Sam Boal/

Former drugs minister says injecting centre plan has 'been allowed to die' by government

Dublin City Council has refused planning permission for an injecting facility.

FORMER DRUGS MINISTER and Labour Party Senator Aodhan Ó Ríordáin has hit out at the government after planning permission was refused for a medically supervised injecting facility in Dublin.

Ó Ríordáin – who put plans in motion for the facility when he was drugs minister – said that plans for it has “been allowed to die” by the government. 

Dublin City Council on Thursday refused planning permission for addiction and homelessness charity Merchants Quay Ireland to build the MSIF at its Riverbank Centre on the city’s south quays. 

MQI applied for the permission in September of last year after they won the tender to operate the facility on behalf of the HSE in early 2018.

MQI had hoped that they would not have to apply for planning permission to open the MSIF, but DCC decided made a decision that planning permission was needed after members of a local business group sought declarations to that effect.

Local businesses in the area, as well as residents and nearby St Audoen’s National School all oppose the centre, saying that it would bring more drug use and anti-social behaviour to the area.

The 2016 Programme for Government as well as the most recent National Drugs Strategy contain a commitment to open such a facility. Laws were also passed in 2017 allowing for such centres to open and be run legally. 

Ó Ríordáin said, however, that the political will to get the facility opened was lacking from government. He said Health Minister Simon Harris and Drugs Minister Catherine Byrne needed to fight for it to be opened. 

“I don’t know if it’s possible to devastated but completely unsurprised at the same time but I kind of am,” Ó Ríordáin told

This has been allowed die by government who don’t seem to care for the project and I think at the heart of the problem is that those whose lives might be saved by this injecting centre their lives just aren’t considered to be important enough.

“They save lives” 

Ó Ríordáin said injecting centres “save lives”. 

“They save lives from preventing overdose they prevent the spread of HIV they prevent the spread of Hep C they also prevent the proliferation of drug litter being around the city.”

He also said that the facility would help to remove drug use from the streets and public areas. 

“So I find it completely bewildering that one of the reasons cited by DCCis tourism and the impact on tourism to the city… or the tourism experience… I find it absolutely bewildering,” he said. 

In its decision, DCC said that having regard to an overconcentration of social support services in the D8 area and the lack of ” “robust policing plan and public realm plan” it is considered that the planned facility would:

  • Undermine the existing local economy (in particular the growing tourism economy);
  •  have an injurious impact on the local residential community and its residential amenities;
  • and would hinder the future regeneration of the area

It refused planning permission on that basis. Ó Ríordáin said that political will seemed to be lacking for the centre and that statements needed to be made from government. 

“There’s soft power that the government has. How much has the new drugs minister or the minister for health how many meetings?

How much soft, persuasive power have they used to get this over the line? How often has the minister met with Dublin City  Council? how often has the minister met with Am Garda Síochána to iron out all the difficulties that they may have?

“Three years into this stint in government and we’re now still at the stage of a planning application being turned down.

It shows to me that when a government wants and needs to do something they can get it done and when a government is disinterested it just doesn’t happen.

‘Deeply disappointing’

Alamo commenting on the council decision, MQI CEO Paula Byrne said the refusal would “put lives at risk”. 

“This decision by Dublin City Council is deeply disappointing. With one person a day in Ireland dying of a drug overdose, it will put vulnerable lives at greater risk,” she said. 

Dublin City Councillor Cieran Perry welcomed the refusal by DCC. 

“I’m delighted with the decision to refuse planning permission,” he said.

To propose spending €3 million on an injection centre to maintain people in addiction rather than properly funding drug rehabilitation as the only effective method of tackling addiction is scandalous.

Department response

Responding to the decision, junior minister for drugs Catherine Byrne said she was “disappointed and frustrated” at the delay in opening the centre. 

“This is a key action in our national drugs strategy and an important policy response to the high incidence of drug-related deaths due to heroin overdose in Dublin city centre,” Byrne said. 

This service will save lives, and reduce street injecting and drug related litter in the community.

Byrne said that street drug injecting was happening in Dublin city and “we cannot ignore it”. She said she had visited other injection centres in European cities and had seen “how well they are integrated into everyday life in capital cities”.

“We need this service here and we must see more leadership on this issue from local stakeholders,” she said.

“I want to reiterate my support for the introduction of this service and acknowledge the work of Merchants Quay Ireland in supporting the most vulnerable people in our society,” Byrne said.

I have asked officials in my department to engage with Merchants Quay Ireland, the HSE, Dublin City Council and An Garda Síochana to consider how the issues arising from the planning decision can be addressed.

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