In his remarks in a case involving the alleged supply of cannabis, Judge Harnett said: “Why there is a benign attitude to cannabis resin I do not know.
“People with HIV or those who die from AIDS all started by taking cannabis resin.”
The comment irked Ann Nolan, executive director of Dublin AIDS Alliance. “These comments are potentially very stigmatising and associate all HIV-positive people and AIDS sufferers with drug use.
She said those with HIV and AIDS are stigmatised and labelled enough without the “wholly unsubstantiated” comments at Waterford District Court of District Court judge Harnett.
“I know plenty of people who have tested positive for HIV and have never taken an illicit drug in their life. People who use drugs pick up the HIV virus by sharing needles. It has nothing to do with cannabis use.
“These comments are indicative of the level of ignorance generally out there about HIV. It’s another label that people with HIV and AIDS just don’t need. The remark is wholly unsubstantiated,” Ms Nolan added.
Fine Gael justice spokesman Jim O’Keeffe was also outraged. “I am concerned that people in such public and prominent positions would make such statements which clearly are incorrect.
“Health professionals over the past decade have made huge efforts to educate people about HIV and AIDS. The government should ensure by training or otherwise that judges are fully briefed and informed on such important issues,” he said.
Judge Harnett has always maintained a very strong stance on the abuse of cannabis and has been irked in the past by its description as a soft drug, saying that some of those who end up dying with needles in their arms graduated from cannabis use to heroin.
Latest figures show that the number of HIV-positive people in Ireland stands at 3,216 and the number with AIDS continues to dip, now standing at just above 700.