Gaps in Oversight at City's Drugs and Alcohol Task Forces

The state-funded South Inner City Drugs and Alcohol Task Force (SICDATF) didn’t submit annual reports for two years: 2016 and 2017.

It’s supposed to send “annual statements” to the Minister of State for Health Promotion and National Drugs Strategy’s office – as all task forces are, according to the last national drug strategy and a spokesperson for the Department of Health.

The annual statement should give “an assessment of the work, outputs and outcomes of the projects, and their broader strategic and coordinating work, in the previous twelve months”, says a Department of Health spokesperson.

There’s a simple reason for the gap in filing statements, says Dermot Lacey, the Labour councillor and chair of SICDATF.

“For two years, we were the only task force in the country that had no full-time coordinator,” he says. “Unlike other task forces we only had one staff person.”

“We put all of our funding into projects and for a period of two years, a team of essentially three volunteers were undertaking the role that would normally have been undertaken by the coordinator,” says Lacey.

In 2016, 2017 and 2018 the South Inner City Drugs and Alcohol Task Force received €1,868,014 per year in funding from the HSE, and €176,043 in funding from the Department of Health, according to a Department of Health spokesperson.

Lacey says that although the annual statements have not been submitted, “all financial returns” have been submitted to the Department of Health’s Drug Policy Unit.

Drugs and Alcohol Task Forces

The government set up drugs and alcohol task forces in response to the resurgence of drug use, specifically opiates, in the Dublin area in the mid-1990s, according to the “First Report of the Ministerial Task Force on Measures to Reduce the Demand for Drugs”.

At the time, communities affected by drugs had “begun to protest, take action themselves and to press Government for new, more effective policies. This also can be taken as an indicator of the growth of the problem”, notes the report, from 1996.

At the moment, there are 14 local task forces and 10 regional ones around the country. They are comprised of local stakeholders including local representatives, local youth services, voluntary drug agencies, Gardaí, and the HSE.

A 2012 review of drugs and alcohol task forces said they needed better oversight and governance structures. But, six years later, concerns about task forces are still popping up.

There are these missing annual reports for the South Inner City Drugs and Alcohol Task Force.

And, although Dublin city councillors usually have seats on the North Inner City Drugs and Alcohol Task Force (NICDATF), some have been refusing to take them – until the coordinator there comes in to talk to them about how it’s working.

“We simply want to ask him about his role and the work of the task force in the North Inner City,” says Social Democrats Councillor Gary Gannon.

“We’re dealing with questions on a weekly basis from families or people who are looking for information regarding treatment, or drug treatment centres and services and we’re wondering why that is not more readily available from the people who are paid to do that job,” he says.

Systems for Oversight

Available annual statements up to 2016 for the local and regional drugs and alcohol task forces can be viewed here, including those for the NICDATF – but not for the SICDATF.

The annual statements, says a Department of Health spokesperson, are meant to give an assessment of the work carried out by the task forces throughout the year, the outcomes of these projects, as well as “their broader strategic and coordinating work”.

The NICDATF’s annual statement for 2017, provided by the HSE, gives a profile of the drug usage in the area, along with emerging drug trends. It also shows drug offences in the area, as well as progress made in the implementing of the local drugs strategy and the profile of each of the projects funded by the NICDATF, with the number of people each is estimated to have engaged.

Each task force also needs to report to the Drugs Policy Unit on its expenditure twice yearly and to provide a final outturn of expenditure at the end of the financial year, says a Department of Health spokesperson.

They also need to submit a service-level agreement to the HSE Addiction Services, says Jennifer Clancy, coordinator of the Clondalkin Drugs and Alcohol Task Force.

“We need to have a Service Level Agreement for all of our funded projects, or actions, or programmes that’s held by the HSE on the partnership between the HSE, the Task Force and the funding agency, so whatever that organisation is,” says Clancy.

An FOI request to the HSE looking for the service-level agreements between the NICDATF and the HSE was refused on the grounds that “the records do not exist”.

It is unclear what the sanctions are for completing service level agreements, or submitting biannual financial statements or submitting annual returns.

Different Structures

Not all task forces are set up in the same way, says Clancy.

The drugs and alcohol task forces of Clondalkin, Tallaght and Dún Laoighaire-Rathdown are separate legal entities, says Clancy, and therefore can appoint their own coordinators.

“There are twenty-four task forces … twenty-one of them are led by a HSE-employed coordinator. They report then to the Department of Health and the HSE,” says Clancy.

The coordinator, according to the 2009-2016 National Drugs Strategy, is supposed to be the principal point of contact between the Office of the Minister for Drugs and local task forces.

“When our last coordinator retired,” said Lacey, chair of the SICDATF, “we weren’t a top priority for the HSE. We just couldn’t get anybody until about nine months ago.”

They couldn’t get approval from the department to hire a coordinator, said Lacey. (The HSE did not respond to a query about this.)

Says Lacey: “It was something we fought for for a long time. For us it was a problem because we only had staff member and we had no one to step up to the task.”

That meant that for 2016 and 2017 no annual statements were submitted to Office of Minister for Drugs.

Furthermore, the website for the task force is not working, and the phone number is out of service.

Lacey says that the site is currently being changed to a different hosting company but wasn’t aware that the number was out of service.

“The Task Force is an ad-hoc voluntary group but we have been putting a bit of effort in the last six months into streamlining our old operations,” says Lacey.

The Task Force Review

In the new National Drugs Strategy, “Reducing Harm, Supporting Recovery 2017-2025”, a new oversight committee was introduced to replace old National Coordinating Committee of Drugs and Alcohol Task Forces.

“The oversight committee is made up of senior departmental and agency reps,” says Hugh Greaves, coordinator of the Ballymun Task Force, who also sits on the committee.

“Their job is to oversee the implementation of the national drugs strategy as a whole,” says Greaves. “The rollout of all those actions is governed by the National Oversight Committee. Then there’s a thing called the Standing Sub-committee for Drugs and Alcohol Task Forces so that oversees and supports the implementation of the national drugs strategy through the local and regional drugs task forces.”

The subcommittee’s role is primarily to ensure that local and regional task forces implement the National Drugs Strategy, but it is also there to “ensure good governance and accountability by all partners involved in the delivery of the Strategy”, says Greaves.

One of the long-overdue promises from the 2012 review of the task forces was to introduce performance indicators. That has been delayed, says Greaves, due to the sudden death of Trutz Haase in 2018, the consultant responsible for “formulating the whole performance reporting system”.

The reporting system, says Greaves, was supposed to look at whether “the resources are going to the right places. It was a much more macro-thing. It wasn’t really about performance it was more about were the resources going to the right areas.”

Last year, the Minister for Drugs, Fine Gael TD Catherine Byrne, set up a working group for a review of the drugs and alcohol task forces’ handbook.

Lacey says he will be retiring from his position as chair of the South Inner City Drugs and Alcohol Task Force in the next couple of months.

He has served in the position for the past seven years, despite government policy recommending that no one spend more than three years in the post, “in the interests of good governance”.

“To be honest with you,” he says, “I’ve been trying to find a new chair for quite a while. You see there are people who are able but they don’t have the time, and then there’s people that have the time but are not able.”

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Author:

Sean Finnan: Sean Finnan is a reporter for Dublin Inquirer. He covers the north side of the city. You can reach him at sfinnan@dublininquirer.com.

Reader responses

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Pat Coyne
at 31 January 2019 at 08:44

I studied the drugs task forces in the Dublin City Council area while working on the issue of street drinking in Dublin city centre. The only one I found helpful was the: - https://blanchardstowndrugstaskfo… who do some great work out in Blanchardstown.

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