorant to an extent but they are also in denial about drug use. Education on the dangers of drug use needs to be directed at the adults in communities to a greater extent. I do not know why this did not start when this issue became a problem in our urban areas. It is vitally important that we educate our communities about this issue.

I must highlight a certain solution in an area not too far from my community which ignited a drug issue. It was a solution to one problem but has turned out to have created many more problems. It involved the acquisition of houses by a housing body and the rehousing of people in an area total alien to them with the promise of all the services they would need to integrate in society.

Unfortunately, the services were only promises and drug and crime issues have escalated in that area. It grieves me to have to say that the locals were integrated more than the people who were brought into the locality. Everybody deserves to be housed and everybody is welcome everywhere. They were not foreign people, they were Irish people who were rehoused. They were not from places far away from the area to which they went but the services that were promised when they arrived were not provided and this has had a knock-on effect.

I support the motion and compliment my colleagues who put it together. This is not a political issue. Everybody here agrees about the severity of the crisis and the need for solutions. We must have learned something from where we have been. It is disappointing that we might have learned nothing from the past and, like many other crises, we are playing catch up and firefighting.

I thank the Senators who have contributed. I will not name all of them. I acknowledge the rawness with which Senator Ruane can speak about this matter. I am aware of her commitment to her community and to the people she represents in the context of how individuals so cruelly trapped in addiction can be affected, possibly because of the places and postcodes from which they come. I agree that addiction in poorer communities has a far greater impact than in more affluent communities.

I will make a few remarks regarding the co-ordinators and the HSE. I will have to come back to Senator Ruane because I do not have the answer in front of me.

In response to Senator Nash, I visited the Red Door Project on a number of occasions and held meetings with all the strategy groups. The Red Door Project does wonderful work, as do many groups around the country but we have a budget and within that budget, we are limited as to what we can resource. I acknowledge the work of the Red Door Project.

I agree with Senator Paul Daly that for far too long, people in rural Ireland did not really understand and probably had not felt the impact of drugs. The furthest reaches of our country are now affected by drugs. On foot of visiting them and speaking to the rural task forces, I know the difficulty they face in terms of outreach services to people in isolated communities. We will begin to resolve this as time goes by because we do not merely need services in the capital and in other cities, the are also needed in rural areas. Putting in place sub-committees in rural communities that can connect with local task forces might be a way of expanding those services. That is something I would like to work on during my tenure as Minister of State.

I am pleased to address the House on the very important matter of our national drugs strategy, Reducing Harm, Supporting Recovery - a health led response to drug and alcohol use in Ireland 2017-2025, and to take this opportunity to reiterate my commitment and that of Government to it. Somebody said that this is my strategy; it is not. This is the people's strategy. It came from consultation with people from every sector and from across the country, including those who have been in addiction, recovered from addiction and families who have lost loved ones to addiction. The strategy is based on the experiences of the many people who came together in their communities at public meetings and bared their souls to me and others. I thank them for doing so.

In July 2017, I joined with the Taoiseach and the Minister of Health in launching the national drugs strategy. We remain committed to the strategy and to addressing the serious issue of drug and alcohol misuse. The strategy adopts a health-led approach to substance misuse. It commits to treating substance misuse and drug addiction as public health issues rather than as criminal justice matters.

In conjunction with the Minister for Health and the Minister for Justice and Equality, I recently announced the introduction a health diversion programme for persons in possession of drugs for personal use. This is a hugely important step in developing this health-led approach. I am very pleased that we are delivering on this key commitment in the national drugs strategy because it was one of the commitments made. A group of people came together and worked tirelessly to come up with different approaches. I am sure Members are very familiar with one of those approaches, namely, the health diversion programme.

Last week, I opened the second annual national drugs forum. It provided an opportunity for nearly 200 stakeholders working in this sector to come together, to network and to share knowledge and experience. The theme was "Inclusion health: responding to the complex health needs of people who use drugs". This is a further example of our commitment to a health-led approach to the use of drugs.

In all, there are 50 actions in the national drugs strategy. These are reported upon on an annual basis, which is publicly available. The annual progress report is also presented to the national oversight committee made up of all stakeholders and discussed in detail at a sub-committee level. The strategy will be reviewed in 2021 and an updated set of actions will be agreed for the remaining period from 2021 to 2025.

