Drug task force ‘can’t take further budget cut’

The Government has been called on not to implement further swingeing cuts on drug groups in Cork City, which has already lost eight such projects and is facing a feared heroin resurgence.

The Drugs Initiative fund within the Department of Health was cut in Budget 2014 from €29.95m in 2013 to €27.95m, a drop of 7%.

But the country’s local and regional drug task forces do not yet know how this will translate to their budgets.

Sinn Féin deputy Jonathan O’Brien said a letter from the coordinator of the Cork local drugs task force showed it had suffered a 23% decrease in its budget, or almost €500,000 since 2008.

“At present, it has approximately 21 local projects and since 2008 it has ceased funding about eight projects because the money taken from its budget has meant that cuts have had to be made,” said Mr O’Brien.

The Cork north central deputy said the money funded both local and voluntary groups as well as statutory agencies and played a pivotal role in combating the rise in drug and alcohol abuse.

“If funding is not in place, at least maintained, it will have a real impact on projects,” he said.

“There is an economic argument to maintain funding, because you will pay for any cuts in the long run, never mind the impact the cuts will have on families and communities.”

Mr O’Brien said the cuts were coming against the background of an upsurge in heroin use and heroin- related crime.

He said senior gardaí had recently indicated to the Cork Joint Policing Committee that drug possessions had increased.

Chief Superintendent Mick Finn said muggings and thefts in the city were up 41% between July and September compared with the same period last year.

Fine Gael councillor John Buttimer said he had “no doubt” there was a direct link between the increased use of heroin and the rise in such crime.

“We’ve seen a rise in crime figures, possession of drugs are on the rise and the number of addicts is one the rise,” said Mr O’Brien.

“That all suggests heroin is on the rise again. I can see that myself in the city. There have been a number of deaths as a result of heroin use in Cork City.”

He said back in 2009 — in response to a sharp rise in heroin deaths — he, along with then Lord Mayor Cllr Dara Murphy, joined up with gardaí, the HSE, and council officials to stem the rise of heroin, which he said worked.

He said gardaí had been doing an “excellent job” with a number of successful arrests and seizures.

Last August, Cork City Divisional Drugs Unit arrested a man and seized some €100,000-worth of heroin.

“Now Garda budgets are cut, same with the task forces, the HSE, and the council,” said Mr O’Brien.

“I don’t think that emphasis is there anymore. That’s why we can’t take a further cut.”

Minister of state at the department of health, Alex White, said €1.53m was allocated to the Cork local drugs task force in 2013.

“The Government has to operate within the current budgetary framework and it is inevitable that we have to make cost reductions,” he said.

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