'A helping hand, not handcuffs' - Govt announce health-led approach for drugs possession for personal use

The Government has announced major changes today to laws on the possession of drugs for personal use.

'A helping hand, not handcuffs' - Govt announce health-led approach for drugs possession for personal use

The Government has announced major changes today to laws on the possession of drugs for personal use.

On the first occasion, a person will be referred by the Gardaí to the HSE for a health-screening and "brief intervention."

The second time, the Gardaí will have the discretion to issue an adult caution.

The plans involve a new health-led approach to the possession of drugs for personal use.

The adult caution scheme allows Gardaí to issue a formal caution, instead of pursuing a prosecution, in relation to a number of offences.

The extension of the adult caution scheme gives the option of diverting appropriate cases away from the criminal justice system.

The decision comes after a report of a working group to consider alternative approaches to the possession of drugs for personal use.

The group was set up under the national drugs strategy.

Health Minister Simon Harris said: "For far too long, we have only looked at drug use from a criminal justice perspective.

"Addiction has impacted so many families and many communities. It is essential we look beyond the labels society forces on people with addiction, look to the person and how the system can help them.

"Today is the start of a new approach. One that offers people a helping hand, not handcuffs."

"One that offers a person a second chance. I strongly believe this will help us battle drug addiction and ultimately save lives."

Minister Harris adds: "This approach will not decriminalise drug use - it is a mechanism to defer people to health and social services for help and support."

Minister of State with responsibility for the National Drugs Strategy Catherine Byrne says the move is "a hugely important step in developing a public health approach to drug use in Ireland".

Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan also welcomed the decision: "While we seek to help vulnerable people who use drugs, we will continue the relentless pursuit of drug dealers and I intend to develop an increasingly punitive approach to those who seek to involve children in drug-related crime."

"My officials are currently examining the potential to develop legislative proposals in this area, taking account of international best practice."

Minister Flanagan says he intends to examine the possibility of introducing a specific offence of grooming children - through inducements such as the provision of drugs or by other means for the commission of drug-related crime - with a view to combating any potential exploitation of children.

Stand-up comedian, broadcaster and actor PJ Gallagher has backed the health-led approach, saying: “Putting someone in jail for having drugs for personal use isn’t going to do anything for anybody, because when someone comes out of jail they’re straight back on to drugs. There has to be something that breaks the chain or breaks the cycle.

"The only thing that I think that might work, even though we’ve never tried it as a country, or to any great degree, is compassion."

"To try and find a way of treating human beings like they are human beings and say ‘you’re not a criminal, you have a problem and we really want to try and help'."

A poll, carried out by RED C as part of the #SaferFromHarm campaign, found that the majority of Irish adults are in favour of an intervention from health professionals when it comes to their loved ones using drugs.

Gallagher said: “The Irish way to deal with any problem is to pretend it’s not there until it gets so big that we’re all affected. I was born in Bessborough house because a woman was sent away from where she lived to live with nuns, while everyone was told lies about where she was and it ended in tears.

"Cloak and dagger, secrets and lies, they get us nowhere. They get us into huge big holes.

"And we all look great, we can walk around smiling but the problems get bigger, bigger and bigger. And the drug problem is no different. We can act and pretend that there’s not a problem but the thing is, it is everywhere.”

In a new video for the #SaferFromHarm campaign, Gallagher asks that: “The next time you see someone and you know they’re addicted to drugs, or the next time you hear a story about someone that’s really in a bad place, or is going to prison for personal use drug offences, just imagine for a second that it’s your sister or your brother, or your son or your daughter, or worse still your Ma or your Da.

"Just for a second. And ask yourself ‘Jaysus, what would I do if I was related to that person?’”

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