Garda pulled man’s trousers down in drugs search on busy street in Dublin city centre

TD highlights incident as Dáil debates Labour motion calling for decriminalisation of drugs for personal use

A Garda involved in an apparent drugs search of an individual pulled the man’s trousers down to his knees as part of the search in full public view on a busy street in Dublin city centre, the Dáil was told.

Dublin Fingal TD Duncan Smith said he was sitting in his car in traffic on Tuesday morning when he witnessed the incident and “the indignity with which that young man was treated”.

“He was being searched and he was being patted down with his arms out,” and he was wearing a tracksuit.

When the search “got down to the midsection of this young man, the garda pulled his trousers down to his knees to search in and around his boxer shorts area.


“This was a busy street, in massive traffic, in full view of me and I do not know how many others. The traffic moved on, I moved on, and I do not know what the outcome was.”

“All that was done to that individual was the stripping of his dignity and criminalising him,” he said.

Mr Smith was speaking as the Dáil debated a Labour Party motion to decriminalise the use of drugs for personal use, when 70 per cent of all drugs court cases are for personal use.

The motion states that more than 10,500 people have died in the past 25 years of the “law-enforcement approach to drug use” and that Ireland has the joint highest rate in the EU, with Sweden, of drug-related deaths for 16- to 64-year-olds.

Party spokesman Aodhán Ó Riordáin, who introduced the motion, said that “criminalising and stigmatising people in addiction leads to people in the political system undermining and dehumanising people who need support and compassion”.

The Dublin Bay North TD said this stigmatisation of drug users meant that just 28 per cent of GPs in Dublin were involved in methadone programmes with similar issues across the State. People had to travel from Wexford to Dublin to get their methadone as a result.

He said Portugal decriminalised personal drug use more than 20 years ago and this had since resulted in a more than 75 per cent drop in drugs-related overdose deaths with the implementation of a health diversion scheme. But over the past 25 years drugs-related deaths in Ireland rose by 225 per cent.

More than 30 countries have decriminalised drug possession for personal use and Mr Ó Riordain called for a “firm date” to be fixed for the convening a Citizens’ Assembly on drugs, as part of efforts to decriminalise personal drugs use.

Independent TD Violet-Anne Wynne said she was “someone whose partner has been impacted by this issue. I know at first hand the negative consequences of criminalisation, namely, the lasting effects, the anxiety, the shame, the fear and the isolation that come with it, not to mention the stigma.”

Pointing to the 250,000 convictions for personal use over the past 25 years, she said “criminalisation simply has not worked, end of, and there is the social cost of relying on punitive measures that do not deter drug use”.

The Government is not opposing the motion and Minister of State Frankie Feighan said the Government is committed to a Citizens’ Assembly, with the Government expected to consider it early in the new year.

Mr Feighan, who has responsibility for drugs strategy, stressed the Government’s commitment to a health-led approach to drug and alcohol use, and had provided significant additional funding to implement its strategy.

He was disappointed with the national injection facility. An area in Dublin had been identified but “there are issues with this” but he hoped this would get up and running as quickly as possible.

Sinn Féin TD Thomas Gould said drugs taskforces have been waiting 12 years for their funds to be restored. If the Government was sincere about tackling the issue that would be the first thing it did, he said.

Social Democrats TD Gary Gannon said the legal profession has benefited from the war on drugs. Someone who is addicted and arrested a number of times usually has “no more than a couple of hundred euros of drugs” in their pocket.

The solicitor, the judge and the barrister get paid, he said. And when the individual is brought to prison that becomes the €82,000 a year it costs for each inmate.

“The war on drugs hasn’t failed. It has succeeded. It has lined pockets,” and it was middle-class communities that benefited. The war “monetises poverty,” he said.

People Before Profit TD Gino Kenny who has long campaigned for the decriminalisation of the personal use of drugs, said “it’s a damning indictment of successive governments” that the current situation “was allowed to happen and continues to happen”.

He said “lots of people could still be alive” if there was a different policy. The days of the Misuse of Drugs Act are numbered and the past four decades have been “an absolute failure”.

Marie O'Halloran

Marie O'Halloran

Marie O'Halloran is Parliamentary Correspondent of The Irish Times