In the context of funding, I am pleased to report that expenditure on HSE on drug and alcohol services has increased from €94 million in 2016 to over €100 million in 2018. This funding is used by the HSE to deliver a wide range of services, including early intervention, treatment and rehabilitation. I am pleased to note that the number of cases availing of drug treatment services in 2018 was 10,274, an increase of 1,300 on 2017, or over 15%. The proportion of new cases presenting in 2018 was 39%, up from 37% in 2017. The increase in numbers seeking treatment is encouraging from a public health perspective but, of course, any indication that the use of certain drugs, including cocaine, is on the rise is a matter of concern and one we are determined to continue to respond to.

My Department also provides €28 million to drug and alcohol task forces through various channels of funding, including the HSE. This funding supports over 280 community projects prioritised by drug task forces in local areas and communities throughout the country. I gave an additional €20,000 for each of the 24 task forces this year, or €500,000 in total. Funding has also been provided for 13 strategic health initiatives that reflect regional priorities agreed between the HSE community health organisations and the drug and alcohol task forces and will ensure that resources are targeted at groups most in need. The Department website provides specific indications of where that money went. It went right across the country to support young people in the context of substance misuse, important outreach work in Galway, youth addiction counselling services in Kerry, case management and clinical supervisors, informing care interventions, hidden harm interventions focused on children and young people, community alcohol and detox projects, supporting women to access appropriate drug and alcohol rehabilitation and aftercare support regarding drugs and alcohol services, an antenatal and post-natal care partnership for women using drugs or alcohol and establishing a service user participation programme to optimise the service users' recovery and treatment. Over €500,000 went into those 13 strategic health initiatives reflecting priorities agreed with the people involved in the task forces. I am confident that these new initiatives, which are aligned with the objectives of Sláintecare, will have a positive impact and make a difference to people’s lives as they journey to recovery.

Measuring the overall effectiveness of the response to the problem of drugs is an important policy objective. I want to ensure that resources are directed towards those interventions that are most likely to lead to a reduction in problem drug use and a positive improvement in public health. The strategy commits to operationalising a performance measurement system by 2020 to improve accountability across the statutory, community and voluntary sectors and to strengthen the drug and alcohol task force model in consultation with relevant stakeholders and sectors.

The partnership approach between the statutory, non-statutory and community and voluntary sectors underpins the strategy. Drug and alcohol task forces play a key role in ensuring that a co-ordinated approach is taken as well as developing responses to substance misuse based on locally identified need. The Department of Health provides annual funding of €225,000 to support, develop and facilitate the involvement of communities in the local and national structures for implementing the strategy.

Indeed, there are 11 community and voluntary representatives on the national oversight structure - the national drugs strategy - which gives them a direct say in the development of the strategy. A key challenge in the national drugs strategy is to reduce the number of lives lost to drug overdose. More than 350 people died due to drug overdoses in 2016. Overdose deaths are preventable and tackling them requires a public health response. Some 31 overdose deaths occurred in 2016 among people who injected heroin, and the majority of them occurred in Dublin city. The establishment of a medically supervised injecting facility in Dublin city centre would provide an appropriate healthcare response, especially for those who inject drugs and are homeless. This in turn will make our city safer for residents, children, tourists and workers but, mostly, it will save lives.

I strongly support the appeal by Merchants Quay Ireland to An Bord Pleanála to overturn the decision by Dublin City Council to refuse planning permission for the critical healthcare facility in Dublin city. We cannot be complacent about the dangers of drugs. The Department of Health works closely with the HSE to raise awareness on the dangers associated with drugs through the drugs.ie. There is limited evidence that the mass media campaigns are effective at reducing the use of drugs and alcohol. Therefore, the HSE favours more targeted awareness campaigns. In 2019, the HSE developed and promoted two national campaigns aimed at students and festival goers, who may not present at traditional addiction services. Next year, the HSE will commence a national campaign to raise awareness of the risk associated with drug use and recommend steps on how people can reduce the harm. This work will include information about club drugs, festival drugs, newer drugs as well as cannabis.

