Politicians and the drugs debate – six years on.
Drugnet Ireland, Issue 41, Spring 2012
Recent comments by politicians in the Oireachtas and in the public arena suggest that the political climate in Ireland is becoming more open than it was just six years ago to exploring responses to the illicit drug problem other than strictly prohibitionist options.1
In September 2011 members of the Joint Committee on Health and Children asked whether it was time to consider the drug policy options preferred by Portugal and the Netherlands, i.e. eliminate criminal sanctions for illicit drug users,2 and whether it was time to consider allowing people with a complete physical and chemical dependence on heroin or morphine to get their heroin or morphine in well-supervised, clean, incorruptible circumstances, i.e. establish safe injecting facilities.3 Speaking at the second National Drugs Conference of Ireland in November 2011, Junior Health Minister Róisín Shortall, who is in charge of Ireland’s drugs strategy, said she had an ‘open mind’ in relation to Portugal’s model.4
How has this change come about? What factors have influenced the shifts in thinking? Answers to such questions would increase our understanding of Ireland’s policy process in relation to illicit drugs, including how the increased body of research and information in recent years, and different actors and stakeholder groups, have influenced the policy debate. They would also indicate to what extent the development of Ireland’s drug policy is becoming a more transparent and democratic process, less shrouded in ambiguity, than it has been in the past.5
To answer such questions would require a dedicated research effort. Instead, the article 'To prohibit or not to prohibit – that is no longer the question' http://www.drugsandalcohol.ie/17268/ outlines how the drugs policy issue may be debated while avoiding the polarised, and increasingly unproductive, debate between those supporting the prohibition of psychoactive substances under the UN conventions and those arguing for legalisation, or some form of decriminalisation. (Brigid Pike)
1. A report onan Oireachtas debate in 2006 on Ireland’s drug policy noted that the speakers did not take the opportunity to explore the full range of strategic options available. See Pike B (2006) Politicians and the drugs debate. Drugnet Ireland, (19): 16–17.
4. O’Keefe C (2011, 4 November) Minister considers Portuguese drugs strategy.Irish Examiner.
5. Butler S and Mayock B (2005) ‘An Irish solution to an Irish problem’: harm reduction and ambiguity in the drug policy of the Republic of Ireland. International Journal of Drug Policy, 16 (6): 415–422; O’Shea M (2007) Introducing safer injecting facilities (SIFs) in the Republic of Ireland: “Chipping away” at policy change. Drugs: education, prevention and policy, 14 (1): 75–88.
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