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Crowe moves comprehensive Dáil motion on Drugs

23 May, 2006


Moving the Sinn Féin Private Members Motion on Drugs in the Dáil this evening, Sinn Féin TD Seán Crowe said, “We are proposing this motion tonight because of the gravity of the drugs problem engulfing communities throughout Ireland.”  Deputy Crowe said the establishment can no longer “wash its hands of responsibility for this crisis.”

He said, “I come from an area of Dublin that for over the last two decades has suffered massively from the problem of drugs in our society.  In Tallaght, across Dublin South West and in the surrounding areas I have seen at first hand the devastation that it wreaks on communities.  I have witnessed family, friends and neighbours succumb to its devastating impact.  I have attended too many wake houses and funerals.  I have seen talented and energetic young people turn into living wrecks that we all so often, and usually without a second thought, associate with drug addiction.

“I know that I am very much in a minority in this chamber when I say all this - because if I wasn’t, then as sure as night follows day, we would have had addressed it in a more coherent and strategic and planned manner.  We wouldn’t still be trying to bury our heads in the sand.  We wouldn’t still be trying to operate over the heads of the communities most affected by the problem. 

“No longer can we allow the establishment to wash its hands of responsibility for this crisis.  No longer can we allow it to formulate policies based on its own fears and obsessions which do nothing to address the underlying causes of this crisis.

“We are proposing this motion tonight because of the gravity of the drugs problem engulfing communities throughout Ireland.  We have made it the theme of our valuable private members time because of our belief that there is an urgent need to act now across a range of government departments, including community, rural, social and family, health, environment, education and justice. We can only tackle the problem by firstly admitting to the scale of the problem facing us; it is of epidemic proportions, and then resolving to combine the efforts of those departments in a systematic and strategic way.

“We feel it is imperative to raise the drugs issue and debate this crisis, which has for so long been ignored by successive governments in this house.” ENDS

Full text of speech follows:

I come from an area of Dublin that for over the last two decades has suffered massively from the problem of drugs in our society.  In Tallaght, across Dublin South West and in the surrounding areas I have seen at first hand the devastation that it wreaks on communities.  I have witnessed family, friends and neighbours succumb to its devastating impact.  I have attended too many wake houses and funerals.  I have seen talented and energetic young people turn into living wrecks that we all so often, and usually without a second thought, associate with drug addiction. 

I know that I am very much in a minority in this chamber when I say all this - because if I wasn’t, then as sure as night follows day, we would have had addressed it in a more coherent and strategic and planned manner.  We wouldn’t still be trying to bury our heads in the sand.  We wouldn’t still be trying to operate over the heads of the communities most affected by the problem. 

No longer can we allow the establishment to wash its hands of responsibility for this crisis.  No longer can we allow it to formulate policies based on its own fears and obsessions which do nothing to address the underlying causes of this crisis.

We are proposing this motion tonight because of the gravity of the drugs problem engulfing communities throughout Ireland.  We have made it the theme of our valuable private members time because of our belief that there is an urgent need to act now across a range of government departments, including community, rural, social and family, health, environment, education and justice. We can only tackle the problem by firstly admitting to the scale of the problem facing us; it is of epidemic proportions, and then resolving to combine the efforts of those departments in a systematic and strategic way.

We feel it is imperative to raise the drugs issue and debate this crisis, which has for so long been ignored by successive governments in this house.

It is impossible to measure how many lives, families and communities have been, and continue to be ripped apart by the scourge of drugs. While problematic drug use spans a wide category from alcohol to opiates, during this debate we will focus on the so-called hard drugs of heroin, cocaine and crack cocaine that have a profound and extremely harmful effect on Irish society.

Governments have reacted inadequately and far too belatedly to the crisis. When communities were forced to mobilise against the rampant heroin epidemic of the 80s and 90s, the Gardaí harassed many of them instead of pursuing the major drug traffickers. Communities were marginalized instead of being listened to.

If this Government is not to repeat the mistakes of the past it has to realise that communities and their representatives must be involved in the fight against drugs.

And let us not delude ourselves, as some here seem very capable of, that we are currently addressing the problem.  We are not. We are losing the battle.

When many addicts now seek treatment they have to endure lengthy waiting lists. This is unacceptable. This is happening in many areas even though places are available on community based projects. A recent study indicated that a majority of heroin addicts receiving methadone treatment were regular users of other drugs including cocaine. 

Methadone maintenance while useful for some people is not the only solution to making people drug free.

We also need to have mechanisms established to track addicts’ progression through the system to enable all stakeholders to make an informed assessment of the success or otherwise of the current approach to tackling drug addiction.

