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

Meeting With Ana Liffey Drugs Project And CityWide

Help Not Harm which was recently launched is a campaign to decriminalise drugs in Ireland to improve access to harm reduction, education and treatment.

Myself and fellow activists recently met with two individuals from key organisations working in the area.

First up was a meeting with Ana Quigley from the CityWide Drug Crisis Campaign

Citywide have been active for 20 years and is a national network of community activists and community organisations that are involved in responding to Ireland’s drugs crisis.

Our second meeting was with Tony Duffin from the Ana Liffey Drugs Project

ALDP have been active since 1982 and currently has around 2,500 active users. ALDP offers ‘Low Threshold – Harm Reduction’ services to individuals experiencing problematic substance use.

Our meetings covered a number of areas such as: The upcoming elections, plans for a medically supervised injection centre, the new Misuse of Drugs Act, the National Drugs Strategy, future collaborations and much more.

With regards to the upcoming election both Ana Liffey and CityWide are preparing to further lobby politicians and parties on the issues facing them and the users of their services.

Although not optimistic all of us were in agreement that political parties should be addressing drugs policy in their manifestos ahead of the elections.

The Minister for Drugs Strategy Aodhán Ó Ríordáin recently expressed the same sentiment during a public meeting

The proposed plan for medically supervised injecting centre are still underway. Both Tony and Ana were hopeful there might be movement on this issue before the new year.

As mentioned before there is a new Misuse of Drugs Act being drawn up. The new act is being introduced to cover any loopholes which led to some drugs being temporarily legalised earlier this year.

The act is also required to deal with other issues such as introducing an medically supervised injection centre.

The current National Drugs Strategy is set to expire next year and a new one introduced. There were some discussions around how activists could help shape the next one.

There were also talks on some collaborations between Help not Harm and ALDP and CityWide. I am optimistic there will be interesting news on this front shortly.

One of the aims is to work on a project that would act as a resource centre for information on drug policy. There is also the potential for future public events with an array of interesting guests.

CityWide celebrate their 20th anniversary this year and are holding a major conference next month. President Michael D. Higgins is among those who is due to attend.

Tony has written many articles on TheJournal.ie which are informative and great reads

The Help Not Harm team would like to thank Ana Quigley and Tony Duffin for their time. We can’t commend them enough for their work in the area.

Help Not Harm activists are also set for an interesting few weeks ahead, with many key public appearances.

Graham de Barra and Dan Kirby are two of the individuals from Help Not Harm who attended in these meetings. Both are set to appear in front of the Justice Committee in the Oireachtas in the coming weeks.

Both were part of the team that submitted SSDP Ireland’s proposals after the government called for public submissions on drugs policy

Both individuals, and a number of other activists, are also set to appear in an upcoming RTE documentary which airs in November.

A recent episode of the documentary looked at people born addicted to drugs and might be of interest. You can watch it here

Quote About Irish Rebels And Hemp

“If the government want to extirpate disaffection in Ireland by the gallows, they must sow the whole island with hemp.” – Robert Southey  (September 28th 1803)

Occasionally I come across a nugget of hemp history in the Irish context worthy of sharing. You may recall my hemp history articles relating to George Sigerson and Napoleon Bonaparte

The following is a quote I came across during some recent research. Perhaps it can be considered both fascinating and morbid.

These words were written on the 28th September in 1803 by the British poet Robert Southey.

His words are in reaction to the execution of the Irish rebellion leader Robert Emmet who had been killed eight days previously.

Robert Emmet came from a wealthy Protestant family, who were sympathetic to the plight of Irish Catholics. He would be part of two failed rebellions in 1798 and 1803, and was executed for his role in the latter.

In September 1803 the poet Robert Southey wrote the following:

“Had they said to him ‘Promise to plot no more and you shall be free.’ such a man would have been as safe under such promise as in the grave. If the government want to extirpate disaffection in Ireland by the gallows, they must sow the whole island with hemp.”

The latter part of the quote refers to the hangman’s rope used to hang rebels which was made from hemp. In the aftermath of the 1798 and 1803 uprisings many rebels were executed in this manner.

While today we think of hemp for its thousands of potential and peaceful applications, its worth bearing in mind its use historically has not always been a peaceful one.

Ironically for the  hemp plant while once a major part of wars it has itself in recent years been the victim of a war, the War on Drugs.

Luckily for us all the globe seems to be reawakening to the many beneficial aspects that hemp has to offer.

The current government could perhaps being to sow hemp to calm a dissatisfaction of another kind. While not a cure all, a vibrant and thriving hemp industry in Ireland could provide much needed jobs, resources and income for the state.

Will Ming Stand In Mayo In The Upcoming Elections?

Luke With UCC DAR (Now UCC SSDP) Activists - March 2013
Luke ‘Ming’ Flanagan with UCC DAR (Now UCC SSDP) activists – March 2013

Recently the Connaught Telegraph reported that Luke ‘Ming’ Flanagan could contest the upcoming elections in the Mayo constituency

The newspaper reports that Ming refused to dismiss the speculation when pressed on the matter.

