Misuse of Drugs (Amendment) Bill 2016: Report and Final Stages

Amendments Nos. 1 and 2 are related and may be discussed together by agreement. Is that agreed? Agreed.

I move amendment No. 1:

In page 3, after line 28, to insert the following:

"Amendment of section 3 of Principal Act

3. Section 3 of the Principal Act is amended by the insertion the following subsection:

“(2A) That possession of the substances listed in Part 1 and Part 2 of the Schedule not be subject to prosecution for amounts equating to personal use.".".

Since the UN Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs more than 50 years ago, it has been estimated that governments have collectively spent $100 billion annually on combating drug production, trafficking and use. This is a massive state investment that has had a hugely negative impact. Under this law enforcement approach to drugs, we have seen a thriving drug market with an estimated global increase in drug users of 20%. All around the world, people from all walks of life and all types of professions are calling for the decriminalisation of drugs. In March 2016, 22 medical experts assembled by Johns Hopkins University and The Lancet called for the decriminalisation of possession. In their extensive review of the state of global drug policy, the experts determined that anti-drug policies in the US both directly and indirectly contribute to violence, discrimination, disease and the undermining of people's right to health. They also stated that the excessive use of incarceration as a drugs control measure was identified as the biggest contribution to higher rates of HIV and hepatitis C infection among drug users.

By not accepting this amendment, we are contributing to incarceration as a drugs control measure. Only a few weeks back, the Royal Society for Public Health and the Faculty of Public Health, which are representative of thousands of doctors, called for the personal use and possession of drugs to be decriminalised. They stated that the war on drugs has done more harm than good, so I ask the Minister of State for communities and the national drugs strategy to move towards reducing that harm.

We can take the first step here today by moving addiction from our justice system to our health system.

There was lots of positive talk yesterday and the possibility was raised of a later conversation about decriminalisation. One of the big obstacles to decriminalisation seemed to be that we did not have the legislation in place to deal with it but I went home yesterday and reflected on this. I am not asking to decriminalise drugs but saying that we do not need to further criminalise drugs. This does not need legislation - we just need to stay where we are. We should not add drugs to the list as this will make it harder to legislate at a later date.

We won the moral argument yesterday. We tokenistically speak about the addict and we say how this is a positive move but then we vote against the addict when we deal with the amendments. I ask people today to vote with their consciences, to protect the most vulnerable in society and to avoid backing up our prison system with people who should not be there.

I second the amendment.

I have enjoyed the debate. The Minister knows the Sinn Féin stance on the amendments. We acknowledge the intent of both amendments and agree that most drug users are victims of addiction who are exploited by drug gangs and have been alienated for generations by our institutions, including Government. Sinn Féin policy clearly states that addiction is a public health issue and should be dealt with as such. It is important we avoid criminalising people for the possession of drugs for their own use. Instead, the priority must be to address addiction through enhanced health care and better resourced rehabilitation services. It should be within the policy area of health care and not criminal justice. This must be done in tandem with more robust laws that more effectively target pushers, the big guys and the fat cats that are rolling in it to the detriment of the unfortunate addicts they have created. They must be brought before the courts, charged and jailed. We will support both amendments.

I welcome the Minister and thank her for her very constructive comments yesterday. I thoroughly enjoyed her contributions and feel she gave a great insight into the situation within her own constituency and right across the country. Fianna Fáil welcomes the passage of this Bill, a Bill which has been expected for some time and was expedited in view of recent events. The key objective of the Misuse of Drugs (Amendment) Bill is to amend the Schedule to the Misuse of Drugs Act 1977 by adding to it a number of substances to help law enforcement authorities deal more effectively with the illicit trades in those substances. The debate on this Bill was very constructive and informative and I commend Senator Ruane on her comments. She has great knowledge on this subject, having worked in the area for a number of years. It is time for us to re-evaluate our drugs strategy and to assess it to see what is working and what is not. It is clear that people fall into opiate abuse on a regular basis. We need to have a rational debate on drugs, how we fight them and how we help those who are addicted to them, and we also need to address the broader social issues that can lead people into the trap of addiction.

