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THE MORNING LEAD

Delay in getting Drug Use Committee off the ground as members not yet nominated by all parties

The committee will consider the report of the Citizens’ Assembly on Drug Use and respond to its recommendations.

THE OIREACHTAS JOINT Committee on Drug Use has yet to be established despite Leo Varadkar previously saying it would be up and running by April at the latest.

Concerns have been raised that the committee will not be able to respond to the recommendations of the Citizens’ Assembly on Drug Use before a general election is called.

The Journal has learned that not all parties have nominated members to participate in the committee yet.

During his tenure as Taoiseach, Leo Varadkar said that he expected the committee to be up and running in March and “certainly no later than April”. 

This came after the Citizens’ Assembly on Drugs Use delivered its final report to Government in late January 2024.

The committee will have 14 members in total, nine from the Dáil and five from the Seanad.

It is understood the delay with getting the committee up and running is a result of delays with Oireachtas members, including the Government parties, nominating members to sit on the committee.

One government source said that with local and European elections coming up, this committee has “not been a priority”.

Sources say the committee will hold its first meeting in the coming weeks once all members are selected.

The Committee will be chaired by Independent TD Michael McNamara.

Speaking to The Journal, McNamara said he would not pre-empt what the committee is going to decide but that he hopes it will give very serious consideration to all of the recommendations of the Citizens’ Assembly while also looking at some of the recommendations put to the assembly that were “narrowly defeated”. 

The three Fine Gael members nominated to participate are TDs Josepha Madigan and David Stanton and Senator Mary Seery Kearney. It is understood these members were agreed and submitted early last week.

Fianna Fáil’s three nominees are Senator Mary Fitzpatrick and TDs Jennifer Murnane O’Connor and Paul McAuliffe. A spokesperson for Fianna Fáil confirmed that these members were nominated last Thursday.

It is unclear whether the Green Party has chosen its nominees yet.

TDs Mark Ward and Thomas Gould will be nominated by Sinn Féin. Sinn Féin declined to say when they were selected.

For the remaining parties and Independents they were entitled to two members between them – one senator and one TD. After drawing lots, Independent TD for Waterford Matt Shanahan was selected. This came as a disappointment to People Before Profit and the Labour Party. 

From the Seanad, the member has not yet been chosen but it is understood Independent’s Lynn Ruane and Ronan Mullen have both expressed an interest as has Labour Senator Marie Sherlock. 

Speaking to The Journal, Ruane said she is hopeful that the Seanad seat will be allocated next week and that she is hopeful she will get it given the past work she has done in the area. 

Ruane also said she was pleased that Fine Gael’s Mary Seery Kearney will be on the committee given the work she has done as chair of the Dublin 12 drugs taskforce. 

It is expected that the Oireachtas will convene a Committee of Selection this Thursday to agree committee membership.

Unhappy

Labour TD Aodhán Ó Ríordáin took to X, formerly Twitter, last week to express his disappointment.

Ó Ríordáin has previously served as minister of state with responsibility for drugs policy and has been a vocal advocate for decriminalisation and a health-led approach to drugs use. 

Speaking to The Journal, Ó Ríordáin said he had a strong interest in sitting on the committee and had asked other Oireachtas members in the grouping to support him given his previous track record, but as there was a significant level of interest from the grouping, names were instead pulled out of a hat. 

“The important thing is the committee meets and comes up with some proposals that can be legislated for before an election,” Ó Ríordáin said. 

“There will have to be legislation that comes out of this.

It’s not just about more money for this or that, it’s actually about changing the criminal justice approach to people who are in possession of drugs for their own personal use.

That does require legislative change and the Taoiseach has to be up for that,” he added. 

Meanwhile, People Before Profit TD Gino Kenny also expressed disappointment at not being selected for the committee. 

He told The Journal, however that he will go to most of the meetings regardless.

Kenny has also been a vocal advocate for decriminalisation and a bill of his to make it legal for someone to possess up to 7g of cannabis is currently at second stage in the Dáil

What will the committee do?  

The committee has been tasked with considering the report of the Citizens’ Assembly on Drug Use and with responding to its recommendations. 

After meeting on six occasions from April to October 2023, the 99 person Citizens’ Assembly voted that the State should implement a health-led approach to drug use.

This would mean decriminalising the possession of some drugs for personal use.

The Assembly’s meetings included 130 speakers and panellists, 250 hours of deliberations, and consideration of 800 public submissions.

Among its 36 recommendations is a proposal that people should be referred to health and addiction services where appropriate, rather than criminalised.

The committee is being given seven months to carry out its work and produce a report. 

However, it does not have to take seven months to complete its work. 

Speaking about the committee in February before he stepped down, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said the work of the committee could be done more quickly. 

“It was pointed out to me by my staff who were involved in the Citizen’s Assembly and by the chairman, Paul Reid, that because all of the different interest groups and experts appeared before the assembly, it is not necessarily the case that the special committee should have to do that all over again.

“Ultimately, it is going to be a decision for the members and the chair as to whether they want to have everyone come in again or whether they would be happy enough to get it done in one day. That is their call, not ours,” Varadkar said.  

Speaking to The Journal, Tony Duffin, CEO of the Ana Liffey Drug Project said it is “imperative” that the committee is established without further delay given that Ireland’s current National Drugs Strategy, for the period 2017-2025, is drawing to and end. 

“Drug use is real, the risks are real. The harms to the individual, the family and the community are real. The deliberative democratic process on responding to drugs use, which began with the Citizens Assembly, must run its course as quickly as possible,” Duffin said.

With reporting from Daragh Brophy.

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