The story is fairly surprising considering Luke only recently took up his role as an MEP for the Midlands-North-West constituency.

Luke topped the poll in 2014 with 124,064 first preferences votes. This equates to about 19.2% of the total vote.

The Midlands-North-West constituency is comprised of:  Cavan, Donegal, Galway, Kildare, Laois, Leitrim, Longford, Louth, Mayo, Meath, Monaghan, Offaly, Roscommon, Sligo and Westmeath; and the city of Galway.

Since Mayo is part of his constituency then Luke potentially has some votes already secured in the area.

Unfortunately there is no breakdown of how each county voted in the European elections, so we can’t obtain a figure for his support in Mayo.

However, given his strong showing in the European elections, the general electability of independents, and his high profile, then there is a real possibility Luke could take a seat.

It is curious that he is being linked to contest the election in Mayo, given his political and personal background is more aligned to Galway, Roscommon and to a lesser extent Leitrim.

However he may not want to stand against Michael Fitzmaurice, the Ming backed candidate who won the by-election for Luke’s vacant dail seat. Thus the decision (potentially) was to run in Mayo.

So why might he be running?

It should be acknowledged that as an MEP he has a much lower public profile in Ireland, and given the size of the European parliament (751 members) he arguably has limited speaking time or input overall.

There may also be personal reasons at play, such as the travel and time away from home that is involved with being an MEP.

These factors may have shaped his decision, if he does stand.

If Luke does declare it would see him going head to head with Enda Kenny. The Taoiseach topped the poll in Mayo in 2011.

If Luke fails to be elected he will retain his MEP seat. However if he was elected he would have to stand down as an MEP should he wish to take up his role as a TD.

In such a scenario one of his four nominees chosen as a replacement candidate would take up the position of MEP. John Wilson, the Garda whistle blower, is one of Luke’s potential replacements.

Of course there is a possibility that this is all just speculation and that Luke will not contest the election. So far no other media outlet has reported on the matter.

From the perspective of self-promotion then allowing such a story to run does Luke no harm.

I made queries of my own with Luke and his staff, but got no further comment on the matter. It will be interesting to see if this story develops further, or if it is just rumours.

The prospect of Luke contesting the same constituency of Enda Kenny is certainly mouth watering, and it could draw the current (and likely future) Taoiseach into a discussion on cannabis.

However, going by past evidence Enda has very little to say on the matter

I am still on the fence as to whether Luke should see out his full term as an MEP and contest the next general elections, or whether he should contest the upcoming elections.

On the one hand as someone who has contested an election, I think if an individual is fortunate enough to
win then they should see out the full term.

However I am also aware that having the one politician who has pushed for cannabis legalisation for almost two decades back in the dail could be a good thing.

Either way we wish Ming all the best in his future endeavors

Fundraising For Cannabis Treatment In America For An Irish Child With Rare Epilepsy

Recently the story emerged of a mother who is fundraising so that her son, who has a rare form of epilepsy, can travel to the US to receive cannabis oil.

Yvonne Cahalane is attempting to raise at least €35,000 to fund the treatment for her 20 months old son Tristan.

Tristan was diagnosed with Dravet Syndrome, a severe form of epilepsy, and can suffer up to 20 seizures a day, with some lasting almost an hour.

Yvonne first spoke out on The Neil Prendeville Show on Cork’s Red FM on Tuesday. The following day articles covering the story appeared in the Irish Independent and Irish Examiner

Tristan’s family are seeking to use cannabis oil which has CBD and low levels of THC among its active ingredients.

According to the Irish Examiner such treatment has been tested at London’s Great Ormond Street Hospital, and also in the Netherlands and France.

Speaking to the Irish Independent Yvonne said “We have a neurologist that has agreed to take Tristan on in the US and that’s what we are fundraising for” and that “We are going to Colorado when the funds are there and when Tristan is stable enough to go.”

Speaking about the oil she stated “They will find the correct dosage for his condition, age, seizure types…it’s a very slow process getting to the correct dose.

She added “…then they will take away some of the medications he is on because he is on six, which is a huge amounts for a 20-month-old,”

Yvonne when speaking to the Irish Examiner called on the government to allow medical cannabis “sooner rather than later”

There have been an array of stories from the US of patients, or their family, seeking similar treatments for various ailments. One such story saw a family move to Colorado also due to epilepsy and since then their daughters condition has improved

Much of the interest in cannabis and epilepsy follows the introduction of cannabis strains and products specifically for treating such conditions. Charlotte’s Web is perhaps the best known example

We wish Yvonne, Tristan and the rest of the family the best of luck. We hope they get the results they expect.

It would be remiss of me to not to say that the fact families like this have to travel abroad for such treatment is a disgrace. The time has long passed for Ireland and other countries to allow more research into and access to medicinal cannabis

Click here if you would like to donate towards this good cause