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Merchants Quay Ireland in Dublin City. Leah Farrell/RollingNews.ie
Dublin

Merchants Quay says it will take time for drug users to 'trust' new supervised injection centre

The centre is set to open in September.

THE CHIEF EXECUTIVE of Merchants Quay Ireland has said it will take time for those who are injecting drugs to “gain trust” with the new medically supervised injection centre.

Eddie Mullins was speaking to the Dublin City Joint Policing Committee about the injection centre, which is set to open in September for an initial period of 18 months. 

The facility will be located in Merchant Quay Ireland’s Riverbank Centre.

He told local representatives that the injection centre will take drug users off the streets and into a space that is “more dignified and safer medically”. 

“There’s never been a more important time to open this facility with the type of drugs that are out there,” he said. “The medical injection facility will without doubt save lives. No question about that.”

Attempts to construct a designated and supervised injection centre have been in the works for several years but have been blighted by planning permission problems, sparked by concerns from locals.

In 2019, temporary permission was granted to set up the facility. But St Audoen’s National School, located close to the proposed centre, brought judicial review proceedings to the High Court.

The school submitted a detailed objection to the proposed development, citing the consequences it would have on the pupils and staff at the school. This resulted in the planning permission being deemed invalid in July 2021. 

Planning permission was subsequently granted for the centre in December 2022. 

According to Mullins, the centre will look similar to the vaccine centres that were set up amidst the Covid-19 pandemic.

It will have seven bays where service users can inject their own drugs under the supervision of a nurse, using clean needles provided by the centre.

In situations where an overdose takes place, immediate care will be provided.

The centre will operate seven days a week for seven hours each day, with service users spending around 30 minutes there. 

Mullins said he does not anticipate large numbers of people using the service after it first opens, adding that it will ”take time for people who are injecting drugs to gain trust with the facility”. 

He said that similar facilities in other jurisdictions have seen a “very slow incremental process” of engagement. Merchants Quay anticipate that the centre will have a client base of approximately 120 people. 

“We are very confident that this will give us an opportunity to build relationships with people who are very marginalised at the moment and hopefully start the process around detox and recovery.”

He also said that he is “conscious” of the genuine concerns that people have around the opening of the facility, adding that Merchants Quay are working with the local community and expanding its outreach team to address concerns.  

Fianna Fáil councillor Deirdre Heney asked Mullins how the service will operate with service users carrying quantities of drugs in the area and what the tolerance will be from Gardaí. 

Mullins said Merchants Quay is working closely with Gardaí around a community safety plan in relation to how the operational aspects will be dealt with. 

He said there will be a “green zone” within the vicinity of Merchants Quay where people will be permitted to attend the centre and use their drugs.

“This is quite challenging. There’s no question about that. There is a lot of concern from an Garda Síochána in relation to the application of the policies and procedures here and we’re working through that in conjunction with all other aspects of street safety and the clinical governance around this facility,” he said.

Mullins said that there is “great understanding among an Garda Síochána” for people who are chronically addicted, adding that “the guards already work very closely with chronically addicted drug addicts”. 

A number of committees will be established to govern the centre, including an operational governance committee and a medical clinical governance committee.

A monitoring oversight committee will also be established. This committee will be chaired by Dr Eamon Keenan, National Clinical Lead of HSE Addiction Services.

Merchants Quay Ireland said its membership will include representatives from the Gardaí, local authority and other experts.

A number of councillors asked Mullins during the committee whether local representatives from the area will be on the oversight committee.

Mullins said he did not have the authority to sanction positions on the oversight committee, but believed that involvement of public representatives and other agencies will increase the chance of the centre succeeding and gaining more support.

He said he would raise the matter at a future meeting with the Minister for Public Health and the National Drugs Strategy Hildegarde Naughton.

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