The government has announced significant reforms to the possession of drugs for personal use in line with its commitment to pursue a public health approach to drug use in Ireland.
Minister for Health Simon Harris, Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan and Minister of State with responsibility for the National Drugs Strategy, Catherine Byrne announced Government approval to develop a health-led approach.
The decision is on foot of the report of the Working Group to Consider Alternative Approaches to the Possession of Drugs for Personal Use. The group was set up as an action under the national drugs strategy, Reducing Harm Supporting Recovery.
There are two components to the Health Diversion Approach whereby a person in possession of drugs, determined by An Garda Síochána to be for personal use, on the first occasion would be referred by An Garda Síochána on a mandatory basis to the Health Service Executive (HSE) for a health screening and brief intervention. On the second occasion, An Garda Síochána would have discretion to issue an Adult Caution.
Welcoming the decision to implement a health-led approach, Minister Harris said:
Minister Harris added:
Minister Flanagan also welcomed the decision:
Minister Byrne said:
Under the Health Diversion Approach, a person in possession of drugs for personal use would engage with the Health Service Executive to attend health screening and brief intervention (known as SAOR). The Health Service Executive will provide health professionals in all Community Healthcare Organisations to deliver this service for people referred by An Garda Síochána.
Complementing the Health Diversion Approach, Ministers Harris and Byrne will support additional investment in drug treatment services and promote an awareness campaign on the treatments available and the harms associated with drug use.
The adult caution scheme allows An Garda Síochána to issue a formal caution, instead of pursuing a prosecution, in relation to a number of specified offences. The extension of the adult caution scheme to include simple drug possession offences gives An Garda Síochána the option of diverting appropriate cases away from the criminal justice system.
In addition, Minister Flanagan 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 combatting any potential exploitation of children.
A small implementation, monitoring and evaluation group will be set up to progress the Health Diversion Approach, with phased implementation expected to begin in Q3 of 2020. The group will be chaired by the Dept of Health and membership will include Dept of Justice and Equality, An Garda Síochána and the Health Services Executive.
The Ministers also published the report of the Working Group to Consider Alternative Approaches to the Possession of Drugs for Personal Use on the departments’ websites. This report made recommendations for an adult caution and a diversion to health services, which have been adopted by Government. The report did not recommend a decriminalisation approach, as in Portugal, due to difficulties in the Irish legal context.
Recommendations in the report on imprisonment for drug possession and on spent convictions for drug possession were not considered by Government.
A minority report by the chairperson of the working group was also published. This also did not recommend decriminalisation and advised against any changes that might normalise drug use.
Jennifer Clancy, Co-ordinator with the Clondalkin drugs and alcohol task force and a SAOR trainer for HSE.
Phone: 01 457 9445 / 086 0401375 Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Gary Broderick, Director of SAOL project, which works with women’s affected by addiction.
Phone: 01-8553391/3 Email: email@example.com
Aoife Frances, Policy Officer, National Family Support Network.
Phone: (01)898 0148 Email: firstname.lastname@example.org