I can assure the Deputy that tackling criminal activity is a key priority for the Government and an ongoing priority for An Garda Síochána which is reflected in the National Policing Plan.
As there is already a robust framework of law to address the issue of drug related crime, there is currently no specific legislation in preparation in my Department regarding this issue. However, there are a number of related legislation projects being progressed in my Department including the Garda Síochána (Powers) Bill which will streamline and strengthen Garda powers generally and the Criminal Justice (Exploitation of Children in the Commission of Offences) Bill, which will outlaw the grooming of children into crime.
In June 2021 the Government approved the general scheme of the Garda Síochána (Powers) Bill. In line with a recommendation of the Commission on the Future of Policing in Ireland, the Bill will provide a clear and transparent statutory basis for the existing police powers of search, arrest and detention, supported by statutory codes of practice. As well as bringing together and streamlining the existing powers, the Bill will also strengthen them in some respects.
In January 2021 I published the general scheme of the Criminal Justice (Exploitation of Children in the Commission of Offences) Bill. The Bill will, for the first time, create specific offences where an adult compels, coerces, induces or invites a child to engage in criminal activity, including drug related crime. While current law already provides that an adult who causes or uses a child to commit a crime can be charged and convicted as the principal offender – meaning they can be punished as though they committed the crime themselves – it does not recognise the harm done to a child by drawing them into a world of criminality.
As the Deputy may be aware, An Garda Síochána tackles organised criminal activity through a range of targeted measures designed to disrupt and dismantle the operations of criminal organisations. Specialist units involved in tackling organised crime, including the Armed Support Unit, the Garda National Drugs and Organised Crime Bureau (GNDOCB), the National Bureau of Criminal Investigation, and the Criminal Assets Bureau (CAB), are enjoying continuing significant success in disrupting drug trafficking and the supply of illicit drugs by organised crime groups.
The work of the GNDOCB is supported by Divisional Drugs Units, which tackle drug-related crime on a local basis throughout the country, in collaboration with other law enforcement partners and all Gardaí working in local communities. Divisional Drug Units are now established in every Garda Division. In 2020, the GNDOCB seized €36.7 million worth of illicit drugs, 23 firearms, 2,131 rounds of ammunition, and €8 million in cash and made 228 arrests.
The continued cooperation with other jurisdictions is of vital importance to tackling transnational organised crime, including drug trafficking, and targeting the illicit proceeds generated by drug-related crime. Ongoing liaison between our national police service and other law enforcement agencies, via Europol, has led to a number of successful joint operations in recent years.
The Deputy will be aware that the Department of Health leads on Government policy in the area of drugs, and this policy is guided by the national drugs and alcohol strategy "Reducing Harm, Supporting Recovery - a health led response to drug and alcohol use in Ireland 2017-2025". This strategy represents a whole-of-Government response to drug and alcohol use in Ireland. While the implementation of the strategy is led by my colleague, the Minister for Health, the strategy includes actions for all stakeholders, including my Department and An Garda Síochána.
The strategy recognises the need for a balanced health-led approach - reducing demand, while also reducing access to illegal drugs, and is aimed at reducing the number of people criminalised for the possession of drugs for personal use. While this strategy supports the vulnerable people who use drugs, it is also matched with strengthened enforcement measures across government to tackle the supply of illegal drugs.