We need urgency in this area, with a full review of our programmes, community supports, medical supports and therapies available for drug addicts. On the criminal justice side we need to review the supports available to An Garda Síochána and other law enforcement officers of the State to combat the illegal drug trade. While we do not necessarily advocate the decriminalisation of drugs, Fianna Fáil's Dáil health spokesperson has previously questioned whether the criminalisation of all drugs has had the desired outcome. That is a debate we will continue to have and we will have to make a decision on it in the future.

We need to learn lessons and provide more health supports for drug addicts, as well as better access to the programmes that support them. I welcome the Minister's comments in this area yesterday. The fact that addiction can compel addicts into criminal activity has had the consequence that they are reluctant to present when they need medical or therapeutic support. We all know of a revolving door system where addicts get arrested, get processed, participate in rehabilitation programmes and then the cycle starts all over again. We need to break this cycle. The essential thing in any new strategy is that it be responsive to the needs and demands of society, including drug users.

I have spoken on this subject many times over the past 30 years so I will not rehash everything I have said. It is there on the record if anybody wants to be bothered looking at it. When I started talking about these issues I was a lone voice. It is interesting that, in the past number of years, it has been taken up by a number of professionals such as legal people, medical people and, most significantly now, very senior police officers all over Europe. We need to listen to these voices.

People seem to think that drugs have always been outlawed but this is not the case at all. They were only outlawed in the 20th century. Victorian ladies regularly took laudanum in their drawing rooms and lots of them smoked joints. It was actually the drugs companies which launched the campaign to criminalise drugs as they were not getting a profit from them. We need a historical perspective and to take into account the fact that, in increasing volume, many professionals are now saying that this approach was wrong. It has wasted huge amounts of police resources and money but resulted only in an increase in the price of drugs. The drugs barons, of course, welcomed this as their profits went up but that is all it has succeeded in doing and that is a tragedy. It is sad that so many people, particularly young people, seek relief from reality, a reality which is unattractive to them and from which they want to escape. That is a pity but we have to address the situation with honesty and realism rather than with a cloud cuckoo land total ban on everything. We need to be subtle and sophisticated in the way we approach the subject and I strongly support the amendments.

Can I move Senator Aodhán Ó Ríordáin's amendment?

It has already been proposed and seconded but the Senator can discuss it.

They were grouped. There were two amendments.

Amendments Nos. 1 and 2 are related and may be discussed together. Amendment No. 2 can be moved formally when amendment No. 1 is disposed of.

Then I will wait for amendment No. 2.

The Senator may discuss it now.

I will discuss it now and formally move it in due course. The Senator spoke with great passion and what he has proposed is a pragmatic approach that allows us to achieve exactly what the Minister seeks to achieve with the Misuse of Drugs (Amendment) Bill 2016 but helps us not to criminalise the poor unfortunate person who has the addiction. This does not propose a defence for drug pushers but for the unfortunate person who is ill with addiction, the effects of which are felt also by his or her family.

The war on drugs has been an outright and total disaster. I represent an inner city community which has seen the effects of drugs and all the efforts of police to tackle it, which were all done in good faith, have got us nowhere.

The way it has been treated in urban areas is that people are brought into the heart of the city centre, especially for methadone treatment, where the pushers can easily get at them, for example, in places like Trinity Court. There is a triangle of addiction centres. On my way to the Seanad last week I noticed people who had come in for treatment who evidently wanted to be helped but the pushers were hanging around trying to push drugs on them.

When I started my political career an effort was made to establish satellite clinics, which were hugely resisted by local communities. I recall being at one very heated meeting where I spoke in favour of the satellite methadone clinics where communities would work with families and the person with the addiction, in small numbers. That was resisted in a hot and heavy way in my electoral area. I was told I would never get elected due to my support for community methadone clinics. Despite that, I was re-elected. The satellite clinic was opened and operated very well for people with addictions and their families. We were able to connect local counselling services with the clinic and many people that went to the satellite clinic were able to reintegrate into society and the workforce and they became active members of their families with the help of several agencies. Unfortunately, the satellite clinic was closed by the HSE and people with addictions were referred to major centres such as Trinity Court with the result that they went down the slippery slope again. The very people who protested against the satellite clinic came back to me and said their cousin or brother went to it and that it worked very effectively. They admitted they were wrong and asked for the clinic to be reopened. They realised that sending people to the large treatment centres in Dublin city centre does not help people with addiction. Those with addictions are not supported and pushers are facilitated to be able access a large market and to sell their goods. I hope that issue will be addressed in the drugs strategy. Amendment No. 2 is a good, pragmatic amendment and I hope the Minister of State will tell us she can accept it.

