Labour to demand Citizens’ Assembly on drugs with decriminalisation of the user at the centre

29 November 2022

Labour justice spokesperson Aodhán Ó Ríordáin has called on government to set a date for the promised Citizens’ Assembly on drugs.

Deputy Ó Ríordáin said that given Ireland now has the joint-highest rate of drug induced deaths among 16 to 64 year olds in the European Union, it’s clear that the criminalisation of drug users is not working.

Deputy Ó Ríordáin said:

“Tomorrow during Labour’s Private Members’ Motion we will call on government to set a date for the much promised Citizens’ Assembly on drugs. We will call for decriminalisation of the user to be at the centre of this, as well as calling on government to enact legislation to provide for injecting centres and devoting more resources to CAB to tackle drugs in our communities.

“At a briefing today in Leinster House, Labour was joined by Dr Garrett McGovern and Anna Quigley (Citywide), both of whom are in support of taking a health based approach to drugs in our communities. Speaking at a Labour event last night, Fr Peter McVerry and Philly McMahon (ex-Dublin GAA) agreed that the criminalisation of drug users has failed. It’s now time for a radical rethink, it’s time for us to consider decriminalising drug users and supporting people to recover from addiction, taking a health-led, community based approach.

“The so-called ‘war on drugs’ is failing for the last 60 years. Despite the ample evidence suggesting that giving someone a criminal record for possession of drugs for personal use is an ineffective way to get them to stop using, in Ireland, you can be jailed for up to seven years for possession of an illicit drug for personal use. The criminal record itself, which can result in barriers to employment, travel, and relationships, can end up doing more harm to the individual than their drug use.

“Yet we regularly see ordinary people prosecuted in the District Court for amounts as small as €2 worth of drugs for personal use. We must ask ourselves – does the punishment meet the crime?

“The current government approach of prohibition has failed, and there has been a total lack of visibility at Minister or Minister of State level to tackle this. Nowhere is that more obvious than in the lack of joined up thinking between Ministers, Departments and State agencies, and a lack of focus, energy and urgency in spearheading the State’s response to drugs. We must change this and move to a more appropriate, more effective community-based health-led response.

“The Portuguese example of decriminalising possession of drugs and introducing a health diversion scheme has resulted in a significant decline in drug deaths in Portugal and must be pursued by this government.

“Drugs remain a serious concern in almost every community across the country. We know that crime networks can become embedded in communities and normalised due to fear. To tackle this, we are proposing the expansion of CAB to target and seize smaller assets in local communities. The full resources of An Garda Síochána must be available to target organised gangs, traffickers and dealers and to make communities feel safe. Other jurisdictions are thinking differently about how we approach this area, and we need to have that conversation in Ireland too.”

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