The country’s first supervised injecting centre (SIC) has been delayed, and could be pushed well into next year, if planning permission is needed.
The HSE was due to choose the successful bidder for the pilot facility on November 1, but in a statement to the Irish Examiner it said that the decision would not be made until December.
The HSE, along with drugs strategy minister, Catherine Byrne, had anticipated that the SIC would be operational by the end of this year.
In addition, there is continuing uncertainty, including among applicants, as to whether or not the operator will have to apply for planning permission to run the facility.
Merchants Quay Ireland and the Ana Liffey Drug Project are known to have applied, with reports that the Dublin Simon Community and the HSE’s own National Drug Treatment Centre may also have done so.
The Irish Examiner understands that while there is a belief that applicants may not need planning permission, they may feel they will to secure it, given the likely planning, and possibly legal objections from certain business associations and some community-based bodies.
Several sources said it was “up in the air” or “not clear” whether or not planning permission will have to be obtained — firstly from Dublin City Council and, then, presuming an appeal, from An Bord Pleanála.
Sources said that could delay matters by anywhere from three to nine months.
A detailed list of questions was submitted to the HSE, regarding a range of issues, including whether or not planning permission was required.
The HSE declined to clarify that particular matter, and instead issued this statement: “The evaluation stage of the procurement process for the pilot supervised-injecting centre is ongoing and it is intended to announce the successful bidder in December.
“The HSE will not be making any further comment, until the procurement process is fully completed.”
Some sources have said that if the HSE decided to operate the facility — for example, by awarding the contract to the National Drug Treatment Centre — that planning permission would not be required, thereby avoiding a possibly lengthy appeal process and ongoing negative publicity.
It is unclear how the HSE could both appoint and apply for a tender, although, in the tender documentation, it is thought the HSE reserves the right to cost and run the facility itself.
The HSE would not clarify what body or group was evaluating the tenders or what agencies were involved.
A HSE working group — which included external agencies, such as the local authority, the gardaí, and users’ group, UISCE — drew up the terms of the tender, but it is not involved in the evaluation.
Sources have conceded that the whole process, and the final decision, is “contentious” and “highly sensitive” and expect that the Department of Health’s Drug Poly Unit and the drugs minister would be consulted.
Sources have said the HSE could decide to run the facility, if the external agency awarded the contract is unable to do so, or is blocked from doing so.
In a detailed tender document, each applicant had to specify their proposed location and details on staffing, including security.
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