I welcome the Private Members’ motion which has prompted this discussion. As has been said, a number of different Private Member’s motions have been tabled on this issue recently. The last one was in March of this year when myself and my Independents 4 Change colleagues tabled a motion with the backing of CityWide which was concerned at the direction in which the drugs task forces were moving.
That motion was overwhelmingly supported by everyone in the House. I accepted amendments from Fianna Fáil, Sinn Féin and the Labour Party. The Minister said she would be willing to debate the issues raised at the health committee. I submitted that motion to the health committee on 4 April to put it on the agenda and have heard nothing since, besides an acknowledgement that it had been accepted. I ask everyone on that health committee to raise this and ask why we are not debating the issues raised in more detail. We should put it to the Minister in a more direct way at a committee, in order that the way the task forces are developing can be made more robust and answerable.
I was delighted that Citywide Drugs Crisis Campaign called a meeting in Buswell’s Hotel last week, and that nine previous Ministers have raised concerns about how the task forces are developing. When the new strategy came out the task forces welcomed and supported it. I am a member of a drugs and alcohol task force in my area, and over the last two years it has become absolutely obvious that the HSE and the Department of Health are becoming more dominant. This does not represent the interagency, bottom-up model that was set up in 1997. The task forces were set up in 1997 because it was recognised that the statutory bodies did not know what was happening on the ground. The communities knew what was happening on the ground and were able to utilise the interagency forces, as my colleague, Deputy Maureen O’Sullivan, mentioned in her contribution. That is absolutely crucial.
Rather than debating this for an hour and a half in the Dáil Chamber, I would like to bring this issue before a committee where we can hear a detailed analysis of what is going on with the task forces. The motion I previously moved on this issue called for the Government to “cease the Health Service Executive reviews of drug and alcohol task forces, with immediate effect, as these reviews are being carried out without any discussion or consultation with the national NDS committees that are responsible for supporting and monitoring the task forces, and it is incompatible with the interagency partnership approach that underlies the NDS for one agency to carry out a review and present it as a fait accompli“.
A review was carried out on the drugs and alcohol task force I am on, the result of which was confidential. However, that report has led to one of the projects closing down. We are losing very good community activists with great experience in the community. The projects discussed it with the task force, and asked why the evidence in the report was taken outside of the Irish context. It was not within the Irish context. They also asked how the marking system was formulated and implemented, and raised the issue of confidentiality. The report could not be challenged. It is just accepted as a fait accompli and no one can appeal it.
In the task force I am on, it was recognised that the approach to the report was very hurtful to the projects. This has to stop. Murtagh and Partners is going on to another drugs task force and are doing another few already. These issues must be raised with the committee, because it is undermining the task forces and the interagency approach the task forces should be taking.