Home > Dáil Éireann debate. Priority questions - Citizens' Assembly.

[Oireachtas] Dáil Éireann debate. Priority questions - Citizens' Assembly. (08 Dec 2022)

External website: https://www.oireachtas.ie/en/debates/debate/dail/2...

2. Deputy Duncan Smith asked the Minister for Health the timeframe for a citizens' assembly on drugs policy (details supplied); and if he will make a statement on the matter. [61090/22]

Deputy Duncan Smith: Following our Private Members' motion last week on the decriminalisation of drug users, I wish to ask about the timeframe for the citizens' assembly that has been agreed by the Government. Are we any closer to understanding when we will have that assembly?

Minister of State at the Department of Health (Deputy Frankie Feighan): I thank the Deputy for raising this issue. The Government is committed to establishing a citizens' assembly on drug use at the earliest opportunity in 2023 along with a citizens' assembly on the future of education. The terms of reference and the timelines for the citizens' assembly on drug use will be presented to the Oireachtas for approval.

I am very positive about the potential contribution of the assembly to the Government's health-led response to drug use and the strategic priorities for the remaining period of the national drugs strategy to 2025. Drug use affects all members of society, whether directly or indirectly so involving citizens in decision-making on drugs policy is, therefore, appropriate. I acknowledge the interest in the assembly among politicians of all parties and civil society organisations.

The Department of Health has commenced preparations for the citizens' assembly on drug use, in conjunction with the Department of the Taoiseach, so that there will be no delay in establishing the assembly in early 2023. I am keen that the voices of young people are included in the citizens assembly on drug use. The Departments of Health, and Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth have held a consultation with young people on how drug use impacts on them. The findings will be shared with the citizens' assembly when established. I would also like to see an international component to the assembly to facilitate learning from the British Ireland Council work sector on drugs, which I chair, the EU drugs strategy and action plan and the Council of Europe Pompidou group on drugs and addictions. The good news is that the citizens' assembly work has started and, hopefully, it will take place early in 2023.

Deputy Duncan Smith: That is encouraging. I am conscious that following last night's debate on the Patient Safety (Notifiable Patient Safety Incidents) Bill, the Department of Health is having to do more work on that going into January. That is understandable and a good thing. I am conscious of the pressure the Department is under but this is something we feel must be brought forward as early as possible.

The work of the national drugs strategy that would complement the health-led approach to drug use and, ultimately, decriminalisation of the drug user is important. Initiatives such as the national injecting centre in Dublin city centre need to be delivered. That has to be moved forward. I acknowledge that we are waiting for the decision from An Bord Pleanála on that. These are the services that we need. We need a citizens' assembly, legislation and policies but we need the resources and services like this to be in place. I welcome the commitment that it will be as early as possible in the new year.
Deputy Frankie Feighan
There is an An Bord Pleanála appeal on the supervised injection facility in Merchants Quay. We hope it will be taken as quickly as possible. It is part of the overall national drug strategy. I am very fortunate as Minister of State to have the national drugs strategy to which there has been more than 20,000 submissions. It has had its mid-term review. That is about reducing harm and supporting recovery and is a health-led approach. The Department has commenced preparation for a citizens' assembly on drug use and discussions regarding the national oversight committee for the national drugs strategy.

Officials from the Department of Health have engaged with counterparts in the Department of Children, Equality, Diversity, Integration and Youth and are gathering the perspectives of young people on how drug use affects them, their families and communities. That will be provided to the citizens’ assembly on drug use. The programme for Government includes a commitment to convene a citizens’ assembly relating to drug use. A lot of work has gone on and I look forward to that citizens' assembly taking place early in the new year.
Deputy Duncan Smith
Last week's two-hour debate included many examples, stories and emotive words on this. This question is not replaying that but is a demonstration that we are continuing to push this until it is delivered beyond the citizens’ assembly. The work of Deputy Ó Ríordáin on this especially is to be commended. Public opinion is with this. When speaking to families, communities and people impacted by this, they know the direction of travel and they want to see politicians on all sides of this House support it. There is a Minister of State with responsibility for drugs but they would also greatly appreciate it if the Minister would speak on it and lead at senior ministerial level. We look forward to progress on this early in 2023.
Deputy Frankie Feighan
I thank the Deputy for his informed and measured remarks. The Government is committed to a health-led approach for those in possession of drugs for personal use through the health diversion programme that will divert them away from the criminal justice system and connect them with health services.

The terms of reference for the citizens’ assembly will be a matter for the Oireachtas to agree. We need to meet the diverse health needs of people who use drugs and how to prevent harmful impact of drugs on families and communities. It is important to have an international component to the citizens’ assembly so that there is an exchange of good practice from the British Ireland Council work sector on drugs and the EU drugs strategy and action plan. We are examining alternative approaches to coercive sanctions. We have come a long way. Again, I thank everyone who has worked so hard on the national drugs strategy. It is my roadmap until we discuss these issues at the citizens’ assembly.

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