Legislation around the coercion of children by drugs gangs and the need for a citizens’ assembly on drugs were raised by Deputy Ruairí Ó Murchú in Leinster House last week.
The Dundalk Sinn Féin TD spoke a number of times about drugs issues and the impact drugs are having on the town. He supported legislation brought forward by Sinn Féin TDs that would make it a specific criminal offence for drug dealers to use minors as part of their gang.
Deputy Ó Murchú said: ‘In some cases these are very vulnerable kids who are at the periphery of society. We all know that these drugs gangs do this to protect themselves and have a buffer between themselves and the breaking of the law.
‘This will be the third time this week that I say on the floor of the Dáil that the war on drugs has been well and truly lost’.
He highlighted drug debt intimidation, in particular. He said: ‘We all know of the debt that starts with €300 or €400 and then jumps to €800, €1,200 to €15,000 to all sorts of crazy figures.
‘Unfortunately, when they discover a family, which with the best of intentions wants to actually pay this debt, they think that they can get through the gap, but all that they are telling the dealer is that the tap is open and they will keep coming back.
‘In some cases, we are dealing with really clever drug dealers. I have seen drug dealers in Dundalk who have been very careful in who they target and the houses they burn.
‘I have even seen instances where some of the most impoverished people I know have had their houses burnt.
‘I say to myself that there is no way this guy thinks he can get money out of them, but it is not about them. It is about the next person who will get the knock on the door, so that they will know what is coming.
I am very glad that we now have what we did not have a number of years ago, that is, drug squads up and running to tackle this issue. We will never have enough resources to deal with it. We cannot possibly out-police the problems we have at this point. We have to concentrate absolutely on those dangerous drugs gangs and those people who put great pressure on families. We have to deal incredibly harshly with those who use kids and vulnerable people.
‘Any kid can fall into this. Some of the best kids I know have found themselves in bad circumstances.
‘We have to deal with families and communities at a far earlier stage’.
A citizens’ assembly is needed ‘as soon as possible’, Deputy Ó Murchú said.
He said: ‘I would like to think that the citizens can be braver and courageous, maybe more so than we are in here. There is a definite need for that. We need to look at novel approaches. I do not think we can continue with the way we are going at this point in time.
‘I have spoken to the Minister and the Minister of State previously about funding for organisations that are doing great work, for example, the Family Addiction Support Network, Turas, and the Red Door Project. We must ensure funding is provided but we must also deal with dangerous criminals that have communities under the cosh’.
An Taoiseach said it should be ‘early in the New Year’ when a date for a citizens’ assembly on drugs would be announced.