New group to consider alternatives to criminal convictions for drug possession

The Government today (Thursday) announced the establishment of a working group which will consider the possibility of penalties other than criminal convictions for people found in possession of illegal drugs for their own use. 

The Working Group will be chaired by retired Judge of the Court of Appeal Garret Sheehan and will hold its first meeting on Monday, December 11. 

A Joint Oireachtas Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality report had recommended "a harm-reducing and rehabilitative approach" to possession of small amounts of illegal drugs. 

As a result of that report, the Working Group will now commission research to examine approaches taken in other jurisdictions to the possession of drugs for personal use. 

There will be a public consultation process to allow "all interested persons and organisations the opportunity to inform the development of the recommendations."

The Working Group has been asked to report back to the relevant Ministers within 12 months. 

Catherine Byrne, the Minister for Health Promotion and the National Drugs Strategy, said: "A humane and people-centred approach to people who use drugs is at the heart of our new drugs strategy ‘Reducing Harm, Supporting Recovery.’ 

"Many people who use drugs come into contact with the criminal justice system and acquire criminal convictions either directly or indirectly related to their drug use. 

"Criminal convictions can represent a serious impediment for people, particularly in the areas of access to employment, housing and travel. Therefore, it is appropriate that two people who have used drugs will be part of the Working Group so that their lived experience can inform the deliberations." 

Minister for Health, Simon Harris TD said “The Programme for a Partnership Government contains a firm commitment to support a health-led rather than criminal justice approach to drugs use. 

"We need to ensure people affected by drug problems are given every opportunity to recover from addiction and get on with their lives. 

"The establishment of this Working Group is therefore an important first step towards finding a more rehabilitative response to people who use illegal substances."

Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan also welcomed the establishment of the working group. 

"While this is a sensitive policy issue for many people, we have to be cognisant of drug policy developments over the years, and the trend internationally towards less punitive approaches to the possession of small quantities of drugs for personal use," he said. 

"At the same time, we must ensure that the public is protected from dangerous or potentially dangerous and harmful substances."