I support the Minister of State in bringing forward the Bill and I believe the amendments will cause complications in the legal process in terms of prosecuting pushers. The Minister of State has taken advice and, as I understand it, the Government will not be accepting the amendments as they are drafted.

In fairness, the Minister of State outlined yesterday that there is a proposal to introduce comprehensive legislation on the matter and we must set up the structures to provide for that. All the contributions have been very constructive but we must ensure that what was proposed is acted on, and we must bring forward comprehensive legislation to deal with what is set out in the amendments. However, I do not believe we can accommodate it in this Bill. What is proposed must be properly planned out and carefully put in place so that legal technicalities are not being used in the courts in order to get pushers off, as they are the very people we aim to target in bringing forward the Bill. The Minister of State has set out her position, and will do so again, on the reason the Government will not support the amendments this evening.

I bow to some extent to Senator Colm Burke’s knowledge of the law. After all, he is a solicitor, but I do not accept that the amendments, which are very good, cannot be included by way of a further amendment by the Government if it is considered the measures are not watertight. I do not like the approach whereby the issue is pushed further out and must wait for another round of legislation. We have listened to that approach for too long.

When people talk about the drug problem sometimes the perception is that it is confined to cities, but I come from a rural area and in my town of Carrick-on-Suir, in Clonmel, Waterford, Cahir and Cashel the situation is every bit as bad. The same population is not affected but it is every bit as bad on a pro rata basis and that fact is sometimes forgotten.

I was a member of the first drugs task force that was set up in the south east. I represented Tipperary County Council. Like other Senators said, we adopted in good faith a set of policies that we thought would tackle the issue. We did not know enough about the problem at the time as it was a developing one, especially in rural areas. It is a fact that can be verified by the Minister of State or anyone else, that the worst location for the trafficking of drugs in the south east is a little village where I worked myself in a resource centre for many years called Glengoole. The Garda will confirm that its system shows the worst amount of trafficking and exchanges of drugs happened in that village. People have probably never heard of this little village outside Thurles with a population of approximately 300 people, but for some reason there is a great deal of drug activity there. Drug trafficking is happening all around us in rural areas and in cities.

We are not addressing the issue. We have made many attempts to do so but we have failed. I do not apportion blame to anybody in this room in the Government or anywhere else. Society has failed. We have failed because initially we did not realise the level and depth of the problem. I have seen young people in my town. One in particular – I will not go into the details – is an outstanding sportsman who represented his country and he was destroyed by drugs. Thanks be to God he got his life back together and he is back in society. He is cured for the moment but nobody knows whether the cure will be long term.

Yesterday I walked to Leinster House in the rain at 9 a.m. from where I was staying. The first person I saw on the street was a young man drinking a can of cider. The next person I saw was a young man shooting up. That is what is happening on the streets of this city at 9 o'clock in the morning. Anybody can see that any morning if they walk in through the city. It does not matter which part of the city. Some people try to categorise the situation and to put it in a box. We cannot allow that to continue. The amendments that have been tabled by both Senators are aimed at trying to help people who are afflicted by drugs.

Senator Colm Burke, perhaps in discussion with the Minister of State, outlined that the Bill cannot deal with the amendments. Any Bill can deal with any amendment if the will is there. If the Government has the will to change the amendment to take into account what the legal mind of Senator Colm Burke, whom I fully respect, is saying, then that can be done. I urge the Minister of State even at this late stage to have another think about the amendments, even if we have to defer debate on the Bill until next week, because by the time we get another chance to do this and go through the rigmarole of putting together new legislation it could be another year. One could ask how many more lives will be lost or ruined going into courts. I refer to harmless people who are caught up in drugs who are sent to prison. A speaker yesterday referred to a young man who wanted to join the Army who could not join if he had a criminal record. I urge the Minister of State to rethink her decision. If, as indicated by her colleague, Senator Colm Burke, she will not accept the amendments, she should hold back, take a deep breath and postpone any decision until next week.

