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Seanad Éireann debate -
Wednesday, 10 May 2017

Vol. 251 No. 10

Misuse of Drugs (Supervised Injecting Facilities) Bill 2016: Committee and Remaining Stages

Sections 1 and 2 agreed to.
Question proposed: "That section 3 stand part of the Bill."

I ask the Minister of State to outline specifically what this section contains.

Section 3 provides for the criteria with which the Minister may be satisfied in order to consider granting a licence. These include, but are not limited to, consultation with An Garda Síochána, the HSE or other Ministers as the Minister considers appropriate. It also includes the matters that the HSE will consider when advising the Minister as to the appropriateness of such an application. The HSE is placed to assist with the clinical governance and operational protocol and to ensure that premises are fit for purpose. In addition, it will consider whether the location of the proposed centre is appropriate given the level and nature of drug use in the area.

Question put and agreed to.
Sections 4 to 13, inclusive, agreed to.
Title agreed to.
Bill reported without amendment and received for final consideration.
Question proposed: "That the Bill do now pass."

The Fianna Fáil Party did not propose any amendments to this Bill. We believe that the measures that have helped to avoid drug-induced death should be taken, yet we see this as a pilot programme that will lead to regular reviews. We have many questions regarding the function of such facilities that we hope will be teased out through protocol. An amendment we had considered submitting was one that would take the decision of granting a licence for such an establishment solely from the Minister and would compel him or her to consult with members of local authorities, An Garda Síochána and the HSE before granting a licence. Our reasoning was such that there should be a greater consultation process with key stakeholders and local authority members who know their own areas inside out and are best placed to participate in decision-making such as this. I ask the Minister to take this into account and to seriously consult with the local authority members before decisions are made with regard to the granting of licences for supervised injecting facilities.

I want to put on record what a wonderful moment it is in our Oireachtas to finally pass this Bill. I acknowledge the members of the Ana Liffey Drug Project who are in the Visitors Gallery. They have been working over a number of years to make this day a reality. I thank the Minister of State for taking this on and for bringing it to today's point at which it will finally pass and become law. Notwithstanding the comments of my colleague from Fianna Fáil, this has had pretty much universal political support across the spectrum in both Houses. Perhaps we are maturing as a country in terms of drug law. Senator Lynn Ruane and I are moving a Bill on 31 May that will hopefully once again achieve wide-ranging political support to take the next step in the decriminalisation of the drug user.

I want to put on record the name of a man called Robert Keyes, who died on 8 November 2015 in St. Audeon's Park in Dublin of a fatal overdose. When the person who came across his body telephoned the emergency services, the person said that it was "just another junkie". This man's mother came forward recently and spoke about her son lovingly and caringly in the media and said that nobody is a "junkie" in this country. What the Minister of State is doing today is ensuring through this life-saving measure that we bring humanity back into our drug policy and that we finally move beyond the situation in which anybody would decide to dehumanise or denigrate another person with that disgusting term. Every citizen of this State is entitled to humane and compassionate treatment. If somebody is hopelessly crippled with an addiction, he or she deserves the care and compassion of this State. This injecting centre legislation provides this in order that nobody else has to go to a park, behind a skip, into an alleyway or into a playground to inject themselves in such a harmful manner.

We will establish a facility that will ensure people's lives can be saved, that they will not contract hepatitis C or HIV and that we can look on these individuals as people with names. Perhaps it is time for a names project such as the one in the United States for people with AIDS. We have the third highest overdose rate in Europe. Perhaps people who are affected by this or whose families are affected such as the people who approach me and say their son or brother died of an overdose but will not say so publicly can begin to speak their names in a loving way because they are or were not junkies. They are human beings afflicted by addiction. This is the first step along the road towards a proper way to tackle this issue in a humane and compassionate way. I congratulate the Minister of State on taking it on, dealing with it with such humanity and dignity and seeing it through to this day. We speak in an empty Chamber, but that does not mean that what we are doing is not absolutely historic and will not save lives.

I thank the Minister of State for bringing forward this legislation and Senator Aodhán Ó Ríordáin for his work in this area, as well as all those in the Department and the various voluntary organisations and support agencies who have been to the forefront in pushing for this legislation which is very welcome. Just passing it and opening these centres, however, is not sufficient. It is extremely important to provide co-ordinated backup support for the people who will use these facilities to give them the assistance they require with their health and to try to move away from their difficulties. Sometimes we do the minimum when we need to do much more. It is a challenging issue, but it is also one with which we can deal and we must do so effectively. Rather than working in a piecemeal way, it is important to have co-ordination between the agency, whether voluntary or a support service, and the health and other services involved.

