Drugs Minister Aodhán Ó Ríordáin Has Lost His Seat

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Activists with Aodhán Ó Ríordáin

Labour TD and outgoing Minister for Drugs Strategy Aodhán Ó Ríordáin has lost his seat following the elections on Friday. The news broke earlier today following lengthy counts and recounts of the ballots in the Dublin Bay North constituency.

Many people are rightly critical of Labour’s time in government, given what was largely expected of them by their voters. I too have basked in the glory of their demise at times. One can also perhaps be critical of Aodhán Ó Ríordáin in the areas of direct provision reform, traveller rights, and on other issues.

However if one was to focus solely on his work as drugs minister, which this article does, then we can perhaps applaud him for his efforts. On a personal level I found Aodhán to be approachable and willing to engage with us activists. On more than one occasion he participated in events we organised either for SSDP Ireland or Help Not Harm.

Regularly he had to endure a tough grilling both from us activists and event attendees. Arguably like any politician should be expected to. But no matter what he was always happy to continue working with us and to tease out the issues. In my experiences with other politicians most will disengage with you at the first moment of tension; however Aodhán Ó Ríordáin to his credit was different in this regard.

During his 11 months in the role he arguably brought the debate further along than any other drugs minister has previously. Although there were times I felt he could have had a better grasp of the portfolio. But nevertheless Ó Ríordáin used his time in the role to promote a different approach to drugs policy.

While his overall success in the role remains to be seen, he did accomplish a number of things. As minister he brought the he issue of decriminalisation to the fore. He spoke regularly at events, was very active in the media, and was meeting frontline workers, activists and others.

Because of him, and significantly the hard work of Ana Liffey Drugs Project who prepared legislation, a medically supervised injection centre looks a real possibility. This would arguably be a massive step in Irish drug policy.

Aodhán Ó Ríordáin was proactive in meeting various groups involved with the area from all sides of the debate. From my dealings with many of these groups there was widespread support for Aodhán Ó Ríordáin during his tenure.

His other political failing’s aside, the loss of Ó Ríordáin as a TD is a blow with regards to drugs policy. Granted he was never likely to be minister again given Labour’s long predicted disastrous election results. However, having him in the dail while the debate is still ongoing could have been of benefit. The new government, regardless of its makeup, will have to address the issue of drugs policy.

With a new Misuse of Drugs Act being prepared and a new National Drugs Strategy to be unveiled, this is an important period for Irish drug policy. Arguably having one of the most progressive drugs ministers still in the Dail would have been of benefit. However there is still a chance he will be vocal on the issue, albeit from the outside of parliament.

It is impossible to tell who will make up the next government, let alone who the next drugs minister will be. However the likelihood is that the next government will be formed by a FG/FF coalition, or another type of cross party agreement featuring the two. Thus a member of these parties will most likely be the next drugs minister.

How progressive the new minister will be in comparison to Aodhán Ó Ríordáin remains to be seen, but I wouldn’t be overly optimistic. It will be also interesting to see how willing the new minister will be to engage with frontline workers and activists. Will we revert back to the tough on crime mantra, rather than a debate on decriminalisation?

Perhaps what is of some benefit is the fact that last year’s report on Portuguese drug policy, which was largely positive, was signed off on by members from parties including FF and FG. Activists can perhaps point to this document as proof of these parties accepting reform as a positive thing, but how much sway such a move has remains to be seen.

Like him or loathe him there should perhaps be some appreciation for what Aodhán Ó Ríordáin has done during his brief tenure. While Labour’s legacy and perhaps Aodhán Ó Ríordáin‘s too is in tatters currently, it is likely that people will later look at his time as drugs minister as one of more progressive times.

As stated earlier this article isn’t defending the actions of Labour or Aodhán Ó Ríordáin during the past five years. I like many others am utterly disappointed with many aspects of his party’s and his time in the dail. However if we are to step back and address the issue subjectively I do feel there is little debate over whether he was a progressive drugs minister or not.

Regardless of whom the next minister is activists will be looking to meet him or her immediately. One can only hope the new minster will be as engaging on the topic. Hopefully Aodhán Ó Ríordáin’s time in the role has seen the debate brought sufficiently forward.

However one can’t help worry that we are about to take one step forward and two steps back.

What Election Manifestos Say About Drug Policy


The general election is less than a week away and across the country voters are making up their minds. To aid them parties and election candidates release their election manifestos.

In the manifesto parties/candidates outline what policies they wish to pursue should they get into government. Whether or not they stick to such promises is another worthwhile debate.

Most parties address drug policy in some manner in their manifestos. Below I reveal what the parties say about drug policy.

This guide on finding out what your local candidates thinks of cannabis decriminalisation may also be useful.

