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File photo of a discarded syringe in Dublin's south inner city.
File photo of a discarded syringe in Dublin's south inner city.

Gardaí refuse to provide policing plan needed for injecting centre until planning permission is granted

Merchants Quay Ireland applied to Dublin City Council for planning permission for the centre last year.
Jul 4th 2019, 6:31 AM 10,080 33

AN GARDA SÍOCHÁNA have said that they cannot provide a policing plan for a proposed medically supervised injecting centre in Dublin until planning permission for the centre is granted. 

This is despite Dublin City Council requesting that a policing plan be submitted as part of the planning application. The refusal by gardaí could halt the opening of the centre, which has already been significantly delayed.    

Addiction charity Merchants Quay Ireland (MQI) – which hopes to operate the centre in Dublin’s inner city – applied to DCC for planning permission last year. 

The application was met with fierce local objections and the council came back to MQI in December requesting additional information on how the centre will be operated.

As part of this, DCC requested that MQI develop a “detailed and targeted” policing plan in conjunction with gardaí for the injecting centre as part of the overall operations plan.

However, gardaí wrote to MQI on 18 June stating that they would not create the policing plan for the centre. MQI submitted this letter to the council last week.

In the letter, detective superintendent Brian Woods – of the Garda National Drugs and Crime Bureau – tells MQI CEO Paula Byrne that gardaí had sought legal advice and that “it is not deemed appropriate for An Garda Síochána to get involved in the planning application process”.

“As an independent impartial policing organisation, An Garda Síochána cannot be seen to be influencing the outcome of an independent planning application process,” Woods wrote. 

Creating a policing plan for a SIF (supervised injecting facility) at this stage would not be appropriate. It should be noted a local policing plan is currently in operation in the Merchant’s Quay area 

Woods said that if the planning application is successful, gardaí “may then engage in producing a policing plan specifically catering for the SIF and any conditions attached”. 

Policing worries

Political plans for the injecting facility – which is a place where people can go to injected drugs under the supervision of a medical professional – have been in the pipeline since 2015. 

A commitment to open the centre is contained in the 2016 Programme for Government, and new laws were passed in 2017 to allow for the centres to operate (the laws include making it legal to possess illegal drugs within the confines of the centre).

Over 120 such centres exist in countries around the world, with the Dublin centre signalling the government’s shift towards and health-led approach to dealing with drug addiction.

MQI was awarded the tender to operate the centre over an 18-month pilot period and applied for planning permission to convert the basement of its Riverbank Centre at Merchant’s Quay into the injecting centre. 

These plans were met with strong objections from local residents, businesses, schools and others. One of the concerns most commonly raised was the issue of how gardaí will police people coming to and going from the centre, knowing that they are in possession of banned substances. 

“It’s a health initiative. Discretion has been muted. We will have to find our feet. It’s going to be a challenge,” Assistant Commissioner Pat Leahy told Dublin City Council’s Joint Policing Committee back in September 2017. 

Gardaí have now made clear that they will not be addressing these concerns with a dedicated policing plan until planning permission for the centre is granted, a move which could result in the council refusing permission. 

Operations plan 

The policing plan request was one of nine pieces of information request by the council as part of a Operational Management Plan for the centre.

MQI was required to provide details on the number of clients who would use the centre and how long they would use it for; a justification on the centre’s opening hours; a public realm strategy; a strategy for the construction of the centre. 

It has now provided the council with this information, as well details of comparisons to other injecting centres in Paris and other locations around the world. 

MQI was also asked to provide information on why the injecting centre will not lead to an overconcentration of similar addiction or homeless support facilities in the surrounding area.    

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In a statement, a spokesperson for MQI told that the its response had now been submitted to the council.

“Evidence from around the world shows that supervised injecting facilities saves lives. Ireland has the fourth highest rate of drug related deaths in Europe – with over 700 drug related deaths in 2016, of which around half are overdose deaths,” the spokesperson said. 

Merchants Quay Ireland is keen to see the MSIF (medically supervised injecting centre) up and running as soon as possible. The number of drug related deaths is too high for this service to be delayed any further.

A decision on the centre is expected from the council in September. Whether permission is granted or not, it is likely the decision will be appealed to An Bord Pleanála following DCC’s decision. 

In an episode of our podcast The Explainer,’s Cormac Fitzgerald and Christine Bohan dove into the delays around opening Ireland’s first medically supervised injecting centre and the arguments for and against opening it. 

Listen via Soundcloud below or tap the buttons to listen on iOS or Android.

Source: The Explainer/SoundCloud

Find a full list of where the podcast is available here.

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Cormac Fitzgerald


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