Drugs Activists Criticise "Stupid" Funding Cutbacks

Funding for communities battling drugs has been further slashed, sparking angry reactions from activists who described government policies as "stupid".

Community representatives will meet Drug Strategy Minister John Curran today after it emerged that their budgets will be cut by around 15% in the second half of the year.

One community representative described the cutbacks as "savage" and said they would have "major implications" on services.

Drugs activists said the cuts come at a time of growing intimidation of communities by drug dealers. They predict that the large-scale intimidation in Dolphin House flats complex in Dublin’s south inner city could spread.

"Funding to local projects are being cut by 15%-20%, from €17 million in the first six months of the year to €14.4m in the second half," said national community representative Anna Quigley. "We will have to see how it pans out for task forces, but it will mean services will have to be cut and jobs will be lost. It already follows on from a first round of cuts of around 10% for local drug task forces (LDTFs) and 20%-30% for regional drug task forces (RDTFs)."

The cutbacks, which stem from the April budget, will mainly hit the LDTFs. The task forces most affected are Dublin’s south inner city (-€257,148); north inner city (-€220,615) and the canal communities (-€190,000).

The cutting of the canal communities task force budget will be particularly controversial, as the Dolphin House flats complex is located in that area.

Representatives of local and regional drug task forces will meet Mr Curran today to highlight the impact of the cuts and discuss changes to the structures of the National Drugs Strategy (NDS). Last month, the chairpersons of 14 LDTFs threatened to resign over the changes.

Ms Quigley, who heads the Citywide Drugs Crisis Campaign, said the cuts come at a time of growing intimidation of communities.

"Dolphin House is a clear example of how the most disadvantaged communities are impacted if we don’t tackle the drug problem," she said.

The flats complex has been hit by a reign of intimidation by drug dealers, including damage to 32 cars and a hoax bomb scare outside a community meeting.

"Intimidation is a serious problem in lots of areas, so it’s not that Dolphin House could happen elsewhere, it already is.

"It’s not got to the stage of Dolphin House, but it could," said Ms Quigley.

Ms Quigley criticised the decision to scrap the National Drugs Strategy Team (NDST) and current efforts by the Department of Community Affairs to set up an interim management committee under its control.

"It’s sheer stupid that people with the knowledge and experience were sacked and the department is putting in people with no experience. They now want people on the NDST to come on board, because they need them. They are making it up as they go along."

A spokeswoman for the Department of Community Affairs said the total full-year budget for LDTFs and RDTFs was being cut from €34.6m to a provisional figure of €32.2m, a yearly reduction of around 7%.

She said the "definitive allocations" for the second half of the year were not yet known as they were still in discussions with task forces.