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Connolly, Johnny (2015) Towards ‘a better city for all’. Drugnet Ireland , Issue 54, Summer 2015 , pp. 19-20.

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Mr Aodhán Ó Ríordáin TD, Minister of State with responsibility for the National Drugs Strategy speaking at the inaugural Better City for All seminar in May.

The issue of public substance misuse and anti-social behaviour in Dublin’s inner city, actual or perceived, has long been a source of media focus and public concern. In 2011 a partnership of stakeholder representatives – drawn from local businesses, drug treatment providers, An Garda Síochána, local drugs task forces and service users – was formed to develop sustainable responses to the many factors contributing to the situation. In June 2012, following research and in-depth discussion over a number of months, a report, A better city for all, was published.1 The report made almost 60 recommendations in relation to treatment, rehabilitation, homelessness, alcohol supply, policing, planning and urban design, legislation and partnership. The members of the A better city for all (ABCFA) group agreed that the issue of substance-related anti-social behaviour was primarily a public health issue and any sustainable long-term solution could only be delivered in that context.

 

Throughout 2013, an implementation committee, chaired by the Area Manager for Dublin City Council, progressed the implementation of the recommendations in the report. Following an evaluation of the process in January 2014, the ABCFA group agreed that it had taken the implementation of the recommendations as far as it could. It highlighted several outstanding issues:

  • Homelessness: the group called for the ‘Housing First’ model, which targets people rough-sleeping, to be introduced as a mainstream programme.
  • Treatment: The group highlighted the cutbacks in daytime services and the need to facilitate and support existing structures and services. It also supported the establishment of residential crisis stabilisation/detoxification units for people with problematic poly-substance use (including alcohol) and multiple needs. The group also supported, in principle, the introduction of a safe-injecting facility pilot project, based on good practice.
  • Public information/communication: The group called for a strategy to help address the negative perceptions of the city as an unsafe place. It stipulated that the strategy should be evidence-based and cover both about the nature of the problems and the existing responses to them. 

The ABCFA group agreed that further progress in addressing the issues in the city would require stronger and more integrated participation by statutory bodies, including senior budget holders, and the establishment of a focused street-outreach team to respond to the needs of some of the most marginalised individuals in the city centre. In early 2014, a Higher Level Statutory Group, comprising representatives of Dublin City Council, An Garda Síochána, the HSE and the Dublin Regional Homeless Executive, was established. Since September 2014 a street-level outreach team, led by the Ana Liffey Drug project and including community Gardaí and HSE workers, was formed to operate on a case management basis with individuals in need of particular social supports.

 

Guiding Principles and Objectives of A Better City for All

Responses should: 

  • be coordinated and partnership-based,
  • be evidence-based,
  • complement and not duplicate other relevant policies
  • be measurable,
  • not make problems worse or simply shift them elsewhere,
  • reduce public fears and address perceptions of concern associated with clients receiving drug treatment,
  • decrease the visibility of substance misuse,
  • address negative perceptions of the city as an unsafe place to be, and
  • promote a balanced perspective on the issues.  

With the national commemorations in 2016 coming closer, a need was identified by those involved in the process to date for those frontline services responding to the ongoing social, health and economic issues and challenges in the city centre to maintain a partnership and communication network in order to deliver on the overall objectives of ABCFA (see box). In May 2015, to further these objectives, an inaugural ABCFA seminar was held. Presentations explored the challenges of introducing ‘Housing First’, and of responding to public drug use in the city centre from the perspective of low-threshold services such as the Ana Liffey Drug Project and Merchants Quay Ireland. Richard Guiney of Dublin Town gave the local business community perspective. The seminar was attended by representatives of frontline services, including members of An Garda Síochána, throughout the city. Commenting in advance of the seminar, the Lord Mayor of Dublin, Christy Burke, said:

It is well documented that the city centre has addiction issues and related anti-social behaviour issues, it is an area that I am determined to see solutions.  I have made addressing these issues a focus of my term as Lord Mayor of Dublin. I welcome the Better City for All initiative, where agencies and stakeholders across the city are combining their knowledge and expertise to develop sustainable solutions. I would like to particularly praise the inclusiveness of this process and it is focusing on the needs of the most vulnerable in our society, I believe that by focusing on their needs at the core of all activities that we will find solutions.  I would also like to acknowledge and commend the dedication and hard work of many of the frontline services that have been responding to the needs of some of the most marginalised of the city’s inhabitants.  It is only by all of the stakeholders working together that we can achieve the desired progress. 

Minister of State Aodhán Ó Ríordáin, who was attending his second event since being allocated special responsibility for the National Drugs Strategy, stated:

I am delighted to be working with the Better City for All initiative. As I said upon my appointment, I want to meet with the various stakeholders involved in this issue and discuss how we can best tackle drug addiction in this country.  My  Department  will  shortly  be  beginning a consultation process  on  the  new  Drugs Strategy and as a newly-appointed minister, my priority  is to listen to those who have more expertise in this area than I do, and feed their contributions into this process.

During his address to the seminar, the Minister indicated his interest in radical new drug reforms such as the decriminalisation of cannabis and the establishment in Dublin of a medically supervised heroin injecting facility to address public injecting and associated harms.  

  1. Strategic Response Group (2012) A better city for all: a partnership approach to address public substance misuse and perceived anti-social behaviour in Dublin city centre. Dublin: SRG. https://www.drugsandalcohol.ie/17769/
  2. The author of this article was the original independent chair of the Strategic Response Group that produced the ‘Better City for All’ report, and he chaired the inaugural seminar. To hear the seminar presentations, visit http://www.drugs.ie/multimedia/

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