Home > Seanad Éireann debate. Drug treatment programmes policy.

[Oireachtas] Seanad Éireann debate. Drug treatment programmes policy. (19 Feb 2019)

External website: https://www.oireachtas.ie/en/debates/debate/seanad...

Senator Lynn Ruane: I thank the Minister of State for being here. I raise the issue of drug policy reform and the progress of the work of the Department of Health working group examining alternative approaches to the criminalisation of drugs possession. As she is aware, this is an issue I have a keen interest in and I have been following closely the progress of the Department working group. The decriminalisation of drugs for personal use is a necessity in modernising our antiquated laws which unfairly and without an evidence base criminalise drug use and addiction.


The international evidence is clear and overwhelmingly supportive of decriminalisation as a harm reduction measure and one that would allow for a shift to a health-led approach where drug treatment, education and community engagement would be central rather than harsh criminal penalties.


My first Seanad Private Members' Bill, the Controlled Drugs and Harm Reduction Bill 2017, would have allowed for a Portuguese-style model for the decriminalisation of drugs possession for personal use and the creation of a drug dissuasion service to administer and case-manage those found in possession of drugs, whereby appropriate health-led interventions could be made instead of sending people through the court and prison systems.


As the Minister of State will remember, I agreed with her and the Government to adjourn the debate on the Bill and suspend its progression through the Oireachtas to allow for the working group to conduct its work. I thank her for the opportunity to present my Bill to the working group. I hope it was of use in its deliberations.


I was delighted to see the extraordinary amount of engagement through the public consultation process. Over 20,000 submissions were received. I understand this is the Department's record. It clearly shows the public support and appetite for substantive change. At every point, I have tried to be constructive and supportive of the working group and of Deputy Catherine Byrne in her role as Minister of State responsible for the drugs strategy.


I held my Bill back because I believed there was openness and willingness to assess the failings of our current drug laws, genuinely consider evidence internationally and move to recommend real and substantive change. The Minister of State can imagine my concern, therefore, when I read in the Irish Examiner a few weeks back that the group is preparing to reject recommending decriminalisation and instead recommends some sort of diversion scheme - a system in which we would maintain the criminalisation of addiction and tell people we are going to put their stigmatisation and shaming before meeting their needs and recovery. It is just not good enough.


As a State, we cannot continue to label addiction as offending behaviour and hold criminal penalties over users' heads as a way to keep them in line. It may be the thinking of the Department and working group but it is not supported by evidence, international experience or the extraordinary support for decriminalisation the Department would have noted in the public consultation. If the reports in the newspaper article are true, the Government will have ignored the evidence and the public in opting for this path.


Could the Minister of State confirm whether the reports are untrue and whether the working group is still considering full decriminalisation? Can she confirm that she will be publishing the submissions received in the consultation, as was done for the Citizens' Assembly, so we can all know of the public support for decriminalisation or the model the Government is putting forward? Can she confirm that any proposals from the group will be fully cited in extensive detail, with the international evidence supporting the policy and evidence base for their effectiveness? I look forward to the Minister of State's response.

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