Senator Power calls for funding for South East Fingal Drugs and Alcohol project (24/4/13)



   Senator Averil Power: I wish to raise the proposal for a south-east Fingal drugs and alcohol project, sent to the Department by the Howth Sutton Community Council in January of this year.  Basically, the request is that the Department replace a project that was serving this area up until the middle of last year.  There was a Howth-based project that was providing a service for Howth, Sutton, Baldoyle, Bayside and the surrounding areas but there were difficulties with that project.  Since it has closed, there is an enormous gap in services in the area, particularly in terms of prevention.  The proposal was put forward by the community council following a considerable amount of research done through the local schools and youth services as well as with parents and residents of the area, on the needs of the community in terms of drug and alcohol abuse prevention and diversion projects.  That research, which was submitted to the Department, showed clearly a gap in such services in that area.

  The proposal was submitted in January.  Since then, the community council has been finding it very difficult to get a straight answer regarding what is happening with the proposal.  I wrote to the Department on behalf of the council and received a reply to the effect that the issue is a matter for the drugs task force.  However, the drugs task force has said that it has been given a very clear message from the Department that it is being funded on an existing services only basis for this year and that it cannot approve replacement projects.  It seems that this very worthwhile initiative, the need for which has been well established through research and analysis, may not be funded by the Government.  The community council has not been able to get a straight answer on this question.  Money was available in the past through a previous project.  Funding was allocated to this area but now it is being left without a service.  I appreciate that money is tight within the Department and that cuts have been necessary.  However, of all of the services that need to be protected, drug projects are one of the most important.  It takes so long to get the right services up and running in areas that have struggled for many years with drug misuse problems.  In that context, it is a shame that the budget in general is taking a hit and while it is no reflection on the Minister of State, Deputy Alex White, it does reflect the broader priorities of Government.  All Ministers should ensure that this service area is supported.  The amount of money involved is relatively small in the greater scheme of things. 

  I tabled this matter on the Adjournment in order to bring it to the attention of the Minister of State, who is already aware of the proposal.  I hope he can give me positive news today.  The community council, which carried out the research and submitted the proposal, is a very professional organisation and is representative of all of the community bodies in the broader community.  If any organisation is capable of getting a project like this off the ground and running it for a relatively small sum of money, it is the Howth Sutton Community Council.  I hope the Minister of State has had a chance to read the proposal and that he can give me a positive answer, rather than just saying that it is an issue for the drugs task force.


   Minister of State at the Department of Health (Deputy Alex White): On 7 January last, my Department received a proposal from the Howth Sutton Community Council for funding to establish a drugs and alcohol prevention project in south-east Fingal, which would serve communities in Baldoyle, Bayside, Sutton and Howth.  The council wishes to set up a project to address a gap in service provision, as outlined by the Senator, that has arisen as a result of the closure in June 2012 of a community-based drugs project serving the Howth Sutton peninsula.  Funding for the latter project was withdrawn by the HSE as a result of deficits in governance, financial control and accountability that emerged during an audit of the project.

  The need for support within communities around prevention education for young people and support for families has been identified by Howth Sutton Community Council on the basis of findings from a strategic evaluation of projects conducted by Dublin north-east local drugs task force in late 2011.  This evaluation included the former project serving the Howth Sutton peninsula.  Supplementary research undertaken with local schools and community actors in late 2012 also informed the research findings.

  The key recommendations arising from the research are that a project be developed in partnership with existing community and statutory agencies, which would work with schools, youth and family support groups to develop local strategies for substance misuse education and prevention.  The proposal envisages that the project would initially focus on prevention, education and family support, with expansion into client-case management to be undertaken in the medium term if resources become available.  The cost of the project, which would involve hiring a co-ordinator and a project worker, is estimated at €79,000 per annum.

