News

Gardai backing Ó'Ríordáin proposal to decriminalise small amounts of drugs

NewsBy Shuki Byrne
The minister wants to move towards the decrminilisation of all narcotics
The minister wants to move towards the decrminilisation of all narcotics

An Garda Síochána are backing proposals from Aodhán Ó Ríordáin to decriminalise small amounts of drugs for personal use in order to free up much-needed resources.

Earlier this month Minister Ó'Ríordáin, who is in charge of Ireland's drug policy, said the country should be moving towards the decrminilisation of all narcotics. 

The Labour TD said he wants to introduce supervised heroin injecting rooms in a radical overhaul of Ireland's approach to substance abuse. He added that the government was planning for the legislation to allow such rooms to be enacted by the first quarter of next year.

"It will effectively mean a diplomatic immunity to inject heroin in a safe, secure, passionate environment," he said.

"It will limit the dangers of contracting HIV and Hepatitis C and also takes away the street injecting phenomenon."

The move is part of a radical "culture shift" aimed at realigning how we treat substance abusers. Rather than arresting them and subsequently shaming them, we should be instead focusing on tackling the criminals behind the trafficking. 

Heroin users in Dublin are often arrested and thrown in jail. However, gardai say they're resources are being stretched and there is often no room to house drug addicts. 

Speaking to the Guardian from his constituency offices, he said the rife abuse of heroin on Dublin's streets is a failure of our society. 

“Opening up a safe injection room is not a solution but it is a recognition of failure that our society has produced people who are so vulnerable that this is the habit that they have. But either we address it as it is or we ignore it or we try to criminalise it. I don’t think we can police our way out of it. Instead I think we have to look from a humanitarian perspective about where the drug user is coming from and we will have a better chance of success that way.”

He believes that the arrest of drug users who are found to have a small amount of narcotics is a waste of time. 

“Seventy per cent of the drug convictions in this state involve those who had drugs on them for personal use. In my view that is a waste of Garda time, that is a waste of the courts’ time and it does absolutely nothing for people who suffer from addictions.”

He added: “How therefore can we encourage addicts to get off the streets, stop injecting in public places, inject in a safe environment where there are clean needles, where the risk of contracting things like hepatitis C are minimal if they fear they would be arrested at the door for possessing heroin? The only solution is decriminalise possession of drugs for personal use.”

The Garda Representative Association said they welcome the move to decriminalise small amounts of drugs. 

“I think anything that can deal with the curse of drugs and some innovating thinking on this is to be welcomed,” the GRA’s general secretary, PJ Stone, said.

The minister also said he wanted a "cultural shift" and a "national conversation" in Ireland on decriminalising small amounts of drugs for personal use, following the example set by Portugal.

"It's my intention to start a national conversation to move us towards the Portuguese model with decriminalisation across the board which I think is the proper way we should go," O Riordain said.
 
"We're trying to change the entire context in which we discuss this issue from a moralistic one to one which is actually much more realistic and compassionate," he said.