'Ming' Flanagan quits cannabis to put issues centre stage

Thu, Mar 24, 2011, 00:00

INDEPENDENT TD Luke “Ming” Flanagan says he hopes the media will focus on the issues for which he stands, following his decision to quit smoking cannabis in Ireland.

“I think the media had become addicted to my smoking habits,” the Roscommon-South Leitrim TD told The Irish Timeslast night.

“I hope now that I will receive the same treatment as former taoiseach Brian Cowen, Minister for Transport Leo Varadkar and Fianna Fáil’s Eoin Ryan, all of whom admitted in Hot Pressinterviews to having experienced same,” he said.

Mr Flanagan, who opted to take a 50 per cent pay cut after his election in February, said he took the decision to protect his wife and two children. “I’ve looked at my options and I can continue to smoke cannabis and face a six-month prison sentence and lose my seat in the Dáil, or I can stop.

“It is not an ideal situation, but my wife and children are the most important people on the planet to me and I don’t want my kids to witness the Garda calling to the house.

“I did present myself to the gardaí in Castlerea two weeks ago after some media publicity and told them that I accepted they had a job to do and I wouldn’t make things difficult for them,” he added.

Last week, Fianna Fáil councillor John Coonan said he was writing to gardaí to complain over Mr Flanagan’s professed cannabis use. However, Mr Flanagan said there had been no calls to his house since Mr Coonan’s statement.

Mr Flanagan said that his last joint smoked here was “in the past”, but he did not believe he would be precluded in certain places abroad. He would continue to campaign for the legalisation of cannabis, he said.

Mr Flanagan has been involved for 14 years in politics. In 1997, he stood in the general election in Galway West on a ticket urging the legalisation of cannabis and as a protest candidate against his landlord, Fianna Fáil TD Frank Fahey. He polled 548 votes.

Early in 1998 he presented himself at Mill Street Garda station in Galway, having been convicted for possessing cannabis and having refused to pay the £150 fine. However, he learned his father, Luke, had paid the penalty. His father was dubbed Ming the Merciful from then on.

He ran in the 1999 European elections, polling 5,000 votes in Connacht-Ulster. In 2001, he sent 200 cannabis cigarettes to members of the Oireachtas, as part of his campaign. In the 2004 local elections, he topped the poll in Roscommon and was re-elected in June, then voted in as mayor.

He has criticised the influence of the drinks lobby and has highlighted the rights of turf-cutters affected by the EU-led ban on harvesting in 32 raised bogs. He is committed to social justice issues, to local authority reform and to job creation in the west through tourism and food production.