Leo Varadkar – Ireland must find more effective ways to deal with the issue of illegal drug use
By The Headlines, April 16, 2023 | 08:27 AM
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has urged Ireland to look for more efficient ways to tackle illegal drug consumption, through the citizens' assembly initiative.
The assembly, comprising 99 randomly-selected citizens reflective of the Irish population and an independent chair, will explore issues related to illicit drug-taking and submit a report to the Oireachtas by the end of 2023.
It will make recommendations to improve legislation, policy and operations/service delivery.
The first meeting, chaired by former Health Service Executive (HSE) boss Paul Reid, took place in Malahide, Dublin, on Saturday.
A recorded address by Taoiseach Leo Varadkar was played to the new assembly members before they began hearing evidence.
He stated the Oireachtas had created the assembly to contemplate an issue that impacts numerous individuals, households and communities throughout Ireland.
“Far too many people are struggling with drug dependency or addiction,” he said.
“Far too many families have lost loved ones to overdoses, and far too many communities have been living in fear of those who supply drugs in towns and villages across our country. Therefore, we need to find better ways to address the issues caused by the use of illegal drugs.”
The lived experience of those affected by illegal drug use, including users, service providers, and wider communities, will be a key theme of the assembly's work.
“Therefore, please inquire about the experiences of legalization and decriminalization in places such as the United States, the Netherlands, Portugal, and elsewhere,” he said.
“Has it really made things better or worse, or has it made no difference at all? Whatever happens, don't just believe whatever you're told; be sure to ask questions and interrogate the answers.”
Chairman Mr. Reid told the members that they were part of something “momentous”
“It's probably the most extensive and engaged discussion on the issue of drug use that has ever been held in the state's history,” he said.
“So, we all really are a part of something that has the potential to be really very significant. And there’s not too many times in our life, our professional careers or indeed our personal lives that we get a chance to be involved in something that really has the potential to be as significant and I certainly cherish that opportunity. And I know talking to many of you over the course of yesterday evening and indeed this morning you do so too.”
Mr Reid emphasized that, while the members' input was valuable, it would be them who had the final say in decision-making.
“The only people who make decisions that come out of this assembly are yourselves,” he said.
“You are the people who will draft recommendations, you are the people who will vote on recommendations. So, the public debate and various stakeholders who are involved in this debate are important and have views but you are the only people who will make the decisions in this room on this assembly related to this drug use.”
He exclaimed, “It's a remarkable opportunity! I'm delighted to join you all here. We are in a position to bring about meaningful improvements and changes that will make a real difference.”