- Sex & Drugs
- 13 Jun 18
The Hot Press, Ana Liffey Drug Project & LSE event highlighted the need for drug decriminalisation in Ireland.
There was a full house last night at Dublin’s Wood Quay venue for the first Drug Policy Town Hall meeting brought to you by Hot Press, the Ana Liffey Drug Project and the London School of Economics.
There were impassioned contributions from GAA legend Philly McMahon whose brother John tragically died from his heroin use, and the star and co-writer of Dublin Oldschool, Emmet Kirwan.
“We always talk about these things like it’s about the drugs – the drugs are always centre stage, when really we should be talking about the people,” Kirwan reflected. “This is not about decriminalising drugs, this is about decriminalising people who use drugs. When somebody is using drugs, branding them as a criminal isn’t helpful – it just drives them further away, and makes them feel stigmatised, isolated and apart. Instead, we need to be pulling people closer, focusing on their health and helping people live the best and healthiest lives they can lead.”
Echoing those sentiments, panelist Anna Quigley from CityWide said: “Our national drugs strategy calls for a health-led approach to drug use. We need to back this up with action, and make sure that what we are doing in practice matches our policy. Unfortunately, it is still the case that simple possession is a crime. If everyone agrees that drug use is a health issue, not a criminal justice one, why is it that people who use drugs must first be labelled as a criminal before they can access healthcare? This is stigmatising and unhelpful, but we have the chance now to change that.”
Philly McMahon was shadowed by the camera crew who are working with him on the drug documentary he's making for RTÉ and which will air in September. Having already filmed in Dublin and Limerick, he's off next week to Portugal to see first-hand how decriminalisation has worked there. In addition to telling his brother's story, he talked to our man Stuart Clark about the programmes he's developing as part of his halftimetalk.ie initiative and counselling of prisoners in Mountjoy.
“Everything I do around drug addiction is in his name and for his legacy," Philly said. "I try to keep his name alive and help others that maybe don’t have the supports that he could have done with when he was alive.”
Contributors from the floor included Senator Aodhán Ó Ríordáin; John, an addiction worker from Mountjoy; and the recently retired Garda Assistant Commissioner, Jack Nolan.
Making a significant, possibly game-changing contribution to the debate, Nolan observed: "The world’s response has always been law enforcement and then secondary has been the rehabilitation, the treatment and the welfare model. Our young people are criminalised. Our young people are deprived of life chances. Three-hundred-and-sixty odd die of overdoses - that’s more than three times the number of people who die on the roads. And yet we’re here in a small town hall meeting discussing this issue. This is a bigger issue for Irish society than is commonly perceived.
"Decriminalising drugs is a major challenge. I am more interested in decriminalising the person caught with small amounts of drugs or using drugs because if we decriminalise that person we don’t minimise their life chances and we give them opportunities that today are not as readily available."
The media reaction has been very positive with Pat Kenny devoting twenty minutes of his Newstalk show this morning to last night’s Drug Policy Town Hall contributors.
Among those Pat’s roving reporter, Richard Chambers, spoke to was panelist Dr. John Collins, Director of the International Drug Policy Unit at LSE.
“It’s important to make sure that people have access to good quality evidence when considering important policy issues like this,” Collins stated. “A lot of things people think about drugs and drug use are simply not supported by what we know from research. For example, people often think that criminalising minor offences like possession ‘sends a clear message’ and discourages people from taking drugs. This is simply not the case – in an open society like Ireland, criminalising people who use drugs does not significantly affect rates of drug use. What it does do, however, is further stigmatise people, acting as a barrier to progress and change in their lives.”
Next up on Tuesday June 26 is our Cork Town Hall in St. Peter's. See how to obtain your free tickets and listen back to today's Pat Kenny coverage below:
The second #SaferFromHarm Town Hall event takes place in St Peter's in Cork City on Tuesday 26th June at 6.30pm. We'll be dissussing a health-led approach to the possession of drugs for personal use. Please register, for FREE, here:https://t.co/ezeFprCWcW pic.twitter.com/QGC36qI9GX
— AnaLiffey (@AnaLiffey) June 6, 2018
Listen back: Healthcare or Handcuffs? The conversation about drug decriminalisation hits the road in a series of town hall meetings. Here are the views from last night's @AnaLiffey #SaferFromHarm event in Dublin.https://t.co/fYsdQMEwXj. pic.twitter.com/nIoZoavpik
— Richard Chambers? (@newschambers) June 13, 2018