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4 October 2007 Edition

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Act against drugs gangs demand Sinn Féin TDs

THE Irish Government has been strongly challenged this week by Sinn Féin over its response to the escalating problem of gun and drugs crime. Amidst continuing shootings and murders by drugs gangs, drugs seizures including €2 million of heroin in West Dublin this week, and a warning by Kerry TD Martin Ferris that dangerous amphetamines are gaining a foothold in rural towns like Tralee, Sinn Féin has demanded greater resources and a more concerted focus on tackling the problem.
Speaking in the Dáil on Wednesday Sinn Féin Justice spokesperson Aengus Ó Snodaigh TD said that the “Government needs to accept that the major cause of crime in this country is the drugs problem”. He said the Government needed to “get its head around” the scale of the drugs problem and respond appropriately.
Earlier Ó Snodaigh had a meeting with the new Garda Inspectorate to discuss some of the issues arising from the recommendations in the Inspectorate’s latest report and Sinn Fein’s own proposals for Garda priorities in the coming year.
Speaking after the meeting Ó Snodaigh said he was encouraged that many of Sinn Fein’s proposals on the deployment of Gardai in the party’s submission to the Gardaí Policing Plan 2008, were mirrored in the Inspectorates’ recommendations. He said Sinn Féin was seeking a further meeting with the Inspectorate to look at ways to ensure that these recommendations are implemented.
“We were eager to discuss with the Garda Inspectorate realistic time-frames for the implementation of our mutual recommendations and are now satisfied that this process should commence at once”, Ó Snodaigh said.
Later, speaking in the Dáil, Ó Snodaigh said that to effectively tackle gangland violence, society had to confront the drugs problem.
He said Sinn Féin’s 30 members of Joint Policing Committees (JPCs) around the state are critically engaging in efforts to ensure that both local Gardaí and Councils live up to their responsibilities to tackle drug-related crime and anti-social behaviour.
“We have made detailed submissions proposing practical, realisable and effective solutions in relation to alcohol and to estate management”, he said.
Ó Snodaigh said that policing must reflect the priorities of communities and Gardaí must work with communities. He said that policing strategies should work towards the establishment of an all-Ireland policing service.
Sinn Féin’s recommendations would help to build relationships of trust, confidence and co-operation between communities and An Garda Síochána and impact positively on efforts to tackle crime.
“One of our key demands for 2008 is to see more Gardaí on foot and on bicycles patrolling anti-social behaviour hotspots and residential areas with greater frequency and particularly during the hours when problematic and criminal behaviour occurs.
Also during the crime debate Sinn Féin Kerry North TD Martin Ferris highlighted the growing problem of drug abuse in Kerry, and in particular the appearance of new and more dangerous substances in the Tralee area.
“There is no doubt but that the drug trade is a huge source of crime, both in feeding anti-social behaviour and as the motivation for many of the murders that take place around the country. Thankfully Kerry has not experienced that level of drug related crime but there are indications that it is a growing problem”, Ferris said.
“Questions of mine to the former Minister elicited that more dangerous drugs were available in the county and I have more recent evidence that the substance known as Crystal Meth, a particularly potent amphetamine, is being sold in Tralee. Although the drug is not physically addictive it leads to aggressive behaviour which is clearly a factor in violence.
“A vital factor in tackling these problems is the level of Garda activity and again that is something that myself and other representatives from Kerry have raised on a number of occasions but as yet with no decisive evidence that this has been addressed. Policing is not the only solution to crime but a higher Garda visibility is certainly a factor in preventing crime and probably most especially anti-social behaviour and drink related violence in towns at weekends”, he said.

DRUG TREATMENT UNDER THREAT
Meanwhile, Aengus Ó Snodaigh has said that a Heath Services Executive (HSE) plan to introduce a ‘claw back’ scheme will force chemists to sell some medicines under community treatment schemes at a loss. “Most worryingly”, according to Ó Snodaigh methadone is amongst these medicines. Methadone is a heroin substitute prescribed to recovering addicts.
If the move by Mary Harney is implemented, Ó Snodaigh said, it will mean that, from 1 December, when a chemist buys methadone for a medical card client they will do so at a higher price than what the HSE will give them back for it. Pharmacies are consequently preparing to cease dispensing methadone from 15 October.
The move has raised fears that there will be an explosion in the black market for methadone and that many people will be made more vulnerable to heroin dealers, further exacerbating the drug and crime problem
 “Methadone is not the long-term answer for recovering addicts but it is acknowledged that such treatment does assist the stabilisation of heroin users. Treatment is also proven to have a positive impact on reducing petty crime”, Ó Snodaigh said.
“Waiting times for methadone treatment are disgracefully long; in some areas it can take up to 18 months.
“If pharmacists stop dispensing methadone, where will the thousand of addicts in receipt of treatment now turn? Drug treatment clinics simply do not have the capacity to manage the potential influx of patients.
The Methadone Treatment Programme has long been promoted as a major plank in the government’s strategy to combat the drugs problem.
Ó Snodaigh called on the Health Minister to immediately intervene in this impending crisis and to review her decision in the context of the concerns raised by pharmacists.
“I am also demanding that she immediately make provisions for the dispensing of methadone so that the thousands of recovering addicts desperately trying to turn their lives around do not have their treatment disrupted. Such a move by the minister would be in all our interests”, he said.
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