As per the Citizens’ Assembly on Drug Use, the State should introduce a ‘comprehensive’ health-led response to possession of drugs for personal use, writes Ana Liffey Drug Project CEO, Tony Duffin.
A ‘comprehensive’ health-led response to possession of drugs for personal use is one of the 36 recommendations the Citizens’ Assembly on Drugs Use made at the Assembly’s final meeting over a weekend late October 2023. The recommendations are due to be formally submitted to the Oireachtas by the end of 2023.
However, back in the summer of 2017, the then-government launched the current national drug strategy, Reducing Harm, Supporting Recovery: A health led response to drug and alcohol use in Ireland 2017-2025. Civil servants, public servants, and civil society partners have been working together on its implementation for over six years. Unfortunately, there have been challenges in implementing some elements of Ireland’s national drug strategy. Several key actions have been delayed, including the introduction of a Health Diversion Programme.
So, what is the difference between what is recommended by the Citizens’ Assembly and what is already planned within the National Drug Strategy. Well, the Citizens’ Assembly recommends that the State go further, than what is currently planned for under the National Drugs Strategy.
By introducing a ‘comprehensive’ health-led response to possession of drugs for personal use, my understanding is that people would be offered a health referral every time they are found in the possession of drugs for personal use, rather than the one-time currently planned for under the National Drugs Strategy.
Offering every opportunity reflects a global trend seen in countries, such as Portugal which has had considerable success with decriminalisation and a focus on health interventions for people found in the possession of drugs for personal use.
The Citizens’ Assembly leaves critical questions for the Oireachtas to answer, emphasising the need for legal expertise, pre-legislative scrutiny, and careful consideration. Overall, the recommendation supports a shift towards a more humane and effective approach to drug policy, contingent on thoughtful legislative design and implementation.
On 4 July 2023, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar TD, responded in the Dáil to a question seeking commitment towards legislating in relation to the future recommendations of the Citizens’ Assembly saying: “When it makes its recommendations, they will be considered by government in good faith… There should not be any assumption or obligation on any democratically elected parliament or government to accept every recommendation that a body makes.”
Whilst the Government is not obliged to accept the recommendations made, the considerable soft influence of the Citizens’ Assembly means there will be pressure on the Government to show that it has listened and is acting upon the recommendations in a meaningful way.
When the final report from the Citizens’ Assembly on Drugs Use is sent to the Dáil and the Seanad there will be more detail on each recommendation within the report. With regard to the possession of drugs for personal use, as I understand it, this would mean ensuring that people are offered a referral for a health assessment each and every time.
Tony Duffin is the CEO of Ana Liffey Drug Project. First established in 1982, Ana Liffey offers services to people who use drugs in Dublin and the midwest region of Ireland.