A CORK woman whose brother died after taking a synthetic drug says plans for a Citizens Assembly on drugs is a monumental task which must be adequately resourced.
The Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael, Green Party Programme for Government promises to set up a ‘Citizens Assembly’ on drugs to come up with ways to tackle the increase in drug addiction and abuse in society.
Alex Ryan, aged 18, from Millstreet died after consuming the synthetic drug, N-bomb, at a party in Cork city in January 2016.
His sister Nicole has since set up a drug awareness programme in his memory, aimed at educating young people about the dangers of drugs, called Alex’s Adventure.
She is concerned that convening a Citizens Assembly to consider matters relating to drug use is both vague and vast.
“It is a very vague statement and there are a lot of things to consider,” she said.
She believes education around drugs is key to helping the next generation understand the dangers of substance use.
“This is a fantastic idea but there will have to be proper care and planning involved. The work that will have to go into this is huge and who will be able to undertake it?”
Independent Cork city councillor Mick Finn is a youth worker with the Cork Education and Training Board and a member of the Cork Local Drug and Alcohol Task Force. He says his work in schools and as a city councillor has made him realise the devastation caused by drug misuse in communities.
“A Citizens Assembly looking at the drugs issue is a great idea as many of those making policy decisions in government are far removed from frontline reality...but the makeup of the Assembly must reflect all in society.
“We need to look at dealing with those most seriously addicted to hard drugs in a medical rather than criminal fashion. Such a strategy has worked elsewhere and we have great examples in our own community of former addicts who have triumphed over drug use with the right treatment plans.”
He believes the issue of injecting centres for heroin addicts must be looked at as a way of getting them into recovery.
“Putting them in jail is hardly the right approach. But we need a parallel increasing of Garda powers to hit known suppliers — big and small — without huge burdens of evidence being thrown in their way,” he said.
He also highlighted a need to roll out programmes in schools.
The Irish Council of Civil Liberties, headed up by Corkman Liam Herrick, has also welcomed the proposal in the Programme for Government.
“Overall we think it’s a very positive step and we will certainly be engaging with the Citizens Assembly. Our view is that drug policy should be led by evidence and grounded in human rights.”
Labour local area representative in Cork, Peter Horgan, said: “The Labour Party position is to welcome this move towards a Citizens Assembly on drug policy but it does need to move at a faster pace and be implemented.
"My personal view is that I would like to see matters like this dealt with in a faster manner to deal with the issue of drug abuse.
"Not everything that goes to the Citizens Assembly gets resolved and there was a citizens assembly elected (the Dáil) in February to handle these issues. That’s my personal viewpoint on it.”