Tuesday, 8 March 2011

Deconstructing the FG/L Programme for Government Drug Strategy

Sadly politicians on the campaign trail hone one skill above others: the art of promising as little as possible while appearing to promise a lot.  Boozwatch uses its patented 'aspirationometer' and 'actionometer' to analyse the reality behind the rhetoric of the recent Programme for Government drug strategy. While laudably declaring 'support', 'impetus' and 'principles' for a drug strategy of 'real potential' to which they are 'committed' to 'renewed impetus to the fight against drugs', the strategy is liberally sprinkled with words such as 'where possible' and 'realistic', which are of course cash neutral and action-lite, even where the tone remains so gloriously upbeat.  Could do better.  The actual underlying nervousness about spending shows when  'in line with need' and 'subject to available resources' appear together in one sentence - nice but unnecessary to get both .  A clammy handshake like that is not encouraging.

If you are looking for real commitment in this relationship, 'support', 'integrate' and 'develop' get full marks but the lack of specificity is worrying, and looking at the fine print the action is all in those letters to front line service teams asking them to do more 'at local level'.  The same local level, we should remember, which has suffered a moratorium on recrutiment in administration and 15% cuts over the past two years against a tide of alcohol and drug consumption rising faster and at greater levels than 28 out of 30 European neighbours. 

The only specific idea is to 'update the out-dated drugs awareness programmes in schools'.  Will our strategy amount then to little more than a few hours tooling around with those powerpoint slides?  The other specific target is to 'reduce the flow of drugs' coming in the prison door, perhaps by reselling the confiscated merchandise to pay for extra tins of chum for the sniffer dogs?  Otherwise there is the worthy hope that we might 'assist drug users [into] community employment' without any real idea of how that might be achieved when the services designed to do just that have been so seriously cut.  A high point is 'increasing the number of needle exchange programmes and rehabilitation places across the country', sounding dangerously like a commitment, until you see the parenthesis that this is to 'target resources... to where it is needed most', which seasoned commentators will recognise is political speak for closing a few rural ones.  (NB. Note the idea of 'compulsory' rehabilitation slipped into this section. Worrying). 

So what is our new 'team' going to do?  Well  'every Government Department, Agency or task force responsible for implementing elements of the National Addiction Strategy will be required to account to the Minister for their budget annually and to demonstrate progress on achieving targets'.  Call me cynical, but that sounds a bit like a threat to cut services where socks are not firmly pulled up in a notoriously difficult area of community work.  Lastly, as boozwatch has repeatedly observed, we seem to be engaged solely in a war against 'drugs' when alcohol is the main culprit in terms of damage to lives, addiction and sheer scale of its contribution to social problems.  Where is the strategy on alcohol, or is the alcohol industry still playing a role in party and government funding these days?
Aspirationometer 93% Actionometer 7%

See the strategy for yourself on http://www.finegael.ie/upload/ProgrammeforGovernmentFinal.pdf 19-21.

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