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Former CEO of the HSE Paul Reid. Leon Farrell/
Man in the Middle

Paul Reid is 'pragmatic' about the criticism of his role as Chair of Citizens' Assembly on Drugs

A number of politicians have questioned the appointment.

PAUL REID HAS said his experience as former CEO of the HSE “is relevant” to his position as Chair of the Citizens Assembly on Drugs, following criticism of his appointment. 

Reid was last month chosen to moderate the 99 person Citizens’ Assembly that will debate Ireland’s policy on illegal drugs over six weekends before presenting a report to government. 

The Eighth Amendment referendum and the upcoming referendum on the constitutional reference to a woman’s ‘life within the home’ both came as a result of Citizens’ Assemblies. 

The Citizens Assembly on Drugs is set to begin in April and will look at “all aspects” of drugs policy including laws and services. The question over whether drugs could or should be decriminalised for personal use is likely to feature. 

Following Reid’s selection as chair last month, he had tweeted that he had “witnessed the devastating impact of drug use in our communities”. 

This prompted a number of politicians to suggest that he may not be suited to the role with Senator Lynn Ruane saying that it was a “telling comment”.

Ruane, who has written extensively to criticise the criminalisation of drug users,  tweeted: 

Green Party TD Patrick Costello was more forthright about the decision to appoint Reid, calling it “a terrible decision”. 

Responding to these criticisms on the Today with Claire Byrne programme, Reid said the issue is something he “has a lot of empathy for”, noting his own upbringing: 

It’s something I’m very close to, that I have a lot of empathy for. I mean, I was born and reared, and indeed reared my own family in Finglas West, which is an area like many other areas of high social deprivation, that has experienced many of the issues about how drugs are currently regulated, legislated for etc. But also some of the impacts, particularly on individuals or communities and society in general.

Reid said that he’s “pragmatic” about accepting that his appointment may come with criticism but that was “not going to get into a spat with anybody”. He also said he’s aware that he became somebody “with a public profile” during the Covid-19 pandemic. 

He added: 

“I certainly do bring experience from my time as CEO of Fingal County Council in working with community groups who are working on the ground in relation to drugs issues. And thirdly obviously, my experience in the HSE is relevant. But ultimately, this isn’t about me, I’m chairing a process in which there are 99 members of the Assembly.”

Reid was reluctant to go into specifics about what he called the “devastating impact of drug use” in his own immediate circle , aying only that he had seen it “among school friends and through my life-cycle”. He also said that he had never taken illegal drugs. 

Last year, a report by the Oireachtas Justice Committee recommended the acceleration of the decriminalisation of drugs and called on the government to examine the legalisation of certain drugs.

Asked today about the report, Reid said it had made 22 recommendations and that what was needed was “a much stronger health led approach”. On potential decriminalisation, he said: 

“Portugal is the one that’s often quoted. Drugs are not legalised in Portugal, but they are decriminalised. So there are penalties, but they are not criminal penalties. And they do look at in a very different way. So I want to bring all of that information together, and there are arguments for and against.”

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