Pubdate: Thu, 22 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
Section: Letters
Author: Tony Gregory


Sir, - One of the Dublin communities most devastated by heroin is St
Michael's Estate in Inchicore. The local national school, St Michael's CBS,
has been told by the Department of Education and Science that it has two
pupils fewer than the required number to retain its present teaching staff.

The school principal, Mr Tom Mullins, in a letter to Mr Eoin Ryan TD (the
Minister with responsibility for drugs), states: "We find it appalling that
in spite of all the work we have put in and the huge level of need that all
are now acknowledging is in the area, because our roll numbers are down by
just two pupils we must now lose a teacher".

The Department of Education and Science is oblivious to the special
circumstances of the school and also, presumably, to the nature of the
heroin crisis. Some of the contributors to The Irish Times debate are not
too far behind.

To categorise heroin as a recreational drug in order to make a case for its
legalisation is both misinformed and counter-productive. To suggest that a
panacea for the heroin crisis would be to make heroin freely available is
to ignore the fact that in Dublin the gateway to heroin is social
deprivation. The required response can only be massive social intervention
with educational resources getting the highest priority - along with a
variety of treatment strategies to assist those already using heroin.

Interestingly, the Swiss spend five times more on social supports for the
limited number of addicts participating in their heroin prescription
programme than they do on the vast majority of their addicts who are on
methadone maintenance.

While there may well be a strong case for a similar heroin prescription
programme here to help keep those suffering chronic addiction alive, it is
simply not defensible to offer legalised heroin as a solution to the
victims of a society that has one of the highest levels of social
inequality in the developed world.

Those of the contributors who argue that we should leave that underlying
cause of the heroin crisis (i.e. social deprivation) to be "grappled with
in the long term" while consigning those who live lives of despair through
social neglect to "use heroin in a recreational manner" are a bit like
Marie Antoinette suggesting cake as an alternative to bread for starving

It is surely ironic that this Government established a Cabinet
sub-committee on social inclusion and drugs chaired by the Taoiseach, with
the objective of finding more effective ways to channel additional
resources into disadvantaged areas, while schools like St Michael's CBS, in
possibly the most disadvantaged urban community in this country, must lose
teachers; and those who are in the front line, whose efforts can do so much
to identify and assist the children most vulnerable to the heroin scourge,
are undermined by the State itself.
- - Yours, etc.

Tony Gregory TD,
Dail Eireann,
Dublin 2.
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