I welcome the legislation on behalf of Sinn Féin. It is one tool to tackle a major problem and I congratulate Senator Aodhán Ó Ríordáin on pushing it through. It is a good day when action is being taken.

In December last year the Health Research Board released figures for deaths due to poisoning and drug overdose in the years from 2004 to 2017, inclusive. Almost 7,000 people have died due to a drug overdose or misuse. That is higher than the rate of suicide or fatal road traffic accidents, yet the impetus to do something has been lacking. It is probably seen as self-inflicted. Today we gathered at a ceremony to plant the Tree of Hope on Leinster Lawn. Among the thousands who have committed suicide there are thousands whose completed suicide was due to a drug overdose because of the misery of their lives and their mental health problems.

The Bill is a paradigm shift from criminalisation to health care, which is where we must focus our attention. It is an offer of recovery to members of our own families, mothers, fathers, husbands, wives, children, aunts and uncles, all of whom have been touched by drug misuse and the absolute depths of darkness in which drug users find themselves. The legislation will provide for the establishment, licensing, operation and regulation of supervised injecting facilities for the sole purpose of reducing the harm caused to people who inject drugs. It will also enhance their dignity and well-being. They will have contact on a daily basis with health care workers who will encourage them and provide wrap-around services to enable them to focus on a different lifestyle, one free from drugs. They will not be condemned for depending on drugs in the short life they may have. The legislation will also allow communities to reclaim their local areas, parks and leisure facilities and not to be surrounded by the paraphernalia and litter drug-taking entails. It will help to save lives, which is its importance.

Last Friday in County Louth, Deputies McDonald and Buckley and I concluded five country-wide conferences on dual diagnosis. We spoke to many relatives who talked openly and in distressing terms about the drug-related deaths in their families and how deeply their children were lost to their families as a result of drug misuse and addiction. They wholeheartedly agree with the shift to a health-based approach. Neither they nor I condone, excuse or promote the misuse of drugs, but they recognise that the cycle of death, neglect, criminality and desperation must be cracked. That can and will be achieved through compassion which we need to reintroduce in the health service. Everything we do should be guided by it being a public health issue.

I congratulate the Minister of State on introducing this enlightened legislation which represents decency, humanity and a realistic response to those with an addiction. I also congratulate Senator Ó Ríordáin on talking about this issue, with the encouragement of the Ana Liffey project and others at a time when it was not popular to do so. It is wonderful to see that bravery and leadership bearing fruit today. As I said, the legislation represents dignity and respect and, above all, will provide for the provision of health care for people with addictions. We are talking about some mother’s son or daughter, people with names, as Senator Ó Ríordáin said. Those of us who have worked in the area knew the names. They were not considered to be human detritus or litter or a nuisance but people who deserved respect. Establishing injecting centres is a way of recognising their humanity and decency. I understand what Senator Swanick says about making sure all stakeholders are consulted, but from my experience in Cork of trying to open a wet centre where people could have a drink – Senator Colm Burke is shaking his head because he recognises the scars on all of our backs – I would not want to overegg that pudding. The barriers in the way of these rightminded, proper interventions can often be extensive and extreme. We need to get the balance right and, above all, the person with the addictions and his or her family need to be kept to the fore.

I look forward to the enactment of the legislation. I would also like to think people with addictions in Cork city and country towns will have access to such humanity and dignity and that we will not sit on our hands in that respect. I congratulate the Minister of State and Senator Ó Ríordáin. This is a good day for people who are often not named or remembered.

To allay any fear Senators may have, particularly about the legislation and the need for consultation, I have said from day one that no service can be provided in any community unless the wider community takes part in facilitating it.

It is our intention when the Bill is enacted to have an open conversation with the community in which the service will be provided. I do not know where that will be as of now because that decision is ahead of us.

When I first came to this Chamber a few months ago, I felt that I was a part of a relay team and had taken the baton from the then Minister, Senator Ó Ríordáin. The race is only beginning. This might be the first hurdle but there are many to come. I hope with the co-operation of local people and public representatives in the community in which the facility will be located there will be genuine support for this service and that we may be able to cross the line eventually.

