Organisations representing communities worst affected by drugs are to be removed from a key Government body established to tackle the crisis, an Oireachtas committee heard on Wednesday.
Anna Quigley, co-ordinator of the Citywide organisation – an umbrella body of community drugs groups in Dublin – said the Department of Health was "intending to remove the community and voluntary networks" from a committee that oversees the national drugs strategy (NDS), at a review meeting on Friday.
She told the joint committee on health the removal of the sector from the national oversight committee of the NDS, would "bring down the curtain on the interagency partnership approach that has been at the heart of our national drugs strategy since 1996". It would mean "turning our backs on communities like Tallaght and other communities around the country that so badly need to be listened to".
The Department of Health however rejected Ms Quigley’s assertion saying there was “no proposal” to remove community and voluntary groups from the oversight committee.
A spokeswoman said: “The Department is proposing to establish a civil society group on drugs, which will widen and deepen the involvement of community and voluntary groups in the implementation of the strategy. There has been a broad welcome for proposal.”
She said Minister of state with reposnisbility for the drugs strategy, Frank Feighan, had invited Citywide to discuss its concerns at the next national oversight committee meeting on December 3rd.
“Minister Feighan would welcome an opportunity to attend the Oireachtas Committee on Health to present the recently published mid-term review of the national drugs strategy and the strategic priorities for 2021-2025,” she added.
The committee was discussing the escalating crack cocaine “epidemic” in west Tallaght, and heard the essential role of community groups addressing the impact of the drug, and identifying emerging trends.
A report published last month by the Tallaght Drug and Alcohol Task Force (TDATF) said crack cocaine was "devastating" families and communities in west Tallaght and would "dwarf the heroin epidemic of the '80s" without an "urgent" increase of €1 million per annum to local drugs services.
Grace Hill, co-ordinator of TDATF, said crack cocaine was the “number one issue” for drugs services in the area. It was vital services got ahead of it to be ready for “something else that could be coming down the road which is crystal meth,” she warned.
The Budget 2022 allocation of €500,000 to tackle crack cocaine nationally “lacks any understanding of the scale of the problem” she said.
Shane Hamilton, co-ordinator of Jobstown Assisting Drug Dependency (JADD), described crack cocaine as a "game changer" in its impact on individuals and communities.
While heroin addiction could be stabilised with methadone, allowing people to return to education, manage households and function, there was no equivalent to treat crack cocaine. He said it was “hugely addictive” and led people to spend every penny seeking more – resulting in forced prostitution, homelessness and children being taken into care.
It was community projects like JADD, he said, “that identify these trends, bring them to the task force, request money from the task force” and respond to issues.
Ms Quigley said it was “not acceptable” that the Department of Health would seek to remove the community voice from the NDS’s national oversight committee. “The Taoiseach last week addressed our conference and he was talking about his commitment to this partnership approach, so this just needs an intervention at the highest political level to say this should not happen.”
Committee members, including TDs Neasa Hourigan (Green Party), Róisín Shortall (Social Democrats), Thomas Gould and Sean Crowe (Sinn Féin), and Gino Kenny (People Before Profit) called for the move to be halted, and for minister of state with responsibility for drugs, Frank Feighan, to address the committee on the rationale for it.