Yesterday we had a very long debate on the Bill with the Minister of State, Deputy Catherine Byrne. I came in with one view and I listened to the Minister of State but I subsequently took time to go to a centre in Dún Laoghaire yesterday evening because I thought it was important. A number of Senators said to me afterwards that nothing would happen and that the Minister of State would not bring in legislation. As I said to her yesterday, she made a very impressive contribution but the reality is that the Government has indicated that it will not accept either of the amendments. I referred yesterday to the four detox beds in Dublin. I replayed what she said, which was to the effect that she could not guarantee anything. That is not good enough.

The scourge of drugs has bedevilled and ripped out the heart of every community in this country. It knows no bounds. It has touched every family. The Minister of State knows that and I know it. Brothers and sisters, mothers and fathers - everyone is affected.

With all due respect to the Minister of State, who I believe is an outstanding Minister and has a track record unlike many, 40 detox beds in Dublin is unacceptable. Addressing that must be a priority for the Government. When we talk about detox and people wanting rehabilitation, where are they to move on to if there are only 40 detox beds available?

I am now of the view that we have to push it. The Government has indicated that it is not prepared to take on these amendments. Will the Minister of State be back here in September or October with legislation to deal with these issues? If not, we have to push these amendments, because people are expecting us to do something. I know the Minister of State is aware of these critical issues, that there are difficulties and constraints and it takes a long time to roll out programmes. Will the Minister of State give us a reassurance on the timeframe during which she can introduce the comprehensive and improved legislation that she talked about?

I thank Senators for their contributions. We had a long discussion about this yesterday,

Several weeks ago I requested to meet Senators Ruane and Black because I know they have long experience of working in drug addiction services and with families. We had a long discussion and analysis. I want to meet people who have a passion to do something for people who get trapped in drug addiction. That is why I have made it my business to contact most groups and representatives in the Dáil and Seanad. I am not finished, as there are a few people I still would like to speak to. When the public consultation is announced, there will be a voice for everybody to explain what is right and what is wrong about the national drugs strategy and what can be done better in the new one. The public consultation process will be advertised and will make a significant contribution to the new national drugs strategy. I will be overseeing how it will be put together. If something is worth putting in it, as Minister of State I am going to push it.

Senator Clifford-Lee is correct that the legislation was introduced because of the recent happenings in Dublin’s north inner city. However, it is not only the north inner city that is affected. Drug addiction is a significant problem in areas in my constituency of Dublin South Central, such as Crumlin, Drimnagh, Ballyfermot, and even Inchicore. It is the innocent victims, however, who are most affected. It is not the people who have the fancy cars, fancy houses and do not live in the country. They are the people this legislation is about.

I have sat up nights to listen to Senator Norris speaking in the Chamber. He speaks not only about where he comes from, but from the years of experience he has in here. However, I cannot stand here as a citizen, a mother or grandmother and agree with him that people should be allowed smoke illegal drugs. I cannot agree with him. It is not in my psyche.

Senator Boyhan is correct that there are 40 detox beds in Dublin. I had a meeting this morning with the HSE and called for a proper consultation on whom these beds are for and how people are treated, particularly young people. If a mother came into my constituency clinic tomorrow and asked if she could have a son or daughter put into a detox bed tomorrow, I honestly would not be able to tell her where to go. I intend making it my business to do that. Take somebody aged 15 who is asked to carry packages of illegal drugs across the road or give them to people on motorbikes and in cars, which I witness on the street where I live. That is where young people are brought into a system. They are the ones who start taking drugs for whatever reason and then it escalates. If I had a 16 year old child who needed a detox bed, we would have to have it for him or her. We have to make a conscious effort in this regard. That is why I believe in the national drugs strategy. We will have to isolate certain issues and think outside the box. To me this is not a political issue but a human issue.