Fine Gael

Fine Gael dedicate a section to the issue of drugs and alcohol in their manifesto. Here is what it states.

Tackling the problem of drug and alcohol related crime and anti-social behaviour in our communities requires a comprehensive approach incorporating policing, treatment and demand reduction. It is only through a combination of these measures that we can address the underlying causes of this behaviour, reduce harm to the individual and better safeguard our communities.

Fine Gael will finalise an updated National Drugs Strategy, full implementation of which will be vital in achieving these goals and meeting the challenges of tackling the harm caused to individuals, families and communities

Fine Gael will put in place further laws and resources to disrupt the supply of illegal drugs, supporting the Gardaí and the Revenue Commissioners in the effective detection, interception and seizure of controlled drugs.

As Garda numbers continue to increase we will ensure further resources are assigned to the new national Drugs and Organised Crime Bureau and to strengthen the local drug units. This response will be coupled with ongoing support for outreach programmes which work with vulnerable and at-risk individuals in addressing complicated addiction issues.

We will enforce new legislation against driving while under the influence of drugs

Fine Gael will ensure full implementation of the National Drugs Strategy and continue to resource the new Garda Drugs and Organised Crime Bureau and local drugs units to tackle changing trends in drugs supply. We will continue to support Local Drug Taskforce projects for young people including targeted drug prevention and awareness programmes

You can read the Fine Gael manifesto in full here

Labour Party

Here is what the Labour Party’s manifesto states.

In government, Labour appointed a dedicated Minister of State with responsibility for drugs policy. We have partially restored cuts in funding for local and regional drugs and alcohol taskforces. 

We started work on a new national drugs strategy. We want to see families, victim support, harm reduction and education at the heart of the new strategy, along with improved funding for the Local Drugs Task Forces.

We will establish a twin-track approach, as in the Portuguese model, where the resources of the criminal justice system are targeted at the pushers and, at the same time, measures to reduce demand for drugs are implemented and medical supports are focused on the victims of drug abuse.

We will put the Drugs Court on a statutory footing and will expand its remit.

We will continue to support medically-supervised injecting centres, to protect the public and minimise cross-contamination amongst drug users.

You can read the Labour manifesto here

Fianna Fail

We will introduce a system of Community Courts within the District Court system that will be neighbourhood focused, specifically addressing problems of particular communities by targeting ‘quality of life’ crimes such as drug possession, public order offences, petty theft, prostitution and vandalism. This will relieve pressure on the prison system and curb recidivism by nipping it in the bud. We have allocated €2m to this new structure.

We will: (i) Create a new Cabinet Minister for Community Support & Development, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs. Ensure the Minister will lead cross-departmental coordination in the fight against the spread and damage of serious drugs.

The government has consistently downgraded the importance of tackling the scourge of drugs in cities, towns and villages across Ireland. We need to revitalise government efforts to stamp out the multi generational problem of drugs in the worst affected communities. A single lead Minister should take charge of this problem.

You can read the Fianna Fail manifesto here

Sinn Fein

Sadly the Sinn Fein manifesto doesn’t address the issue of illegal drugs at all. Perhaps the only relevant section is the following:

We will invest the money seized by the Criminal Assets Bureau back to frontline services in the communities worst affected by crime.

However, we have spoken to a number of their TD’s and believe the issue is to go before party members in April. Help Not Harm have already been invited to the conference.

You can read the Sinn Fein manifesto here

Social Democrats

A core aspect of the Social Democrat mental health policy is to tackle the service distinction between addiction and mental health. Substance abuse and mental health issues often go hand in hand, and the first point of contact with a service provider for individuals with a dual-diagnosis should seek to tackle both issues in a holistic fashion.

A study by the UK Dept. of Health, suggest that 75% of users of drug services and 85% of users of alcohol services experienced mental health problems. 44% of mental health service users reported drug use. (Weaver et al, 2002). The Social Democrats would realign the mental-health and addiction services of the HSE to tackle the intertwined issues of addiction and mental health in a complimentary fashion.

The amendment of the Misuse of Drugs Act to address the widespread problem of the street trading and abuse of prescription drugs.

The restoration of resources to the Garda Drug unit

A fundamental review of drug treatment services

An enhanced role for drug and alcohol task forces.

You can read the Social Democrats manifesto here

People Before Profit

People Before Profit recognises the State’s approach to drugs as problematic. Illegal drugs are sold widely, legal drugs such as alcohol are promoted via sporting events and pharmaceuticals are making huge profits on some very addictive and dangerous prescription drugs. PBP recognises the challenges faced by the many situations which relate to drug availability, use and dependency. We intend to:

1. Overhaul what and how children and young people are taught about drugs in schools, ensuring accurate, factual information is provided about the effect of drugs, their composition and contents, and the potential dangers and realties of drug consumption;

2. Recognise drug dependency as a medical problem, not a criminal one;

3. Decriminalise drugs based on the Portuguese model and the non-commercial legalisation of cannabis similar to the Colorado example. Today in Portugal 3 out of every million people die from overdosing. This is compared to the EU average of 17.5 per million;

4. Promote alternative treatments and therapies in place of the current over-reliance on prescription medication for a range of physical and mental health challenges.

More closely integrate treatment of drug dependency and mental health, with promotion of non-drug options for personal and social problems

Improve funding for services and facilities that assist safe withdrawal and longer-term rehabilitation for patients with long-term use of psychoactive drugs including prescription drugs

You can read the PBP manifesto here


Green Party

The Green Party supports a move away from a criminal-justice based approach to a health-based approach to Drug policy. The primary goal of our policy should be to minimize harm caused by drug use alongside demand reduction measures. The decriminalization of drug use is a good first step toward achieving this, but only a first step

You can read the Green Party manifesto here

Renua Ireland

RENUA Ireland supports the introduction of rural engagement offcers like those established in New Zealand, involving the prioritisation of locations across the country where citizens are more likely to be victims of crime, with a focus on families, youth, road policing, organised crime, alcohol and drugs

You can read the RENUA manifesto here 

Fis Nua

Decriminalisation of recreational drug users, in line with the Portuguese model. Drug users would be treated sympathetically within the medical model with access to clean needles, health checkups and advice from medical personnel, access to counselling and rehabilitation programmes. Socially, this would go a long way to preventing backstreet dealership, robberies, health problems etc. We would also seek legislation in favour of the medicinal use of cannabis.

You can read the Fis Nua manifesto here

Direct Democracy Ireland

In DDI we acknowledge that recreational drugs are a serious and growing problem for justice, crime, health and society in general. We will instigate a serious countrywide debate on how best to reduce the supply of drugs as well as reduce the numbers of people both providing and using them. This will include new options hitherto not publicly discussed such as life sentences for drug dealing at one extreme, to legalisation and state provision with state registers of users at the other.

By removing the “political scoring points” from the options we will have a true open and frank society-wide debate on drugs and DDI will implement the best solutions, chosen by the people.

You can read the Direct Democracy Ireland manifesto here
If we have missed anyone, misrepresented anyone, or you have any comments, please get in touch.

TG4 Documentary About Colorado’s Cannabis Industry


During the week an insightful documentary about cannabis legalisation in Colorado aired on TG4. The programme is called ‘Colorado Green’ and is part of the Fíorscéal series.

Fíorscéal is the Irish word for true story. The program is in Irish but has English subtitles. Personally I found watching a programme about cannabis in Irish only added to the charm.

Cannabis was legalised for recreational purposes on November 6th 2012, but the law didn’t come into effect until January 1st 2014. Colorado had legalised cannabis for medical purposes in November 2000.

A number of individuals are interviewed such as consumers, growers, retailers, doctors and others. The programme provides great insight into the whole process involved from seed to shop. You see how every plant is monitored from seed to harvest, and the kind of packaging it ends up in.

There are plenty of mouth watering bud shots also, which is always a plus.

You can watch it back here. However you’ve only 33 days to do so.

Kudos to TG4 for airing such a documentary. The show in my opinion was well balanced and provided lots of valuable information. Hopefully some of the viewers were left with a better impression of legalisation.

Spent Convictions Law Finally Passed


While most of the talk today was about the dissolution of the Dáil and Seanad ahead of the next election, there were some last minute matters still being resolved.

Among these is legislation which may benefit some cannabis users that have a conviction. I am referring to the Criminal Justice (Spent Convictions and Certain Disclosures) Bill 2012 which is also known as ‘Spent Convictions’ legislation.

The Criminal Justice (Spent Convictions and Certain Disclosures) Bill 2012 was passed in the Dáil last Wednesday (27th January) before being passed in the Seanad today. The legislation has been sent to President Michael D. Higgins and becomes law once he signs it.

Before today Ireland was the only EU state without such legislation. As the title of the law suggests the process has been underway since before 2012. During that period it looked like the legislation would be passed only for it to be stalled on more than one occasion.

However today’s actions mean its one of the last measures to be introduced by the outgoing government. Other legislation such as the Technological Universities Bill 2015 and the Criminal Justice (Sexual Offences) Bill 2015 weren’t as fortunate and have been killed off

So what are spent convictions?

Such legislation helps remove some of the barriers that exist for the successful reintegration into society of former offenders and prisoners.

