Pubdate: Tue, 13 Jun 2000
Source: Irish Times, The (Ireland)
Copyright: 2000 The Irish Times
Contact:  11-15 D'Olier St, Dublin 2, Ireland
Fax: + 353 1 671 9407
Author: Eithne Donnellan


The age at which first-time drug users are charged and brought before
the courts should be raised from 18 because many young people caught
using drugs do not reoffend, a Garda inspector has said.

Det Insp Tom Duggan, of the Garda Divisional Drugs Unit in Waterford
city, was speaking last night at the second of a series of regional
meetings to review the national drugs strategy. The conference was
told drugs were found in the smallest villages in Ireland.

He said persons under 18 were at present cautioned by their local
Garda superintendent under the Garda Juvenile Liaison scheme if they
broke the law. He believed this scheme should be extended to include
first-time drug offenders over this age.

Speaking at the review for the south-eastern region in Kilkenny, the
Garda inspector said all types of drugs were now becoming available to
much younger age groups, regardless of their background. Primary
school pupils were also coming into contact with drugs and preventive
measures needed to be put in place at this stage, he said.

"We are going to have to get into our schools at a younger age. At the
moment our juvenile liaison officers can go into the secondary schools
and give talks in relation to drugs and drug activity. We can only go
into the national schools if a principal looks for us to give a talk.

"We have a primary schools programme running in relation to other
areas of criminal law like road safety, but I think that if we were to
get into our schools at an earlier age to talk about drugs it would be
very beneficial.

"We have 13- and 14-year-olds who have come in contact with drugs.
Unless we get in and educate them at a very early age, by the time we
get to them some will be out of the juvenile liaison officer's area of
responsibility and the next stop will be the courts, and unfortunately
that is not always the answer to a drugs problem," he said.

Det Insp Duggan added that drugs were not just available in urban
areas of the south-east. They had been found in "the smallest villages
and townlands" and dealers were prepared to go into any area where
there were young people. People had to be aware of this, he said.

He added that ecstasy and amphetamines were available "in abundance"
in Waterford city and young people attending nightclubs in the area
had said there were always people present, ready and willing to push
drugs on them.

He said drug seizures in the region had increased, as had
prosecutions. "I don't have the percentage of the amount we are
seizing. It's a small percentage at the end of the day; we have to
expect that," he added.

Ms Rosemary Finane, a project worker with Kilkenny Drugs Initiative,
said there were no easy solutions to the issue, but she wanted to see
the review put more money behind projects such as hers to work in
communities to prevent drug use and intervene when drug use had taken

She said she was the sole drug worker in Co Kilkenny, which had a
population of 81,000. More were desperately needed. Family counselling
was also needed to break the cycle of drug abuse in families where
there was one abuser, she added. "If you don't acknowledge substance
mis-use takes place, then you are part of the problem. Young people
are using substances and we have to acknowledge that. We have to stop

There is a lot of denial in Kilkenny and in our country that
substances are used outside major urban centres like Dublin," she
said. Mr Eoin O'Neill, of the Waterford Regional Youth Centre,
emphasised the importance of support structures so that communities
could devise and put in place their own strategies to combat drug abuse.

"We are not going to get rid of drugs, so we need these supports," he
said. He added that a drugs task force should be immediately
established in the south-east. At present the only task force outside
Dublin was in Cork. The meeting was attended by the Minister of State
for Tourism, Sport and Recreation, Mr Eoin Ryan, who said it would
take time for many of the measures currently being implemented to have
a full impact on the problem. 
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