13 Jun 2018

Town Hall Dublin Safer From Harm Event

Experts from the London School of Economics (LSE), along with leading Irish NGOs CityWide and the Ana Liffey Drug Project have said that possessing drugs for personal use should not be a criminal offence. This accords with the view of the Oireachtas Justice Committee which ‘strongly recommended’ a move away from criminal sanctions in late 2015. Speaking at a ‘Town Hall’ event in Dublin last night, Anna Quigley of CityWide said:

“Our national drugs strategy calls for a health-led approach to drug use. We need to back this up with action, and make sure that what we are doing in practice matches our policy. Unfortunately, it is still the case that simple possession is a crime. If everyone agrees that drug use is a health issue, not a criminal justice one, why is it that people who use drugs must first be labelled as a criminal before they can access healthcare? This is stigmatising and unhelpful, but we have the chance now to change that”.

The event is one of a series that is being held across Ireland in the coming months by LSE, Ana Liffey and Hot Press magazine, who are seeking to bring the academic insights in the area to people through free public meetings and through conversations online and on social media, using the #SaferFromHarm hashtag. Dr. John Collins, Director of the International Drug Policy Unit at LSE highlighted the need for this type of work.

  

“It’s important to make sure that people have access to good quality evidence when considering important policy issues like this. A lot of things people think about drugs and drug use are simply not supported by what we know from research. For example, people often think that criminalising minor offences like possession ‘sends a clear message’ and discourages people from taking drugs. This is simply not the case – in an open society like Ireland, criminalising people who use drugs does not significantly affect rates of drug use. What it does do, however, is further stigmatise people, acting as a barrier to progress and change in their lives.”

The project coincides with a consideration of alternative approaches to addressing possession for personal use in Ireland. Under the National Drug Strategy, a working group has been established to consider the issue, and is due to make recommendations later this year. There is an open consultation for members of the public to have their say – this can be done on the Department of Health’s website.

The event was booked out, and was attended by a couple of special guests with their own personal stories to tell – Dublin footballer Philly McMahon and star and writer of ‘Dublin Oldschool’, Emmet Kirwan who spoke about the need to focus on the person.

“We always talk about these things like it’s about the drugs – the drugs are always centre stage, when really we should be talking about the people. This is not about decriminalising drugs, this is about decriminalising people who use drugs. When somebody is using drugs, branding them as a criminal isn’t helpful – it just drives them further away, and makes them feel stigmatised, isolated and apart. Instead, we need to be pulling people closer, focusing on their health and helping people live the best and healthiest lives they can lead.”

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