What The New Irish Government Says About Drugs

by Henry Fisher

Today the ‘Programme For Government’ was released by the new Irish government. The 156 page document outlines what policy the new Government will pursue during their tenure. The commitments cover an array of topics from health, homelessness, jobs, crime and much more.

You can read the Programme For Government in full here.

The programme for government makes very little reference to the topic of drug policy; however what is stated can perhaps be considered positive, or at least a change from the status quo. Some highlights:

A section on page 56 states that the new government will be

Completing work and commencing implementation of a new National Drugs Strategy within 12 months.

It is good to see this commitment considering how vital the National Drugs Strategy (NDS) is, as it sets out our drug policy for the next few years. There are some signs to suggest the new NDS will be more progressive than previous incarnations. Leaked information on a report prepared for the NDS suggests Ireland should move away from criminalising people for the possession of drugs for personal use. Instead individuals should be subject to Garda caution rather than criminal prosecution.

The report goes on:

We will support a health-led rather than criminal justice approach to drugs use including legislating for injection rooms.

The support for moving drug policy from criminal justice to health is to be welcomed. However, the devil is in the details, and we must wait and see how the new Government tackles the issue, if at all. The commitment to follow through on plans for medically supervised injection centres can also be seen as a positive move. Pre-election there were fears the plans would never come to fruition, so to see the commitment in the programme for government is positive.

Another commitment on page 56 is

Making Ireland Tobacco free by 2025 (less than 5% of the population smoking)

This is an interesting initiative and it will be fascinating to see if they manage to achieve it. It is even more interesting considering tobacco products are still seen one of the ‘old reliables’ when it comes to the budget and taxes. Of course by 2025 we may have the state obtaining taxes from the sale of cannabis.

Ireland hopes to be tobacco free by 2025

Ireland hopes to be tobacco free by 2025

On page 79 it states:

Excessive alcohol and drug consumption can do lasting damage to the lives of our young people. We will enact the Public Health (Alcohol) Bill. We will also strengthen regulation of alcohol advertising to children.

The commitment to change how alcohol is advertised to children is to be welcomed. However, given the strength of the drinks industry lobbying groups and their previously expressed concerns, it will be interesting to see how far the government will go, especially in the area of sports advertising.

On page 80 it states

We support the expansion of Local Drug Taskforce projects, and extend Garda Youth Diversion Programmes for young people promoting restorative justice, and other voluntary organisations that contribute to our young people’s future direction.

It is positive to see a commitment to expanding programmes which may help younger people. Alongside changes in law Help Not Harm also advocates for an expansion and increase in the accessibility of services available to former and/or current drug users.

On page 136 it states that

Tackling the problem of anti-social behaviour and drug and alcohol related crime in our communities requires a comprehensive approach, incorporating policing, treatment and demand reduction. It is only through a combination of these measures that we can address the underlying causes of this behaviour and better safeguard our communities.

On the same page it states that the Government shall

Safeguard urban centres and the night-time economy by properly resourcing An Garda Síochána in targeting the sale and supply of illicit drugs on our streets.

This section of the document appears to cover the ‘tough on crime’ mantra that governments like to commit too. It will be interesting to see if their approach of “incorporating policing, treatment and demand reduction” will include a shift away from criminalising people, as committed to earlier, or if it will mean an expansion of the war on drugs.

Overall the commitments in the ‘Programme For Government’ can perhaps been seen as positive. The promise to move drug policy from a criminal to health issue is to be welcomed. The support for medically supervised injection centres is also reassuring.

As of posting there has been no announcement about the new Minister for Drugs Strategy, although it could happen soon. Many observers believe that political leadership in the area of drugs policy is vital and thus whichever candidate gets chosen is significant. Given the commitments outlined in the ‘Programme For Government’ it is important we see a minister announced soon.

Hopefully this new minister will be up to the challenge of the portfolio.

Brian Houlihan is a member of Help Not Harm which seeks to shift the emphasis of Irish drug policy from criminal justice to public health. @HoulihanBrian

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