Mr McDowell was speaking after shocking images of men shooting up in the Temple Bar area of Dublin were published in a national newspaper yesterday. The photographs showed gardaí standing close to the men but apparently no effort was made to arrest the offenders.
The minister has asked Deputy Garda Commissioner Noel Conroy for a report on the matter. Gardaí have already confirmed that the three men claimed they were attending a drug treatment clinic and they were told to move on.
But drug addiction experts said yesterday more people were becoming addicted to drugs each year.
“This is an epidemic and we know there are 14,450 addicts here and only 7,000 are receiving treatment,” Rutland Centre director Stephen Rowen said.
Mr Rowen wants an increase in funding for drug treatment projects to curb Dublin’s heroin crisis.
“We need a mountain of money to cope with this problem. I don’t blame the gardaí because they are overwhelmed by this. Jail is not the place for people suffering from addiction and it won’t solve the problem,” Mr Rowen said.
The Rutland Centre treats 215 addicts annually and Mr Rowen said addiction problems were getting worse.
“The society becomes more dysfunctional each year. These photographs did shock me; you have to ask where are we going and what impact this will have on the next generation,” he said.
Research has shown more than one in three Irish teenagers have used cannabis and youths here are the most likely in Europe to experiment with drugs. Last year the Government rejected the findings of a UN report which showed Ireland had the highest levels of cannabis, ecstasy and amphetamine use in western Europe.
The UN report, Global Illicit Trends 2002, estimated that 9.4% of people here took cannabis at least once a year. Ireland was also top of the list for ecstasy use and the country had the third highest number of cocaine users in Europe.