Drug possession reforms to be discussed by Ministers

Catherine Byrne to present expert report that does not recommend decriminalisation

Minister of State at the Department of Health Catherine Byrne is expected to bring to Cabinet an expert report on the personal possession of illegal drugs. Photograph: Nick Bradshaw

Minister of State at the Department of Health Catherine Byrne is expected to bring to Cabinet an expert report on the personal possession of illegal drugs. Photograph: Nick Bradshaw

 

The Cabinet is set to discuss a series of proposals for first and second cautions for those who are caught with drugs in their personal possession.

The Minister of State for the National Drugs Strategy in the Department of Health, Catherine Byrne, is expected to bring to Cabinet and later publish an expert report on the personal possession of illegal drugs which will not recommend decriminalisation. Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan was strongly opposed to any plan for decriminalisation.

Mr Flanagan is expected to bring separate proposals to set up a working group to consider specific offences for people who groom children in relation to drug crime.

That group will consist of officials from the Department of Justice and the Garda among others, sources say.

It comes after a report by the University of Limerick found that children younger than 12 years old, in both rural and urban areas, are being groomed into organised criminal networks.

Children were likely to be groomed into criminal activity by an older family member, the 2017 study found. If the child was not related to members of a crime network, they were more likely to be introduced into the gang through a young “recruiter” closer to their own age.

Recommendations

The Cabinet is due to meet tomorrow in Donegal and is expected to discuss a series of proposals made by the expert group on personal drug possession. The expert group was chaired by Mr Justice Garrett Sheehan. The report is understood to make recommendations for adult cautions where personal possession is discovered.

There are three main recommendations. The first is for one adult caution, the second for a system of multiple adult cautions and the third centres on a diversion programme whereby drug users would be directed towards potential health interventions.

Sources said an implementation plan for the proposals would also be discussed by Government Ministers. The announcement of the plan for drug possession has been delayed a number of times.

Multiple meetings

Multiple meetings have been held between the Department of Justice and the Department of Health in order to decide what recommendations should be made to Cabinet on the issue.

Under the existing Garda Adult Caution Scheme, a caution is applied to an offender as an alternative to prosecution in the courts and possible criminal record. That scheme was introduced in 2006 primarily to deal with minor offences committed by first-time offenders.

Labour Senator Aodhán Ó Ríordáin said: “The approach that appears to be favoured falls short of what campaigners have been advocating for, an entirely health-led approach to drug use and addiction.

“The delay of a year speaks to the prioritisation of the issue at the heart of Government. Use of adult caution at the behest of a Garda superintendent is still operating in the bankrupt practice of a moralistic approach and victim blaming.”

In 2015, the Oireachtas Committee on Justice recommended the introduction of a harm-reducing and rehabilitative approach, where the possession of a small amount of illegal drugs for personal use could be dealt with by way of a “civil or administrative response” rather than through the criminal justice route.

The Government’s national drugs strategy then committed to setting up the expert group.