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No to Dail coke tests: minister

A leading drug expert has said it is "unsurprising" to find a government minister has admitted to taking cocaine.

According to Marie Byrne, director of the Aisling Group International said: "It's not surprising at all when you think about the law of probability and the vast availability of drugs."

She questioned whether more than one senior politician is taking cocaine and asked why drug testing is not introduced into Leinster House.

"Is there more than one Minister using it, that's what I would ask? If not then why don't they prove it to the country by being tested?"

Ms Byrne's call for the introduction of random drug testing in the Oireachtas was met with strong opposition by the Government last night however.

Speaking to the Sunday Independent, Minister of State with responsibility for the National Drugs Strategy Pat Carey, dismissed the possibility, saying drug testing for TDs and Senators would be impossible.

Opposition TDs rejected the Minister's position, and were highly critical of the refusal by Government to face up to the allegations of ministerial cocaine abuse highlighted in journalist Justine Delaney Wilson's recently-released book, High Society.

In an account the author states was given to her in Buswell's Hotel in October of last year, the Minister in question admits to being a regular cocaine user, while suggesting that others within Leinster House also use the illegal drug .

The sensational allegation which swirled through the corridors of the Dail in recent weeks was raised with the Taoiseach in the Dail last Wednesday when Fine Gael TD Simon Coveney raised the issue formally.

Mr Ahern dismissed the matter however. The Government's official position has hardened further since then.

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Last night, Minister of State Pat Carey said he believed the story of the cocaine-abusing Government Minister had no foundation.

"It is completely without foundation. Somebody has suggested to me that this is a typical tactic used to get people to take the book off the shelf. I note that the author herself wrote in the Sunday Independent a number of weeks ago, and that she made no mention good, bad or indifferent of the alleged drug taking minister. When she made her first reference to it in her Newstalk interview, I thought she was talking about somebody in the British Government," he said.

The book's author -- Justine Delaney Wilson -- strongly rejected the Minister's suggestion however, saying: "I utterly stand over every account given in my book, as do the publishers. It's absolutely outrageous for him to suggest this and I reject what he says absolutely."

Asked by the Sunday Independent if he would object to a system of random drug testing being introduced in the Oireachtas given the widespread prevalence of the drug in society, Mr Carey said it would not be possible.

"I have raised this with the competent authority, the HSA (Health and Safety Authority) already. They have told me it is not possible to do it on a mandatory basis and it is impractical to introduce it on a voluntary basis," he said.

That position on drug testing was rejected out of hand however by drugs expert Marie Byrne.

"If cocaine was found in the toilets in the Dail in the past, then why was it not dealt with then? To show people that the individuals making decisions for the country are not themselves on cocaine, a responsible action would be to bring in mandatory drug testing. If they [politicians] have nothing to fear, then what's the problem?"

Ms Byrne was backed by several Opposition TDs.

Fine Gael TD Lucinda Creighton said she would have no difficulty in seeing drug testing introduced to the Dail.

"I think it would be a really sad day if it came to that, if our ministers and leaders had to go through drug testing to prove they were not taking drugs, but I would have no problem if it were to be introduced. It would be a sad reflection on our society as a whole if it had to come to that," she said.

Commenting on the Taoiseach's handling of the recent controversy, Ms Creighton was scathing.

She said: "I think Bertie has handled this appallingly. He should at least be conducting some sort of an inquiry among his ministers and junior ministers to find out if this is true. It's a typical Fianna Fail attitude to brush it under the carpet," she said.

Fine Gael TD Dr Leo Varadkar also said he would have no difficulty with a system of drug testing being introduced in the Oireachtas.

"When I worked in Aer Rianta, they had drug testing for employees. I don't use illegal drugs, so I have no objection to drug testing. During the election campaign Fine Gael proposed that schools be allowed to carry out drug testing. So if we are looking to impose standards on others, we shouldn't have a problem ourselves," he said.

Simon Coveney -- the Fine Gael TD who raised the issue with the Taoiseach in the Dail -- was more cautious when it came to the matter of introducing drug testing in the Oireachtas saying we had to be mindful that we did not impose a "nanny state".

He reiterated his call however, for the Taoiseach to act on the allegation of cocaine use by one of his ministers.

"The Taoiseach has a job to impose standards and to take charge of this matter. I would expect the Taoiseach to respond by saying he will ask each minister about it, as opposed to allowing the issue to fester, and for the whispering campaign to continue, " he said.

Asked if he had ever witnessed cocaine abuse, Mr Coveney said: "Any of my friends would be very careful not to engage in behaviour like that in my presence. In public life, you are semi-shielded from it. But I know of many people who would have used recreational drugs on a regular basis, and I would always advise them against it."

Fr Peter McVerry, the Jesuit social campaigner who has highlighted the dangers of cocaine, said if the story was true, the man is "incredibly stupid and shouldn't be a minister."

"I wouldn't trust him with any post of responsibility," he said. "Of the young people I know from more deprived areas, their perception of cocaine is that it is a safe drug because very middle class people are taking it. They are not losing their jobs, they are not going to jail, they are not queuing up for drug treatment. Some of the kids say this is a great drug, if it's not affecting them, why would it effect me. The perception is that it is widespread in the upper echelons."

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