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Cllr Mark Ward Slams Drugs Minister Catherine Byrne

17 July, 2016

Sinn Fein Councillor Mark Ward for the Clondalkin LEA, has heavily criticised remarks attributed to Minister of State with responsibility for Drug Policy Catherine Byrne in a recent interview with the Sunday Business Post. Ward who has years of frontline experience working with people suffering with addiction and is a qualified Addiction Counsellor and Behavioural Therapist believes that her comments are counterproductive to positive reforms. Cllr Ward is also an unpaid director on one of the local drugs task forces.

Cllr Ward said;

“The Minster for State for Drugs Policy. Catherine Byrne has openly criticised Drug Task Forces, its staff, community groups and even addicts themselves. This is outrageous.

“She accused Drugs Task Forces of becoming stale, being very inwardly looking, being all about the job and not responsible to the money they hand out, with very little return.

“The truth is, alcohol and drug misuse is a symptom of years of regressive policies by successive Governments. Community groups and later Drugs Task Forces originated from a lack of services provided by the state. These where a direct response to the drug epidemic that hit our communities. Many of these services where frontline and dealt with the addiction issues at the coal face.

“For someone suffering with addiction, who through prejudice, ignorance, fear and lack of misunderstanding to be ostracised from “normal” society,  to finally find services that where open, welcoming and set in non-judgemental environment was a break through.

“I worked in a Community Drug Team in Inchicore a couple of hundred yards from Minister Byrnes constituency office for numerous years. In all my time there I cannot remember any interaction from the Minister. In fact the only interest she showed towards the drug team was when she was part of a campaign who was against the opening of the service.

“Community groups working with addicts have over the years had their dwindling resources used up trying to jump through hoops for Government policy. I myself have spent countless hours working on meaningless service level agreements, key performance indicators and the newest kid on the block “the logic model”. These are hours that could have been spent better working with the addict.

“I’m bemused to see Minister Byrne stating that addicts are “actually human beings” yet her Government have reduced them to numbers and statistics.

The biggest problem frontline workers have is a lack of services and the inability of Governments to change policy in relation to the changes in drug culture. You only have a small window of opportunity helping someone treat their addiction. There are many barriers preventing people becoming drug free. There are only 13 beds for methadone detox yet there are over 10, 000 people on methadone maintenance. It is extremely difficult to get treatment for poly-drug users.

“Minister Byrne criticised frontline workers and service for looking after their own needs and being all about the job. During my years working in this field I have had the pleasure to work alongside some of the most passionate, empathetic and courageous people.  Years of austerity measures and cutbacks in this area has pushed services to the limit. Services are expected to do more with less resources available.

“One area that was cut back on was the ability of services to provide clinical supervision to its staff. Supervision is a space where frontline workers can talk, explore and articulate how their job is impacting them. Minister Byrne said workers are burnt out yet she has not directed any resources to alleviate this happening.

“Instead of pointing the finger outwards at the people who are struggling on a daily basis to provide addiction services, Minister Byrne needs to take a long look at the regressive policies that have hindered these services.

“Last year Minister Byrne hit the headlines again when she said that people in her local area would rather spend their money on alcohol than pay the water tax. She missed the point completely. Drugs and alcohol are mood altering substances that have the capacity to alter people’s perception of reality. Decades of regressive policies on housing, education and employment has led to abject poverty in areas of Dublin, including the Ministers constituency, a dark reality that made drug use attractive to some people.

“The last point ill make and I am in agreement with the Minister, is that she describes addicts as sick. However, it’s her Government’s policy to criminalise these sick people instead of treating them. She stated that during the 30 years of Drugs Task Forces that the problem is getting worse. It’s not the Drug Task Forces that are the issue but rather 30 years of sending people to prison rather that treatment and 30 years of regressive policies that is the problem.

"Unfortunately in light of her comments, I do not envisage any radical progressive changes under this Minister’s stewardship.”

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