Junior minister for drugs strategy admits smoking cannabis in past

Hildegarde Naughton says there is a need for an ‘open and honest’ conversation on drug use

Minister of State with responsibility for the National Drugs Strategy Hildegarde Naughton.: said one in four people surveyed by the Health Research Board had said they tried illegal drugs in their lifetimes. Photograph: Alan Betson

Government chief whip Hildegarde Naughton has admitted to smoking cannabis in her 20s, saying there is a need for an “open and honest” conversation in society about drug use.

Ms Naughton, who is also Minister of State with responsibility for the National Drugs Strategy, moved the Dáil motion to establish the upcoming Citizens’ Assembly on drugs.

She told reporters on Wednesday morning that she had tried the drug in her 20s, in Ireland.

She said that after trying the drug, she decided it “wasn’t for me”. She said one in four people surveyed by the Health Research Board had said they tried illegal drugs in their lifetimes.


In the context of the upcoming Citizens’ Assembly, she said an open and honest conversation should be had about drug use and “how then that feeds into policy, and that’s what I want as minister with responsibility for drugs policy”.

She said it was important to hear the “lived experience of those who use drugs”.

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Her party colleague and fellow Minister of State Neale Richmond said he had tried cannabis in the Netherlands, where it is legal. He said he had a “horrible experience”.

Minister for Public Expenditure Paschal Donohoe, as well as Fine Gael Senators Barry Ward and Mary Seery Kearney both said they had never used drugs.

They were speaking after an early morning canvass in Dublin city centre to promote the Government’s latest cost-of-living measures.

Minister for Justice Simon Harris left the engagement with reporters before the politicians present were asked about past drug use.

However, Mr Harris urged anyone with knowledge of drug use in Leinster House to go to the Garda. He was responding to a contribution on Tuesday in the Dáil from Sinn Féin TD Dessie Ellis who suggested cocaine has become a “major substance” in Irish society and is seen everywhere, “even in Dáil Éireann”.

Mr Harris said he had never heard of cocaine use in Leinster House, but “if anyone has knowledge of anybody in relation to that, of course those matters should be reported to the gardaí.

“The taking of such drugs is illegal, and it’s my job as minister for justice, funnily enough, to stand behind the laws of the country to support the gardaí and their work in relation to this matter.”

He said the “reality of the situation is there is a very significant prevalence of drug use in our country”, drawing a distinction between “social, casual or recreational drug taking” and drug addiction.

Scourge of addiction

Asked if, given the prevalence of drugs in wider society, would it surprise him if there was drug use in Leinster House, he said it would surprise him if there was any group in society where there wasn’t drug use. He said he favoured a health-led approach to addiction but said there was a “world of difference” between that and calling out recreational drug use which funded criminal gangs.

He said issues such as the decriminalisation of drug possession for personal use should be teased out at the Citizens’ Assembly. “The harm of drugs and the harm that drugs are causing to communities and the misery and the intimidation is something that can’t be overlooked in any conversation that we have.”

Mr Harris said there was a need to differentiate between “the scourge of addiction” and links between casual drug use and criminality. Challenged on how to differentiate between casual use and addiction he said he didn’t think it was “that fuzzy”.

“I certainly get the difference,” he said.

Pressed on when someone should report drug use, and whether they should do so if someone was an addict, Mr Harris then said it was a matter for anyone to decide who they report to the Garda but that there was a clear difference between addiction and recreational use.

“My very clear view is that the taking of drugs as part of a social setting in our country is far too prevalent. That is not a view I have arrived at on my own, it’s a view I’ve arrived at from engaging with the gardaí, and it is really important that people who make those conscious decisions to take drugs, often in a social setting, understand the direct correlation between the purchase of those drugs and the funding of criminal activity in Ireland,” he said.

Jack Horgan-Jones

Jack Horgan-Jones

Jack Horgan-Jones is a Political Correspondent with The Irish Times