Motion on Citizens Assembly on Drug Use

Wed, Feb 22, 2023

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Neasa speaking during discussions on the terms of reference for the upcoming Citizens Assembly on Drug Use. Once this motion has passed, we will likely see the Citizens Assembly start its work in April and deliver its conclusions by the end of this year.

Transcript: I very warmly welcome the establishment of the Citizens' Assembly on Drugs Use and the good work of the Minister of State, Deputy Naughton, and the former Minister of State, Deputy Feighan, on pushing forward with it. When we first got it into the programme for Government we viewed it as a way to allow the complexity of the drugs debate to be on the table but not under the consistent pressure of political debate. We saw it as allowing the conversation to happen and be based on evidence and experience. I am very hopeful this might happen.

More than anything I view the citizens' assembly as a way for people who rarely get a chance to have their voices heard to speak up, raise their heads above the parapet and make their views known. It is a way for families who feel as though they have lost their loved ones, even though those loved ones might be here with us, to tell their story and what it feels like. It is a chance for people in addiction to explain to us as a cohort and to the citizens' assembly as a cohort how the laws that we make in here might impact and improve or damage their lives. It is a chance for people who every day choose to take what we describe as illicit drugs and feel it is okay to do so to explain what their thinking is.

The citizens' assembly will be an opportunity for communities to outline how so many issues, from poverty, deprivation, criminalisation, intimidation, gang activity, debt, mental health and a million other things, are impacted by the drugs debate and are related and entangled in the issue of illicit drugs. There is an immense social cost to the continued increase in drug use in Ireland as it stands. The people who are chosen for the citizens' assembly on drugs might not feel lucky when their names are picked out of the hat but I will consider them very lucky to enter into this debate. They might actually save lives in the long term.

I echo what Deputy Ó Ríordáin said and I also hope we can hold the person at the very heart of the discussion. What I mean by this is that the drugs will come and go. We will speak about crack cocaine and cannabis this year but it could be fentanyl next year. I see this happening in the US and it is very scary. In the US people are not speaking about drug gangs or supply any more because people can go into a laboratory and make this stuff with no problem. The substances themselves will change but people do not change unless we are brave enough to do so. I really hope we can put this at the very centre.

I urge the political establishment, and by that I mean we in the Government, to do so in the establishment of the citizens' assembly and in our response afterwards. The time will be tight. The time for the citizens' assembly is fairly lively. With regard to us being able to turn it around and legislate the time is pretty tight. I hope we do not focus too much on particular substances but on the structures of legislation and services and on people’s motivation.

The journey over recent years, whether Deputy Feighan or Deputy Naughton was the Minister of State, has been genuinely collaborative and cross-party. Deputy Ó Ríordáin mentioned this. It has involved people such as Senator Ruane and Deputies McAuliffe, Cairns, Gannon and our partners in Sinn Féin. People such as Deputies Ward and Gould speaking out is incredibly important. Perhaps people speaking up about this is not necessarily about party politics but about those of us living it, perhaps because we are in a constituency where it is meaningful and we see it.

On the streets of Dublin Central there are mammies whose 12-year-old children are lookouts for drug gangs. One such woman came to me because she does not know what to do. I do not know what to do. It is a very difficult conversation. Members may have lived it in their own families. I know some of us have done so. We may be representing a constituency where it is on the street every day and desperate people are coming to us. This is why we are willing to enter into the debate. I hope we can keep in the debate the Deputies of any party or none who are involved in the issue and that they will work on pushing this through before the Government is out of office.

I echo Deputy Ward’s concerns about not second guessing the recommendations of the citizens' assembly. I know one thing for absolute certain as we go into it, namely, that what we are doing now in terms of drugs legislation has failed badly. The number of deaths is too high and the cost is too much. Today is the day that we can start doing better for people.