Some families stuck in ‘tumble-dryer’ of poverty, says Minister

Catherine Byrne claims some people cannot be helped, however much the State gives them

Catherine Byrne, Minister of State for national drugs strategy: she says a supervised self-injecting drugs facility will open in spring. Photograph: Alan Betson / The Irish Times

Catherine Byrne, Minister of State for national drugs strategy: she says a supervised self-injecting drugs facility will open in spring. Photograph: Alan Betson / The Irish Times

 

There are some people who are poor and are “probably always going to be poor” as it is “how they have been reared”, the Minister of State for the national drugs strategy has said.

Catherine Byrne told The Irish Times it was “sad” that some “problem families”, no matter how many services they got, would never “get out of that tumble-dryer” of intergenerational poverty and unemployment.

She was responding to a question on whether the drugs crisis, in some of the areas worst affected, had been exacerbated by cuts to welfare and community services imposed by the previous government of which she was a member.

“The cuts have affected everyone. The poorest areas are getting the most money into all the services. Why is it that the services still haven’t achieved what they’re supposed to? Something has to not be working.

“But then there are people who are poor, who are probably always going to be poor and it’s nothing to do with money. It’s how they have been reared, it’s how their family has developed down through the years.

“I could tell you I have 10 families in Inchicore who I know, who have been problem families, who’ve been families in unemployment. And will they ever get out of that tumble-dryer as I call it? I doubt it, no matter how many services are in there, because there’s not the sense up here that there’s something beyond social welfare. And that’s sad, that’s very sad.”

She said the first medically supervised injecting facility for drug addicts would open in Dublin city centre in spring. If working well, others would open across the State.

Medical supervision

“It will have the facilities that when people come in they can use whatever drug they’re going to use. They will be medically supervised and if people do get into difficulty then at least there’s someone there to look after them, and at least we won’t find them [dead] down a lane two days later. When you’re at your lowest in life, and you are at your lowest when you’re at that stage, someone has to look after them.”

Her predecessor, now Senator Aodhán Ó Ríordáin, who announced medically supervised injecting facilities last year, also advocated decriminalisation of drugs for personal use, saying this would divert addicts from the justice system and into treatment.

Legal deterrent

Byrne is against decriminalisation, saying it would remove a vital deterrent.

“Decriminalisation has come up a lot in [Dáil] debates . . . People are talking about the Portuguese model and how wonderful it is, how people when they are caught with drugs go and sit in front of a committee [which] directs them into programmes. That’s fine and it works in Portugal but will it work here? I don’t think it will . . . we are a different country.”

But “there’s something in it we might be able to use”, she said. She was impressed on a recent visit to the Drug Treatment Court. It has operated, in Dublin only, since 2001. It is aimed at people before the District Court on minor drug offences and willing to enter treatment to avoid prison or a criminal conviction.

She would like to extend its approach, but said it was “no good” that participants were having to wait for services. She wants to “enhance” these.

The national drugs strategy expires this year. Public consultation for one to run from next year will begin in September, and she particularly wants to hear from communities worst affected by drugs .

Austerity and cuts

Twenty-four local and regional drug and alcohol task forces implement the current strategy across the State. Many in the sector feel these are less effective than in the past, that they have lost heart as the drugs issue has been progressively “deprioritised” by Government. Others say the impact of austerity and cuts have reduced their capacity.

Ms Byrne feels they have lost touch with the communities they serve.

“We need to ask, do we need to look at a different structure? Do we need to leave the ones that are working, take out the ones that aren’t? Or look at the ones that aren’t working and do something else with them? Or do we need to change focus? And I think we do.”