At least one person died every day in 2017 due to a drug overdose according to the most up-to-date figures. 218 more deaths than due to car accidents. As a result of legislation relating to coroners, this is as up-to-date the information can be but I know there have been five drug-related deaths in the north inner city alone in recent weeks. Below is my Dáil speech on the Misuse of Drugs (Amendment) Bill 2019..
I acknowledge Deputy Curran not only for his work on this Bill but for his work on drugs generally, going back to the time of his drugs strategy when he was a junior Minister in a Fianna Fáil-led Government.
I was at the launch of the national drugs strategy, entitled Reducing Harm, Supporting Recovery. There were many positives in that strategy, the cover of which stated it was a health-led response to drug and alcohol use in Ireland. The cover mentioned family, children and friends, healing, community and recovery. Strong speeches were made at that launch by the Taoiseach and the Minister of State with responsibility for communities and the national drugs strategy, Deputy Catherine Byrne. The vision in that strategy mentioned a healthier, safer Ireland in which harm was reduced and those affected were empowered. The values underpinning the strategy included compassion, respect, equity and, of course, partnership.
There were five goals in that strategy and it was good that well-being was among them because we are not only concerned with good physical health. Other goals aimed to minimise harm and promote rehabilitation and recovery, reduce access to the drugs markets and support the participation of individuals, families and communities. There were performance indicators attached those goals to measure the overall effectiveness of the strategy and key bodies were to report to the Minister. There was to be a national oversight committee and a standing sub-committee to drive implementation.
There was widespread support for that strategy from all of the projects, communities and organisations concerned. It is all there, but the question lies in its implementation and, if there had been effective implementation, we would probably not be having this debate tonight.
I have concerns about the Bill because I do not believe it gets to the root of why drug dealing goes on and why children are involved. Children and teenagers sell drugs either through fear and intimidation, to which I will return shortly, or because they see dealing as a viable and lucrative career choice. These children have role models who are doing well out of dealing, have designer clothes and watches, cars, extensions on their houses, and holidays. Why would those children not sell drugs when the alternatives are not viable? The alternatives are a job that, if one is lucky enough, pays minimum wage, or hanging around doing nothing. I will qualify that by saying that positive work is going on in the north inner city through the programme implementation board under the chairmanship of Michael Stone. However, it is going to take years before the long neglect of the north inner city is reversed. Good work is going on and there is a more positive atmosphere in spite of the many challenges involved.
Some of the progressive initiatives are to do with education and work because we know how important it is for young people to stay in school and, for those who can and want to, to progress to further education. It is also important that there are alternatives for those who do not want to pursue further education to follow up on apprenticeships, etc., and we are seeing movement on that. There are also youth projects, for example the career LEAP project, which works with firms and businesses in the area to provide apprenticeships, mentoring, work experience and jobs with a future.
There are other positives, including the inclusion hub, the progress on case management and stabilisation beds, etc. All of those are important but the invaluable work has to be undertaken on prevention, education and awareness for those people who end up taking drugs, those who end up dealing as a career choice and those who are forced into dealing. Unfortunately, we could walk from here tonight to the north or south inner city and buy any drug, including weed, tablets, crack cocaine and heroin. That is the reality of life in those areas.
One of the terms of reference for the standing sub-committee under the drugs strategy was to develop, implement and monitor responses to drug-related intimidation as a matter of priority but the lack of implementation of the strategy has led to this Bill being before the House tonight.
It is hard to describe the fear that is experienced by people I know in the constituency I represent. Dealers are bursting into homes, sometimes mistakenly, but other times into the homes of family, friends and partners of an addict who owes money, or a dealer who is not paying up. It is the fear that drives some of those family members to do things that they would never do and get involved in criminality such as burning out somebody’s car, attacking somebody’s house, robbing people, committing physical assault and even murder to pay a drug debt, either one’s own or the debt of a family member whose life is at stake if the debt is not paid, or who may have to move out of Dublin or Ireland to avoid being murdered. The family will be left to pay and I am not sure that reality will be helped by the Bill because where is the evidence coming from? If fear drives some children into dealing, fear will keep them dealing. Support is needed to address that fear.
There are also children and young people who are members of families with a history of criminality. We want to break that cycle but I am not sure this Bill will do that, despite the very best of intentions. The answer is to ensure the Government’s commitment in the national drugs strategy is implemented and that the policy structures of the strategy and the structure of the task forces are re-empowered and resourced to do the work.
There are many outstanding issues when it comes to drugs. There have been five drug-related deaths in the north inner city in recent weeks. A report from the Health Research Board, HRB, is due out but that will be about drug-related deaths that occurred two years ago. As a result of legislation relating to coroners, we are not getting up-to-date information.
It is opportune that Dr. Connolly’s report came out today and, while it relates to the south inner city, he has many years’ experience of the north inner city. We know about the findings that highlighted the reluctance of residents to report crime either through fear of reprisal or because they believe that little or nothing was going to be done about it. He suggested certain actions, including the inter-agency approach to what he calls career criminals, using a carrot-and-stick approach like the joint agency response to crime, JARC, and intensive outreach to young people involved in dealing, with trained youth workers using restorative practices and, to summarise, a whole system approach. Dr. Connolly called his report, Building Community Resilience, and emphasised strengthening and resourcing community policing and seriously listening to what young people are experiencing on the ground.
That brings me to the community policing forum that he was involved in setting up, supporting and evaluating. The north inner city forum was in existence for 20 years and was a conduit and liaison for the community in the area. The community found in the forum a safe place to discuss drug debt, intimidation and antisocial behaviour and the conduit it provided was to the gardaí or the local authority, and it was all to do with drugs.