Injection centre "is not a path to legalising drugs"

Minister of State for Communities and the National Drugs Strategy Catherine Byrne defended the approval of an safe injection centre in Dublin

A safe injection facility approved by the Cabinet today will not open a path to illegal drugs, according to one government minister.

No site has been chosen for the pilot facility. However, rumoured sites that are currently being considered include Merchant's Quay, Abbey Street, Cook Street and Pearse Street.

"What it is is a supervised injection clinic to help thsoe who are addicts", Minister of State Catherine Byrne said on Newstalk Drive. "They're not criminals, they're not junkies. It's a health-led facility around blood-born viruses like HIV and Hepatitis C."

Minister Byrne acknowledged concerns raised by residents and schools near the proposed sites, such as St Audoen's National School in Dublin but went on to say that they were only at the initial stages of the legislation.

"There's no location decided at present," she said, "If it's passed, it would mean that we'll then be able to look for tenders of people who would like to run the service, and that will take a couple of weeks to go through. After that, whether's it's an NGO or the State decides to run it, then a location will be chosen."

The Minister invited residents to become join the appropriate monitoring group, as a consultation into sites is undertaken.

"In any new service, there's always a certain amount of anticipation and anxiety around it, and it's to alleviate these anxieties that the monitoring group will be set up.

"There's not going to be a place where people can sell [drugs] or people can smoke it. It's to give people a safe environment instead of having them up lane ways."

Reaction

The Union for Improved Services Communications & Education welcomed the announcement from Minister for Health Simon Harris today.

"The purpose of this initiative is to save lives," the group said in a statement. "More people die from drug overdose than from road accidents and most of these deaths are down to people not having access to proper medication and supports, which these centres will facilitate."

Fianna Fáil TD and Spokesperson for National Drugs Strategy Jack Chambers said that the introduction of a supervised injection facility will help to avoid drug induced deaths but is only part of the solution to the overall drug problem in Dublin.

"Ireland has the highest proportion of intravenous heroin users in Europe and the rate of drug related deaths in Ireland is three times higher than the EU average, according to the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction. These are startling figures that require a targeted response," explained Deputy Chambers.

"A supervised injection centre is a small step towards effective treatment, rehabilitation and intervention aimed at harm reduction for those suffering from addiction."