As the Irish Penal Reform Trust (IPRT) states “certain minor convictions more than 7 years old will become ‘spent’ and no longer have to be declared, thus removing barriers to employment, education, training, housing and insurance for tens of thousands of people in Ireland who have moved on from past offending behaviour.”

Once it becomes law the following convictions may become spent after 7 years:

  • Convictions for certain minor motoring and public order offences received in the district court, for which the sanction received was less than a 12-month custodial sentence or 24-month suspended sentence not subsequently revoked. There is no limit to the number of these convictions that become spent after 7 years.
  • One other conviction received in the district or circuit court, for which the sanction received was less than a 12-month custodial sentence or 24-month suspended sentence not subsequently revoked.
  • A number of exclusions and conditions apply. For example, convictions for sexual offences are excluded from the scheme, and convictions for insurance fraud have to be disclosed in specified circumstances.

If you want to see the legislation in full then click here

Groups such as the Irish Penal Reform Trust (IPRT) have been advocating for such legislation for over a decade. In their press release on today’s news the Executive Director Deirdre Malone said:

Thousands of people in Ireland with old convictions have demonstrated that they want to move on with their lives – go to work, volunteer, contribute to their communities. This legislation will realise that goal for many people, but it is disappointing that it did not go further. We will be asking the next Government to review the operation of the spent convictions legislation in the future in order to ensure that it fully supports the rehabilitation and reintegration of those with previous convictions.”

The IPRT have already highlighted that they will undertake “a review of the operation of the legislation in future with a view to widening its reach”.

The IPRT believes the legislation could have been strengthened through the following measures:

  • Raising the limit on the type of custodial sentence that is eligible to become spent from <12 months to <30 months (in line with Northern Ireland) or <48 months (in line with England and Wales)
  • Removing the cap on the number of convictions that may become spent: IPRT maintains that it is the length of time since a person offended and not the number of times they may have offended in the past that indicates the likelihood of reoffending.
  • Retaining a proportionate relationship between the nature of the sanction and the rehabilitation period: the blanket 7-year rehabilitative period for all sanctions, whether a small fine or a sentence of up to 12 months in prison, is disproportionate.

It was stated in the Dáil on the 27th January by the Minister for Justice and Equality Frances Fitzgerald that the legislation should be operational by early April 2016.

While the new law is limited it is certainly long overdue and can be seen as progress, even if minor. Hopefully lobbying by groups like IPRT and Help Not Harm to the next government will see the legislation made more effective.

Please visit the IPRT FAQ section for more. Alternatively you can contact IPRT directly if you think you might benefit from such legislation but have questions.

Organisations such as FLAC may also be of assistance for those wanting to know more.

Where Do Election Candidates Stand On Decriminalisation?

Thanks to the Smartvote.ie it is possible to compare where election candidates stand on cannabis decriminalisation.

Smartvote helps users in choosing which candidate to vote for based on their views. Visitors are asked 30 questions and how strongly they disagree or agree. The questions cover a range of topics including cannabis decriminalisation.

The website allows you to compare candidates on all the topics, some of them, or just one. For the purpose of this tutorial I’ve selected only the cannabis question and the Cork South-Central constituency.

However I suggest you check all of the questions and thoroughly compare the candidates in your area. Arguably one shouldn’t vote based on a single issue, but for cannabis consumers it is useful to know where a candidate stands.

The reason a candidate chose their answer is given in some but not all cases. Sadly most political parties appear to be using a generic answer for all its candidates. See below for more.

So you want to check where candidates stand? Here is a simple tutorial to help you.

First you need to visit www.smartvote.ie and you can find your constituency either by searching for it directly or by using your address.


Once you have found your constituency select Compare All Candidates


Scroll towards the end of the page and select your preference underneath the cannabis question. Then click save at the bottom of the page.


The next page lists the candidates who matched your response. Of the 10 Cork South-Central candidates only 3 support the idea of decriminalisation. Only 1 candidate neither agrees or disagrees.


However it is worth checking any reason a candidate gave for their stance. To see their comments click on the Show Breakdown link under the candidates name. Scroll down and select the cannabis question to see their comments.

This is useful as it allows you to go more in depth. While Diarmaid Ó Cadhla scores high on support for decriminalisation we can see from the reason given it is not straightforward.


Only two other candidates in the constituency support the idea of decriminalisation.

However, the Anti-Austerity Alliance candidate Fiona Ryan gave no reason for her support of decriminalisation. People Before Profit candidate Jim O Connell also failed to give a reason for his support.

Smartvote also allows you to see why candidates don’t support decriminalisation. Interestingly, though perhaps unsurprisingly, some political parties appear to be using generic responses. Spelling errors and all.

Below is the response from Fianna Fail’s two TD’s in the constituency Micheál Martin and Michael McGrath.


The Fine Gael response from its two TD’s Simon Coveney and Jerry Buttimer includes the same typo in both.


Labour TD Ciaran Lynch who is opposed to decriminalisation stated the following.


A quick check of the Sinn Fein candidate appears to reveal the current party stance.


The Green Party candidate Lorna Bogue was the only one to neither agree or disagree. She gave the following reason.

The other candidate in this constituency Mick Finn, an independent, stated he is opposed to decriminalisation.mickfinnSmartvote is a great tool. Contrast its ease in comparing candidates with having to contact them and compile the data yourself. Something I attempted to do during the previous election

It is a shame to see parties rely on generic answers to the extent where it includes typos! Some of the respondents also gave no reason and perhaps in the future Smartvote could make it mandatory to give a reason either way.

Regardless this is a very useful tool to compare the candidates in your area. As stated earlier it is perhaps better to consider all of their views and not just the the cannabis issue.

Much thanks and credit to www.smartvote.ie for providing this wonderful website and data.

** Token disclaimer: We do not run and are not affiliated with Smartvote.ie. We aren’t responsible for the data provided. If you’re a candidate or feel one was misrepresented then please contact smartvote directly **

USI Advocate Drug Policy Reform In Election Manifesto


The Union of Students in Ireland (USI) yesterday published its Student General Election Manifesto ahead of the upcoming elections. You can read the manifesto in full here

The USI is the national representative body for over 350,000 students in third level education on the island of Ireland. It works with Students Unions around Ireland, both North and South.

The manifesto highlights numerous issues faced by students and young people. It also includes a range proposals which would affect the wider population.

Among the numerous USI proposals is a call for drug policy reform. Here is what the USI states.


The current Irish system processes ‘personal use’ cases in the justice system. As a result individuals are given a conviction which lasts a lifetime. This is particularly concerning for USI, as college is often a time for exposure to drugs for many students. According to the National Drugs Survey (2015), “around 75 per cent of over 300 Trinity respondents… said they had used illegal drugs, while 5 per cent said they had purchased illegal drugs on the dark web.” (Heaphy, 2015).

If a student gets a conviction for personal use, this can have lifelong implications. It can prevent a student from accessing a visa to certain countries, a job which requires Garda vetting, certain types of insurance, and can impede them from availing of further education or training. A criminal conviction also limits an individual’s chances of social mobility, which results in students becoming dependent on the state. Education at second and third-level is crucial in terms of informing students about drugs and the consequences taking drugs may have on their future.

• USI urges the next Government to legislate for the decriminalisation of drugs and the introduction of a system similar to one introduced in Portugal on July 1st 2001.

• USI urges the next Government to invest in treatment and health facilities along with educational programmes to inform young people about drug use and associated risks.

It is positive to see the USI adapt such a position as drug policy affects students and young peoples lives. As the USI states a conviction for personal possession affects a students life as work and travel options can be severely hampered.

The USI are correct in calling on the government to invest in treatment and health facilities along with educational programmes. Currently the state is lacking in these areas and any change in law towards decriminalisation also requires investment in services for drug users.

The USI participated in the public consultation process last year regarding the decriminalisation of personal possession. You can read their submission here

It is positive to see student involvement in pushing for drug policy reform. For a number of years SSDP Ireland have played a central role in calling for reform. They also participated in last years public consultation on drug policy and you can read their submission here

SSDP Ireland also spoke before Oireachtas Committee hearings last year and are set to participate in the consultation process ahead of the new National Drugs Strategy

Recently a number of Student Unions were involved with the What’s In The Pill campaign along with the Ana Liffey Drug Project. The campaign called on pill users to partake in a more safe manner.

As for mainstream political parties only the Labour Party so far has stated it will include drug policy reform commitments in its election manifesto. Arguably what Fine Gael proposes, if anything, ahead of the elections is more relevant. As the opinion polls stand it looks like FG are set to return to government.

No date is set for the elections but February 26th is what many commentators are predicting. The elections must take place no later than April 8th, meaning it is less than three months away.

If you want to know where politicians and parties stood ahead of the previous elections in 2011 then please read this previous blog post

Garda Photos Spark Public Backlash

Almost two weeks ago the Facebook page of An Garda Síochána (Irish police) uploaded a couple of pictures following a cannabis seizure.

The photos show what appears to be a couple of grams of cannabis and a grinder. Hardly a significant bust by any standard, and something which could be decriminalised in the near future.

grinder grinder1
The photo took time to go viral but once it did the comments section was filled with ridicule from the public.

Perhaps the best was “Like and share to win” as posted by one commentator.

Here is a selection of some of the comments:

“Fucking hell lads, you’re all such Heros, I feel so much safer on the streets now knowing you’ve apprehend the biggest drug lord since Pablo Escobar. Give yerselfs a pat on the back”

“Well done garda… I can get some sleep now that there’s one less 50 bag on the streets … Mupppets!”

