Home > Drugs policy in the new programme for government.

Dillon, Lucy (2016) Drugs policy in the new programme for government. Drugnet Ireland, Issue 58, Summer 2016, pp. 1-3.

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May 2016 saw important developments for those working in the illicit drugs area. A new programme for government was published and a new Minister for Communities and the National Drugs Strategy appointed. 

Programme for Partnership Government

A programme for partnership government was published on 11 May 2016.1 This document lays out the direction the new government plans to take across a range of policy areas, including those related to drug and alcohol use. A number of specific commitments have been made to:

  • complete and commence the new National Drugs Strategy within 12 months,
  • pursue a health-led rather than criminal justice approach to drug use,
  • legislate for medically supervised injection rooms,
  • produce step-down services and facilities for people leaving drug rehabilitation,
  • enact the Public Health (Alcohol) Bill,
  • strengthen the regulation of alcohol advertising to children,
  • support the expansion of Local Drugs Task Force projects and the Garda Youth Diversion programme,
  • fund an expansion of youth services to early school leavers and other young people,
  • reduce drug- and alcohol-related crime through a combination of policing, treatment and demand reduction activities, and
  • ‘properly’ resource An Garda Síochána to be able to reduce the sale and supply of illicit drugs on the streets.

Subsequently, the Department of Health published its briefing for new ministers that describes the work of the department and those responsible for its delivery. Developing the new National Drugs Strategy, providing policy input for the legislative changes required to introduce medically supervised injecting centres, and pursuing the adoption of the Public Health (Alcohol) Bill are all identified as part of the Department of Health’s work.2 

New Minister of State for the National Drugs Strategy

Following the publication of these documents, on 19 May Catherine Byrne TD was appointed Minister of State for Communities and the National Drugs Strategy. Her brief is spread across the Department of Health and the Department of Regional Development, Rural Affairs, Arts and the Gaeltacht. She is a Fine Gael TD for Dublin South-Central, a former Lord Mayor of Dublin, and was the party’s spokesperson on the National Drugs Strategy from 2007 to 2010. More recently she has been a member of the Oireachtas Cross-Party Group on Alcohol and the Oireachtas Committee on Health and Children. She attributes great importance to the role of Minister with responsibility for the National Drugs Strategy – in 2015 she called for it to be upgraded to a Cabinet position3. 

Over the years Minister Byrne has made numerous contributions to the debate on drug and alcohol issues. With respect to the current Government’s priorities, she has been a long-standing advocate for the introduction of medically supervised injecting centres.4,5 She has given her backing to all elements of the Public Health (Alcohol) Bill,6 in particular ‘wholeheartedly’ supporting the introduction of minimum unit pricing for alcohol.7 However, she has argued strongly against any alcohol sponsorship of sporting events,8,9 and has expressed the view that the Bill does not goes far enough in relation to this issue. For example, in February 2015 she urged the Minister for Health to ‘re-examine how we can curtail alcohol sponsorship of sporting events because we need to send out a strong message that alcohol has no place in our sporting events’.8 

Minister Byrne has been critical of the way in which drug services are structured and has expressed concern about the duplication of services in some areas.3,4 She has questioned the suitability of ‘the drugs task force model’, looking for its ‘reconfiguration’ so that the needs of users would be better met.10 Also she has sought changes to school-based drug and alcohol education programmes.4 At the time of writing it is unclear where the Minister stands on the issue of decriminalisation which had been put on the agenda by her predecessor Aodhán Ó Ríordáin and the findings of the Joint Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality.11


1 A programme for partnership government (2016) https://www.drugsandalcohol.ie/25508/

2 Department of Health (2016) Departmental Brief for Minister May 2016 https://www.drugsandalcohol.ie/25536/

3 Byrne C (2015, 26 March) Drug addiction and recovery models. Joint Oireachtas Committee on Health and Children. Downloaded 9 June 2016 https://www.kildarestreet.com/committees/?id=2015-03-26a.2086&s=Drug+Addiction+and+Recovery+Models

4 Byrne C (2015, 9 July) National Drugs Strategy. Joint Oireachtas Committee on Health and Children. Downloaded 9 June 2016 https://www.kildarestreet.com/committees/?id=2015-07-09a.3440&s=Drug+Addiction+and+Recovery+Models#g3455

5 Byrne C (2015, 23 April) Appointment of Aodhán Ó Ríordáin as Minister of State for the National Drugs Strategy. Downloaded 9 June 2016 http://www.finegael.ie/latest-news/2015/new-drugs-minister-could-/index.xml

6 Byrne C (2015, 4 February) Public Health (Alcohol) Bill. Downloaded 9 June 2016 http://www.finegael.ie/latest-news/2015/new-legislation-rightly-r/index.xml

7 Byrne C (2015, 23 April) ‘General Scheme of Public Health (Alcohol) Bill 2015’. Joint Committee on Health and Children Debate. Downloaded 9 June 2016 https://www.kildarestreet.com/committees/?id=2015-04-23a.3377&s=I+wholeheartedly+support+minimum+unit+pricing#g3403

8 Byrne C (2014, 18 June) Cross-Party Oireachtas Group on Alcohol Misuse. Downloaded 9 June 2016 http://www.finegael.ie/latest-news/2014/discussion-of-alcohol-spo/

9 Byrne C (2011, 1 December) Alcohol marketing debate. Joint Committee on Health and Children. Downloaded 9 June 2016 http://oireachtasdebates.oireachtas.ie/Debates%20Authoring/DebatesWebPack.nsf/committeetakes/HEJ2011120100004

10 Byrne C (2013, 10 July) Estimates for public services 2013. Committee on Health and Children: Select Sub-Committee on Children and Youth Affairs. Downloaded 9 June 2016 https://www.kildarestreet.com/committees/?id=2013-07-10a.545

11 Joint Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality (2015, 5 November) Report of the committee on a harm reducing and rehabilitative approach to possession of small amounts of illegal drugs. 31/JDAE/035. https://www.drugsandalcohol.ie/24750/

Item Type
Publication Type
Irish-related, Open Access, Article
Drug Type
All substances
Intervention Type
Issue Title
Issue 58, Summer 2016
August 2016
Page Range
pp. 1-3
Health Research Board
Issue 58, Summer 2016

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