Conflict over plan to soften drug law; Minority report outlines split in opinion on changes to legislation

Grave concerns within Government over its plan to liberalise Ireland’s drug laws are today revealed in a top-secret Cabinet document.

Conflict over plan to soften drug law; Minority report outlines split in opinion on changes to legislation

Grave concerns within Government over its plan to liberalise Ireland’s drug laws are today revealed in a top-secret Cabinet document.

In a highly unusual move, retired Judge Garrett Sheehan, chairman of the Government’s own working group on “alternative approaches to possession of drugs for personal use” submitted a minority report to ministers separate to his own group’s final report which was discussed by ministers on Thursday.

The memo, seen by the Irish Examiner, reveals Judge Sheehan felt the need to distance himself from his own group’s report by submitting his own, more extreme recommendations.

“This document outlines his disagreement with any changes to drug laws that might be interpreted as normalising drug use, especially in the context of ongoing violence linked to the drug trade,” ministers were told in the memo.

“He recommends that the Government resists calls for decriminalisation; that they restore the rule of law; that drug rehabilitation programmes be urgently audited and evaluated; that people are educated about the dangers of drug use, and that there is a greater policing of recreational drug use.”

At its final meeting of the political year on Thursday in Donegal, ministers discussed Judge Sheehan’s report and the full 88-page report compiled by his working group.

Judge Sheehan’s ‘minority report’ was delivered to ministers Simon Harris, Charlie Flanagan, and Catherine Byrne on March 29.

Judge Sheehan made no comment when contacted by the Irish Examiner last night.

The scheme proposes that people caught with small amounts of drugs escape conviction and are instead referred to the health services.

The memo reveals that concerns about the plan were not just limited to the chair of the working group.

The approval came despite fears and objections from Judge Sheehan, the Attorney General Seamus Woulfe, the Director of Public Prosecutions, and even some ministers themselves.

The memo from Health Minister Simon Harris and Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan reveals that:

  • People caught with drugs for personal use are to escape criminal conviction until a third offence;
  • Ministers agreed to a system whereby people caught the for a first time are diverted to the HSE for mandatory assessment and intervention. If caught a second time, they will be subject to an adult caution;
  • The Government rejected two key recommendations from its working group relating to not jailing those caught with drugs for personal use and erasing convictions for drugs possession afteramid “strong reservations” from An Garda Siocháná, the DPP, and academic expert Tom O’Malley;
  • Mr Flanagan is examining a new law which would see a specific offence of “grooming children, through inducements such as the provisions of drugs or by other means”
  • Defence Minister Paul Kehoe expressed concern about liberalising the drugs law would negatively impact on military personnel;
  • The Attorney General, in his observations, said the potential issue “would appear to be the mandatory aspect of such a programme in terms of the personal rights of a person detected in possession of illegal drugs being directed to attend for medical assessment.”
  • Ultimately, Mr Harris and Mr Flanagan acknowledged the difficulties posed by removing the offence of personal possession from the statute books, which would mean that An Garda Siochana gardaí would no longer have the power to stop and search suspects.

    That removal of the offence could lead to de facto legalisation.

    “There are no plans to legalise any controlled drugs in Ireland. Therefore, the ministers agree that the possession of drugs for personal use should remain a criminal offence, in order to mitigate against the risks identified by the group,” the memo concluded.

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