Ireland is now awash with cocaine, whose use is now spiralling out of control, with an increase of 1,600% in the amount of this substance smuggled into Ireland over the past 6 years.  There are approximately 13,000 heroin users in Dublin alone. It is not just a Dublin phenomenon however. Since the mid-1990s there has been a marked increase in drug-related premature deaths outside of our capital.

It is far from coincidental that, although drug use cuts across all social divisions, it is most prevalent in areas of high social deprivation.  Without question, poverty and social inequality contribute to drug use.  The scourge of drugs will undoubtedly continue unless poverty and inequality are also tackled.

Ireland is the second richest country in the EU and one of the richest per capita in the world, yet just under 1-in-5 live in relative poverty and 7% of the population live in consistent poverty.

Surely Ireland is now in a better position than ever before or probably ever will be to eradicate poverty.  

RAPID and CLAR areas, designated areas of high disadvantage, need sustained support to emerge from their current predicament.

On the Education front we need to have Early Start Programmes in all RAPID and CLAR areas.

The government needs to improve social welfare payments and to increase the National Minimum wage. They need to encourage people to make the transition from welfare to adequately paid employment, not force them off benefits into low paid jobs.

Incentives and supports need to be available to those who wish to return to education. Providing accessible and affordable childcare is also a must. 

There is a growing trend whereby grandparents have had to shoulder the burden of caring for their grandchildren, in most cases without state support, where the parents of the children concerned are drug users.

The abandonment criteria for grandparents to receive benefit needs to be changed and the financial gap between the Foster and Orphans/Guardians allowance needs to be narrowed to reflect the financial cost to many grandparents.

The preventative role of the family should be emphasised more.  Family support services should be greatly expanded so they can effectively act as buffers to drug problems. In any drug policy the family needs to have a prominent focus.

A recent Health Board survey showed that 3 out of every 4 Irish people don’t have enough information, or have the wrong information, about drugs.  Education should be utilised as a powerful weapon against the problematic use of drugs.  This education should take place at school, at home and in the community.

As 66% of those who have taken drugs took them for the first time while in secondary school, our schoolchildren must be educated against the dangers of drug use.  There needs to be sustained and widespread educational campaigns, available in all required languages, to ensure everyone possesses enough knowledge about the harmful effect of drugs.

The acceptance of drug misuse and the glamorisation of cocaine must be tackled. It is not uncommon for children to look up to drug dealers in their area, equipped with fast cars and designer clothes. However at the end of every deal is an individual jeopardising their lives, their health and their future.

Major drug dealers must be exposed for what they are, parasites amassing huge amounts of wealth at the expense of a person’s addiction, their families’ safety and their communities’ future.

In many communities drugs are rampant, making it extremely tough for addicts to reject that way of life as they are tempted by the unprecedented availability of drugs.  

We must ensure children and young adults have viable alternatives to hanging around street corners and becoming vulnerable prey to drug pushers.

These alternatives must be interesting, accessible and affordable.

Educational disadvantage has not gone away, while the repercussions attaching to it, for the rest of a young persons life, are growing greater. There is a correlation in general between low educational attainment and drug problems. While nearly 90% of the children of higher professionals sit the leaving cert, only 77% of the children of semi and unskilled manual workers do so. That means 23% of the latter don’t sit the leaving cert. These children are inevitably more likely to be unemployed or in low income employment poverty traps which are arduous to escape from. It is estimated that up to 1,000 pupils fail to make the transition from primary school to secondary school each year.  What happens to these kids?

The government needs to set up a comprehensive database of primary school pupils to track this transition and to monitor those children dropping out of school, who are a vulnerable target group. Schools and their environment should be drug-free zones and not an easy market for unscrupulous dealers.

Criminal Legislation needs to reflect this.

There is a certain irony that the same Minister with responsibility for Drugs presides over the Housing situation, another crisis. There are an estimated 5,500 people homeless. There appears to be a high level of drug use linked with homelessness. Emergency hostels are in many cases full of drugs. Everyone should have the right to a roof over their head and to live in a clean, safe and drug free environment. People must have a choice and hostels need to reflect this.

The Minister must ensure the roll out of Cocaine treatment projects and devise an action plan to prevent the escalation of crack cocaine. Government Departments must work in conjunction with communities to ensure Local and Regional Task Forces receive the necessary funding. There has to be a concerted effort to tackle the root causes of why people take drugs.

Problematic drug use exists in every socio-economic grouping in Irish society. We have the money to ensure that every child on this island has a fair chance in life, for them to fulfil their potential and not be placed in a situation in which they succumb to drug abuse. All that is lacking is the political will.    

The question posed by tonight’s debate and I would ask Government speakers in particular to focus on this is ; do they acknowledge the scale of the problem and will they commit themselves to action.

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