Fire damages Dublin 'head shop'

Wed, Feb 17, 2010, 00:00

The Labour Party has called for the fast-tracking of legislation to outlaw so-called legal highs as an investigation into fires at two Dublin "head shops" continue.

Speaking today, Joe Costello, Labour TD for Dublin South Central and a member of the Inner City Drugs Task Force, said there was anger among local people about products sold in head shops in the capital. He also voiced concern about the possibility of someone being seriously injured in a head shop fire.

A forensic examination is to be carried out later today to determine what caused a fire which broke out at the Happy Hippy head shop on North Frederick Street last night.

No one was injured in the fire, which broke out shortly before 9.30pm, but there was some minor damage to the front of the building.

On Friday, the Nirvana head shop and a number of neighbouring outlets on Capel Street were destroyed in a fire which began around the same time local residents reported hearing a loud bang coming from the outlet at 6am on Friday.

The blaze quickly engulfed the shop and two adjacent retail units. Five units of the Dublin Fire Brigade, including units from Tara Street, Phibsborough and North Strand stations, brought the blaze under control at 11am, although the fire was not fully extinguished until about 5pm.

Gardaí are treating the Capel Street fire as arson although the exact cause of the blaze may never be known because most of the building has had to be demolished for safety reasons.

Although a link between the two fires has not yet been established there has been speculation that the incidents are related to a widespread campaign to outlaw such outlets.

There have also been suggestions the fires may be linked to action undertaken by inner city drug dealers upset over the amount of money being made from legal highs.

The owner of the Nirvana outlet, Jim Bellamy said last week he believed his shop had been targeted because of a “disgusting” media campaign conducted against outlets such as his in recent months.

Almost €500,000 in cash was found under the floorboards of the Nirvana head shop following the fire, which is believed to have been the proceeds of Mr Bellamy’s retail business, which includes head shops and adult stores.

Regulations which will outlaw a range of products sold as legal highs in head shops across the State are expected to be introduced later this year.

However, Mr Costello today called for legislation to be brought forward to outlaw such products within weeks.

"There has been real anger in the local community over the failure of the authorities to act in relation to head shops because a lot of young people around the area are customers buying products from them which mimic illegal drugs.

"It certainly seems too much of a coincidence that there has been two such fires within days, and there is a real concern that these shops are being targeted, and there is a worry that not enough action is being taken either to stop the selling of these products or to protect people living near head shops who could be hurt in a fire,” he added.

The Labour Party has put forward legislation aimed at ensuring that head shops must obtain separate planning applications for change of use of retail outlets to allow local communities to raise objections to them.

It also called on the Government to follow Britain in including legal highs in the Misuse of Drugs Act and banning them.

“I’d like to see us do this by a statutory Instrument in three weeks and think that this in itself would curtail a lot of the activities of premises of this nature and thereby address the concerns of the local community,” said Mr Costello.

Earlier today, Fine Gael's health spokesman Dr James Reilly called for an amendment to the Finance Bill, currently going through the Dáil, to require head shops to have an operating licence.

Speaking in the Dáil, Dr Reilly said there is sufficient evidence of the health threat posed by the products on sale in such shops which should see them subject to licensing.

“The sale of alcohol is subject to licensing laws and opening hours regulation but head shops can operate on a 24-hour basis regardless of the substances they are selling," he said.

“Must we wait until some one dies after taking a substance on sale in a head shop? Or is it the Government’s strategy to hope that they burn down one by one? This has been going on long enough, and it is well past time that we use the mechanisms at our disposal to protect our young people from this serious health threat," Dr Reilly added.