- 05 Sep 18
Things would get done quicker if the people dying were middle-class, the former minister says.
Lives are being lost as planning permission wrangles delay the opening of Ireland’s first pilot medically supervised injecting centre (MSIC), which will be located in Merchant Quay’s existing Dublin 8 premises.
That’s according to Senator Aodhán Ó Ríordáin who, in his previous role as Minister for State at the Department of Health, began the necessary legislative process for its introduction.
In doing so, he had to convince first Enda Kenny and his cabinet and then Dáil Éireann that the MSIC will help reduce drug overdose deaths, as similar ones are currently doing in countries like France, Switzerland, Canada and Australia.
The 30-month delay in opening the Dublin facility is in stark contrast to Melbourne where the Victorian State Government went from decision to implementation in just eight months.
“It was passed by cabinet here on September 2015 and by the Oireachtas in May 2017,” the Senator reflects. “The sign of a functioning democracy is that things can’t be railroaded through – hence the need for planning legislation – but I get the sense from dealing with the Department of Health that unless you’re willing to ring a particular official wondering where the movement is on this four or five times, things don’t get done in a speedy fashion. The momentum is stalled and suddenly five years becomes ten years and then it just doesn’t happen. Meanwhile, the people who are dying as a result of these delays aren’t powerful and therefore don’t hit the headlines.”
Expanding on this, the Senator Ó Ríordáin says: “When I was minister, we used to get these reports of middle-class students overdosing and there would be a political outcry for something to be done. The noise was far greater than it was for the person who died of a heroin overdose by a dumpster on Abbey Street. They just aren’t seen as important: the media reaction is much less sympathetic than it is towards someone who is middle-class and deemed to have a future. The people affected by this aren’t powerful and don’t have access to the mainstream media. Generally, there’s no sympathy for them in society, and that’s why the pressure isn’t there for this to happen.”
Following 34 overdose deaths in a two-block radius of the future Melbourne MSIC, residents marched through the streets and took out a full-page advert in the local paper calling for its speedy introduction.
“Minister Byrne has absolute political support for this – the legislation was passed without amendment,” the Senator concludes. “There are only a few minority voices who are against it. The delays are enabling opponents to get active and start spreading misinformation. We need to get this done now.”