Statement by Minister for Justice and Equality,

Charlie Flanagan, T.D.

 

Fianna Fáil Private Members Motion

on

The National Drugs Strategy

 

 

Opening Remarks

I welcome the opportunity to update the Dáil on progress in implementing the national drugs strategy and on the public health led approach it has enabled in tackling drug use.

The use and misuse of drugs is an international issue that needs to be tackled in a coordinated way and addressed in a global context. I very much share the view of the UN General Assembly Special Session on drugs in 2016 that: 

The world drug problem remains a common and shared responsibility that should be addressed in a multilateral setting through effective and increased international cooperation and demands an integrated, multidisciplinary, mutually reinforcing, balanced, scientific evidence-based and comprehensive approach.

Europe’s drug problem is going through a particularly dynamic phase. Analysis by the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction shows that people are using a wider range of substances than in the past, and many are polydrug users which increases the risks to their health. Although the use of heroin and other opioids in Europe remains relatively rare, these are the drugs that cause highest rates of fatal overdose in Europe. Europe has also experienced an increase in deaths and other harms from newer types of drugs. 

Ireland is not immune from these trends, with 9% of the population using drugs in the last year.

Health-led approach

The national drug strategy, ‘Reducing Harm, Supporting Recovery, a health-led response to drug and alcohol use in Ireland 2017 – 2025’, adopts a health-led approach to substance misuse. It commits to treating substance misuse and drug addiction as a public health issue, rather than a criminal justice matter. 

Recently, I, together with the Minister for Health and the Minister for State for the national drugs strategy, 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 public health approach. I am very pleased that we are delivering on this key commitment in the National Drugs Strategy.

In adopting a health-led approach, it is important that we do we not send out the message that drug use is acceptable or normal. It’s not and never will be.

Already this year, the HSE, through its Drugs.ie website, has developed two campaigns aimed at the student population and festival goers. Next year, the Dept of Health is providing additional funding of €100,000 to develop a national harm reduction campaigns to raise awareness of the risks associated with drug use. This will include information about club drugs, festival drug use, newer drugs as well as cannabis.

 

 

The Strategy represents a whole-of-Government response to the problem of drug and alcohol use in Ireland. It draws upon a range of Government policy frameworks in order to reduce the risk factors for substance misuse. It also commits to addressing the harms of drugs markets and reduce access to drugs for harmful use.

My own Department has responsibility as the lead agency or partner in a number of actions, including keeping drugs legislation under review as the joint lead agency with the Department of Health.

 

Tackling the sale and supply of drugs is a key priority for the Government and An Garda Síochána. A core focus of the work carried out by An Garda Síochána is aimed at tackling drugs and organised crime. The rollout of the new operating model of An Garda Síochána, meeting a key commitment in A Policing Service for the Future, will increase the number and visibility of front-line Gardaí to combat criminal activity including tackling drugs. This model is the norm in many other countries and I am confident that it will serve Ireland well by providing a more agile, localised and responsive police service nationwide.

 

The operating model is being introduced at a time of record investment in An Garda Síochána. €1.76 billion has been allocated to the Garda Vote for 2019, as well as capital investment amounting to € 92 million this year. I am pleased to have secured an overall increase of €122 million to increase An Garda Síochána’s budget for 2020 to an unprecedented €1.882 billion for next year in addition to €116million in capital investment.  This ongoing investment is supporting ongoing and sustained recruitment of Garda members and staff.  We now have over 14,200 Gardaí nationwide, supported by over 2,800 Garda staff.  And the organisation is still growing - a programmer of accelerated recruitment is ongoing with a view to reaching 15,000 Gardaí in an overall Garda workforce of 21,000 by 2021.

 

Additional resources have enabled An Garda Síochána to continue to assign resources to Specialist Bureaus.  These include for example the Garda National Drugs and Organised Crime Bureau, which leads in tackling all forms of drug trafficking and the supply of illicit drugs in Ireland. Collaboration at an inter-agency and international level remain key in tackling this issue.  It also works with Garda Divisional Drug Units nationwide in demand reduction and supply reduction at local level.  

 

In addition to the 105 Gardaí assigned to the Garda Drugs and Organised Crime Bureau, as of 30 September, I would also note that Garda Divisional Drug Unit for the years 2017-2019 have been stable (2017: 236, 2018: 222; 2019: 232 personnel).

 

In addition, An Garda Síochána remains committed to tackling the supply of drugs by supporting local communities through various preventative and detection initiatives and engagement with Local and Regional Drug and Alcohol Task Forces; the Garda Youth Diversion Programme and Projects; the Garda Schools Programme; the Joint Policing Committees and Community Policing Fora.

 

My Department’s budget for Garda Youth Diversion Projects has been steadily increased over the last number of years from €11.3million in 2015 to €15.3m in 2019. This provision includes funding to support the operation of 106 Garda Youth Diversion Projects (GYDPs) currently. These important projects are community-based multi-agency crime prevention initiatives which primarily seek to divert young people who have become involved in crime/anti-social behaviour.

 

Moreover, Minister of State Stanton, is currently developing a new Youth Justice Strategy with the assistance of an interdepartmental and interagency steering group.  The new Strategy will address the full range of issues relevant to youth justice, including how best to prevent young people getting involved in criminal activity, including drug dealing

 

Drug-related intimidation is also a focus of the Strategy – unique across EU Member States’ strategies. It is an extremely serious issue which involves the targeting of persons who use drugs, or their family or friends in relation to a drug debt. An Garda Síochána will take action in relation to drug related intimidation, particularly where there is a risk of harm, or to the life of a person. 

 

There is a Drug Related Intimidation Reporting Programme, developed by An Garda Síochána and the National Family Support Network (NFSN), in place since 2013 which responds to the needs of drug users and family members experiencing drug-related intimidation.

 

A number of Deputies have raised concerns regarding the need to strengthen legislation relating to children involved in drug crime.

I have stated previously that I consider the grooming of children by those who control criminal activity an extremely serious matter.  I have asked my Department to consider the effective response which may be a combination of policy, legislative and operational measures. 

The Strategy recognises the importance of supporting the participation of communities in key decision making structures, so that their experience and knowledge informs the development of solutions to solve problems related to substance misuse in their areas. In addition, the development of this Strategy involved a wide range of sectors, stakeholders and interests working together. Working collaboratively, we can deliver on the ambitious goals in this Strategy.