Ahern offers iron first and finance to fight drugs problems


FIANNA FAIL in power would be willing to spend an estimated £328 million in its anti crime and drugs package, the party leader, Mr Bertie Ahern, has pledged.

Speaking yesterday at the publication of the party's position paper on drugs and related crime, Mr Ahern said costings on both policy papers had been done by the Department of Finance.

The capital programme, including prisons, would come to just over £200 million while the current costs would amount to £128 million over the lifetime of the next Government, he said.

Mr Ahern also strongly rejected as "factually wrong" the accusation by the Minister for Justice, Mrs Owen, that he had "no credibility on crime". He did not "think much" of her as Minister for Justice, though she should not feel personally answerable for the fact that her colleagues in Government "had no interest in the crime issue last summer".

"This policy of ours will cost money, a good deal of money and resources. There is no getting round that," Mr Ahern said.

However, his party was committed to putting adequate resources into this "fight back for the community" and would win support.

Publishing the discussion document on drugs, the party's justice spokesman, Mr John O'Donoghue, claimed this "radical policy" involved an "iron fist" approach towards drug dealers but a very caring" attitude to addicts.

An anti drugs programme must be implemented by the next Government because this administration had "failed" to tackle the problem.

To succeed, the strategy would have to encompass prevention, treatment, rehabilitation, training and employment.

Describing the present policy of methadone maintenance as "very much a second best solution", the party's health spokesman, Mr Brian Cowen, said methadone maintenance was not a long term solution and, if addicts were still on the substance after five years, an independent panel would assess how the individual could best be helped.

According to Mr O'Donoghue, Fianna Fail would offer out patient detoxification "with a maximum waiting period of two weeks".

In Government, it would also substantially increase the number of in patient detoxification facilities provided by the health boards and initially raise the number of beds for this treatment to 100.

In addition to detoxification, it would provide methadone maintenance for patients who had become stabilised. The party promises "full treatment" for drug addicts in prison and the creation of a drug free treatment unit with consultant psychiatrists, social workers, junior doctors and counsellors to meet inmates' needs.

In power, it would streamline the courts system to ensure that the trial of drug dealing offences would take place within 90 days of arrest. As part of its "iron fist" policy, it would introduce a minimum 10 year jail sentence for those convicted of possession of illegal drugs worth £10,000 or more.

Evidence from gardai as to the value of the drugs should be enough to satisfy the courts, Mr O'Donoghue said. This development would send "a very tough signal" to those who engage in drug dealing.

Addicts involved in non violent crime would be able to avail of a special drug court programme whereby judges could oversee a rehabilitation regime as an alternative to prison. This programme would include treatment, counselling, therapy and education and would involve frequent testing for drugs as well as "status hearings" before the judge.

"The Fianna Fail policy is based on a philosophy of detoxification followed by rehabilitation. What we will not tolerate is the decision by addicts to feed their addiction through crime," Mr O'Donoghue said.

The number of gardai would be increased from 10,800 to 12,000 "to police the streets".

To succeed, any anti drugs strategy would have to involve local communities and parents. The document pledges resources and adequate services to those afflicted by drugs.