  As the Senator will be aware drugs task forces play a key role in assessing the nature of the drug problem in their areas and co-ordinating action at local level so that there is a targeted response to the drug problem in local communities.  A total of €29.951 million has been allocated to the drugs initiative in 2013, the majority of which contributes to the running of community-based drugs projects supported by local and regional drugs task forces.  This includes an allocation of €988,234 to the Dublin north-east local drugs task force, LDTF, which has responsibility for tackling the drug problem in the south-east Fingal area.

  It is a matter for each drugs task force to decide which projects to support based on agreed priorities for their area within the overall budget available to them.  The allocation to Dublin north-east LDTF was determined on the basis of the community-based drugs projects it recommended for funding in 2013.

  I have been in contact with Howth Sutton Community Council and have advised it to submit the proposal to Dublin north-east LDTF for consideration.  I have indicated that my Department will consider the proposal if it has been recommended by the task force.  At this stage, the drugs task forces have been advised of their allocations for 2013.  The funding of any additional measures is contingent upon the resources which are available to me for the year.

  I wish to explain that to the House again.  I do not have a discretionary budget.  In general it is not a question of making an application to the Minister and for the Minister or departmental officials to review the project.  I can see that this is a project of merit and I agree there is a gap in this area.  I know the need that exists as the Senator has very carefully and persuasively outlined to the House.  However, I cannot deal with the matter unless it comes to me by way of a recommendation from the local drugs task force.  I have explained that to the local drugs task force and have also responded to Howth Sutton Community Council.  However, if we were to seek to identify funding – difficult as that would be – it would inevitably affect the funding that would then not be available for other activities because I have a limited amount of funding available.  While the Senator makes her case very well, there is a finite amount of funding.  I could certainly not reallocate for 2013 unless I took money from somewhere else.  We will need to see how matters are for 2014, but I also expect resources to be finite next year.  I regret that resources are so limited, particularly in this area where the need is so great.  However, we know why resources are limited and what has caused the overall financial situation the country faces.  I am trying to do my best, as are the local drugs task forces with the funding available to them.


   Senator Averil Power: I thank the Minister of State for acknowledging the merit of the proposal and that a gap exists.  While the Minister of State has advised it that it should make a proposal to the local drugs task force, at the same time the Department has clearly advised the local drugs task force not to recommend new projects.  My understanding is that it has been advised that its funding is only on the basis of existing services and there is no scope for others.  This project is purely a restoration and it is not looking for anything new.  The implicit suggestion is that if it wants to restore a project, it must cut other projects within the task force area.  Obviously that puts any local drugs task force in an impossible position because the needs across a wider area are so huge.  There have already been cuts in services so it puts it in an impossible position to suggest the only way to get approval is to cut other services in the area.

  This is money that was taken out of the pot for the Dublin north-east area local drugs task force to be used nationally, so it is only fair that it should at least be back in the pot rather than be taken from other local services.  It is an impossible position for everybody involved.  It is a really worthwhile project, as the Minister of State has acknowledged.  At this stage we are almost half way through 2013 and I hope he will look at it again for next year.  If the Minister of State has time I invite him to meet some of the people involved and hear the case from them directly.  I know he has already acknowledged the merits of the project, but he might feel more strongly about it if he could see the professionalism of the people involved and the potential for the initiative if it could get off the ground.


   Deputy Alex White: I certainly would be amenable to meeting the people involved and seeing the project.  I want the Senator to be clear that there is no file or proposal on my desk that I have not read, in case the House might have that impression.  We have not advised the local drugs task force not to recommend new projects.  However, as the Senator has picked up correctly, we have said that the funding the local drugs task force has this year is its funding for this year.  Of course 2014 is a new year and everything will be considered afresh, but there will still be a finite amount of resources.  I know the history of what has happened here and I must have regard to that.  The local drugs task force has a new chairman and a new co-ordinator.  I am not saying anything about anyone who went before, but I think that is very helpful.  They are very well organised and are very good people.  We will do everything we can to assist but it is not a question of a dilatory approach on my part or that of the Department.  These things are processed through the local drugs task forces.



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