- 09 Jun 15
In a landmark interview, the new Minister for Drugs Strategy suggests that the whole apparatus of anti-drug enforcement needs to be looked at afresh...
The Minister for Drug Strategy – not his official title – Aodhán Ó Ríordáin has spoken for the first time about the possibility of decriminalising certain drugs in Ireland. While his thinking is at a formative stage, it clearly represents a completely different approach than that of his predecessors.
Already, after just a short time in his new role, Ó Ríordáin has shown a vastly greater understanding of the issues – and as a former school principal in a centre city area clearly has a far deeper empathy with those who become addicted to drugs than any previous Minister.
His views are outlined in a special interview, conducted by Hot Press, and undertaken to coincide with the publication of the Global Drug Survey 2015.
In what is a highly nuanced and potentially game-changing exchange with Hot Press’ Stuart Clark, the Minister outlines why he considers drugs to be a medical issue as opposed to a criminal one.
"If somebody has an addiction I don't think dealing with that person through the criminal justice system is doing anybody any favours,” he explains. “It's a medical issue. If you look at the bare facts, 70% of those who have been convicted of drug offences are people who have been caught in possession of drugs for their own personal use. What a complete waste of Garda time, what a complete waste of court time. If you see somebody shooting up down an alleyway, do you really see them as a criminal or somebody who's in chronic need of medical care?
"Do you feel that a person's use of a substance should be a criminal offence that dogs them for the rest of their life? Instinctively no. I am an advocate for a discussion around the decriminalisation of drugs. When people hear decriminalisation they think legalisation, they are two very different things.”
Those and many of the other comments in the full interview, which will appear on Thursday in Hot Press, mark a seismic shift in government thinking on the subject of drugs.
In another indication of what may lie in store, Minister Ó Ríordáin revealed that: "The Justice Committee are heading off to Portugal soon to see the results of what they did ten years back."
Which was, for the uninformed, to move away from punitive measures, and introduce a therapy-based system, which has so far seen drug abuse sharply decline in Portugal.
The full interview with the Minister will appear in Hot Press – hitting the streets on Thursday June 11.