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'Destined to fail': Opposition parties say government's new drug possession plan falls short

The government today unveiled its new drug plan.

Image: Leah Farrell/RollingNews.ie

Updated Aug 2nd 2019, 7:42 PM

OPPOSITION PARTIES HAVE argued that the government’s new approach to the personal use of drugs does not go far enough. 

Fianna Fáil’s Dublin spokesperson John Lahart said that the health service needs better resources if the new approach to drug use is to succeed. 

The Government today unveiled its plan to give those caught in possession of drugs a chance to seek treatment instead of being arrested on the spot. 

In the first instance of being found in possession, gardaí will refer the person to health services. In the second instance, the gardaí will have discretion to issue an adult caution. Third and further offences will be treated within the criminal justice system, as is the case currently. 

Addressing the media today, Health Minister Simon Harris said the “war on drugs has not worked” and said a new way of tackling problem drug use was the way forward. 

“The move to a health led approach can only reduce drug deaths with adequate treatment services in place,” Lahart said. 

“Rehabilitation services and the number of detox beds available to those seeking treatment for addiction or problem drug use remain grossly inadequate. So where will Gardaí be referring people?” he added. 

Former drugs minister and current Labour Party Senator Aodhán Ó Ríordáin said the Government’s new approach to personal use of drugs is “destined to fail”.

Ó Ríordáin said that the government’s attempts to change the system has “failed abysmally”. 

He said: “The Government had a once in a generation opportunity to radically change our approach to drugs policy and they have failed abysmally.

“It is absolutely ridiculous that recommendations within their own report stating that custodial sentences for drug use be abandoned have been ignored.

No matter how many ways they try to spin it, it is clear that that the Government still feel that you can police someone out of addiction. If someone is consistently found to have drugs on their possession, then that person has an addiction – using a three strikes approach feeds again into the victim-blaming model which has failed so spectacularly in the past.

“This is not a human rights-based approach. This will not save lives. It gives the appearance of compassion while pursing the same bankrupt approach which has the criminal justice system at its core.

“No matter how progressive Fine Gael want to come across on drugs, their actions show that they just don’t get it.”

Ó Ríordáin has previously backed the decriminalisation of possession of small amounts of drugs.

The former minister cited Portugal’s approach to drugs as a possible model for Ireland. The country decriminalised the use of all drugs for personal use in 2001 – deciding to treat possession and use of small quantities as a public health issue rather than a criminal one.

As a result of the changes, the drugs remain illegal but offenders caught with them are typically given a small fine and a referral to a consultation with a medical professional.

With reporting by Dominic McGrath

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