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Cannabis campaigner Mark Fitzsimons on being a 'protest vote' in May's elections

The Dundalk-based local and European elections candidate shares his thoughts on fracking, evictions and why cannabis should be made legal.

Image: Facebook/John Smith

MARK FITZSIMONS IS best known as the man who walked into a Dundalk Garda station in January with a quantity of cannabis, hoping to get arrested.

The goal of his ‘protest’ was to highlight his view that the drug should be legalised for both medicinal and recreational purposes.

Fitzsimons, who lost both his eyes due to glaucoma, said he knows “for a fact” that he would still have light perception if he had more access to marijuana when he was younger.

As the secretary of the Louth Environmental Group, he is also a vocal anti-fracking campaigner.

He is running both as an Independent MEP candidate in the 15-county Midlands-North West constituency and as local candidate in Louth.

“I had planned on running in the locals and then because of the reaction to the cannabis issue and the fracking I just decided ‘Well, let’s run in Europe’ … It gives people a protest vote as well. People should vote for Independents in Europe as a protest because if you put in somebody from Fine Gael, Labour or Fianna Fáil, it’s just revolving-door politics,” Fitzsimons said.

Fitzsimons readily admits his chances of success are ”very slim”.  He is aware that his outspoken nature on issues such as cannabis could put off some voters.

“Maybe some people think I’m too controversial … because of my public stance on cannabis. An awful lot of people who may have voted for me now say ‘Well I don’t like that’,” he noted.

Rather than running to win, he said he is doing so to highlight the issues he believes in.

‘An activist at heart’

Fitzsimons describes himself as “an activist at heart”.

Since last year he has been part of a group calling for Dundalk Women’s Aid to be saved from closure.

After months of uncertainty, Louth County Council and Dundalk Town Council committed to providing €15,000 each to save the service last week.

Fitzsimons said he was ”absolutely delighted” at the news but added: “I believe it’s not enough … they needed €50,000.”

He also questioned the timing of the move, suggesting councillors only released the funding “because there are elections coming up”.

The Navan native said he sees fellow MEP candidates Luke ‘Ming’ Flanagan TD and Ben Gilroy of Direct Democracy Ireland as allies and hopes to benefit from some of their vote transfers.

He said his campaign essentially has no funding as is primarily carried out via social media.

Cannabis Use

Fitzsimons first tried cannabis when he was 11 and admits trying drugs that young is “absolutely mad” but said “that’s what’s happening nowadays”.

The 30-year-old said even if the government allowed cannabis-based drugs to be prescribed and dispensed in Ireland, this would not be sufficient as he does not agree with mixing the herbal product with chemicals.

“There are other countries legalising it so it’s time to stop hiding and burying the head in the sand. They need to deal with the issue,” Fitzsimons commented.

He said he knows ”absolutely loads” of people of all ages who use it recreationally and to help with medical ailments such as arthritis and sight problems.

“I’d like to see more people who are using it medically lose the fear. Don’t be afraid to say it – if this thing is helping you, speak out about it … Get in contact,” Fitzsimons said.

He added: “The relief I’ve had since I handed myself in with the cannabis has been unbelievabe, it’s been mad. The guards are trying to get out from charging me, it looks like. I’m trying to make them charge me. It seems like it’s a whole joke.”

Fitzsimons described a recent American study that shows even casual use of marijuana alters the brain as “interesting”.

“There is some truth in that,” he admitted, but said the age group of those tested should have been expanded beyond 18 to 25 year olds.

“[Legalising] it would make policing an awful lot safer. I believe that any day a Garda would be safer dealing with a person who has maybe consumed cannabis than a person who has consumed alcohol. A person who has consumed alcohol is more likely to be roudier.”

Mark Fitzsimons on…

On young people and cannabis:

“People say ‘Oh no, it’s illegal. My wee Johnny or my wee Sarah or my whatever … I don’t want to see it made legal because I have kids’. The reality about it is it’s probably because it is illegal that it’s more cool to try it. And the problem is they’re young and they’re impressionable and now the person they’re getting it off is going to take advantage of them and they don’t know what they’re buying. Johnny or Mary is going to try it anyway.”

On fracking:

“When they start fracking in Ireland our lovely fresh water, our lovely agriculture – all that’s going to be gone. They’re going to do irreversible damage. People are going to become sick. It’s mad what’s happening to us.”

On pylons and windmills:

“Rather than putting them along near people’s houses, why not put them somewhere like out at sea or along the 400 miles of motorway in Ireland? … They’re just totally abusing people, ‘We’re putting this is your back garden, but we don’t care about you, we’re going to make money off this’.”

On evictions:

They’re coming in at a far faster rate. The problem is that people are afraid to talk about it and they don’t realise there’s so many people with this one problem. If they actually talk about it earlier we can get them stopped before it goes into the courts, before it comes to the actual eviction stage.

On his support for a non-profit-driven public bank:

“All the other banks are going to fail, it’s inevitable. It’s coming: bail-outs, bail-ins, it’s just going to be all over the place.”

On water charges:

“We’re paying for water that’s full of fluoride and soon enough it’s going to be full of God knows what else when they start fracking. You wouldn’t mind paying a one-off charge of €100 or €50 per year if it did all your water, it did all your bins … That’s not what’s happening, it’s all being given to the banks.”

On marriage equality:

It doesn’t impact on my life. I don’t see why I should be able to dictate to someone they can or can’t get married. Someone’s sex life is kind of none of my business, I don’t judge someone because they’re gay. That’s like saying ‘Oh you’re disabled, you can’t get married’.”

On JobBridge:

You go to college for what? To come out and be put on a JobBridge scheme and because of that you can’t get work yourself … I get worried when I hear that they’re going to be given work or training because what’s actually happening is they’re saying ‘Ah here, we’re going to put you in this scheme here and you’re going to be given an extra 20 or 30 quid on your Dole per week and if you don’t go, we’re going to cut your Dole off’ … They’re supposed to be training, but they’re working so they’re holding up a job that somebody else could actually have … It’s nearly forcing people into slave labour.”

On Europe:

“When they set up Europe it sounded like a good thing, it was to bring everyone closer together and to look out for one another and build a respect for each community in Europe … It’s not about that now.”

At the end of the interview Fitzsimons was given TheJournal.ie‘s EU politics quiz – four questions on the history and workings of European institutions. Here’s how he got on…

What was the last country to join the EU?

Oh, eh, Jesus I wouldn’t have a clue. [It was Croatia]

How many seats will the EU have after the elections?

Don’t know. Laughs [751, down from 766]

What year did Ireland join the eurozone?

The eurozone?

When did we start using the euro?

It was early 2000s … 2001 or 2003? [Close, it was 2002]

Who is the president of the European Commission?

Commission? It’s not Angela, no? [It's Jose Manuel Barrosso]

To be honest about it, over the last while I’d be pretty anti-Europe, I’ve stopped following it.

Keep up to date: Midlands North West News

Related: Two councils fund women’s refuge to stop it closing

Read: Government examining whether to approve cannabis-based drug

About the author:

Órla Ryan

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