Wednesday, January 05, 2011

Sinn Fein initiates reform in Ireland

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.

“New approaches must be informed by the most credible emerging evidence and international best practice.”
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:
  • 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
In the explanatory memorandum to the bill, the Sinn Féin spokesperson for Justice, Social Welfare and International Affairs, Aengus Ó Snodaigh, highlighted the futility of adopting a purely prohibitive stance on the trade of these substances via ‘head shops’:
“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.


Anonymous said...

You are sadly mistaken if you think that Sinn Fein is interested in meaningful drug policy reform. Read the paper, it calls for a doubling of spending on police drug units and greater resources for navy intradiction.

Remember Sinn Finn is the party whose more "active" members have been kneecapping small time drug dealers for decades.

Sinn Fein is as puritanical a bunch of thugs as you could imagine

Jake said...

I'll admit that I'm not the most knowledgeable about the inner workings of Sinn Fein, what is the chance of them sticking to and defending this stance if questioned? (or even trying to conduct an impact assessment?)

Danny K said...

Anonymous, we did read the paper and you are absolutely right, it does call for increased expenditure on supply side.
However, we wanted to focus on the positives in the strategy.
The statements on poverty and legalisation/decriminalisation are unequivocal.
The drafting of a Bill regulating legal highs is real.
And the questioning of ministers regarding Impact Assesment is on the record.
The reiteration of failed supply side measures is fundamentally mistaken in the extreme. But this is no different to the English lib dems call for decrim of possession at the same as calling for resources to be focussed on "pushers".
As for previous invovlement in violence, the time has long passed where we have to move on. We have to allow political parties with previously highly reactionary positions to shift to more progressive ones. Ultimately it is parties in political power who will undo the prohibition. We cannot just write them off.
Transform's modus operandi is to support individuals and organisations who are willing to take a progressive position.
Otherwise we'd wind up only be working with the Green Party.

John said...


I wholeheartedly agree with a policy of reaching out to anyone who will lend an open ear.

However, as an Irish citizen, Sinn Fein in the Republic of Ireland is a group where I would draw a line that I could never in good conscience cross.

They are a very different movement from the Northern Irish wing, which is substantially more conservative and is generally expressive of a large chunk of the population it governs.

Sinn Fein in the South of Ireland is largely drawn from militant nationalists and disaffected Trotskyites. They are widely perceived among the mainstream electorate as having an little regard for the rule of law.

For instance, they have frequently refused to condemn violence (including murders) committed in the name of republican politics.

Since the dissolution of the IRA they are also widely suspected of drawing on resources obtained by criminal activities like petrol smuggling and illegal drugs to fund their political activities. The TD quoted in your piece, O'Snodaigh, is in my view a thug:

To many of us in the Republic they are little different than the BNP and so their growth in support, mainly from the fringes of the Irish political spectrum, is something that we certainly do not welcome. The mainstream parties have repeatedly been forced to explicitly forswear any chance of allowing them into a coalition prior to elections.

As a political-criminal organisation, I genuinely pray that they never attain any serious levers of power within the country.

I think Transform would find many receptive minds within the Labour party, and perhaps (if framed from a fiscally conservative viewpoint) Fine Gael. Within a year these parties will more than likely be governing Ireland as a coalition.



Seán said...

Heres an email I sent to all members of the Dáil. In 2010 we seized around 9million euros worth of cannabis, cocaine and heroin. In preventing that 9million worth of drugs, we also indirectly allowed the consumption of a much higher figure (unknown) of significantly lower quality drugs. These hundreds of thousands of people consume in in a culture of illegality. As otherwise typically decent people I find it unlikely that these people have a personal obligation to act in a culture of illegality but would rather be treated as an adult and allowed to consume cannabis they wish. Prohibition fosters a culture of illegality and pulls people towards it. 50% of all arrests in 2010 were cannabis related. Arresting a fraction of hundreds of people being pulled towards illegality seem ludacris and dangerous. If police had more resources to catch actual criminals and less people were be pulled into the criminal world and we much better off. We consume in this criminal culture with no chance of regulation, so inflated prices and unknown qualities exist. In Ireland we have had generational changes of cannabis contamination. Hashish has been available in its worst form, "soapbar", for at least 20 years and is now commonly disguised as "pollen". Buds have been sprayed with glass, lead and chemicals. Contaminated cannabis is commonly grown as "gritweed" and "hardash" and is getting harder to detect. Another more recent phenomenon in these recessionary times is wet or unflushed cannabis, where it is sold either wet and/or unflushed of synthetic nutrients used in its growth. This is simply down to greed and quite a lot of people are being taken advantage of. Another significant problem is the frequency of which people mix with tobacco. If cleaner, drier, purer, organic, healthier cannabis was available people would be more incentivised to not use tobacco due to the price, strength, flavour and healthier option available. I smoke pure, I have done so for over a year. I did so because of health and economic reasons, but also out of dislike for tobacco, their companies, its culture, threat of cancer, etc. To my surprise, I am actually smoking significantly less cannabis per occasion and less frequently during the week. Having not smoked cigarettes I was addicted to the nicotine of the tobacco but not used to the cigarette. Am I wrong to say that hundreds of thousands of people could live healthier lives and society would be much better off? Like all Irish people, I have had to figure out responsible use through experience. Fortunately I had some good friends to highlight caution and eventually I learnt how to consume in the most responsible manner. But I have yet to buy a vaporizer. Only 2 of my friends own one. I consider responsible use as at home during weekends, at night, without tobacco, without paper, in a pipe, with some interesting stuff to watch. If I was in politics, I would be shouting this left right and center.

Have you heard about the EU's recent decision to allow individual member states to finally alter their domestic drug policy?

ENCOD estimate this as a 35-50 billion euro industry Europeanwide. Thats taking a very large sum away from a largely criminal market. In Ireland we estimate this as a billion euro industry but noone knows for sure. We are in the initial stages of conducting a market analysis for both smokable cannabis and other hemp products. I suggest you take a look at some of the readings I have posted on this 10 day old causes page, which has almost 30 people joining a day. If we don't do this, someone else will. On that note, I have also informed Labour about this.

Anonymous said...

As far as SF involving Trotsky"ites" (Stalins term mind you to justify mass murder). The miniscule grouplet of people that left Peoples Democracy when is did identify with Trotsky were always more in the tradition of various ultra-"radical" currents popular in the 60's. They ended up in SF as a direct consequence of the RA's activities in the late 70's-80's.
Today, like 99% of the student radicals of the past they have made peace with the very order they set out to oppose.