A citizens’ assembly on drug use will start work ‘early in 2023’, according to the Minister for Drugs Strategy.
The Government came in for strong criticism earlier this year after it emerged that the assembly - promised in the Programme for Government - would not be held this year.
Instead, assemblies on biodiversity and the future of Local Government in Dublin were prioritised.
In a statement this evening, the Minister of State for Drugs Strategy Frank Feighan said an assembly on drug use would be held early next year.
He said he planned to begin preparations for it in the coming weeks so there would be no delay – noting that it would report at the end of next year.
“I acknowledge there is some disappointment that it is not possible to commence this citizens assembly in 2022,” he said. “However, I intend to commence preparations for the citizens assembly on drug use now, so that there will be no delay in establishing the citizens assembly at the start of 2023 and submitting its report in Quarter Four, 2023.
“This will allow a period of over one year for the government to consider its recommendations.”
He said he discussed the plan with representatives from state bodies and drug and alcohol task forces and agreed that people who use drugs should be included in the assembly.
“Drug use affects all members of society, whether directly or indirectly, and imposes very significant social and financial costs,” he said.
“Involving citizens in decision-making on drugs policy is therefore appropriate.”
Independent Senator Lynn Ruane has been campaigning for a health-led approach to drug use and is one of those who highly critical of the delay to the citizens’ assembly.
On Newstalk last month, she questioned whether anyone in government was serious about Ireland’s drug issues.
“There are thousands of people’s lives impacted every single day by drug use and it just felt like this should have been prioritised over the conversation around the election of a Lord Mayor,” she said.
“It’s not just about criminalisation, it’s also about access to services, diagnosis… There’s so many policy issues that need to be discussed and for me, if a Government is serious about discussing them and acting on them, they’d want to be having a Citizens’ Assembly yesterday”
In 2020 Ireland had the third highest death toll from drugs in Europe - behind only Britain and Sweden - and the CityWide Drugs Crisis Campaign has also urged the Government last year to prioritise the issue.