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


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