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Dublin: 10 °C Thursday 23 May, 2019
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'What it means is that we won't arrest people for carrying heroin': Confusion remains over injection centre policing

Local politicians have called for clarity on what gardai are supposed to do.

Image: RollingNews.ie

IRELAND’S FIRST EVER drug injection centre is to open in the coming weeks but confusion still reigns over how it is to be policed.

The new facility in Dublin city centre will provide access to clean, sterile injecting equipment for drug users, in a bid to help reduce drug-related illnesses and deaths and give the users access to medical and social

Trained staff will be on hand to provide emergency care in the event of an overdose. Staff will also provide advice on treatment and rehabilitation.

Gardaí working in the area have essentially been told to turn a blind eye to people they believe to be in possession of small amounts of heroin as the people make their way to the centre, which is to be located at Merchants Quay in Dublin city.

The new law which governs the use of the centre says that gardaí should show “discretion” about who they target and how much could be considered for personal use.

Merchants Quay already provides a drop-in service, night cafe and other supports for people who are homeless and struggling with addiction issues in Dublin.

Its support centre is based at the Riverbank building on the quayside of the Liffey. The new injection centre is to run on an 18 month trial basis.

Gardaí have been told they will not be able to wait outside the centre for potential users to arrive so they can arrest them. However, gardai say that they know that street dealers will be targeting the injecting centre.

The problem, according to sources, is determining who are the real users seeking to inject in a clean and safe facility and who are those who are attempting to use the centre as a way to sell more drugs.

Gardai have raised the issue with their superiors on a number of occasions. Clarity has also been sought from the government on the matter but, as things stand, members are repeatedly being told to use their own “discretion”.

“What am I supposed to do if I’m walking down the quays and see a man with three or four days worth of heroin on him?” asked one garda, speaking under the condition of anonymity.

“Am I supposed to arrest and seize the drugs or do I let him walk down an extra 500 metres to the centre? How do I know that he’s not selling? A lot of users sell. It’s the way it is.

“For us, possession is possession no matter how much. That’s what we are taught. What it means is that we won’t arrest people for carrying heroin in certain places. There has been absolutely no communication as to how I’m supposed to deal with this.”

This point had been raised at Dublin City Council’s Joint Policing Committee (JPC) both last year and again this Monday, as it emerged there had been no movement on the issue.

Chair of Dublin City Council’s JPC, Daithi De Roiste, said discretion can be a dangerous thing to try and push through as an aspect of policy.

He told TheJournal.ie: ”Discretion has led to bad places in the dark. This is bad legislation that requires clarity. I welcome the trial, granted they couldn’t have picked a worse location. But this is about how guards police this. With a high concentration of addicts in one area, it will inevitably lead to dealers operating in the area.

“One guard’s discretion is not the same as another’s. How do we police this effectively? Either we have laws, or we don’t. This should have been provided for in legislation, it wasn’t and that is a massive failure on the Minister’s part. [They] might as well have written in the legislation ‘sure, just turn a blind eye’.”

Merchants Quay said it will be working together with gardai to ensure that those who wish to use the service will be accomodated.

A similar drug facility has been operating for over a decade-and-a-half in Sydney. After years of open drug use and a rise in crime in the King’s Cross area of the city, the injecting room was opened in the area in 2001.

“Most of the trends in property theft and violent crime went down from when the injecting centre was introduced,” Pat Paroz, the former Commander of Drug and Alcohol Coordination for the New South Wales Police, told TheJournal.ie last year.

Paroz, who took up his drug and alcohol role in 2010, was a local area commander in a different part of the city in the late 1990s and remembers how officers “always referred to King’s Cross as the drugs capital of New South Wales”.

Police from surrounding areas would often be called in to help deal with issues there, he said. ”It wasn’t a very pleasant place [...] there were certainly a lot of drug overdoses every day – and that has a lot of impact on everyone, including the police.”

In the wake of the centre’s opening, violent crime decreased.

Junior Health Minister with responsibility for drugs Catherine Byrne was in attendance at last year’s meeting of the JPC, where she said that while the legislation may have passed through the Oireachtas, the finer details of the centres would still have to be figured out.

Byrne dismissed claims that there could be a “magic circle” where heroin possession would be legal in parts of Dublin.

We live in a city with a huge drug problem. We have a number of schools in the city. It would be very difficult to have one location to be somewhat distant away from primary or secondary schools. But I want to be clear. Nobody is going to give out free drugs at this centre. There’s no magic circle where it’s legal to have drugs. Drugs are illegal. A guard can still stop someone outside the service or in the centre to ask where they got it.

Gardai said they could not comment as it relates to operational matters.

Read: ‘It takes me away from this world for the day’: Life as a homeless drug-user on the streets of Dublin >

Read: ‘An example of how bad it can get’: We counted 13 syringes down this tiny Dublin alleyway >

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