“Congratulations on this significant seizure, I can only imagine the amount of strategic planning involved to return this yield.”

“The reaction this pic is getting says it all really. Time to legalize it!”

“A small bag of weed? What’s that 50/100euro worth? You wasted your time taking this picture cause you found some weed on some poor unfortunate young lad/girl who’s probably going to have to go to court pay a fine and have a record limiting his/her chances of a job in the future. Well done lads. I bet ye thought ye were right hero’s talking that picture.”

“That can of Lynx is the most dangerous thing in the photo.”

“What a complete joke. A small bit of personal cannabis and that’s worth posting a picture and being a complete open target for abuse. Don’t chase the smokers chase the suppliers or even better just make weed legal and let people make there own choice weather to smoke it or not”

“Now, another Irish youth with a criminal record, that will effect him for the rest of his life. Over something so stupid. Well done Irish government.”

“Ahh no way…poor chaps arm rest looks broke..good job spotting that lads..”

The Garda are just enforcing the law as it stands, but the glorification of such a small seizure on the social media is surely a faux pas (embarrassing blunder). As one commentator suggested the reaction says it all.

Over the past year I have attended a number of drug policy events featuring, or with Garda in attendance. Opinion in the force is split but the Garda Commissioner and others are open to a debate. Many see arresting cannabis users as a waste but also have to enforce the law.

Jokes aside, some road users who are also cannabis consumers are worried over the new drug driving laws which are due. Changes in the legislation could see users prosecuted even though they are not under the influence at the time

The law has not be enacted yet and won’t be until the next government has been formed. Nobody endorses cannabis users driving under the influence, it is the retrospective punishment being proposed that is nothing short of outrageous.

I will keep you posted on the law as it emerges.

For now the Garda can glorify the arrest of someone for simple cannabis possession, hopefully by years end that will no longer be a reality.

Justice Committee Issues Recommendations On Drug Policy

Today the Justice Committee issued its report following the consultation process which sought submissions from the public on drug policy

The Committee also visited Portugal this year and reported back positively on its approach

Only one of the 87 submissions received were opposed to following the Portuguese model. Likewise the public hearings also saw broad support expressed for a change in policy

The report issued today “strongly recommends” that Ireland change its drug policy so it is dealt by “a civil and administrative” approach rather than a criminal one.

The report outlines that an emphasis would be placed on harm reduction and rehabilitative policies.

The report also suggests that any change will allow law enforcement to focus on tackling traffickers and dealers more, as its predominately personal possession offences which are dealt with now.

You can read the report in full here

The Committee proposed the following recommendations based on the evidence presented to it.

1. The Committee strongly recommends the introduction of a harm reducing and rehabilitative approach, whereby the possession of a small amount of illegal drugs for personal use, could be dealt with by the way of a civil/administrative approach and rather than via the criminal justice route.

2. The Committee recommends that discretion for the application of this approach would remain with An Garda Síochána/Health Providers in respect of the way in which an individual in possession of small amounts of drugs for personal use might be treated.

3. The Committee recommends that any harm reducing and rehabilation approach be applied on a case-by-case basis, with appropriately resourced services available to those affected, including resources for assessment (similar to the Dissuasion Committees used in Portugal) and the effective treatment of individuals concerned.

4. The Committee draws attention to the success of ‘informal’ interaction with users when referred to the ‘Dissuasion Committees’ in Portugal and recommends that such an approach should be employed in Ireland if the recommendations in this report are to be adopted.

5. The Committee recommends that resources be invested in training and education on the effects of drugfs and that appropriate treatment be made available to those who need to avail of same. The Committee feels that out-of-school ‘informal’ interaction by Youth Services could have a major role to play in this context.

6. The Committee recommends that research be undertaken to ensure that the adoption of any alternative approach be appropriate in an Irish context.

7. The Committee recommends that in addition  to other measures, enactment of legislation in relation to Spent Convictions be prioritised.


The report is due to be forwarded to the Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald and also the the Drugs Minister Aodhan O’Riordain 

Whether the recommendations are to be adopted remain to be seen, but the sentiment expressed in recent times is certainly much different that ever before.

With the new Misuse Of Drugs Act due and also a new National Drugs Strategy, it could be a few interesting months ahead.

Where Next For Irish Drug Policy?

Minister for Drugs Strategy Aodhán Ó Ríordáin TD

2015 has arguably been one of the most eventful years for drug policy reform in Ireland. As the year ends Ireland looks set to slowly begin the shift away from outright drug prohibition.

While any shift in policy is likely to be limited, it is perhaps the beginning of treating drug usage as a medical rather than judicial concern.

