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SF calls for multi-faceted response to multi-faceted drug problem

24 May, 2006


Sinn Féin leader in the Dáil, Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin TD, has said that drug misuse in society is a "multi-faceted problem requiring a multi-faceted response."  He called on the government to dedicate "adequate funding to significantly expand the availability of drug-user treatment and to eliminate waiting lists for treatment."  He called for the empowering of communities arguing that the "knowledge and experience of communities" built up since the 1980s "must be harnessed."

Deputy Ó Caoláin went on to say that "effective rehabilitation is vital as part of the overall effort to combat drug misuse. There needs to be a continuum of care for those who have overcome drug misuse and are recovering. Treatment options need to include increased numbers of detoxification beds for recovering misusers. There needs to be more inter-agency co-operation so that people in recovery can rebuild their lives. Health, employment, social welfare and housing needs should be addressed. "

"Despite clear evidence that residential drug treatment is effective, severe difficulties remain in accessing treatment. There is an urgent need to end waiting lists for such treatment. Harm reduction is not confined to supporting people in their efforts to break their addiction. Efforts must also be made to minimize the dangers to health posed by drug use.

"This includes the need for much expanded needle exchange programmes to reduce the risk of HIV and Hepatitis C infection. These programmes should be extended to cover prisons. The approach of the Minister for Justice will not end drug misuse in prisons but drive it further underground and increase the danger of HIV and Hepatitis C."

Deputy Ó Caolaín also criticised the Fine Gael amendment to the motion saying it was "puzzling" and said he suspected the party did not wish to have to say they supported a Sinn Féin motion although the amended motion was only a truncated version of the original.

He accused the Government of being "defensive in the extreme" in the amendment they put forward saying "It is depressing that there is no recognition in the amendment, nor in the speech of the Minister of State last night, of the continuing impact of the drugs scourge on real people, real families and real communities." "The Sinn Féin motion does not condemn the Government as such motions customarily do. It offers a clear analysis of the problem and presents proposed actions. It deserved a better response than this amendment and Minister of State Noel Ahern’s speech."

 

Full text of speech by Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin

Ba mhaith liom buíochas a ghabháil le gach Teachta a ghlac páirt sa díospóireacht tábhachtach seo.

I want to thank all Deputies who have participated in this important debate. The Sinn Féin TDs tabled this motion because we believe that far too little attention is being paid to the massive problem of drug abuse in this society. It has not received the attention it deserves and it is timely that everyone here is reminded of the impact of this problem in every neighbourhood in the country.

In our approach to this debate we have chosen not to attack but to encourage. There must surely be a universal realisation across this chamber of the enormity of the challenge to be faced. We know it. We do not underestimate it nor do we underestimate the difficulties involved. We have been constructive and, rather than concentrate on the shortcomings of Government policy and implementation, we have proposed concrete measures to improve the situation. These measures reflect the experience of our activists and elected representatives in the communities worst affected by the scourge of drugs, as well as the experience of people working in the sector.

It is vital in addressing the drugs crisis that the response is community led and community driven. When heroin first appeared on the streets of Dublin in the early 1980s, communities were totally abandoned by the state. They had to organise themselves to protect their children from drugs. Very often they were met not only with neglect but with harassment from the state. Indeed some community activists were even imprisoned for trying to protect their children from drug pushers. But over the years communities built up a huge fund of knowledge and experience about how to address the massive problem of drug misuse in their families and communities. Their input has been vital at every level. The knowledge and experience of communities must be harnessed and those communities must be empowered.

This is a multi-faceted problem requiring a multi-faceted response. We have called for more effective policing, specific action to deal with the hugely increased problem of cocaine use and focussed efforts to address poverty, social exclusion and educational disadvantage. I want to address briefly the whole area of public health, treatment for drug users and rehabilitation. 

It is essential that the Government dedicates adequate funding to significantly expand the availability of drug-user treatment and to eliminate waiting lists for treatment. It is unacceptable that there are waiting lists for treatment and there is no excuse for this.  It is generally recognised that the methadone maintenance programme is limited both in scope and in geographical area and there is far too much reliance on this programme as the main medical response to heroin addiction. For methadone to be effective in assisting people to become drug-free it has to be used together with a range of other interventions.

The Government needs to expand the spectrum of services available so that all drug users who want to avail of treatment and other services can do so. It should also ensure that drug users have access to the other counselling and medical services they need, without discrimination. These services should be culturally appropriate. It is important that homeless drug users are treated appropriately and preferably within their area of origin. People working in the sector also make the point that providers of mental health services should be open to treating people with dual mental health and drug use problems.

