THE Government’s decision to establish a Citizens’ Assembly on drugs use has been warmly welcomed by campaigners and politicians in Cork.
The Citizens’ Assembly will consist of 99 members of the general public and an independent chair. It will be asked to consider the legislative, policy, and operational changes the State could make to significantly reduce the harmful impacts of illicit drugs on individuals, families, communities, and wider society.
Drug policy reform campaigner Martin Condon, from Ballyvolane, said the establishment of the Citizens’ Assembly is long overdue.
“The current drug prohibition has failed and it is much more harmful to society to continue with this failed policy.
"A new approach is needed. Hopefully, the assembly will give direction and the direction will be followed by the policymakers,” he said.
“The best thing that is going to happen with the Citizens’ Assembly is that there is going to be a conversation.
“Policymakers will no longer be able to shy away from these issues that have been raised for a long time. I along with many others have been contacting the last number of ministers with responsibility for a national drugs strategy and the health minister, but we have been met with ignorance. I don’t think that they can continue to shy away from the fact that we need reform of our drug policy.”
Disability activist Evie Nevin from Clonakilty, who suffers from Ehlers-Danlos syndrome, said it is time for a mature conversation.
“I think more people see the sense in treating drug use in a different way. It is time for a mature conversation. It is better that it is decriminalised and we take more of a health-led approach.”
Fianna Fáil TD Christopher O’Sullivan also welcomed the establishment of the Citizens’ Assembly. “We are fighting a losing battle unfortunately with drug use, particularly in city areas, but rural areas like West Cork aren’t free from issues with drugs.
"The most important thing is that we act on the recommendations.”
Fine Gael TD for Cork North Central Colm Burke said it is time to delve deeper into the issues around drug use. He added the Citizens’ Assembly will allow us to see if and where there is a need for change.
Green Party councillor Dan Boyle said we need to get the balance right. “Is drug use a health issue? Is drug use a justice issue? For those who use drugs and are addicted to drugs, the system has not always got that balance right between health and justice. We need a more health-based approach.”