I live in an area ravaged by drugs. I will not go into it again as I went into it yesterday. All Senators here are just as capable of speaking about it as I am. My job here today is to pass legislation to deal with some substances that are actually legal drugs. Last night, I picked up a box of tablets prescribed for my husband. On the label, it said the drugs should not be taken by anybody else, but only the person for whom they are prescribed. If somebody with X amount of legal prescription drugs decides to sell them, then, to me, that is a crime and a criminal offence. Prescriptions always state the drug should not be given to anyone else without consulting with a doctor. We all have medications in presses at home. Often, when somebody would say they are sick, we might say we have some of that medicine and they can take it. That is the wrong attitude. Those drugs are prescribed for one person and should not be sold on to anybody else.

I agree that this problem is in every town and village. I know as I have relatives living in isolated rural areas who tell me what is going on 100 metres away from their homes. This is not just about Dublin but across the country. The programme for Government states clearly that there will be a review of the local drugs task forces and an expansion of them. In my opinion, we do not need any more in Dublin but we need to look at putting services around the country. Just because one lives in a little village, it does not mean one is isolated from drug addiction.

Last night, I looked at the Portuguese and Australian models around the decriminalisation of drugs. The report from the Joint Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality on the possession of small amounts of illegal drugs stated, “The committee recommends that research be taken to ensure that an option of an alternative approach be appropriate in the Irish context.”

There are unintended consequences to both of the proposed amendments. The effect of Senator Ruane’s amendment is that no person can be prosecuted for possessing a quantity of controlled drugs for personal use. Overnight, it would become effectively legal to possess ecstasy, N-bombs or any of the other drugs which were re-controlled by emergency legislation last year. We are reminded constantly of the headlines about Ireland legalising drugs last year. We do not need to read in tomorrow’s newspapers that Senators voted to stop prosecutions for possession of dangerous drugs.

That is what they are. I have a list of them here which goes on and on. I cannot pronounce the names of half of them.

The effect of Senator Ó Ríordáin's proposed amendment would be that a person charged with an offence under the Act, for example, with the importation, manufacture or possession of a controlled drug, could use as a defence that his or her possession of a controlled drug is for his or her own use. A person could possess a significant quantity of substance but again argue it is for his sole use. This is clearly not what the Senators intend but that is what the words say. That is not good enough law. The development of any policy to provide an alternative to criminalisation has to be carefully thought through and any legislation carefully crafted to ensure, as Senator Colm Burke stated very clearly yesterday, that no unintended or undesirable consequences can occur. The criminalisation model must be one that suits the Irish context and which is evidence based. I am encouraged by the views expressed in November 2015 by my predecessor, Senator Ó Ríordáin, in a speech he gave at the London School of Economics. I agree with his comments that "this kind of approach will only work if it is accompanied by timely treatment and harm reduction services, backed up by wrap-around supports which foster recovery." They are his words, not mine.

As we embark on developing a new national drugs strategy to meet the challenges ahead, we will examine the approaches of drug policy and practice in other jurisdictions to identify additional evidence-based approaches which might be considered in the Irish context. Ireland is different to other countries. We have a different way of dealing with drug control. We have task forces which some other countries do not have. We have to get an Irish model that suits us, as a country, and the development of the national drugs strategy is a vehicle to do that. We have to get an Irish model for an Irish problem. If we want to we can take bits from other countries and look at them but we have to make sure that whatever we decide suits the model we want in this country.

I encourage every Senator who has contributed to the debate to also contribute to the consultation process that will be launched. A change in legislation on such an important matter requires careful consideration and public buy-in. That is why I ask the Senator to withdraw the amendment and let the legislation go through this afternoon. During the process of consultation on the national drugs strategy, there will be plenty of opportunity for Senators, Deputies, the public and people from agencies to make a contribution. I will do my best. Many people, including Senator Kevin Humphreys, have said that what is out there is not working. If it is not working, it has to be fixed, but we have to find a mechanism to fix it. I have my opinions on that which I will contribute to the national drugs strategy.

