5 November 2015
The Oireachtas Joint Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality today launched its ‘Report on a Harm Reducing and Rehabilitative approach to possession of small amounts of illegal drugs.’
In June 2015, during consideration of the issue of violent crime in Irish communities, the Committee identified close links between illegal drug use and incidences of serious crime.
As a result of this, the Committee initiated a process to examine ways to reduce the harm caused by substance abuse in Ireland. A Committee delegation travelled to Lisbon earlier this year to see first-hand the strategies put in place by the Portuguese authorities in dealing with drug use. The Committee was informed by submissions received and a meeting was held in October, at which Members heard from a wide range of interested stakeholder groups and individuals.
The report makes a number of recommendations, including:
• The Committee recommends the introduction of a harm reducing and rehabilitative approach, whereby the possession of a small amount of illegal drugs for personal use, could be dealt with by way of a civil/administrative response and rather than via the criminal justice route.
• That discretion for the application of this approach would remain with An Garda Síochána/Health Providers in respect of the way in which an individual in possession of small amounts of drugs for personal use might be treated.
• Any harm reducing and rehabilitation approach be applied on a case-by-case basis, with appropriately resourced services available to those affected, including resources for assessment (e.g. similar to the Dissuasion Committees used in Portugal) and the effective treatment of the individuals concerned.
Committee Chair, David Stanton, TD, says: “This report is an important step in the process to continually refine our national drugs strategy. Substance abuse is a constant and complex challenge and because of this complexity, we must be willing to explore new avenues in dealing with drugs policy and practice.”
“Our Committee has spent a substantial amount of time examining the approach of the Portuguese system, which places particular emphasis on after-care and social re-integration for former users of illegal substance. We believe that there is great merit in more research being carried out into how a similar system might work in Ireland.”
“The Joint Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality is therefore recommending that more analysis is required in order to fully assess if and how such an approach could be rolled out here. Portugal has successfully reduced what were serious levels of drug misuse 15 years ago and this is due in large part to the fact that the treatment of drug addiction is regarded as a health issue and not just a criminal justice issue.”
“As Chairman, I would like to thank all those who appeared before the Joint Committee during the course of our hearings and all those who met with the Committee delegation in Lisbon earlier this year. It is our hope that the Minister of State for the National Drugs Strategy will consider carefully our recommendations.