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Carl Kinsella

Minister for Justice Simon Harris says he 'hasn't heard' of drug use in Leinster House

Harris said such matters should be reported to the Gardaí, as Fine Gael TDs were quizzed on drug policy and personal drug use.

SEVERAL FINE GAEL TDs and Senators were quizzed on matters of drug policy and their own personal relationships with drug use during a canvassing event in Dublin city this morning. 

Minister for Justice Simon Harris and Minister of State for Drugs Hildegarde Naughten faced questions on Ireland’s drug laws ahead of the launching of a Citizens’ Assembly on Drugs, brought to Cabinet by Naughten, and expected to be underway by April. 

Asked by The Journal whether he personally agreed with the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Justice’s 2022 recommendation that Ireland decriminalise possession of drugs for personal use, the Minister for Justice said: “I believe all these issues should be appropriately teased out in the Citizen’s Assembly on drugs. 

“I am acutely aware of the great harm that drug use and criminal gangs are causing communities right across our country,” he said.

The harm the drugs are causing communities, the misery and the intimidation, is something that can’t be overlooked in any discussion. I do think we should always differentiate between helping people with the scourge of addiction and trying to have a much greater understanding of those links.

Harris went on to say that he would “stand by and double down” on remarks he made in the Dáil last week in which he differentiated between recreational drug use, and drug addiction.

When it was put to Harris by The Journal that the line between recreational drug use and addiction could be fuzzy, the Minister said: “I don’t think it’s that fuzzy at all, actually. There’s a very big difference, and I know from my time as Minister for Health, and having supported the establishment of the first supervised injection centre, there’s a very big difference between that and somebody heading out at the weekend, having a pint and popping a pill or snorting a line.”

Leinster House

Earlier in the event Harris had suggested that anyone with knowledge of drug use in Leinster House should report the matter to the Gardaí.

Harris’ comments were in response to an assertion made by Sinn Féin TD Dessie Ellis yesterday during a Dáil debate, that “cocaine has become a major substance in our society. You see it in pubs and everywhere, even in Dáil Éireann”.

Harris said that he had never heard of cocaine use in the Dáil, but that it would surprise him “if there was any group in society where it wasn’t being used”. 

Asked whether they had personally used drugs, two of the Fine Gael parliamentarians present confirmed they had used cannabis in the past.

“I tried cannabis in my 20s, it wasn’t for me,” said Naughten.

TD Neale Richmond said he “smoked cannabis a long time ago in the Netherlands” and “had a horrible experience”.

Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform Paschal Donohoe said he had never used drugs, as did Senators Mary Seery Kearney and Barry Ward. Simon Harris had left the press conference by this point.

In response to the point that cannabis use in her 20s would have been illegal activity, Minister Naughten said: “Yes.”

“What we need to do is make sure that we have the supports in place, from a policy point of view, ensuring that we’re dealing with this issue, which has changed over the years and over the decades, the types of drugs that are used, how it’s impacting on families and communities,” said the TD for Galway West.

“So I think the work of the Citizens’ Assembly is really critical. It’s important that we let them do their work.”

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