Timing of Citizen’s Assembly on drugs shows Government ‘out of touch’, Dáil told

Minister of State says sequencing of debates does not imply ‘a hierarchy of importance’

TDs have questioned the Government’s priorities after it emerged that a Citizen’s Assembly on a directly elected mayor for Dublin will take place ahead of one on the issue of drug use.

Assemblies examining whether a directly elected Dublin mayor should be considered and the issue of biodiversity are due to run concurrently from April. Assemblies on drug use and the future of education have also been announced, but they are not expected to take place until next year.

People Before Profit TD Gino Kenny said the Government’s decision to “delay a citizen’s assembly on drug use is an affront to the debate”.

“How any government can priortise a directly elected mayor to the urgent debate around drug use is beyond comprehension,” he said.


“Let’s give this context, this issue has been delayed for decades, while thousands of people die and rot. The assembly that should be in the dock is not the citizen’s assembly, it’s this assembly.

“This assembly, for decades, has left communities rot, thousands of people should be alive today if it wasn’t for the antiquated laws around drug use.”

The Dublin Mid-West TD said there were "elements" of the Government that did not want progress on the issue of drug use, "backward elements in Fine Gael and Fianna Fail that have no interest in this issue at all".

“They want to see people rot and die and be decrepit because they are happy with the status quo,” he added.

‘Out of touch’

Solidarity TD Mick Barry said the sequencing of the assemblies highlighted "how out of touch" the Government was. The Cork North-Central TD said communities in his constituency were "absolutely plagued" by drug-dealing with lives "wrecked and even lost by misuse".

“The war on drugs strategy clearly has failed and there’s a clear need for alternative strategies and a real debate on them,” he added. “The Government think that an elected mayor for Dublin is more important than this, then you are quite simply living on another planet.”

Social Democrats TD Cian O’Callaghan said there was an absolute urgency in the area of drugs and addiction and there should be a citizen’s assembly being launched “right now” by the Government.

“There’s no time for any delay on this and there’s no justification for that whatsoever,” he said.

Independent TD Joan Collins said it was "absolutely astounding" that a citizen's assembly on a directly elected mayor for Dublin would take place ahead of one on drug use. The Dublin South Central TD called on the Government to reconsider the timelines or have three assemblies run concurrently.

Fianna Fáil TD Paul McAuliffe said while his "number one priority" for a citizens assembly was to deal with drug use, the local government system was "broken".

"It is a system which we inherited from Victorian England and despite that jurisdiction reforming local government like many across Europe, Ireland remains stuck with that Victorian model, further limited by increasing centralisation," he said.

No hierarchy

Minister of State Jack Chambers said the sequencing of the assemblies did not indicate or imply "a hierarchy of importance".

“It is, however, a recognition that each of the four assemblies committed to in the Programme for Government all need the adequate time, space and resources to operate to high quality deliberative forums that they are intended to be,” he said.

“It would simply not be feasible to run more than two assemblies in parallel. Indeed, much remains to be seen about the benefits and downsides in running two assemblies consecutively.”

Sarah Burns

Sarah Burns

Sarah Burns is a reporter for The Irish Times