This shift in policy might just be natural progression, we have seen Ireland change views in other areas such as gay marriage.

A number of factors are key, if not the cause of this shift.

The appointment of Aodhán Ó Ríordáin as Minister for Drugs Strategy is part of the catalyst for this shift. He has opened the debate around decriminalisation, medically supervised injection centres and much more.

Also of note is that earlier this year Health Minister Leo Varadkar stated he would be in favour of a move towards decriminalisation

The legal fiasco earlier this year which saw some drugs temporarily legalised is also significant. This forced the government to consider if any other loopholes exist.

The Justice Committee’s visit to Portugal to review their drug policy is also a factor. Their official report is full of praise for the Portuguese model

The Justice Committee also sought submissions from the public on drug policy. Only one of the 87 submissions received was opposed to decriminalisation.

More recently the Justice Committee invited activists in before them to hear their views. After these hearings it was reported that the Committee is to recommend limited drug decriminalisation

The issue of heroin use on our streets, or at least concerns over its public visibility, has increased the likelihood Ireland will open a medically supervised injection centre

Earlier this week the ‘What’s in the Pill’ campaign was launched by various individuals including Dublin’s Lord Mayor, Student Welfare Officers from UCD, TCD, and DIT and Aodhán Ó Ríordáin.

The campaign provides harm reduction information, and while not condoning the use of illegal substances it does offer advice on how to partake safely.

Elsewhere this week Aodhán Ó Ríordáin stated that the mantra of ‘Just Say No’ to drugs does not resonate with young people

All these events and much more have lead Ireland to this point where it looks set for change.

A new Misuse of Drugs Act is expected shortly, while the National Drugs Strategy is up for renewal.

Another area of legal change which could affect drug users is the Spent Convictions Bill which is currently under consideration.

Ireland is the only EU country not to have such laws, which is also known as ‘second chance’ leglisation. It allows for the expungement of certain criminal convictions after a set time.

The elephant in the room however is the looming elections. There is relatively little time left for parliamentary work, so concerns these plans may not happen are well founded.

Groups like Help Not Harm plan to lobby politicians and political parties ahead of the election. One aim is to get political parties to commit to putting drug policy reform on their manifesto.

Minister Aodhán Ó Ríordáin faces a challenge to be re-elected, while his party (Labour) are also unlikely to be returned to government.

Fine Gael look set to be returned to power and surprisingly many key members of its party now seemingly favour change.

Health Minister Leo Varadkar and the Justice Committee chairman David Stanton are two key figures who have publicly backed a change in policy.

This is not a guarantee the party will back any progressive change after the elections, but its certainly a change in the general tone.

Few perhaps could have expected such an eventful year back in January. Where Ireland goes from now remains to be seen.

A number longtime and prominent reform activists have told me this is the first time we are engaging properly on a debate around decriminalisation.

The coming months should provide a clearer picture on where policy is heading as  plans for the new Misuse of Drugs Act and National Drugs Strategy will become known.


Activists Speak Before Government Committee

I sat in the public gallery for the committee hearing
I sat in the public gallery for the committee hearing

This week friends and fellow activists got to speak before a government committee regarding Irish drug policy.

On Wednesday the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality met to discuss submissions received by the committee on the drugs policy review.

You may recall the committee asking for public submissions earlier in the year and also their report on the Portuguese model

Representatives from the following groups who submitted proposals appeared before the committee:

– Students for Sensible Drug Policy Ireland
– BeLonG To
– Dublin North East Drugs Task Force;
– Association for Criminal Justice Research and Development
– Irish Penal Reform Trust
– Irish Association of Social Workers
– Merchants Quay Ireland
– Irish Hospital Consultants Association
– Ana Liffey Drug Project
– Citywide Drugs Crisis Campaign.

Graham de Barra and Dan Kirby who are involved with Students For Sensisble Drug Policy Ireland and Help Not Harm were among those invited in by the committee to share their experiences.

You can watch Graham’s contribution here

You can watch Dan’s contribution here

Here is a brief overivew of the proceedings. Links to watch the full committee hearing back are available below.

The meeting was chaired by David Stanton who is a Fine Gael TD for Cork East. He was among those who travelled to Portugal earlier in the year and reported back positively on what they discovered

David Stanton TD
David Stanton TD – Committee Chairman

First to speak  were David Carrol and Gerard Roe from BeLonG To.

BeLonG To is is the national organisation for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgendered (LGBT) young people, aged between 14 and 23.

They gave a great presentation which highlighted the issues affecting the LGBT community. As they outlined substance use is much higher amongst youths within this community than others.

David Carrol – Executive Director for BeLonG To
Gerard Roe – Drug Education & Outreach Officer for BeLonG To

Next to speak was Pat Carey from the Dublin North East Drugs Task Force.

