Thursday, 10 September 2020
Public Health, Well-being and National Drugs Strategy: Statements
Aodhán Ó Ríordáin (Dublin Bay North, Labour)
We are in a pandemic situation; we have a virus that is making people unwell and is killing people. I wish that other aspects of Irish society and public policy were dealt with in the same manner which the Government has dealt with this issue and indeed other issues such as Brexit. There is nothing the Government would not do or say, no intervention it would not make and no resources it would fail to find in order to deal with the Brexit issue or indeed with this pandemic.
There is another scourge in this country which kills people, ruins families, makes people incredibly ill, shortens their lifespans and ends their lives in public toilets, stairwells, parks and playgrounds. We have the third-highest overdose rate in Europe and yet we do not have the same political response to it because, in effect, the value placed on those lives is less. I know that to be the case because the very people who suffer from addiction and who are in recovery trying to rebuild their lives are called names. They are called names by politicians and by the media. They are called junkies, druggies and zombies. I once heard one commentator on RTÉ Radio 1 refer to a cohort of people in the court system as having a "Dublin 1 complexion". Last year we had a senior Minister sending out literature to her constituents celebrating the fact that a health facility in her constituency would not be a methadone clinic, because clearly those in recovery are beneath her, her office and her help. Furthermore, we criminalise them, we criminalise their addiction and their medical need. We think we can sort out the drugs issue in Ireland through criminal sanction. It does not work and it has not worked. It has not actually worked anywhere. The idea of a war on drugs is a colossal middle-class lie because a war on drugs is a war on people and a certain type of person.
I say to the Minister of State that the issue of decriminalisation of the person has to be at the forefront of his agenda. Whenever someone in politics or in a lobby group or in public commentary uses the word "decriminalisation", people immediately assume something completely different. They assume we are talking about legalisation of substances or decriminalisation of cannabis. We are not. We are talking about decriminalisation of the person, because the opposite of addiction is not being sober. The opposite of addiction is connection, that is, connection with life and with people, connection itself.
Yesterday and today, we have had debates on ensuring we can open public houses that sell a drug that kills 100 people a year through fatal overdose. Each year, 100 people die of a fatal overdose of alcohol, which is two a week. These Houses have been used to further the agenda of those who want to distribute that drug. That is fair enough. Nobody would ever suggest that the best way to deal with alcoholism, and the best way to stop 100 people dying a year, would be to stop selling it or to criminalise those who take it but that is exactly what we do with every other substance which is a drug.
Will the Minister prioritise decriminalisation as a national policy? I also want him to prioritise the stated programme for Government commitment on the establishment of a citizens' assembly on drugs. It is a commitment in the programme for Government that can be delivered. It has to happen immediately because if we are in a situation whereby we have the third-highest overdose rate in Europe and people are dying on the streets throughout the country, then it is something that must take much higher priority. If it were to be treated in the same way as Brexit or Covid-19 we would have a much fairer and decent society that looks at the most vulnerable and does not call them names, dehumanise them or have Cabinet Ministers undermining them but has them looking at the Parliament to be filled with people of compassion who want to help support them in their recovery.