Primary school brings court challenge against first Irish supervised injection facility in Dublin

Primary school brings court challenge against first Irish supervised injection facility in Dublin

A primary school has brought a High Court challenge to planning permission for Ireland's first supervised heroin injection facility.

St Audoen's National School, Cook Street, is immediately adjacent to the Merchant's Quay Ireland (MQI) homeless and drug service centre on the city centre quays in Dublin.

Last December, An Bord Pleanála granted MQI permission to convert a 387 square metre basement into a pilot scheme for a medically supervised injection facility for heroin addicts operating for more than nine hours each day seven days a week.

MQI claims international evidence points to the need to locate such facilities where potential clients are based. It says 42% of the homeless are in the surrounding Dublin 1, 7 and 8 areas.

The school board of management says, among other things, no account was taken of expert psychological evidence that the presence of the injecting facility would harm the school children.

It is also claimed the decision is void because permission cannot be granted for a criminal activity - the injection of heroin.

Merchants Quay and the surrounding area suffer from ongoing anti-social behaviour when addicts and drug dealers congregate, it is claimed. An existing "Night Cafe" in the MQI building is also a source of behaviour problems, it is claimed.

Mr Justice Charles Meenan granted the board leave to judicially review the board's decision following a one side only application by Aillil O'Reilly BL or the school, which has nearly 200 pupils and 40 staff. .

The judge also granted a stay on the permission being implemented for 21 days during which time the board could apply to vary or discharge the order. The case comes back in April.

In its challenge, the school says the decision is outside the powers of the board as the issue of whether the development will harm the children is not a relevant planning matter. This is something the board has no expertise on competence in, it says.

It seeks a declaration the decision is outside its powers because the tendencies of drug addicts and their dealers are not relevant to planning. The board has no competence to adjudicate on whether the injection facility will increase anti-social behaviour, it says.

The permission proposes MQI would provide supervision of areas adjacent to its own building and this, the school says, is not a known tenet of planning law. No evidence of a policing plan was presented as part of the application, it says.

Under legislation introduced in 2017 (the Supervised Injecting Facilities Act), the Minister for Health issued a licence for such a facility and MQI won the tender put out by the HSE to operate the licence.

The school says however that while the law says criteria may be set out as to suitability of certain premises for the facility, no regulations have been made.

The planning decision was unlawful because the Minister's licence is only for 18 months while the board has granted permission for three years and for an unlawful activity, it says.

Dublin City Council refused permission for the facility on grounds including overconcentration of social support services in the Dublin 8 area, lack of a robust policing plan and because it would have an injurious affect on local residents and the tourism economy.

An Bord Pleanála upheld the appeal, its own inspector also having recommended permission. The inspector said refusal of permission would not reduce existing the daily public drug use and criminal behaviour or the existing harm to the children. The inspector suggests there is a possibility the facility will "improve the area in terms of public injecting and drug related litter."

The school argues the existence of illegal acts cannot be a justification for granting permission.

Such matters were also outside the competency of the board, in contravention of the school children's constitutional right to bodily integrity and education "as well as abhorrent", the school says.

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