Article published in The Irish Catholic
Ronan Mullen is correct. There I have said it. Yes, this Dublin 4 Liberal agrees with Ronan Mullen ( The Irish Catholic 3rd January) when in the course of a recent Seanad debate he said that “Communities must solve drugs problem” and that “we have to acknowledge that there is a deep social and cultural malaise at the heart of this issue”. The recent untimely death of several young people from drug abuse has brought the tragedy and horror of this most ugly form of human abuse to the top of the media agenda. It must now become the top of all of our agendae as a community. As the cold blooded murder of Veronica Guerin stung Government into action, we must grasp recent events as an opportunity to finally tackle the problem of drug abuse in our country. We need first of all to ensure that it remains at the top of the media and Government’s priority list for action.
It is not often that I laud Michael Mc Dowell, so in another break from my South Dublin, politically correct background, can I say that the former Minister for Justice was also right when he said that the cocaine
sniffing, middle classes in their posh addresses are as culpable in the deaths of the pushers and unfortunate addicts as if they had pulled the trigger themselves.
So what can we do as a community? How can we all help in ridding Ireland of the scourge of drug abuse? How can we offer young people in particular a better tomorrow? I do not claim to have all the answers.
There are others more skilled and more involved than I who have been working “on the ground” dealing with what is a crisis facing our country. I salute them and the work of the Local Drugs Task Forces who have, for years, been working with limited resources towards tackling this problem. They are the heroes of the modern Ireland and truly worthy of the title “Celebrity” in modern Ireland.
I offer only this contribution for what its worth.
First of all I believe that there has to be a Zero Tolerance in relation to Drug distribution. The owners of Pubs and Clubs in which it is known that Drugs are widely available should be hauled before the Courts and
if found Guilty of allowing such activities on their premises be shut down. If necessary a new law dealing with this should be introduced. The penalty must relate to the severity of the crisis. Lives are at stake.
Secondly, the powers and resources of the Criminal Assets Bureau must be strengthened. In addition the proceeds seized by the CAB must be visibly redirected towards the communities that have most suffered from the problem of Drug Abuse. This should not just mean Communities of Place but also Communities of People. Young People and Youth Organizations should directly benefit from the assets seized. We need to stop drugs getting into this country and if necessary give additional powers and resources to Customs Officials. Lives are at stake.
Thirdly, support for Youth and Community Organizations should be massively increased. The cost of maintaining one young person in a Penal Institution is approximately €110, 000 per annum. Surely, a monumental bad use of resources? To put it in context the Government Grant to the 39,000 member Scouting Ireland in 2005 was approximately €1.1million. That equates to the cost of keeping ten young people in detention. How much better for all in our society if resources were targeted earlier and spent on prevention, education and recreation and not, when it is often too late, the cure? This is particularly so as all the evidence shows that the detention of young people is often counter productive and usually leaves even to more wasted and lost lives.
Fourthly there must be considerable reform in the way Policing in Ireland operates. We must get back to the situation in which the Gardai and the Community are at one in a common fight against crime and intimidation. Local Gardai Committees, strengthening of the role of the Community Garda, real dialogue at community level in each Garda Station must become the norm and not the exception.
Fifthly, every support should be given to the Local Drugs Task Forces in their daily battle with this problem. We need to ensure that sufficient resources are given to all the agencies working to assist Recovering
Addicts and those who wish to come off drugs. I am proud of the fact that it was a Labour Minister, Pat Rabbitte, who initiated and developed the National Drugs Strategy and I believe we have been fortunate in the
Ministers who have succeeded him in that portfolio. I also believe that in the present Minister Pat Carey we have someone who is dedicated and committed to doing all he can on this issue. He needs more support
across the Political divide to ensure that he has all the resources he needs to deliver progress. This is not, nor should it be a Party Political issue. We need to work together on this and we need to ensure that the true Christian message of “tough love” is applied. We need to enable those who wish to leave drugs behind to build a new life for themselves.
Sixthly, but perhaps above all we need a significant shift in the media’s attitude to young people and so called “celebrities”. We need to value and laud the good work and community endeavour carried out by so
many and recognized by so few. We must begin to confer the “celebrity” tag on the Youth Club Leader, the local Football, Hurling or Hockey Club Managers and the young people involved in environmental, cultural and community work throughout our country. The young people who give of their time working in their communities or simply enjoying the normal pursuits of the young deserve our support and our praise. We need new role models for young people and we need those who work with young people to be acknowledged as having a role to play and that their voice will be heard. We need to see the President of the National Youth
Council or the Head of the Girl Guide Movement to be as regular as Panelist on Questions and Answers as Nell Mc Cafferty or Eamon Dunphy. We need to see the World Scout Jamboree that will take place in Ireland
next August to be covered, not in terms of the “ten miles of sausages” type approach so beloved by the media but by reporting on the adventurous engagement in activities by ten thousand young people in a
spirit of Fun, Friendship and Challenge. In the immortal words of Bill Clinton I still believe in a place called Hope. I still believe in young people. It is the “adults” who worry me.
Dermot Lacey is President of Donnybrook Scout Group and a former Lord Mayor of Dublin.