The refusal of planning permission for the State's first supervised injection centre by Dublin City Council has been described as one which would "put lives at risk".
Merchants Quay Ireland, a drug addiction charity, had applied to open the injection centre in Dublin 8. Permission had been sought to redevelop part of the charity's existing building to create seven injecting booths at basement level. It would have catered for up to 100 drug users per day.
The Government approved legislation to exempt drug users from possession charges in designated facilities back in February 2017; however, plans to open an injection centre have since been beset by delays.
A large number of local businesses and politicians opposed the planned facility, which would be located in the Liberties area.
In a decision issued on Thursday, Dublin City Council refused planning permission for the centre for a number of reasons. There was an “overconcentration of social support services in the Dublin 8 area” and the planning proposal lacked a “robust policing plan”, the decision said.
However, An Garda Síochána had refused to provide a policing plan for the facility prior to the centre receiving planning approval, for fear of influencing the process.
The local authority’s decision said “it is considered that the proposed development would undermine the existing local economy, in particular the growing tourism economy”. Opening the centre would have a negative impact on local residents, and “hinder the future regeneration of the area”, it said.
The planning refusal can be appealed to An Bord Pleanála.
Merchants Quay Ireland chief executive Paula Byrne said the council's decision was "deeply disappointing" and it would put lives at risk.
“In 2016, 736 people in Ireland died from drug-related causes, the fourth-highest rate in Europe, and every indicator suggests that this number is increasing,” she said.
International research showed that supervised injection facilities helped to reduce public drug injecting, and overdose rates, she said.
“We will review Dublin City Council’s decision and consider our next steps. In the meantime, we will continue to advocate for people in addiction,” she said.
The injection centre was to open for an 18-month trial period, and Merchants Quay Ireland was awarded the contract to run the facility following a procurement competition.
Niamh Randall, head of advocacy at homeless charity Respond Housing, said the decision was disappointing, and that injection centres reduced harm for drug users, particularly homeless users.
Catherine Byrne, Minister of State for the National Drugs Strategy, was on Friday adamant that the Government is backing proposals for supervised injection centres. “We want it, we need it, we don’t want to see people dying on the streets,” she told RTÉ Radio’s News at One. “This is Government policy, it is in my own constituency,” she added.
Ms Byrne said she was “very disappointed at this missed opportunity”, as similar schemes worked well in other countries and were helping to save lives. “This is a pilot project. Our neighbours in Northern Ireland, England and Scotland are looking at the process.”
She said she believed that supervised injection rooms can help addicts and the surrounding communities. The decision to reject the planning application had been taken by Dublin City Council, with whom she has no role, she said.
“They cannot be interfered with. This is not being delayed by Government.”