I will not be supporting the two amendments. I ask Senators Ruane and Ó Ríordáin to reconsider and hold off until after the national consultation process. Through the national drugs strategy we may be able to look again and introduce a complete way of dealing with decriminalisation.

I thank the Minister of State. On her request that we hold off on proposing amendments to legislation until public consultation, I suggest that she also takes that advice and holds off on amendments to legislation until there is public consultation. The Minister of State mentioned unintended consequences. I agree that lots of things have unintended consequences. I have spent many nights this week researching those unintended consequences. I will give the best example I can considering it is a new area to me. In Canada, changes to how OxyContin was distributed and manufactured changed the nature of drug use. The manufacturers changed to OxyNeo, which is a liquid form of the drug that changes to a gel. OxyContin was a huge street drug - a prescription drug that people used to grind down and inject. When OxyNeo was introduced as a result of the new legislation, it became a huge health issue because addicts tried to break it down to turn it into gel. Injecting gel has very negative consequences. People then moved to using fentanyl, which is much stronger and which resulted in an increase in the number of overdoses and a greater risk to health. I ask the Government to hold off on including any more drugs in this Bill so that we can feed this type of research into the public consultation before any move is taken.

I understand from where Deputy Ruane is coming but I cannot give her a commitment that if something develops in the inner city or elsewhere in Ireland, the Government will not introduce legislation to change it. It would be wrong of me to say that. I will not do it. The aim of the legislation is to protect the health of individuals.

Amendment put:
The Seanad divided: Tá, 16; Níl, 26.

  • Bacik, Ivana.
  • Black, Frances.
  • Boyhan, Victor.
  • Devine, Máire.
  • Gavan, Paul.
  • Higgins, Alice-Mary.
  • Humphreys, Kevin.
  • Landy, Denis.
  • Nash, Gerald.
  • Norris, David.
  • Ó Clochartaigh, Trevor.
  • Ó Donnghaile, Niall.
  • Ó Ríordáin, Aodhán.
  • O'Sullivan, Grace.
  • Ruane, Lynn.
  • Warfield, Fintan.

Níl

  • Ardagh, Catherine.
  • Burke, Colm.
  • Burke, Paddy.
  • Butler, Ray.
  • Buttimer, Jerry.
  • Byrne, Maria.
  • Clifford-Lee, Lorraine.
  • Coffey, Paudie.
  • Conway, Martin.
  • Daly, Mark.
  • Daly, Paul.
  • Davitt, Aidan.
  • Feighan, Frank.
  • Horkan, Gerry.
  • Lombard, Tim.
  • McFadden, Gabrielle.
  • Mulherin, Michelle.
  • Murnane O'Connor, Jennifer.
  • Noone, Catherine.
  • Ó Domhnaill, Brian.
  • O'Donnell, Kieran.
  • O'Donnell, Marie-Louise.
  • O'Mahony, John.
  • O'Reilly, Joe.
  • Reilly, James.
  • Richmond, Neale.
Tellers: Tá, Senators Frances Black and Lynn Ruane; Níl, Senators Maria Byrne and Gabrielle McFadden.
Amendment declared lost.

I move amendment No. 2:

In page 5, between lines 22 and 23, to insert the following:

“Possession of controlled drugs for personal use

8. Notwithstanding anything in the Misuse of Drugs Acts 1977 to 2015, in any proceedings for an offence under those Acts it shall be a defence to prove that the defendant had in his or her possession a controlled drug for his or her personal use and for no other purpose. ”.

I second the amendment.

Is the amendment being pressed?

Yes. May I say a few words about it?

No, it has already been discussed.

On a point of order-----

I cannot allow any further discussion.

On a point of order, regarding some quotations attributed to me-----

Order, please. Concluding remarks may be made on the next Stage.

A point of order must be taken. In fairness, I was watching-----

Order, please. The Senator is being unruly. I must put the question. Is the amendment being pressed?

I want the record of the House to reflect my remarks properly because I was misquoted by the Minister of State.

The Senator can do so on the concluding Stage but not now. The amendment has already been discussed with amendment No. 1. Is it being pressed?