While the national drugs strategy is a health-led approach, it also emphasises that tackling of sale and supply of drugs is a key priority for the Government and for An Garda Síochána. This is achieved by supporting local communities through various prevention and detection interventions and engagement with local and regional drugs task forces, the Garda youth diversion programme and projects, the Garda schools programme, the joint policing committees and community policing fora. The Government has dedicated very significant additional resources to An Garda Síochána in recent years, and this has enabled the Garda Commissioner to continue to assign resources to tackle drugs.

In addition to the 105 gardaí assigned to the Garda Drugs and Organised Crime Bureau, as of 30 September, there are approximately 230 further personnel assigned to the Garda divisional drug units addressing demand reduction and supply reduction at local level. I am fully aware of the reality of the drug-related violence and intimidation for families and communities. The drug-related intimidation reporting programme, developed by An Garda Síochána and the National Family Support Network, in 2013 responded to the needs of drug users and family members experiencing drug-related intimidation. An Garda Síochána and the National Family Support Network are currently implementing a joint action plan designed to enhance the effectiveness of the programme through training, knowledge sharing and awareness raising. This follows separate evaluations of the programme by An Garda Síochána and the National Family Support Network.

For all of us the most important thing in life is to protect our children. The Minister for Justice and Equality has stated that he is considering the grooming of children by those who control criminal activity as an extremely serious matter and has asked the Department of Justice and Equality officials to consider the effective response, which may be a combination of policy, legislative and operational measures. The Department of Justice and Equality’s budget for the Garda youth diversion programme has been steadily increased over the last number of years, from €11 million in 2015 to €15 million in 2019. This provision includes funding of 106 Garda youth diversion projects. The important projects are community-based, multi-agency crime prevention interventions, which seek to divert young people who have become involved with crime and anti-social behaviour.

I could probably spend the next 20 minutes trying to respond to some of the issues. As was said by Senators, including Senator Conway from my own party, I come from a background similar to many in the Seanad and the Dáil. People are targeted by criminal gangs, particularly young people. I was a youth leader and I found that many of the young people who came into the youth club did not reach their 18th birthday because of the scourge of addiction. It affected not only them but their families. Senators spoke about how important it is that we make sure that communities, like the one I represent, like the north inner city and like many other communities across the country, are not forgotten, and that there is a proper way to deal with communities, particularly communities that face intimidation on a daily basis. We must structure services, like those in the north inner city, which Senator Nash mentioned. We should be able to come up with a model for communities in which there are real difficulties around intimidation and criminal activity and where young people are getting involved in drugs at a very young age.

I will not oppose the motion by Fianna Fáil. I regret, however, that the leadership of the implementation of the national drugs strategy has been questioned. Nothing could be further from the truth in this regard. I work on a daily basis with people like the official with me and people in the drugs policy department. They work tirelessly in communicating with agencies and HSE community groups to implement the strategy.

I regret very deeply that nine former Ministers of State made a statement, which has been totally taken out of context and which is why this motion was tabled in this House and in the Dáil. I have known many of those Ministers of State for a long time, and I am deeply upset that they would join together without any notice to me as the sitting Minister of State and sign a petition or whatever. I understand there are concerns about the national drugs strategy and in communities, which I will address in the coming days and weeks. The leadership of the implementation of the national drugs strategy will not be questioned by anybody, and I mean that sincerely. I am a deeply passionate about the job I do, particularly the emphasis on young people and drug addiction.

One of the Senators said that none of us knows when it might knock on our own door. Senators and Deputies, who represent their communities, know that we must tackle this from the very beginning, from when the child is born. A woman arriving in the Coombe hospital expecting a baby may be afraid her baby may be taken from her because she has a drug addiction. We have to stop that. We are doing that through the introduction of drug and alcohol midwives in maternity hospitals where we will catch those young women at the very beginning when they are giving birth when we can help them.

We all own this; this is not my strategy. This belongs to all of us, whether we are in a party or not. We need to educate and raise awareness in our communities that drugs kill people. As Senator Nash and others said, not only do drugs kill people, they bring criminal activity into communities that people have never seen, where people are shot on their doorsteps and people are intimidated. I grew up in a parish where young people were taken up lanes and beaten up. We have to get away from that kind of society and we owe it to all the people who are living in communities that are poorer. I use the word "poorer" because I do not agree with the word "deprived". Many people come from poorer communities but they are not deprived. I am sorry for lingering on that theme.

