We're kicking off on June 12 in Dublin's Wood Quay Venue with an Electric Picnic tented Town Hall in September!
The NIMBY brigade was out in force last fortnight, writes Stuart Clark, as RTÉ’s Prime Time reported on the opposition to Dublin’s first medically supervised injecting facility, which Merchants Quay Ireland plan to have up and running by the autumn in the inner city.
Watching the programme and reading some of the myopic online comments during and afterwards, you’d be forgiven for thinking that Ireland is stuck in some kind of horrible Reefer Madness time warp, but actually these are pretty enlightened pharmaceutical times we live in.
In addition to the green-lighting of that injecting facility, the past 12 months have seen the Minister for Drugs, Catherine Byrne, indicating a willingness to move towards the ‘treat, don’t punish’ harm reducing and rehabilitative model that’s proven so successful in Portugal, and is providing the lead for Norway’s own recently announced decriminalisation plans; new levels of trust and cooperation between independent drug agencies and the Gardai who realised long before politicians did that simple prohibition doesn’t work – expect more developments on this front in the near future; and such powerful voices in the Seanad as Frances Black, Aodhán Ó Ríordáin, Lynn Ryane and Fintan Warfield advocating for safer drug policy.
We’ve also witnessed the emergence of groups like the Ireland Chapter of The International Nurses Society on Addictions whose calmly presented fact-based evidence is a welcome counterbalance to all that ill informed NIMBY-ism; GAA legend, Philly McMahon, calling for the decriminalising of drugs following the tragic death of his brother; and a newly minted RTÉ People of the Year Award for Vera Twomey in recognition of what she’s done for not just her daughter, Ava, but everybody here who requires medical marijuana to treat their chronic conditions.
With latest figures showing that two people a day die from drug-related death in Ireland, addiction joins homelessness as the two biggest Irish wrongs that need righting after the repealing of the 8th Amendment in May – we refuse to countenance anything else!
How this can be achieved will be the subject of a series of Town Hall meetings that Hot Press is delighted to be staging throughout the summer in partnership with the Ana Liffey Drug Project and the London School of Economics.
Ana Liffey, who were a strong voice in advocating for supervised injecting, are now focusing their policy efforts on the adoption of a harm reducing and rehabilitative approach to possession for personal use, and a firm move away from treating people who use drugs as criminals.
“This year is a critical time for drug policy in Ireland,” reflects Ana Liffey CEO, Tony Duffin. “A working group has been set up under our National Drugs Strategy to consider these issues, building on the work of the Joint Oireachtas Committee which strongly recommended in 2015 that we move away from criminal justice as a way of dealing with simple possession.”
The Oireachtas Committee had done its work well – the evidence for such a move is strong. Criminalising people for possession does not reduce levels of drug use in the population as a whole, but can have significant negative impacts on those who are criminalised, bringing stigma and significantly limiting a person’s ability to access supports and opportunities to work or travel in the future. Making the switch, however, is no foregone conclusion and will require a coming together of politicians, medical professionals and members of the public that we hope to kickstart with our Town Hall meetings.
“Now is the time,” Tony Duffin notes. “If the ultimate outcome of the working group’s process is that we keep criminalising people, Ireland may be on the back foot in addressing drug use for years to come – the current strategy runs to 2025, and we may not get another opportunity until then. As a country, we need to vindicate in practice our existing policy which is that drug use is a health issue, not a criminal justice one.”
Part of the issue, Duffin says, is communicating with the public: “There’s a lot of confusion – a lot of people think that the criminal law can be used to send a ‘strong message’ so that people will be turned off using drugs. This simply isn’t the case, and this is why we need to engage with the public, linking people with the key messages from the best evidence. Ana Liffey are delighted to be working with LSE and Hot Press on this, and are excited about talking to people in communities around the country at town hall events in June and September.”
Ahead of these Town Halls, which will be free to attend, Hot Press is journeying this week to Portugal to meet key figures involved in the drafting and implementation of their progressive drug laws. I’ll be blogging daily about the trip on hotpress.com, with a comprehensive print report and Drugs In Ireland overview to follow.
As Tony Duffin says, the time for genuine and profound drug policy change has come…
To stay up to date on the details of the Town Hall events see hotpress.com and follow Ana Liffey on Twitter, Facebook or Instagram.