Amendment put:
The Seanad divided: Tá, 16; Níl, 26.

  • Bacik, Ivana.
  • Black, Frances.
  • Boyhan, Victor.
  • Devine, Máire.
  • Gavan, Paul.
  • Higgins, Alice-Mary.
  • Humphreys, Kevin.
  • Landy, Denis.
  • Nash, Gerald.
  • Norris, David.
  • Ó Clochartaigh, Trevor.
  • Ó Donnghaile, Niall.
  • Ó Ríordáin, Aodhán.
  • O'Sullivan, Grace.
  • Ruane, Lynn.
  • Warfield, Fintan.

Níl

  • Ardagh, Catherine.
  • Burke, Colm.
  • Burke, Paddy.
  • Butler, Ray.
  • Buttimer, Jerry.
  • Byrne, Maria.
  • Clifford-Lee, Lorraine.
  • Coffey, Paudie.
  • Conway, Martin.
  • Daly, Mark.
  • Daly, Paul.
  • Davitt, Aidan.
  • Feighan, Frank.
  • Horkan, Gerry.
  • Lombard, Tim.
  • McFadden, Gabrielle.
  • Mulherin, Michelle.
  • Murnane O'Connor, Jennifer.
  • Noone, Catherine.
  • Ó Domhnaill, Brian.
  • O'Donnell, Kieran.
  • O'Donnell, Marie-Louise.
  • O'Mahony, John.
  • O'Reilly, Joe.
  • Reilly, James.
  • Richmond, Neale.
Tellers: Tá, Senators Kevin Humphreys and Aodhán Ó Ríordáin; Níl, Senators Maria Byrne and Gabrielle McFadden.
Amendment declared lost.
Bill received for final consideration.
Question proposed: "That the Bill do now pass."

Certain comments were read out during the debate and attributed to me when I was Minister of State with responsibility for the national drugs strategy. I refer specifically to remarks I made in a speech in London. I advise the Minister of State that it may be useful not to use speeches that have been written for her. In my previous role as Minister of State, I rarely read out a speech that had been written for me. The tone of some of the comments made by the Minister of State, which clearly had been written for her, could have been a little more generous.

I thank Senators, including Independents, Sinn Féin and Green Party speakers, for the support they have shown me and Senator Lynn Ruane. Senator Ruane and I have tried to change drug policy to ensure it can effect change rather than reinforce the mistakes of the past. I was disappointed by the conservative consensus reached between the Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael parties, which consistently regurgitated an old drugs policy that has been seen to fail. I appeal to Senators from across the House who succeeded in speaking with one voice on a number of issues not to engage in a knee-jerk reaction to the drugs issue based on what they believe most people will respond favourably towards.

This debate has been another missed opportunity. By criminalising people for having an addiction, we will ensure they have fewer rights than others. I wish the 10,000 people in the State who are in methadone maintenance programmes and the 20,000 people who are suffering from heroin addiction were protesting on the streets outside Leinster House. Perhaps if we had the numbers protesting outside that protested on other issues, Members would think differently about the rights and opportunities of people with addictions and the types of lives such persons are entitled to lead.

I accept the Minister of State's bona fides and I know she is passionate about this issue. She gave the House a commitment to return to the issue of medically supervised injecting centres in the autumn. She and other speakers referred to the Portuguese model. If she is serious about this issue, she should adopt this model in the autumn. It was a mistake on her part to restate the position that the criminalisation of addiction is the correct approach.

I reiterate that the comments the Minister of State attributed to me were taken from a speech that was written on my behalf but which I did not use. I advise her to take her own counsel in deciding whether to use speeches that have been written for her because people will put words she should not use into her mouth. Her beliefs, background and sense of social justice will speak volumes to people who are hanging on every word she says. Those who are suffering from addiction and their families need much more from this Chamber than we have provided today.

I thank the Minister of State for introducing the Bill, which is only a small part of what needs to be done in this area. All Senators who spoke made constructive contributions. The Senators who tabled amendments hold genuine beliefs, and their views must be taken on board, albeit not in this Bill. I agree with them that the issue they have raised must be addressed expeditiously and I hope the Minister of State will return to the House in the autumn with comprehensive proposals to address it. She should establish a constructive and comprehensive mechanism for dealing with people who are addicted to drugs.

