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Psychological Society criticises delay in 'vital' citizens' assembly on drugs amid death warning

Senators are due to debate the issue today amid much criticism over this week’s developments.

THE PSYCHOLOGICAL SOCIETY of Ireland (PSI) has expressed concern that a citizens’ assembly (CA) on drug use has been pushed back until 2023.

The CA was expected to take place this year but has been delayed until next year, The Journal confirmed on Monday.

The delay was widely criticised with Labour TD Aodhán Ó Ríordáin, who previously served as drugs minister, saying it would cost lives.

Ireland has one of the highest rates of drug-related overdose rates in Europe, with hundreds of people dying every year.

PSI president Dr Vincent McDarby has also expressed concern at the delay, saying the organisation “regrets the Government’s intention to delay the citizens’ assembly on drug use”.

“It is vital that the State response to drug use and abuse is improved, and to bring forward such proposals in that regard,” McDarby said.

He added that the PSI supports the proposed amendment from Senator Lynn Ruane calling for an end to the delay in the establishment of “such an important, and much needed, citizens’ assembly”.

The issue is due to the debated in the Seanad this afternoon.

Ruane’s amendment proposes that the CA on drug use should consider the following:

  • the international, European, national, regional and local research on drug use and drug policy
  • the threats presented by the continued criminalisation of drug use, and the opportunities presented in responding to drug use as a public health issue
  • the many contributing factors to drug abuse and addiction, their impacts, and the opportunities presented in addressing the causes of drug abuse and addiction
  • the perspectives of the general public, representative groups, advocacy groups, experts and policy makers on drug use, and its impact on Ireland
  • opportunities to promote greater public understanding of, and support for, a health led approach to drug abuse
  • the potential benefits of promoting a harm-reduction approach to drug policy, including through the provision of certain supports, including, inter alia, safe-injection and safe-consumption facilities, and medication-assisted treatments for drug addiction
  • opportunities to improve the number and diversity of wraparound supports available to individuals who use drugs, including, inter alia, detox and aftercare facilities, and other supports which can assist individuals in their recovery from drug addiction
  • opportunities to improve the State’s response to the challenge of drug use and abuse, how that response can best be resourced and implemented in a strategic and coordinated manner, and how progress can be measured

On Monday, Ruane told The Journal the delay in holding the CA means it will be virtually impossible for the current Government to address the issue and implement any recommendations within its term.

“It goes without saying that suggesting this work won’t even begin within the next calendar year is not only disappointing but a clear failure on behalf of the minister and department to negotiate a citizens’ assembly on a vital part of his brief,” the independent senator said.

“To break down the reality of this in terms of action, a delay until 2023, then the nine months or so of the assembly, then a chance for this Government to assess and implement any of the recommendations makes it almost impossible that this Government will address this issue in their time,” she added.

Meanwhile Ó Ríordáin told us: “This is beyond frustrating. People are dying, apparently their lives aren’t worth enough to act. If cattle were dying at the same rate as people are dying from drug overdoses, there would have been a citizens’ assembly on it yesterday.

“This delay shows the lack of urgency, the lack of care, the lack of compassion of the Government. If Dublin doesn’t have a directly elected mayor in five years, no one will die. This delay is costing lives. It is a disgusting disgrace.”

Other assemblies

In a statement on Monday, Drugs Minister Frank Feighan said: “I look forward to the citizens’ assembly taking place in 2023, once the other assemblies are completed.

“I am very positive about the potential contribution of the citizens assembly to the Government’s health-led approach to drugs.

“I would like to see an international component to the citizens assembly, so that we can share good practice from the British Ireland Council work sector on drugs (which I chair) and the EU drugs strategy and action plan, which Ireland strongly supports.”

Earlier this month Cabinet signed off on two other citizens’ assemblies that are expected to take place this year, focusing on the State’s response to biodiversity and the type of directly elected mayor and local government structures which best suit Dublin.

These two assemblies will run concurrently and host their inaugural meetings in April.

The CA on drugs is expected to run concurrently with an assembly on the future of education next year.

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