Sinn Féin, Ireland’s fastest growing political party, has taken several steps to encourage a more effective, evidence-based approach to tackling the problems of drug addiction and drug-related crime.
In its most recent drug policy document, Sinn Féin demonstrates a welcome and pragmatic understanding of the factors influencing drug abuse, stating:
“Harmful drug use has a complex relationship with class, inequality and poverty. Unless poverty and inequality are tackled, the scourge of drugs will continue.”The party’s reasoned stance on drug use continues with the call for a drug policy which is founded on facts rather than ideology:
“The administration of criminal justice as it interacts with drug-related crime should be reviewed, reformed and tailored to more effectively address and reduce systemic crime, economic compulsive crime and psychopharmacological crime. A broad societal debate considering every possible approach and all relevant evidence from other jurisdictions including those that have experimented with decriminalization and/or legalization is warranted to this end.Sinn Féin has further indicated its willingness to embrace drug policy reform with the introduction of a bill to regulate the sale of ‘legal highs’. Presented to the Irish Parliament in April this year, the bill proposes the establishment of a Non-Medicinal Psychoactive Substances Regulatory Authority, whose main functions would be:
“New approaches must be informed by the most credible emerging evidence and international best practice.”
- To formulate and publish rules for the issuing of licenses to those involved in the retail, distribution, import and production of non-medicinal psychoactive substances
- To establish and maintain a publicly available register of those licensed to engage in the sale, importation, distribution and production of non-medicinal psychoactive substances
- To conduct or otherwise instigate inspections of licensees’ premises, products and any property connected to the sale, distribution, importation and production of non-medicinal psychoactive substances
“The current system of identifying and banning substances has proven ineffective in dealing with these dangerous substances. Through cynical labelling and the masking of active ingredients the head shops have managed to establish an increasingly lucrative industry to the detriment of public health and well-being.”In contrast, Ó Snodaigh rightly claims that by taking a regulatory approach to the sale and distribution of legal highs, the new bill will help to “protect public health and reduce the risk of harm from such products and substances”.
Ó Snodaigh further highlighted his party’s commitment to establishing a more effective drug policy by putting a parliamentary question to the Irish Minister for Foreign Affairs, Micheál Martin. After being made aware of the proposal by Transform, Ó Snodaigh asked the Minister for his views on carrying out a transnational impact assessment of drug policy, a measure initially advocated in a briefing paper by the International Drug Policy Consortium.
Martin’s response to the question was typically evasive and dismissive, stating that he was “not aware” that the IDPC’s proposals for an impact assessment of drug policy had been raised in any relevant international forum.
As Transform is proposing, impact assessments of drug policy are a vital step in establishing a fairer and more successful solution to the challenges of problematic drug use and the illegal drug trade. Without such non-partisan evaluations of drug policy, drug war ideology, knee jerk responses to media panics and populist law and order posturing will continue to underpin governmental approaches to drugs. Bad policy can be the only result and the plight of the most vulnerable members of society will continue to worsen.