Senior gardaí: Injecting centre reports 'way off the mark'

Senior gardaí have described reports that they are opposed to government plans for a pilot drug injecting centre as “way off the mark”, writes Cormac O'Keeffe.

But sources did repeat previously articulated concerns regarding the policing of the new centre and the need for “legal clarity” on where drug possession is decriminalised and where it remains illegal.

Ireland is expected to have its first medically supervised injecting centre later this year in what is a major shift in government policy.

It was reported yesterday that gardaí were opposed to the facility and had condemned it as “impossible to police”.

However, senior Garda sources said this interpretation was “way off the mark” and they would implement whatever was decided by the Government.

“We will do whatever is required to make this work, but what we are saying is that the law has to be clear and there is a need for special policing arrangements for this,” said one source.

A second source said one legal issue that needed clarification was whether or not possession of drugs outside the premises — including those going to the facility — was still illegal.

“All the advice from police abroad who have injecting centres is that the law has to be clear beforehand,” said one Garda source.

Gardaí are also adamant there can be no tampering with their power to search and arrest people suspected of dealing drugs outside an injecting centre. Last month, an ex-Australian police commander, speaking at a Dublin conference, said gardaí should adopt a “balanced” and “consistent” approach to policing the centre.

Pat Paroz, former commander of drug and alcohol co-rdination for the New South Wales Police Force, said it was “critical” for gardaí that they were clear about the law and developed a policy to implement it.

He said the centre in Sydney had succeeded in reducing overdoses from injecting. He said he met assistant commissioner for Dublin, Jack Nolan, who he said was interested in how Sydney police operated.

Last November, Chief Supt Francis Clerkin, divisional officer for Dublin south central, where the centre could be based, said gardaí faced “huge challenges” in policing it. He said legal issues needed to be “teased out”, but added if measures can be taken to assist drug users “we should do it”.

This story first appeared in the Irish Examiner.

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