Thursday, 18 February 2021
Covid-19 (Drug and Alcohol Services, and Homelessness): Statements
Frank Feighan (Sligo-Leitrim, Fine Gael)
I thank the Deputy for the measured way in which he put his views forward. We come from different perspectives, but between us we try to get the best possible answers to this very difficult problem. The national drugs strategy sets out a health-led approach to drug use and it promotes a more compassionate and humane response to people who use drugs, with drug use treated as, first and foremost, a public health issue. As the Deputy knows, the Government established a working group and that group decided it would opt for the health-led approach to possession of drugs for personal use. Effectively, what we are trying to do with a first offence is to get people to interact with the health services on a pathway to recovery, avoiding a criminal conviction.
We have met the Cannabis Risk Alliance group, which offers another perspective. The group includes GPs and psychiatrists with significant expertise in the fields of addiction and psychiatry. They are also parents. They outlined the damaging effects of cannabis, particularly for adolescents. We cannot be complacent about the risk to health posed by illicit drugs, but we have set out a health-led approach. Hopefully, the health diversion programme will be a start whereby people who are caught in possession for the first time will get a health diversion programme. Second, it will be at the discretion of the Garda. However, I cannot envisage legalisation because sometimes it leads to decriminalisation which can have a knock-on effect. I would welcome the Deputy's submissions to the mid-term review of the national oversight committee. I thank the Deputy for his observations and his co-operation as we work on trying to resolve this issue.