Effective rehabilitation is vital as part of the overall effort to combat drug misuse. There needs to be a continuum of care for those who have overcome drug misuse and are recovering. Treatment options need to include increased numbers of detoxification beds for recovering misuers. There needs to be more inter-agency co-operation so that people in recovery can rebuild their lives. Health, employment, social welfare and housing needs should be addressed. Too often, families have seen the tragedy of a child who successfully battles against addiction only to succumb once again. In some cases this results in drug overdose and death – another statistic to add to the innumerable lives destroyed by drugs. Continuity of care is vital to help avoid such tragedies.  

There is a need for the development of opiate overdose reduction strategies. 

Despite clear evidence that residential drug treatment is effective, severe difficulties remain in accessing treatment. There is an urgent need to end waiting lists for such treatment. Harm reduction is not confined to supporting people in their efforts to break their addiction. Efforts must also be made to minimize the dangers to health posed by drug use.

This includes the need for much expanded needle exchange programmes to reduce the risk of HIV and Hepatitis C infection. These programmes should be extended to cover prisons. The approach of the Minister for Justice will not end drug misuse in prisons but drive it further underground and increase the danger of HIV and Hepatitis C.

Deputy Ó Snodaigh has addressed the role that should be played by the Garda Síochána. This is the neglected aspect of the debate about Garda reform. We need reform in order to have a much more effective police service that can tackle the supply of drugs and those who terrorise communities to maintain their deadly trade. When Deputy Ó Snodaigh last questioned Minister McDowell during Priority Questions about the massive growth in cocaine use, the Minister did not even attempt to answer the question but started one of his anti-Sinn Féin rants. That showed a contempt for the communities worst affected by the drugs scourge. It was an especially bad moment for a Minister who has had many such moments. Worse than that, it was an atrocious example from a lead Minister in the area of drugs.

The Government must get its act together by further increasing the resources available to the Garda National Drugs Unit, Local Drugs Units and Garda Juvenile Liaison Officers. It should speed up the process of civilianisation so that more officers can be freed up to combat the drugs scourge on the front line. The hundreds of personnel and massive funding devoted to the Special Branch would be better utilised protecting communities from the real threats to their lives and tackling the supply and sale of drugs.

When communities have faith in the Gardai, when they are seen to be effective in tackling this malignant growth in our midst, then people will support them and we will see the beginning of a rebuilding of community confidence in their police force.

Before concluding I want to refer to some of the other contributors.

The Fine Gael amendment is puzzling. It lifts a number of phrases from the original motion and truncates it. I see nothing in it that is not covered by our motion. I suspect that Fine Gael did not wish to have to say that they were supporting a motion on drugs tabled by Sinn Féin. I did not detect that from the tone of Deputy English but perhaps his party prevailed upon him. That is a pity and the motion should have commanded cross-party support, at least on the Opposition benches.

The Government amendment is defensive in the extreme. It is depressing that there is no recognition in the amendment, nor in the speech of the Minister of State last night, of the continuing impact of the drugs scourge on real people, real families and real communities. The Sinn Féin motion does not condemn the Government as such motions customarily do. It offers a clear analysis of the problem and presents proposed actions. It deserved a better response than this amendment and Minister of State Noel Ahern’s speech.

No-one denies that there have been improvements in the way we as a society respond to this problem. But this has happened in a context where drug misuse has expanded hugely and adversely affects far more people than ever before. The hurt and pain and devastation of families is all about us if we would only look and listen. Sadly, there was scant recognition of that in the Government’s response to this motion. There was a complacency in the Minister of State’s response, even in the face of the evidence he cited about increased use of cocaine. I would also dispute the Minister of State’s contention that substance misuse prevention programmes in schools have equipped all students with knowledge about the dangers of drug misuse. The actual delivery and effectiveness of these programmes needs to be monitored and assessed.

It was alarming to hear the Minister of State attempting to put a positive spin on the supposedly falling number of heroin addicts. Over 12,000 heroin users in Dublin and 8,000 receiving methadone is nothing to boast about. Yet the Minister of State favourably compared the numbers being treated today with those in 1997 as if the increase in people being treated was a sign of success.

In the script distributed by the Minister of State last night he stated: “I strenuously rebut the motion”. I am glad he did not use that phrase in his speech but instead noted the motion and said it presented an opportunity for debate.

This debate was long overdue. But so also is a renewal of the commitment on the part of government to address the damage being done to our society by the drugs scourge. There is much common ground here in the Dáil, among the statutory agencies, among those working at the coalface including community and voluntary bodies, among communities and among drug-users themselves about how we can move forward. It needs commitment and drive and positive steps to address every aspect of this complex problem. It is about making a real difference in the lives of individuals, families and communities.

Therefore I urge all members to support this motion.

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