Minister Catherine Byrne presses on with injecting facilities bill

Drugs minister Catherine Byrne is pressing ahead with legislation to set up injecting facilities, despite concerns raised at an Oireachtas health committee yesterday.

Fine Gael’s Seán Barrett said he had fundamental concerns over the legality of provisions in the Supervised Injecting Facilities Bill 2017.

He said exemptions in the bill to possess and use drugs inside the facilities conflicted with existing laws criminalising the purchase and sale of the same drugs on the street.

He called for a specific provision in the bill for users of the facilities to be advised in relation to undergoing rehabilitation — a recommendation that received some backing from Fianna Fáil’s Jack Chambers, a supporter of the bill.

Mr Barrett also wanted the bill to contain a review of its operation after a year.

Minister of State Ms Byrne said the attorney general had “scrutinised” the bill and extensive consultation had been conducted with An Garda Síochána and others.

She did not give an indication regarding any provision on the issues of rehabilitation or review, although she pointed out the minister had the power to close the facility if deemed necessary.

Chairman of the health select committee Michael Harty told Mr Barrett the bill had already been agreed by the committee and various hearings had already been held with relevant parties.

Mr Barrett said the Government and the Oireachtas could not pass legislation they know to breach existing legislation which, he said, was the case with this bill.

“We’re ignoring the reality,” he told the minister.

“We cannot introduce legislation that is directly against other legislation that it is illegal to purchase drugs.”

He said the drugs being used in the state-supervised facility would be purchased illegally on the outside and brought in by the user.

“I appreciate what the minister is trying to do, but this is very dangerous territory for the State to be involving itself in.”

He said there was no obligation in the bill for the user to engage in, or for the user to be encouraged to undergo, rehabilitation.

Ms Byrne said the plan for the injecting facility was in the Programme for Government.

Fine Gael TD Bernard Durkan said that the State could not introduce legislation that is “illegal or unconstitutional, be it in the Programme for Government or not”. He said he had no problem with having a review after a year.

Ms Byrne said she was not an expert in law, but that the service was for chronic users who were on the edge of addiction or life itself.

“This is about saving lives,” she said.

She added that they had consulted with gardaí and others, who all indicated they “fully support the legislation”.

She said: “We have to give it a chance. These people deserve a chance.

“These are harm-reduction facilities for those who are chronically ill.”

Ms Byrne added: “There are 90 [such facilities] in the world and they work.

“Why not try them in Ireland?”

The bill now goes to the report stage, where the minister can bring in final amendments.


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