Garda commissioner ‘welcomes rational debate’ on decriminalisation of drugs

Nóirín O’Sullivan addresses range of issues before Oireachtas justice committee

 Garda Commissioner Nóirín O’Sullivan,  on her way into Leinster House   to give evidence to the Oireachtas committee on justice. Photograph: Alan Betson/The Irish Times

Garda Commissioner Nóirín O’Sullivan, on her way into Leinster House to give evidence to the Oireachtas committee on justice. Photograph: Alan Betson/The Irish Times

 

Garda commissioner Nóirín O’Sullivan has said she would “welcome a rational and constructive debate” on the decriminalisation of possession of small quantities of drugs. Ms O’Sullivan she said she had “a very deep interest” in the area after spending many years working in the Garda National Drugs Unit. She was speaking yesterday before the Oireachtas Committee on Justice.

“It’s a very, very complex area,” she said. “From an enforcement and supply reduction perspective, we’re very focused on that, but we also have a role to play in terms of harm reduction.

“Our people and our drugs bureau work very closely in terms of the National Drugs Strategy and the pillars of the National Drugs Strategy. We work with a number of agencies as well.

“I very much welcome a rational and constructive debate around the issue because I think it’s something that needs a lot of joined-up thinking and people to work together to ensure harm reduction and demand reduction initiatives that work best are put in place.” She added that the Garda “would certainly welcome the opportunity to contribute to any further discussions” in relation to policy.

On violent crime, Ms O’Sullivan also said “focused” electronic tagging of repeat or violent offenders “can be beneficial”. “We’re always looking at ways to ensure the management of offenders is better managed,” she said. “Tagging – and learning from the experience of other jurisdictions – can be beneficial but it’s complex. What could be very beneficial is a very targeted and focused use of tagging in relation to specific types of offenders.”

In terms of bail laws, Ms O’Sullivan said offenders had a “constitutional right to bail and an entitlement to due process”. “The bail laws and the application of bail is a matter for the courts,” she added. “There are opportunities for the Garda to look for conditions and that is done regularly. They are enforced rigorously by the Garda.”

The commissioner also talked about rural crime and the deployment of Garda resources. “The statistics show burglaries are down in rural areas and up in urban areas – but statistics sometimes are not helpful.

“What we have is the launch of Operation Thor, to target crime in both rural and urban areas. We have a commitment that Templemore will not shut again and that there will be ongoing recruitment in the region of 300 a year, accounting for retirements.”

On the issue of policing Border counties such as Co Louth, where Garda Tony Golden was shot dead by a dissident republican, Ms O’Sullivan said there was “regular exchange of intelligence” between the PSNI and the Garda. “The Border counties are very unique and complex,” she said. “Having a second colleague murdered there [in that region] places a huge burden on the resilience of the officers.”