Pat Carey is a former Fianna Fail TD. He served as the Minister for Community, Equality and Gaeltacht Affairs from 2010 to 2011, and also as Government Chief Whip from 2008 to 2010.

Their submission was largely supportive of the idea of a move away from the criminalisation of drug users.

Pat Carey – Dublin North East Drugs Task Force

Next it was the turn of Graham de Barra and Dan Kirby to outline their views.

Both gave an excellent presentation which highlighted some of the issues with our current drug policy.

Graham de Barra - Co-Founder of Students For Sensible Drug Policy Ireland
Graham de Barra – Co-Founder of Students For Sensible Drug Policy Ireland
Dan Kirby - DCU Students For Sensible Drugs Policy
Dan Kirby – DCU Students For Sensible Drugs Policy

Next up was Maura Butler from the Association for Criminal Justice Research & Development.

The Association for Criminal Justice Research & Development seeks to promote reform, development and effective operation of the criminal justice system.

In her submission Maura outlined their wish to see more data in a number of areas including at he negative consequences of the Portuguese model, how addicts fared after treatment, and much more.

She also felt more needed to be done in the area of treatment for users.

Deirdre Malone who is the Executive Director for the Irish Penal Reform Trust also contributed greatly to the discussion.

The IRPT is non-governmental organisation campaigning for the rights of people in prison and the progressive reform of Irish penal policy.

The organisation wants to see more done to address the root causes of addiction rather than criminalisation of users.

She also argued that more resources are needed for services and treatments.


Martina McGovern outlined the views held by the Irish Association of Social Workers

Irish Association of Social Workers is the national organisation of professional social workers in the Republic of Ireland

They wish to see more done to help those undergoing drug treatment that are parents. They believe the correct treatment of the parent will lead to better future outcomes for the child.

She outlined the associations belief that more needs to be done in the area of housing for those parents, or pregnant women, who are in drug treatment

Tony Geoghan who is the Chief Executive of Merchants Quay Ireland was next to speak.

MQI is the largest non-profit drug service provider in Ireland. It has a track record in providing residential drug and alcohol treatment.

In their submission Tony outlined that he believe moving from a system of treating addicts as criminals to people with health issues would be a step forward.

He cites his own experience in the area that by moving users towards health and treatment services works much better than criminalising them.


Dr.Eamon Keenan was among those who spoke on behalf of the Irish Hospital Consultants Association.

The IHCA was established to promote, encourage and support the advancement of the practice of Medicine, in all specialties and areas, and the improvement of the Health Services in Ireland.

He raised a number of concerns around the Portuguese model and how the data is being interpreted. The IHCA want to see a thorough independent study of the data available done.


Tony Duffin
of the Ana Liffey Drug Project outlined their views.

Ana Liffey Drug Project is a national addiction service with a  ‘Low Threshold – Harm Reduction’ ethos.

Tony suggested that there is an acceptance among many in the area he works in that the current drugs policy has failed.  He feels there needs to be consideration given to taking other approaches.

He believes that criminalising users is both expensive and ineffective.

tony d

Ana Quigley of CityWide was the next person to address the committee.

CityWide is a national network of community activists and community organisations that are involved in responding to Ireland’s drugs crisis.

In her submission Ana suggested that this debate was very welcome as even a few years ago such a discussion would not take place.

She suggested that the stigma that faces users by being labelled as criminal does them no good.

She also outlined that around 30 countries have some form of decriminalsation and lessons are to be learnt from there.

During the Q&A a number of politicians who were at the meeting and largely outlined a positive view regarding a change in policy.

Ivana Bacik who is a Labour Senator has been a long time advocate of policy reform.


Finian McGrath who is an Independent TD spoke positively of his trip to Portugal.

He feels that a move towards decrminalisation would be a positive one.

Martin Conway who is a Fine Gael Senator was another who highlighted the positive experience of travelling to Portugal to learn more about their experience.

He stated he knows many of his rural neighbours are recreational users but that he wouldn’t consider them to be criminals.

Alan Farrell is a Labour TD and like the others he expressed how he found the trip to Portugal earlier in the year to be a good learning experience.

He does however feel that both the Departments of Health and Jusrtice need to engage more with their Portuguese counterparts to gain more expertise in the area.

Jonathan O’Brien who is a Sinn Fein TD outlined that he is in favour of decrminilsation.

He also called for more focus undoing the de-humanisation of addicts.



Overall the message of moving from a criminal justice based system to a health based system was expressed at the committee by most participants.

I would highly recommend watching the whole proceedings.

The first part can be viewed here (Skip to 9 minutes into the video)

The second part can be viewed here