Update 1.25pm: Taoiseach Leo Varadkar given his backing to moves which would decriminalise possession of a small amount of drugs.
The proposal is contained in a new strategy document entitled Reducing Harm, Supporting Recovery – a health led response to drug and alcohol use in Ireland 2017-2025, which also includes recruitment of extra midwives to deal with drug-addicted mothers and babies.
This new national strategy establishes a Working Group to examine alternative approaches to the possession for personal use of small quantities of illegal drugs and report back in 12 months.
It could see a change in direction around how Ireland treats drug use, treating it as a public health, rather than a criminal justice, issue.
“I firmly believe we need to do all we can to remove obstacles to rehabilitation, and barriers that prevent people from changing the way they live their lives,” said Mr Varadkar.
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar - 'Reducing Harm, Supporting Recovery' promotes a more compassionate approach to people who use drugs in our society pic.twitter.com/ieepMLrO9u— MerrionStreet.ie (@merrionstreet) July 17, 2017
“So I very much welcome the commitment in this strategy to set up a working group to examine the approaches taken in other jurisdictions to dealing with simple possession offences, with a view to reporting within 12 months.”
Minister for Health Simon Harris welcomed measures on improving access to drug and alcohol treatment and rehabilitation services.
“It is clear that we need to act now to tackle the huge problem we have, as a country, with drug and alcohol use,” he said.
“If we are to reduce the dreadful harm caused and support recovery, then we must ensure that all of our efforts are person-centred and health-led.”
Minister of State for Health Promotion and the National Drugs Strategy, Catherine Byrne stated: “Through my involvement in the public consultation for this strategy, I heard how drug and alcohol use affects individuals, families and communities across the country and what key issues should be addressed in the new response.
“The need for a more compassionate approach to drug use was raised repeatedly in the course of the consultation, with many people calling for drug use to be treated as a health issue, rather than a criminal issue.”
The Irish Pharmacy Union (IPU) has welcomed today’s publication of the strategy.
Daragh Connolly, community pharmacist and IPU president, said: “Pharmacists have argued that the possession of small amounts of illegal drugs for personal use should be treated as a health problem rather than a criminal issue and that people with drug problems should be given the same level of care as people with other health issues.”
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar is set to unveil the Government's National Drug Strategy this morning.
The proposals would see a working group established to explore alternative approaches to minor drug use, including a more heath-led approach which could see users caught with small amounts of drugs avoid criminal conviction.
The proposals have been welcomed by campaigners who see current drugs policy as counter-productive and over-expensive – with approximately seven out of every ten drug cases before the courts related to possession for personal use.
However, Dublin-based Lawyer John Hennessy says “normalising” drugs is not a good thing.
“It’s easy to say ‘let’s decriminalize it’, I just think it’s just not a runner,” he said.
“It’s just not something I’d be in favour of. Kids get involved in drugs for the first time… the criminal system works. It deviates the from that route and I’ve seen it work.”