Thursday, 10 September 2020
Public Health, Well-being and National Drugs Strategy: Statements
Gino Kenny (Dublin Mid West, People Before Profit Alliance)
I wish the Minister of State well and hope he will be progressive and bold in his job in the next years. The Government needs to be bold because this is like Groundhog Day. We are talking about things we talked about two or three years ago in this Chamber. People have been talking about this issue for decades. It is welcome that we are talking about a health-led approach rather than a criminal justice approach, which simply does not work. Last year's alternative approaches to possession of drugs for personal use were welcome but they did not go far enough. I understand the sentiment of that report will be sent to the Citizens' Assembly. I have a problem with this because we are legislators. Last February, 160 of us were elected by the people of Ireland to legislate. The Citizens' Assembly does good work but we are here to make laws.
The current system simply does not work. Bringing people through the courts for possession of small amounts drugs is a waste of time. Bringing somebody through the criminal justice system for €50 or €100 worth of cannabis is a waste of police time, the State's time and everybody’s time. There needs to be a health-led approach. The benchmark is Portugal. In 2001, it embarked on the decriminalisation road. It is a difficult road to go down. Drug use and abuse is difficult, as I have seen in my own community. Drugs can take over a community and they take over people's lives. It is extremely difficult to deal with in the community and on a personal level. That is compounded by the class nature of society and by austerity and cutbacks to youth services. International evidence and research shows that if there is investment in people and in communities there will be less people turning to drugs. Why would people turn to heroin in the first place? It is the most horrible drug in the world. However, people are desperate sometimes. In situations of alienation, they turn to that because of the class nature of society. That is not abstract. Across the world, heroin gets into communities. Heroin is the devil that attracts poor and marginalised communities. That is where it manifests itself. There is an alternative economy in society. It is hugely lucrative and violent. In the last ten to 15 years, the violence attributed to drug use and the drug market is ever more violent because it is so lucrative that it is impossible to put down, even if there were 20,000 gardaí on the street. Once people want a substance, they will get it. Once there is a market for it and a demand, people will use it. We have to be grown up about this conversation.
People will use and abuse drugs. Those people are from every part of society. Our heads are in the sand if we keep bringing people through the criminal justice system and locking them up. It is simply a waste of time. We have to be bold and take a different approach to addiction and to why people turn to addiction. If I am still around in ten or 15 years' time, we will still be talking about this issue of the cruelty of bringing people who suffer from addiction through the criminal justice system.
We have to adopt a new approach which is nuanced. There has to be an approach of legalising certain drugs and decriminalising the person as opposed to the drugs themselves, which will be a different argument. As I said, international evidence across the board shows that when there is a health-led approach, there are better outcomes because this issue comes down to saving lives. If lives can be saved by taking people out of the criminal justice system, then we will be on the right road. It will not be easy by any means. It is extremely difficult in circumstances of drug addiction and abuse. The approach from the previous Governments has been a failure. We should be honest about that. What is happening is like Groundhog Day, so we have to adopt a different approach. That approach should be similar to some of those I have just outlined.