Ó Ríordáin warns delay to Dublin injecting facility will lead to further deaths

The introduction of Dublin's first supervised injecting facility is set to be delayed

A former drugs minister has warned that we can no longer stand by and allow people to overdose and die on the streets of Dublin.

Labour Senator Aodhán Ó Ríordáin was speaking after it emerged that the introduction of the capital's first supervised injecting facility will be delayed by planning difficulties.

The HSE in August issued a tender seeking a service provider for the country's first facility - and it had been hoped it would be up and running by the end of the year.

However, on Monday, Dublin City Council (DCC) ruled that planning permission would be required to re-purpose any of its own properties for on-site drug taking.

The council had previously ruled that properties owned by drug charities could also not be used without planning permission.

Almost 80 official drug consumption facilities currently operate in seven EMCDDA (European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction) reporting countries.

There are also 12 facilities in Switzerland.

On Newstalk Breakfast, Senator Ó Ríordáin said Ireland needs to follow their example.

"On the issue of street injecting from a humanitarian point of view we have the third highest overdose rate in Europe," he said.

"People are literally dying on the streets of the capital.

"They are dying in toilets, they are dying in alleyways, they are dying in parks.

"The idea is that - just like eight other cities in Europe have done and cities in Australia and Canada [have done] - we would provide a supervised injecting centre where people who are chronically addicted to heroin can go."

Planning process

Authorities had been examining the viability of using a DCC homeless shelter on Fitzwilliam Street, or a HSE property on Pearse Street for the new centre.

Two properties owned by Merchants Quay Ireland and the Ana Liffey Drug Project  on Abbey Street were also under consideration.

However, the DCC rulings mean that none of the properties can now be used without a public planning process - allowing business groups to raise objections ad insignificantly delaying the plan.

Joining Senator Ó Ríordáin on Newstalk Breakfast, Martin Harte of the Temple Bar Company suggested the facilities will lead to the effective de-criminalisation of heroin:

"You are going to have to be able to bring your heroin to the centre," he said.

"To do that, essentially, the possession of heroin is being decriminalised, because if for example five guys are found on O'Connell Bridge with five wraps of heroin and they are authorised users of the centre and the gardaí arrest them and they go to court - their defence will be that they are en-route to a State sponsored injecting centre.

"Now, there we have just de-criminalised the possession of heroin in defence."

Treatment and rehabilitation

After the legislation was passed in March, the Department of Health said the facilities will provide access to "clean, sterile injecting equipment and have trained staff on hand to provide emergency care in the event of an overdose, as well as advice on treatment and rehabilitation."

The government warned that possession of any controlled drugs outside of the facilities will remain a criminal offence - with possession for sale or supply an offence both inside and out.

Senator Ó Ríordáin noted that the legislation is supported by all the main charities dealing with drug abuse in Ireland - adding that the legislation underpins a humanitarian effort to reduce deaths on the street and encourage those struggling with addiction to seek help.

"The idea is that they wouldn't be doing this on the street," he said.

"They wouldn't be contracting HIV and Hepatitis C, they wouldn't be overdosing and dying and they wouldn't be leaving this dangerous material behind them in alleyways for people to pick up."

You can listen back to the debate on Newstalk Breakfast here: