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 Header Item Beef Industry (Continued)
 Header Item Estimates for Public Services 2019: Message from Select Committee
 Header Item Ceisteanna ó Cheannairí - Leaders' Questions

Wednesday, 27 November 2019

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 990 No. 2

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  12 o’clock

(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy Michael Creed: Information on Michael Creed Zoom on Michael Creed] It has been confirmed to my Department that this bonus system is now in place.

Initiatives in the agreement aimed at improving information along the supply chain included the commissioning of the following reports: an independent review of market and customer requirements; an independent examination of the price composition of the total value of the animal along the supply chain; and a summary of competition law issues as relevant to the Irish beef sector. My Department has issued the request for tender for these reports, with a deadline for receipt of tender responses of 12 noon on Thursday, 5 December. This will enable award of the tender before the end of 2019.

In regard to market transparency initiatives, my Department has done the following: published an expert report on mechanical carcase classification review; introduced an appeals system for manual grading; and initiated a consultation process on the transposition of the unfair trading practices directive, with a deadline for submission of 13 December. Bord Bia has developed a beef market price index model based on three components: a cattle price index, a beef market price index - retail and wholesale - and an offal price indicator. This is now available on the Bord Bia website. Teagasc is significantly advanced in the first stage of the scientific review of the quality payment grid.

My Department is also proactively engaging with several potential beef producer organisations which have the potential to strengthen the bargaining power of beef farmers in the supply chain. Two beef producer organisations have been formally recognised by my Department in recent months. I established the task force to provide the leadership to develop a sustainable pathway for the future of the beef sector in terms of economic, environmental and social sustainability. As I previously stated, it is in the interests of everyone involved in the beef sector that the work of the task force goes ahead. I hope that all parties will agree to come together around the table for this purpose at the earliest possible date.

Estimates for Public Services 2019: Message from Select Committee

Acting Chairman (Deputy Declan Breathnach): Information on Declan Breathnach Zoom on Declan Breathnach The Select Committee on Communications, Climate and Environment has completed its consideration of the following Supplementary Estimate for public services for the service of the year ending 31 December 2019 - Vote 29.

Ceisteanna ó Cheannairí - Leaders' Questions

Deputy Micheál Martin: Information on Micheál Martin Zoom on Micheál Martin Europol's 2019 Drug Markets Report makes for very serious and concerning reading. It illustrates the degree, as I am sure the Taoiseach will accept, to which violence, death, intimidation, stealing and spreading fear across every community in Ireland is now a feature and a consequence of a rampant drug trade that is extremely valuable. The scale of what is revealed in the report is genuinely frightening and suggests that the State's and the Government's response to date, notwithstanding the good work of gardaí, is not at a scale or not comprehensive enough to deal with what we are currently facing and will face if this is allowed to continue into the months and years ahead.

Provincial towns are now considered most attractive, with direct access to local users and new customers, and with very little competition, apparently, for the big gangs in those provincial towns. Young people and children are being particularly exploited. The scale and severity of drug debt intimidation is clear and is much highlighted in the report, with the intimidation of communities, of families and of individuals, including children, as a result of this activity. It is something that, collectively in this House, we have to be extremely concerned about.

The report talks about three tiers: the leaders, the intermediaries and the bottom tier, which the report states involves a large number of highly disadvantaged young people, who are often addicts themselves. It is this tier which carries out the bulk of the intimidation. According to Europol, typical activities are bullying, assaulting, stealing, vandalising and spreading fear on behalf of the network.

This phenomenon is already widespread in the United Kingdom, where the term used is "county lines gangs", so they have now moved out from the big cities into the county towns and so on. It is teenagers who are recruited and who then face daily threats and intimidation from their superiors. It is extraordinary that towns across the UK previously unaffected by criminality have seen dramatic increases in violence, with an 807% increase in the number of victims of child slavery since 2014 in the UK. Some 27,000 children in the UK now identify themselves as gang members. The point is we are now beginning to see this in Ireland, no question about it, and we need to deal with it.

In that context, while I genuinely say this has to be an all-party approach, I do not think we are getting to grips with the scale of this issue. Deputy John Curran has a Bill ready, First Stage of which will be moved next week. The Bill proposes to create two new offences in regard to young people, first, to make it a criminal offence to purchase drugs from a person under the age of 18 and, second, to create a new offence of causing a child to be in possession of drugs for sale or supply. In a spirit of co-operation, I ask the Taoiseach to agree with us to accelerate that Bill, which is straightforward in its impact, and also to meet the other parties. We need a comprehensive approach to resourcing, rejuvenating and revitalising the partnerships that already exist in the cities and throughout the country, and to restoring resources to the RAPID programme. I would appreciate it if the Taoiseach will respond to both those questions in the spirit in which they have been tabled.

The Taoiseach: Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar First, I welcome the publication yesterday of the EMCDDA - the European drugs agency - and Europol Drug Markets Report of 2019. As the Deputy knows, the report relates to all of Europe, including Ireland. The continued disruption of the supply of all illicit drugs is part of the mission of An Garda Síochána and other State agencies tasked with responsibilities in this regard. While we seek to help people who use drugs using a health-led approach, we will continue the relentless pursuit of drug dealers using a criminal justice approach.

The Garda National Drugs and Organised Crime Bureau, GNDOCB, was established in 2015 and tackles all forms of drug trafficking and the supply of illicit drugs in Ireland. Since its establishment in 2015, it has had significant success. It has seized controlled substances with an estimated street value of €167 million, seized cash believed to be the proceeds of crime to a value of €10 million, and seized 108 firearms and 3,000 rounds of ammunition. In 2019 alone, the GNDOCB has been responsible for seizing controlled substances to the value of €20 million, cash believed to be the proceeds of crime of €2.4 million and 17 firearms.

There is also a lot of co-operation involving the GNDOCB and the National Crime Agency in the UK under the auspices of the cross-border joint agency task force. We are very much co-operating with law enforcement in other countries, recognising this is a cross-border crime and an international crime.

In regard to families who are being intimidated, often for drug debts, there is a drug-related intimidation reporting programme in place that has been developed by the Garda in co-operation with the National Family Support Network. It has been in place since 2013 and responds to the needs of drug users and family members experiencing drug-related intimidation, particularly in regard to drug debts. An Garda Síochána and the National Family Support Network have each concluded evaluations of the programme and have jointly agreed a number of actions to enhance the effectiveness of the programme through training, knowledge sharing and awareness raising. As the Deputy will be aware, there are now armed support units operating in every Garda region, which is a new development.

In regard to Deputy Curran's Bill, the Government will certainly examine it in an open-minded way and in a spirit of co-operation with the Opposition - if that comes in one direction, it should go in both directions. We have some concerns about the legislation in that, the way it is written, it may actually criminalise some children in certain circumstances, but we will be happy to work that through.

Deputy Micheál Martin: Information on Micheál Martin Zoom on Micheál Martin The first issue is the scale of the problem as revealed by Europol. That is the bit I do not think the Government has got yet, to be honest, in particular given the fact nine Ministers of State signed a document on the reduction of resourcing of community partnerships and the whole loss of multidisciplinary impacts on the ground in certain disadvantaged communities. It is very clear from the Europol report that large numbers of disadvantaged teenagers and children are being targeted, exploited and used in this lucrative drug trade. That requires a multidisciplinary response involving the Garda but also involving education and resourcing people on the ground, in particular community leaders on the ground.

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