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'A dictatorship': Deputy Lord Mayor slams Simon Harris over comments on planning refusal for injection centre

The Health Minister said he was delighted that Merchants Quay Ireland was appealing the council’s decision.

The 2016 Programme for Government contains a commitment to open an MSIF and laws were passed in 2017 allowing for such centres to open and be run legally.
The 2016 Programme for Government contains a commitment to open an MSIF and laws were passed in 2017 allowing for such centres to open and be run legally.
Image: Brian Lawless/PA Archive/PA Images

THE DEPUTY LORD Mayor of Dublin has likened the Health Minister to a dictator following his criticism of Dublin City Council’s decision to refuse planning permission for Ireland’s first supervised drug injecting centre. 

Fianna Fáil councillor Tom Brabazon said he was “concerned” about the remarks made by Simon Harris this week, stating in defence of the council’s decision that good planning principles shouldn’t be “abandoned” to achieve a particular goal. 

In July, the council refused planning permission for addiction and homelessness charity Merchants Quay Ireland (MQI) to build a medically supervised injecting facility (MSIF) at its Riverbank Centre on the city’s south quays.

The council said the move would be bad for the area and bad for tourism in the capital.

Speaking at the launch of MQI’s annual review for 2018 on Thursday, Minister Harris said he was delighted that the charity had launched an appeal against what he described as “a very disappointing decision by Dublin City Council”. 

“People are dying on our streets, and we got to face up to it. It is working in other countries. So we’re going to fight this together. We are not going to shirk our responsibilities and we are going to get this supervised injection facility open,” Harris said during his speech. 

The facility will bring drug-injecting into a medically controlled and supervised setting, with health and other benefits for vulnerable individuals. It will also reduce the negative impact of public injecting and drug-related litter on local communities and businesses.

At Thursday’s launch, MQI chief executive Paula Byrne said Ireland has the fourth-highest rate of drug-related deaths in Europe, adding that the charity is “deeply concerned” this figure could increase significantly in the coming years. 

‘A dictatorship’

The 2016 Programme for Government contains a commitment to open an MSIF and laws were passed in 2017 allowing for such centres to open and be run legally. 

Over 120 such facilities exist in countries across the world, including in Australia and Canada and plans for the Dublin centre had been in train for over three years.

At the time of its verdict, the council said that its decision had regard to an overconcentration of social support services in the Dublin 8 area and the lack of  “robust policing plan and public realm plan”.

For that reason, the council said the development would go against the Dublin City Development Plan 2016-2022 and would, therefore, be contrary to the proper planning and sustainable development of the area.

A spokesperson for MQI said that An Garda Síochána (AGS) stated in their submission to the council that the crime legal section of AGS had “deemed it inappropriate to get involved in a planning application”. 

“The submission noted that should planning permission be granted, they would then be in a position to draw up a policing plan in consultation with other stakeholders.” 

Speaking to TheJournal.ie, Deputy Lord Mayor Brabazon said the issue of insufficient garda resources was “a very valid concern in my view as there have to be sufficient resources to deal with them if trouble spills over”.

“That doesn’t mean that we sweep the problem of drug addiction under the carpet. We do have to deal with it, there’s no doubt about that, but I do have concerns about Simon Harris’ remarks.

I think it’s a dictatorship to be quite frank, it’s really wrong.

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“We shouldn’t be abandoning good planning principles just simply to achieve a particular goal. What usually happens when we do that is we’ll start trouble for ourselves in the future,” Brabazon said. 

A decision on MQI’s appeal is due in early January. 

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Adam Daly

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