I also agree that bringing people with addiction through the courts is not the correct approach. However, the purpose of the Bill is to deal with drug pushers and it is necessary that we do so. I thank the Minister of State for introducing the legislation and hope it will be passed. I also hope the regulations required on foot of the Bill will be introduced as expeditiously as possible in order that the Garda has powers to deal with people who are pushing drugs on innocent people.

I extend my best wishes to the Minister of State, with whom I had the honour to serve on Dublin City Council when she was Lord Mayor of the city. She will bring compassion to her position derived from her personal experience.

I ask the Minister of State to be cautious about unintended consequences during her period in office. We may wish we had a crystal ball, but all legislation has unintended consequences. One of the objectives of the amendment was to limit such consequences by allowing the accused to mount a defence. While I accept the Minister of State's good intentions and I am aware of her background and the part of the city she represents, unfortunately, the unintended consequence of this Bill may be to criminalise 16, 17, 18 or 20 year olds and have long-term impacts on their lives and careers. The amendments proposed to allow a defence to be mounted and enable the court, whether a judge or jury, to make a decision on the matter. This would ensure that young people who chose the wrong path at a certain stage in their lives and were found in possession of certain drugs for personal use would not experience long-term harm and find themselves unable to return to the straight and narrow, become fully participating citizens and pursue careers. I hope the Minister of State will review this matter in the autumn.

I, too, fully accept the Minister of State's bona fides and good intentions. She is an excellent choice for the position to which she has been appointed. However, she will need to consider the possibility that the Bill will have unintentional consequences because they are a feature of most legislation. Senators bring extensive experience to bear in these debates and Ministers should listen closely to what they have to say because they helped to significantly improve legislation during the previous Government. The Bill would have been improved if the Minister of State had accepted the amendments.

I am sorry Senator Aodhán Ó Ríordáin was not present when I spoke on the amendments. I missed the Senator's previous contribution, as I was in the ante room. As a new Minister of State, I need as much advice as I can get, as does anyone in a similar position.

I depend on people in the Departments of Health and the Environment, Community and Local Government, as my community portfolio is under those. While I am given advice, I give the Senator a solid guarantee that I do not say anything unless I agree with and have read it. If I read something and do not like what I see, it does not get printed. That is the way I operate. Yesterday, Senator Boyhan paid me a nice compliment by saying that it was about time people entered the Chamber, put their speeches aside and spoke from their hearts. That is how I operate. Senators Humphreys and Ó Ríordáin know that. We were long enough on the council together.

My role is to pass a Bill to ensure that these five pages' worth of drugs, half of which I cannot even pronounce, are not sold on the street. I am not here to criminalise anyone, only to introduce a Bill that will make selling legal and illegal drugs on streets a crime - regardless of whether we like it, it is a crime - and give the Garda the power to stop and search such people. Yesterday, I gave the example of my son, a garda, stopping someone but being unable to take away what was in the person's pockets because there was no legislation allowing for it. That situation is what this Bill addresses. I have given a commitment to the Seanad, and will give another in the Dáil, that if the issue of criminalisation is raised in the public consultation process - it will be - the clean injection facilities initiative will still go ahead. The Senator instigated it, not me. When I read the article in thejournal.ie, I took it that the Senator had said that. If I have offended him, I apologise. There was no intention of offend any Member. I am one of them, a public representative like everyone present.

The most important issue is that, once the Bill is passed by the Dáil, the drugs listed on these five pages can be confiscated and people can be arrested. That is what it is about, nothing else. I am sorry if I missed the Senator's contribution or he missed mine, but I am full of good intentions. Senator Humphreys is right, in that good intentions do not always produce something, but I am here to listen and co-operate. As I told the Senators, including Senator Ruane, Deputy Jonathan O'Brien of Sinn Féin and Members from various parties, I want a comprehensive national drug strategy that means something. I do not want pages of rubbish, but action.

Question put and agreed to.