DÁIL SPEECH ON LOCAL DRUGS AND ALCOHOL TASK FORCE

I commend my colleague, Deputy Joan Collins, on her tremendous work in bringing forward this motion on the local drug and alcohol task forces. The motion strongly supports the work of the task forces, which are central to the implementation of the Government strategy, Reducing Harm, Supporting Recovery, of 2017. The motion calls on the Government to implement the commitment in the programme for Government to allocate an emerging needs fund; to commit to urgent implementation of the Public Health (Alcohol) Act 2018; to accelerate the work of the Garda asset profilers; to ensure a partnership approach to the new youth scheme; and to conclude the HSE review, among other measures. The Fianna Fáil and Sinn Féin amendments are also very welcome.

There are 14 local drug and alcohol task forces, 12 in the Dublin area, one in Bray and one in Cork city. There are also ten regional drug and alcohol task forces. I am informed that current funding has been reduced by around 37%, which is an astonishing cut, since 2008. There were a number of years with no funding restorations and in budget 2018, while the HSE received an additional €6.5 million for addiction services, none of this was distributed amongst the task forces.

Tragically, there were almost 700 drug related deaths in 2015. Drugs continue to be a scourge on our communities and families. I welcome some of the measures the Minister for Health and the Minister of State have indicated they are interested in bringing forward. Some of the strategic actions of the task forces include responding to the needs of women and older people with substance misuse issues; supporting and promoting community participation in all local, regional and national structures; and promoting the participation of service users and their families. How can the task forces be expected to deliver on such actions with inadequate funding and an erosion of morale? These issues are partly due to a HSE review, which I understand is being completed with little or no consultation with the task forces on its terms of reference. How can the HSE expect to review the remit and running of task forces when so much of the work and interaction of those bodies falls outside of the health sphere?

Constituents who work and volunteer in the sector inform me that they strongly agree with having transparent systems in place for reporting on the spending and allocation of task forces’ funding. They make a convincing case that core funding to community and voluntary groups should be increased significantly. I am informed that some of the organisations cannot pay yearly increments to their experienced, professional core staff. The Minister is aware, as we all are, of the importance of community employment schemes for assisting people in addiction to come back into the workforce. However, the term limits on those schemes can make recovery very difficult. Organisations and volunteers working with people with drug or alcohol addiction issues or both mention deficiencies with the health service, the psychiatric services, dual diagnosis services and so on. One of the key organisations in my own constituency of Dublin Bay North, the Kilbarrack coast community programme, states that the increasing number of drug deaths each year is a result of front-line services not being put in place or being totally overwhelmed. I am sure the Minister of State is aware of the excellent work of that organisation. The Dales Centre in Darndale is another outstanding local service, as are the rehabilitation and support programme, RASP (Laneview Learning Centre) CLG, in Coolock; the Edenmore drug intervention team, EDIT; and indeed several other anti-drug and alcohol organisations in various parishes in the north east.

One aspect to which the Minister referred and which I would also like to address is that of drug related intimidation. The Ceann Comhairle may have noted that our parliamentary colleagues in Westminster are very agitated at the moment by the high level of homicides from knife crime. We have an outrageous level of homicides from gun crime here, and some of these issues are created out of what has been happening in the drug abuse area. This growing and worrying part of the drugs trade and addiction is terrorising communities around the country. In 2016, CityWide undertook a survey which showed that under 10% of people reported their experiences of intimidation to the Garda, and the Garda figures backed that up with just one case under investigation in 2017. Reference has been made to the Garda asset profilers. There is a real issue here about communities living in terror. I hope that is being taken on board by the Minister of State, Deputy Catherine Byrne, the Minister for Justice and Equality and the Minister for Health.

I warmly commend the work of the drug and alcohol task forces, as well as the organisations and projects funded by them. I congratulate my colleague, Deputy Joan Collins, on bringing forward the motion.