No other option | 

School welcomes decision to overturn planning permission for heroin injection centre

The school said it was 'with great reluctance' that they embarked on a legal challenge to the planning decision

The Riverbank Centre at Merchants Quay where the proposed medically supervised injecting facility was to be situated Pic Steve Humphreys

Neil Fetherstonhaugh

The Principal and Board of Management of a Dublin school have welcomed a High Court decision to overturn planning permission for Ireland's first supervised heroin injection centre at Merchant’s Quay.

In a statement, the school said it “with great reluctance” that they embarked on a legal challenge to the planning decision of the Bord but as a board of management “we were left with no other option”.

Mr Justice Garrett Simons said An Bord Pleanála had failed to explain why it had decided to grant temporary permission for the facility for three years in circumstances where its own inspector had recommended two years.

The facility, run by the existing Merchant's Quay Ireland (MQI) project providing medical services and needle exchange for drug users among other things, would be set up in a basement area of the existing Riverbank Centre premises providing booths where users can inject themselves and remain for some 30 minutes afterwards. The heroin is not supplied by the centre.

Some 100 drug users are expected to use it every day, 63 of them by the time children are turning up are turning up to go into the neighbouring St Audoen’s primary school.

The building is just 150 metres from St Audoen's which brought the High Court challenge to the planning decision.

The school claimed the decision was irrational and that an injection facility would worsen the already serious problems including drug users congregating in the area, engaging in drug buying and selling, overdosing and other anti-social behaviour.

In the statement issued after the decision was made, the school said they were “vested with certain duties and responsibilities to ensure that the welfare and education of the children are upheld”.

“We had to uphold our office and discharge our duties and obligations to both the school children and the wider school community without fear or favour,” they said.

“Despite some 99 objections to the planning application placed before Dublin City Council and their subsequent refusal of the application, ultimately a grant of planning was made by the Bord.”

They added: “What must not be lost in all of this is those people afflicted by drug addiction. The school wishes to place on record that this legal challenge was never about diminishing their afflictions or needs, nor was it a challenge to government policy in this area of need.

“The legal challenge was brought to vindicate the rights of our children and ensure that they are provided with an environment which would allow them to flourish in their formative school years.”

In his decision, Mr Justice Simons said one of the striking features of the proposed development was it was to be located adjacent to a primary school.

The school's objections however were "not addressed, in terms, in An Bord Pleanála’s decision.

The decision was also not saved by reference to the fact that planning permission had been granted on a temporary basis only.

The stated reason for the three-year limitation on use is to allow for a review thereafter, but there was, again, no reference to the impact on the school or its pupils, he said.

This breach was enough, on its own, to invalidate the planning permission.

The judge also concluded the planning permission was invalid on the separate ground that, in the absence of any explanation, the decision to permit it for three years was unreasonable.

He said he proposed to make an order setting aside the decision and his provisional view was that it should be sent back to the board for reconsideration.

However, he would adjourn the making of the order pending submissions from the parties next October.

Cllr Mannix Flynn who had previously spoken on the issue, “on many occasions”, said the case today was won on planning grounds alone.

“All the other implications are aside to this very welcome judgment,” he said.

“We were expecting this very clear and very appropriate assessment from the judge.

“This has been going on for quite some time and to simply add what would be an injection facility there, which is not a treatment facility, would be just completely outrageous.

“In terms of planning, to simply site this beside the school, at a church and in a public place, which is completely inconsistent with planning, was not sustainable, and didn't actually take into consideration the implications to the school.”

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