Press Release

Minister Byrne announces establishment of a Working Group to consider alternative approaches to the possession of drugs for personal use

The Minister for Health Promotion and the National Drugs Strategy, Catherine Byrne TD, has today announced the establishment of a Working Group to examine alternative approaches to the possession of drugs for personal use.  The Working Group will be chaired by retired Judge of the Court of Appeal Garret Sheehan and will hold its first meeting on 11 December.

A Joint Oireachtas Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality report recommended a harm reducing and rehabilitative approach to possession of small amounts of illegal drugs.  In light of the findings of the report, the Working Group will commission research to examine approaches taken in other jurisdictions to the possession of drugs for personal use in order to identify a model appropriate to the Irish context. There will be a wide-ranging and thorough public consultation to allow all interested persons and organisations the opportunity to inform the development of the recommendations. The Working Group has been asked to report back to the relevant Ministers within 12 months.

Minister Byrne said “A humane and people-centred approach to people who use drugs is at the heart of our new drugs strategy ‘Reducing Harm, Supporting Recovery.’ Many people who use drugs come into contact with the criminal justice system and acquire criminal convictions either directly or indirectly related to their drug use. Criminal convictions can represent a serious impediment for people, particularly in the areas of access to employment, housing and travel. Therefore, it is appropriate that two people who have used drugs will be part of the Working Group so that their lived experience can inform the deliberations.”

Minister for Health, Simon Harris TD said “The Programme for a Partnership Government contains a firm commitment to support a health-led rather than criminal justice approach to drugs use.  We need to ensure people affected by drug problems are given every opportunity to recover from addiction and get on with their lives.   The establishment of this Working Group is therefore an important first step towards finding a more rehabilitative response to people who use illegal substances.  I would like to thank Judge Garrett Sheehan for agreeing to chair the Group and look forward to receiving his report towards the end of 2018”.

The Minister of Justice and Equality, Charlie Flanagan TD said “I welcome the establishment of this Working Group and I am very pleased that Judge Garrett Sheehan has agreed to be Chairperson.  While this is a sensitive policy issue for many people, we have to be cognisant of drug policy developments over the years, and the trend internationally towards less punitive approaches to the possession of small quantities of drugs for personal use.  At the same time, we must ensure that the public is protected from dangerous or potentially dangerous and harmful substances.  Judge Sheehan’s extensive experience will guide the Working Group towards finding the right balance in any alternative approaches identified for consideration by the Government in due course”.


Notes to the Editor

Terms of Reference
The Department of Health and the Department of Justice and Equality have joint lead responsibility for the establishment of a Working Group in line with Action 3.1.35 of ‘Reducing Harm, Supporting Recovery – a health-led response to drug and alcohol use in Ireland 2017-2025’.  The terms of reference of the Working Group provide for an examination of:

a)        the current legislative regime that applies to simple possession offences in this jurisdiction and the rationale underpinning this approach, and any evidence of its effectiveness;
b)        the approaches and experiences in other jurisdictions to dealing with simple possession offences;
c)        the advantages and disadvantages, as well as the potential impact and outcomes of any alternative approaches to the current system for the individual, the family and society,                 as well as for the criminal justice system and the health system;
d)        the identification of the scope of any legislative changes necessary to introduce alternative options to criminal sanctions for those offences;
e)        a cost benefit analysis of alternative approaches to criminal sanctions for simple possession offences; and
f)        require the Working Group to make recommendations to the relevant Ministers within 12 months.

Phases of Work
There are a number of distinct phases of work to be completed by this group prior to making recommendations:

  • A research phase which will culminate in a report setting out a number of possible policy options that could be applied in Ireland to the possession of small amounts of illegal drugs for personal use;
  • A wide ranging and comprehensive consultation on the research report to engage with and hear the views of Government departments and agencies, the public,  people who use drugs, service users, service providers, families, communities, representative groups and organisations and elected representatives; and
  • A deliberative phase which will lead to the development of recommendations on policy options for the consideration of relevant Ministers.

The membership of the Working Group, which will be chaired by Judge Garrett Sheehan, will be drawn from:

  • Department of Health;
  • Department of Justice and Equality;
  • Health Service Executive;
  • Health Research Board;
  • An Garda Síochána;
  • The Probation Service;
  • Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions;
  • People with lived experience of using drugs; and
  • An academic expert.