Senator Ó Ríordáin is correct to state it is all about saving lives and helping people who cannot help themselves - chronic users and those predisposed to addiction. It is only with a service like this we may be able to find out the numbers injecting openly on a daily basis. Senator Colm Burke referred to a wraparound service. There is no point in having a place where people will come and be supervised while injecting if we do not have services that they can avail of if they wish to. They may not, but if they do, at least the services should be there. It is very important that whoever facilitates the running of the supervised injecting facility must meet the criteria as well.

Senator Kelleher articulated what I feel inside, namely, it is about decency, humanity and above all about treating people as human beings. In all walks of life, whether one comes from very rich, very poor or someplace in the middle, one is a human being and deserves respect. For whatever reason people lose their way and find themselves with an addiction, whether alcohol, drugs, gambling or any other addiction. There is an onus on society to care for them. That is the reason I really believe it so important that the public identify with the first part of this Bill and respect it for what it is. It is about health care and helping those who have not been able to help themselves. I really believe if we get this right the attitude of those who are addicted to drugs, gambling or anything else may be seen in a more humane light.

I would like to thank all who supported the Bill and have contributed to the debate both in the Seanad and in the Dáil in the past number of months. I acknowledge their compassion, vision and knowledge, but most of all their humanity and their ability to look at people in a different light, particularly people with a chronic illness, because addiction is a chronic illness. Senator Devine mentioned the people and families she met around the country through the public consultation process. I, too, have met many families, young and old, people who have been in addiction for far too long and still fighting that challenge. I met young people who have recovered, people who have relapsed but most of all I met people who have gone through the different stages and find that they are now in a better place and are in recovery. They are making a real effort to bring light back into their life. We should encourage people who are in addiction services to continue on their journey to the light.

I met families who have lost loved ones and grandparents who have been left to raise grandchildren because their children have died of addictions. I think we owe them a debt of gratitude because there are so many families who have been left bereft by addiction. Parents and grandparents have to pick up the pieces and we owe them a wealth of support and facilities.

I thank the Cathaoirleach and those who were in the Chair previously. I thank the Ceann Comhairle for facilitating the passage of the Bill through both Houses. I thank all the staff who have been very supportive of why I am in this Chamber. I thank the recording and reporting staff, the ushers and the Seanad staff for the services they have been providing during the passage of the Bill.

I thank the staff of the Departments and agencies who have worked with the Department of Health in the formulation of the Bill, the Department of Justice and Equality, An Garda Síochána and the HSE. I acknowledge the assistance and support of my predecessors, the then Minister and Minister of State, Deputy Varadkar and Senator Ó Ríordáin, for their commitment to this issue. I thank those at Ana Liffey and others who have campaigned for many years and have been tireless advocates of the benefits that a supervised injecting centre can have for society.

I thank the staff and the health service in Denmark for facilitating my visit to the supervised injecting facility in Copenhagen and Dr. Marianne Jauncey of the medical supervised injecting centre in Sydney. I met Dr. Jauncey on a number of occasions and had long conversations with her on the service in Sydney. I want to thank the staff in the controlled drugs unit in the Department of Health, in particular, Mr. Eugene Lennon, Mr. Eamonn Quinn, Mr. Hugh Drumm as well as the drugs policy unit.

I want to especially thank Dr. Eamonn Keane, the clinical lead in addiction service. He has done major work around identifying the prevalence of drug addiction and deaths in the city. I also thank Ms Una Keating from the Office of the Parliamentary Counsel for drafting the Bill. Sometimes a Bill can be very technical but with the assistance of all these people I think the Bill has been manageable both to read and to understand.

When I spoke in the Dáil on a number of occasions, I ended with a poem and I will quote two stanzas which I think are significant to what is happening today and above all to people who find themselves in the grip of addiction:

What was it that made me

Lose my reason

And drew me into these seasons

Of self-affliction

Habitual addiction?


Once filled by painful pride

May You now hide

Restoring hope

Opening doors

To life anew

I believe those words are very important in respect of the service that we will provide into the future for people who inject on a daily basis, to give them hope, to open doors but above all to give them the opportunity to come into a service that sees them as human beings and will help them in their addiction and on their journey to recovery.

I am delighted to be in this Chamber and am delighted that Senators Ó Ríordáin and Ruane are in the Chamber. I thank them for their support and in particular for their understanding and knowledge of addiction and addiction services.

I thank the Minister of State.

Question put and agreed to.
Sitting suspended at 1.30 p.m. and resumed at 2 p.m.