I understand the concerns that have been raised. I will address them over the coming months and weeks. I thank Senators for their contributions because this strategy can only work if we work together, and that means right across the board.

I thank the Minister of State, Deputy Byrne, for her contribution. Senator Swanick, you have five minutes to conclude.

I will be very brief. I thank the Minister of State, Deputy Bryne, for her comprehensive response and her support for the motion.

I compliment the Minister of State on her efforts. I am fully convinced that she is a very solution-driven, pragmatic, motivated and hands-on individual. On a personal level, I would never criticise her efforts and I appreciate what she has done.

It is heartwarming to see the cross-party support for this motion on an issue which really is a national scourge. There are many similarities to the loneliness campaign and the loneliness task force insofar as the drug problem does not discriminate between old or young, rich or poor, urban or rural. As Senator Paul Daly mentioned, this is affecting all of us in every geographical location, including my town of Belmullet. At the end of the day, we are all motivated by the same agenda. We want the welfare of our citizens who are afflicted by the scourge of drugs to be improved, either directly, if they are using drugs, or indirectly, if they are, say, a family member or a victim of crime or intimidation.

I agree with many of the points raised by Senators. Senator Ruane referred to the health model. I am totally in favour of the health model, rather than solely taking the punitive approach we have adopted for far too long. In the context of the dual-diagnosis approach, we all know that drugs cause mental health issues, but, as Senator Ruane stated, it is a chicken-and-egg scenario. There are many people with mental health issues who resort to drugs as a form of release. Perhaps those in the medical profession have to hold up their hands up in that regard and accept that they could do better. I also agree that we need to take an alternative approach and look at this matter from another angle. The Senator is right that we need to engage with drug dealers on a community basis. There can be a disjoint between such people and the task force in a locality and it is important the co-ordinator in a locality comes from that locality and is appointed by that task force. If there is a perception that the person is a HSE employee, that sometimes leads to a lack of engagement with the programmes.

Of course, Senator Gavan is right that, during the time of austerity under Fianna Fáil, there was a reduction in funding to the task forces in line with other HSE reductions. However, it is also worth noting that the funding has stagnated and there has only been a 1.5% increase in the past five years despite a 28% increase in the overall health budget. Senator Wilson will be familiar with one gentleman, Tim Murphy from the Cavan and Monaghan drug and alcohol services, who stated that his project is in danger of closing by 2020 unless it receives additional resources.

Overall, we are all singing from the same sheet. We need to show a unified approach, as we have done today in passing this motion. Ultimately, complacency is not an option and none of us are complacent. I welcome what the Minister of State said and I thank her for her contribution.

Amendment put and agreed to.

I move amendment No. 2:

In the fourth paragraph under “notes that”, to delete “illicit”.

I second the amendment.

Amendment put and agreed to.

I move amendment No. 3:

In the third paragraph under “further notes”, to delete “are addicts” and substitute “have dependency issues”.

I second the amendment.

Amendment put and agreed to.

I move amendment No. 4:

In the eighth paragraph under “further notes”, to delete “abuse” and substitute “use”.

I second the amendment.

Amendment put and agreed to.

I move amendment No. 5:

To delete the ninth paragraph under “further notes” and substitute the following:

“- every cent spent on drugs on the unregulated market funds organised crime;”.

I second the amendment.

Amendment put and agreed to.

I move amendment No. 6:

To delete the first paragraph under “agrees” and substitute the following:

“- the implementation of a public health approach to drug and alcohol misuse is of paramount importance;”.

I second the amendment.

Amendment put and agreed to.

I move amendment No. 7:

In the sixth paragraph under “agrees”, after “comprehensive” to insert “person-centred”.

I second the amendment.

Amendment put and agreed to.

I move amendment No. 8:

To delete the fourth and fifth paragraphs, under “calls for” and substitute the following:

“- action to be taken to respond to open drug dealing on city streets;

- increased measures to prevent young people being drawn into the drugs trade.”

I second the amendment.

Amendment put and agreed to.
Motion, as amended, agreed to.

When is it proposed to sit again?

Next Tuesday at 2.30 p.m.

The Seanad adjourned at 6.05 p.m. until 2.30 p.m. on Tuesday, 19 November 2019.