Justice Minister dodging questions on decriminalisation of drug users

19 October 2021

Responding to the Minister of Justice’s failure to answer questions about decriminalising drug user, Labour TD Aodhán Ó Ríordáin said we need to change the culture around drug use in Ireland. Ó Ríordáin, whose campaigning work for a health-based approach to the drugs problem has been recognised in Ireland and abroad, said Ireland needs to pursue a harm reduction approach to the drugs problem in Ireland.

Deputy Ó Ríordáin said:

“The Minister for Justice refused to answer my question regarding her position on the decriminalisation of drug users, passing the buck instead to health. This is a totally wrong and makes a mockery of the system of parliamentary questions. If this is a health matter and not a justice matter, then why are our courts full of people facing conviction for drugs offences?

“I have written to the Ceann Comhairle to direct the Minister to answer the question. The enforcement of the Misuse of Drugs Acts is a core responsibility of the Garda Síochána and the impact of drugs law enforcement is directly felt by both the courts and the prisons service – three bodies all of which are under the aegis of the Department of Justice. It is not credible that a Minister for Justice, her Department and the three law enforcement bodies operating under her aegis have between them no view about the decriminalisation of drugs and its impact on those bodies.

“We need to have a culture change in our approach to drug use in this country. Decriminalisation means decriminalisation of the user, not the drug. This approach would save lives and free up valuable Garda resources to tackle organised crime, rather than the victims of crime. While the matter of drug addiction is absolutely a health issue, the decriminalisation of the user should rest squarely with justice.

“Where decriminalisation of the user has been implemented, like in Portugal, we have seen a fall in overdose deaths, drug related crime, problematic drug use, and a reduction in the number of people sent to jail for possession. This cultural shift took many years, but the successes are real.

“If someone is found in possession of any illegal drug for personal use, they shouldn’t be criminalised, rather they should be treated. We are not proposing the legalisation of all substances, rather, we want to focus on helping people by removing the immediate threat of criminal sanctions. Possession of drugs would remain prohibited but not criminalised, as happens in Portugal.

“The Department of Justice must be ready to work with us to moving to decriminalising the user and that begins with the Minister answering policy questions which are her direct responsibility.”

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