Sinn Féin, People Before Profit & Drugs

According to the Party’s 2020 Manifesto, Sinn Féin believe that drug ‘and alcohol’ misuse (can we please start including alcohol under the umbrella of ‘drugs’?) are primarily public health issues. Harm reduction is stated to be a guiding principle for future ‘drug and alcohol’ strategies for Sinn Féin, but then so is ‘prevention’, which suggests that they still hold a mainly prohibitionist stance when it comes to drugs. Moving on from this, they make the very important point that mental health and addiction are almost exclusively treated as separate conditions in Ireland. They mention how currently some people seeking mental health care are being refused that care due to an existing issue with, or even a history of substance abuse’. They talk of how harms in society ‘by drugs’ and the criminal gangs that control their distribution must be tackled, which to me looks like Sinn Féin don’t appear to fundamentally understand the root cause of virtually all drug-related woes in Irish society – prohibition resulting in unregulated, unpredictable, and unsafe black market drugs! Notably, among their list of priorities in terms of drugs is a ‘No Wrong Door’ policy, to ensure that nobody is refused treatment because of an addiction.

I would sincerely hope that no medical professional in this day and age would turn someone away without some form of treatment when they’re in need, just because they’re a drug user. It feels strange that this should have to be introduced as legislation, but it highlights the stigma that’s still faced by drug users in Ireland. Alongside this, Sinn Féin importantly suggest amending existing legislation surrounding the dual diagnosis of mental health and addiction. They suggest investing an extra 12 million euro in drug task forces and the national drug strategy, as well as dramatically ramping up recruits for An Garda Síochána, bringing their numbers to over 16,000. This, to me, sounds a bit like throwing money at a problem and hoping it’ll go away. The reality is that people will always use drugs, the illegal drugs supply will never go away and drugs will remain dangerously unpredictable so long as gangsters are in control of an unregulated illegal supply.

I could not find a 2020 Manifesto document on the People Before Profit website, but they did have separate policy documents available, including one on drugs policy. Although this file was created five months after last year’s February election, I’m assuming that it’s fairly unchanged overall from the drugs policy they published prior to it. Among the bullet points on their opening summary page is ‘Education to replace criminalisation as a method of deterrence’. This seems to be in line with Gino Kenny‘s proposed Bill on cannabis legalisation, which is expected to be introduced in Dáil Éireann next month.

Crucially for harm reduction, PBP mention the establishment of safe injection rooms, pill testing centres, and a State body to scientifically examine drugs that people take socially. In addition, they suggest highly regulated and supervised State-run distribution services (i.e. needle exchange programmes), which to me would make a lot of sense. ‘A move towards the Portuguese Model to undermine criminal gangs‘ is stated as an aim, which is a significant step down from Gino’s aim of full legalisation. I’m not really sure how decriminalisation would undermine organised crime gangs, because after all, they would retain total control of the drug supply in that scenario. I wish Irish political Parties in general were more courageous about having the conversation about full legalisation, rather than aiming only for the half measure that is decriminalisation.

PBP rightly mention allowing medicinal cannabis use for chronic pain conditions; countless people suffering with chronic pain can attest to its importance in their lives. As has been the norm in Irish politics they don’t dare to mention non-medicinal use, which is underwhelming in my view, given all the scientific data globally that shows that legal recreational weed is perfectly safe and reasonable. It would be remiss of me not to acknowledge that some people argue that all use of cannabis is medicinal, regardless of whether it has been labelled recreational or not, and they are welcome to hold that opinion. Ending page one, PBP say: ‘Criminalising drug users is a failed approach. People Before Profit favours a healthcare approach to drug taking and education rather than criminalisation.’ They proceed to explain how the current system of policing of drug users is inequitable in the sense that people from poorer communities are monitored, sentenced and punished more often and more severely than others are. They also point to how students in schools are educated very poorly about drugs, where among other things, cannabis is still said to be a good ol’ fashioned gateway drug.

Vitally, People Before Profit discuss the need to closely monitor and regulate the influence and power of large corporations from the pharmaceutical, alcohol and cigarette industries, so that they won’t unfairly dominate future legalised drugs industries, or obscure any concerning information which may arise regarding effects on health.

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