There are two cold and empty seats on the board that oversees the North Inner City Drugs and Alcohol Task Force (NICDATF). Councillors should fill them. But they’re hanging back.
“I’m still not overtly sure of the function of our particular drugs task force,” said Gary Gannon, the Social Democrats councillor, last week.
“Which is why I felt it’s important that the co-ordinator come in and we have a conversation,” Gannon said at a recent meeting of Dublin City Council’s central area committee.
Independent Councillor Christy Burke said he has questions, too. “What is their success rate in relation to residential or outdoor treatment? In relation to personnel seeking assistance?”
These questions, say councillors, have gone unanswered and the NICDATF has failed to follow up on councillors’ correspondence, which began with a request on May 8 at the central area committee that a member of the NICDATF be invited to attend the next meeting.
The NICDTAF have said that they have only had one request to go along to a central area committee meeting, and that was in September this year.
The NICDATF was one of several local drugs task forces set up in 1997, after the “First Report of the Ministerial Task Force on Measures to Reduce the Demand for Drugs“.
They were entrusted with drawing up plans to build on and work with services in their areas, helped along by funding from central government.
NICDATF “assesses the local drugs situation and related drugs behaviour”, Mel Mac Gobúin, coordinator of the task force, said by email.
It responds to “arising problems in the community” and works “with relevant statutory agencies, voluntary organisations and community groups” by “coordinating, supporting and monitoring their work”.
The NICDATF gets more funding than any other task force in the Dublin region, according to Health Service Executive (HSE) figures.
This year, it got €1,834,723 from the HSE. It also got €394,856 from the Department of Health. Those figures have remained constant since 2016.
The majority of that money is spent on 21 projects, says Mac Gobúin. It delivers community services “responding to drug-related problems by 30 staff, CE participants and volunteers”.
The NICDATF office has three staff “with an operational budget of about €30,000 annually”, he says. Including salaries that figure comes to €100,000.
Its website lists among the projects it funds the Ana Liffey Drug Project’s Progression Routes, the LGBT organisation BeLonG To, and the SAOL Project, “a person centered, community based programme for women in treatment for drug addiction”. It also funds counselling services such as the Oasis Centre and the Snug, as well as other groups, it says.
The task force also liaises with the local community “through its membership”, says Mac Gobúin. “There are six community reps from local community networks, a network of community and voluntary projects through which information is sent around.”
Over the summer, it also launched “Let’s Get Specific“, a drug-awareness report for secondary-school students.
“I find that it’s doing what it’s supposed to do,” says Councillor Janice Boylan of Sinn Féin, who sits on the task force. They run seminars and talks and drugs-related education, she says.
Each local task force has to tell the HSE’s Drugs Policy Unit twice a year how it has spent its money, said a HSE spokesperson. It also has to account for funds at the end of each financial year.
On top of that, each task force has to give details of projects it has funded, the nature of the services, and details of successes in an annual report, they said.
The HSE spokesperson said to ask NICDATF for that report. NICDATF have yet to forward it on.
Some Dublin city councillors say they want to see those details before they take up any vacant seats on the board.
Councillor Ray McAdam of Fine Gael says he has been asking for the coordinator and a representative to come and talk to the committee about the work the task force does. (McAdam chairs the joint policing committee for the central area, and used to chair the meetings of the council’s central area committee’s, too.)
But he hasn’t had a response yet, he says. “Only last month, I had to write again as chair of the policing committee.”
The NICDATF is one of the groups with a member sitting on the central area’s joint policing committee, McAdam says.
Some councillors have asked several times, says Boylan of Sinn Féin. “And it hasn’t materialised yet.” Why not? “I don’t know, is the honest answer,” she said.
Mac Gobúin of the NICDATF said that they have only had one request to go along to a central area meeting, in September this year. And that clashed with a NICDATF monthly meeting.
Gannon’s main criticism of the task force is that is seems to be low-profile among those who need it most. “Nobody really knows that our drugs task force really exists.”
Fine Gael’s McAdam said a big issue is the “serious lack of information” from the task force. Are there objectives for groups that get funding? “We don’t know that,” he says.
Boylan says it’s a lack of communication that’s behind the conflict and made councillors chary of taking up a seat. “We haven’t been able to get someone to take the position, that’s the whole issue,” she says.
Three of four councillors left the NICDATF committee in the past year, saying it was because of “work commitments”, said Mac Gobúin. (There are 20 seats on the committee, with spots for gardaí, HSE workers, community representatives and others.)
The meetings of the central area committee and the NICDATF clash, says Ciarán Cuffe, a Green Party councillor.
Since April, the vacancies on NICDATF have ricocheted from central area committee meeting to central area committee meeting, to full council meeting in September and October and back to the central area committee meeting last week.
However, after no councillor put themselves forward to join the NICDATF, they agreed to pull the issue from future council agendas until a coordinator or representative from the task force comes in and speaks at the committee meetings, says Boylan.
“It’s embarrassing that it keeps going back to the full council meeting,” says Boylan. “Come in and just speak to us. Let us know what’s what.”