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Home > Ireland’s drug policy – progress in 2013.

Pike, Brigid (2015) Ireland’s drug policy – progress in 2013. Drugnet Ireland , Issue 52, Winter 2014 , pp. 7-8.

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Since 2001 Irish governments have endorsed the national drugs strategy (there have been two) as Ireland’s national drug policy. Each year the Department of Health publishes a progress report on implementing the actions contained in the strategy.


In recent years Ireland’s newly-elected coalition governments have also published a ‘programme for government’, outlining the government’s priorities and objectives across all policy domains. In the current programme for government, national policy on illicit drugs, alcohol and tobacco is discussed in the chapter entitled ‘Fairness’, along with government policies on health, education, criminal justice and a range of other social issues. Each year the government publishes a report on progress in implementing this programme for government.


Some of the highlights, as reported in the 2013 progress reports on the implementation of the programme for government and the national drugs strategy, are listed below.1


Following the government’s self-report, an assessment by a civil society organisation (CSO) of the government’s performance in relation to alcohol and drug policy in 2013 is outlined.2 Focusing on areas where there has been little progress, this assessment is notably more critical. However, it also suggests how progress in developing and implementing policy could be made. The implications of the difference of perspective between government and non-government sources are considered in a separate article – ‘Who should decide national drug policy and how?’


Tobacco-free Ireland

As part of Healthy Ireland, a new government framework for action to improve the health and wellbeing of Irish people, Tobacco Free Ireland was published – a strategy for making Ireland tobacco free by 2025.


National substance misuse strategy

The government approved a package of measures to deal with alcohol misuse, to be incorporated in a Public Health (Alcohol) Bill. It will cover minimum unit pricing, regulation of marketing and advertising, structural separation of alcohol from other products in mixed trading outlets, enforcement powers to be given to Environmental Health Officers, and health labelling to include warnings and advice. The regulation of sports sponsorship was given back to a working group for further examination.


Supply reduction

Drug seizures for the first three quarters of 2013 were estimated to have a provisional value of €67 million and An Garda Síochána’s Operation Nitrogen continued to be very successful in identifying and dismantling cannabis cultivation sites across the country. Revenue drug-smuggling detection seized €20.8 million in drugs and €20.7 million in illegal tobacco and cigarettes. The Criminal Assets Bureau returned approximately €6 million to the Exchequer in 2013, the majority of which resulted from drug trafficking but also some from tobacco smuggling.


Drug-related policing

The Department of Health progress report for 2013 records that (1) guidelines for the operation of local policing fora (LPF) in LDTF areas and other areas experiencing serious and concentrated drug misuse problems were circulated to the relevant bodies for implementation; (2) a drug-related intimidation programme was established jointly by An Garda Síochána, the Family Support Network and the HSE’s Social Inclusion Unit to respond to the needs of drug users and their families and friends who may be experiencing intimidation to pay drug debts; and (3) a framework was developed to support the nomination of an Inspector in every Garda division to target adults involved in the drugs trade who use children to engage in illegal activities associated with the drugs trade.


Drugs in prisons

A full range of security initiatives continued to be implemented to eliminate the supply of drugs into prisons, and drug-free units continued to be rolled out in all closed prisons. These units accommodate and cater for the needs of both drug-free prisoners and those prisoners stable on methadone. There were 522 places filled in drug-free units operating across nine closed prisons, with 35 places due to become operational shortly in Portlaoise Prison.



The HSE established a National Hidden Harm Project Management Group to ingrain awareness of hidden harm into the overarching substance misuse and childcare policy frameworks, in order to bridge the gulf between the two systems and ultimately to improve outcomes for children. A key performance indicator (KPI) in the national drugs strategy, to reduce early-school leaving from 11.5% in 2007 to 10% by 2012, had been exceeded: the figure for 2012 was 9.7%, below the EU average of 12.8%.


Drug treatment and rehabilitation services

In 2013, €91.5 million (not including funding of community and voluntary and prison-based services) was allocated for the HSE’s Addiction Services. Over 12,500 people received drug treatment for all types of drug use, including over 9,600 people in opioid substitution treatment. At the end of 2013 almost 100% of people over the age of 18 could access treatment within one month of assessment, and almost 100% of children could access treatment within one week of assessment.


The HSE’s National Addiction Training Programme (NATP) provided an introduction to dual diagnosis (DD) as an awareness-raising exercise. Following an initial presentation to staff of addiction and allied health and social care services in Bridge House in Cherry Orchard Hospital, conferences were held for wider audiences.


The HSE National Hepatitis C Strategy Implementation Committee was established and set up three sub-groups to progress the recommendations in the hepatitis C strategy – Treatment; Surveillance and Screening; and Education, Prevention and Communication.


A National Rehabilitation Framework to improve the quality and quantity of interagency referrals between drugs services was implemented on a phased basis at ten pilot sites across the country. A process evaluation was completed during 2013, and an implementation plan for national rollout of the framework is being developed in 2014.


Drug-specific Community Employment (CE) schemes

With a budget of almost €15 million in 2013, drug-specific CE schemes facilitated stabilisation and recovery from problem drug use by providing individual care plans and tailored supports for clients. At the end of 2013 there were 790 participants on drug-specific CE schemes and 161 support workers. The proportion progressing onto employment or further education/training as at December 2013 was 28.3%.


The view from civil society

In February 2014 the Children’s Rights Alliance (CRA) issued its annual report card evaluating the government’s progress during 2013 in meeting its commitments to children, as set out in the Programme for Government.2 Alcohol, illicit drug and tobacco policies are assessed in Chapter 3, ‘Right to Health’; five pages are devoted to reviewing the evidence and discussing the policy options.


CRA concludes that progress in 2013 was ‘very slow’: apart from the Tobacco Free Ireland Report published in October 2013, the promised national addiction strategy had not been published, there was no government policy on tackling alcohol misuse, and no government decision on recommendations of the steering group on the alcohol section of the national substance misuse strategy. The government is given a ‘D+’ grade for its alcohol and drug policies, a slight improvement on 2013 (‘D-’), reflecting the ‘initial steps taken towards creating a Tobacco Free Ireland and some positive movement in relation to alcohol’. But concrete actions are called for.  Brigid Pike



1 Department of Health (2014) National Drugs Strategy 2009–2016: progress report to end 2013. Dublin: Department of Health and Government for National Recovery (2014) Programme for Government: annual report 2014  

2 Children’s Rights Alliance (2014) Report card 2014: is government keeping its promises to children?  Dublin: Children’s Rights Alliance. The Children’s Rights Alliance is a coalition of over 100 civil society organisations, including the Ana Liffey Drug Project, which works  to secure the rights of children in Ireland, by campaigning for the full implementation of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. It aims to improve the lives of all children under 18 years, through securing the necessary changes in Ireland’s laws, policies and services.

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