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Syringes on a Dublin street (file photo) Alamy Stock Photo
First meeting

More people will die if there are further delays to reforming drug approach, Paul Reid warns

Gino Kenny told the Oireachtas drugs committee there is no “appetite” in “certain sections of the Government” to move towards decriminalisation.


THE OIREACHTAS COMMITTEE on Drugs Use needs to act urgently as people’s lives are “on the line”, Paul Reid has warned.

Reid, the head of the Citizens’ Assembly (CA) on Drug Use and the former Director-General of the HSE, is addressing the committee at its first public meeting today.

The CA, which comprised 99 citizens with Reid as the chairperson, met on six occasions from April to October 2023 before publishing a final report.

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

Speaking at the committee this morning, Reid said “addiction and dependency can destroy lives” and “the clock is ticking” to act.

Reid said, during its meetings, the CA heard “organised crime gangs are inflicting drug-related intimidation and violence in cities, towns and villages across Ireland, and are luring vulnerable young people into criminality at an early age”.

“We heard, also, about the limitations of the State’s response, which has not substantively evolved in several decades.

We were stunned by the length of time it takes to introduce even modest changes.

Reid said poverty and social deprivation are linked with drug use in many cases, and these widers issues also need to be addressed.

CA members were “concerned by the inadequate provision of drug services in community settings and in the prison system”, he added.

‘We’ve wasted seven years’

Reid told the committee that the CA was also “frustrated and disappointed that even the modest proposals for a Health Diversion programme, signalled in the 2017 National Drugs Strategy and in the current Programme for Government, have still not been implemented”.

He later added: “We’ve wasted seven years.”

That particular strategy, which covers 2017 to 2025, recommended a health-led response to drug and alcohol use.

paul reid Paul Reid

In its final report, the CA said the Government should publish a new iteration of the National Drugs Strategy as “a matter of urgency”, noting that a first draft should be published by June 2024. This deadline was not met.

Reid today warned: 

June ’24 hasn’t been achieved, but if it’s going to be June ’25, we’re losing a lot more lives.

He urged the committee to back all 36 of the assembly’s recommendations, noting that “tackling issues in isolation will simply not work”.

“We are acutely aware that, for tens of thousands of people in this country who are affected by drug use, the clock is ticking. People’s lives and futures are on the line. There is no time to waste.”


In October 2023, the CA voted that the State should take a comprehensive health-led policy response to dealing with people who are in possession of drugs for personal use, rather than voting for a legalisation and regulation approach.

The group recommended that the possession of cannabis, mushrooms (psilocybin), cocaine and other drugs for personal use should be decriminalised.

The final report also details specific measures for implementation including:

  • Prioritisation of supports for marginalised groups and disadvantaged communities
  • Enhanced funding, including additional and new sources of funding
  • A greater focus on prevention and recovery and greater supports for families and children impacted by drug use
  • The expansion of harm reduction measures and treatment and recovery services, both in prison and in communities
  • Supply reduction, supporting the continued efforts of the gardaí, while strengthening the response to drug-related intimidation and violence by organised crime groups

Legalisation vs decriminalisation

The vote last October related to the possession of cannabis was the tightest – 39 people at the assembly opted for a health-led approach on the final count, while 38 opted for legalisation and regulation of cannabis.

For all other drug categories, a comprehensive health-led approach took the lead by a greater margin.

Legalisation is the process whereby the importation, sale, purchase and use of drugs is regulated by the State in the same way as alcohol and tobacco.

Whereas a decriminalisation model would mean that drugs would remain illegal, but a person found in possession of drugs for personal use would not receive a criminal sanction.

Speaking today, Reid said this issue was “contentious” among CA members.

“We’re glad that we had that debate, and we had a wide spectrum of views on it,” he said.

Reid noted that while this is an important issue, it is not the only thing to focus on.

He said he hopes that the CA report has “broadened out the national conversation about drugs from a narrow focus on debates about legalisation and decriminalisation”.

gino PBP TD Gino Kenny speaking today

People Before Profit TD Gino Kenny said he doesn’t believe there is “appetite” in “certain sections of the Government” to move towards decriminalisation, adding that some people want to maintain “the status quo”.

We need to go further than decriminalisation because the elephant in the room about decriminalisation is that the black market still exists.

Kenny told the committee that if drugs are not controlled by the Government, they are “controlled by criminal gangs”.

“Once you have that situation in place, you will have what we’ve had the last six decades.”

Kenny said Ireland needs to overhaul its approach to drugs, end “this vicious cycle” and “actually go further than just lip service around a health-led approach”.

In January, the Government said it was going to defer Kenny’s bill on decriminalising cannabis for nine months while it examined the CA’s recommendations.

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