"Everything should be on the table" say Sinn Féin ahead of Citizens' Assembly on drugs
Sinn Féin Health Spokesperson David Cullinane spoke to JOE.ie ahead of this weekend's Citizens' Assembly on drug use in Ireland.
A Citizens' Assembly is set to be held in the nation's capital this weekend, which will consider and debate possible legislative, policy and operational changes that Ireland could make to reduce the harmful impacts of illicit drugs.
One hundred people, including 99 randomly selected members of the general population, will be led by chairperson Paul Reid over the following six months.
Speaking to JOE.ie ahead of this important process, Sinn Féin Health Spokesperson David Cullinane discussed his thoughts surrounding the Assembly.
"In my view, everything should be on the table. And that's what you do in an assembly like this, you have evidence-based discussion where experts will come and present their case, and we need to make sure that all opinions and all sides are heard".
When questioned as to what he personally hopes to see come of the discussions, the Waterford TD spoke to the importance of addiction recovery.
"Over the last number of years I have put a focus on that in Sinn Féin's alternative budget, where we looked at putting greater resources in to supports for people with addiction, and ensuring that recovery services and options were there".
Mr. Cullinane added to that sentiment by saying "For me, recovering and supporting people with addiction is crucial and needs to be a concentration".
Former head of the HSE, Paul Reid, will chair the Citizens' Assembly, in a move which was labelled as "a terrible decision" and a "missed opportunity" this week by Green Party TD Patrick Costello owing to Reid's close affiliation with the state's health body.
Although these were concerns which Mr. Cullinane did not share, and said that "Do I trust him to make sure that the process is fair? I do to be straight. Could someone else have done it? Absolutely... but I think that Paul (Reid) will be very fair".
In the lead up to the first meeting of the Citizens' Assembly this weekend, there has been much conversation within the media and public sphere around the legalisation of drugs, an issue which Mr. Cullinane predicts to take centre stage during proceedings.
When asked if he himself agreed with the Tánaiste Micheál Martin's recent comments that he would be hesitant to support drug legalisation over fears for creating the impression that all drug use is acceptable, Mr. Cullinane offered a blunt response.
"I am not in favour of legalising drugs... when I look at the addiction that arises from drug use, I've seen far too much of it myself. I've seen the devastation for both families and communities, so I would be very, very slow to support that as a proposition".
The contentious topic of cannabis legalisation:
Remarking on the contentious topic of cannabis legalisation in particular, the TD deviated slightly in stating that;
"The whole issue of legalising cannabis is obviously a much broader issue. And I think we have to hear from all experts here, including those who work in addiction and recovery and look at what happened in other countries".
The Waterford TD spoke further to his softer approach around the drug, adding that he hopes to see improvements around the Medicinal Cannabis Access Programme which he feels needs to be expanded to cover a broader cohort of patients such as those with chronic pain.
"I also don't believe that we should criminalise people for simple possession of cannabis for personal use, if it can be strongly proven that it was indeed for personal use. I think health and community intervention is better", remarked Mr. Cullinane.
However, the Sinn Féin Health Spokesperson also was quick to add that the amending of legislation around cannabis should be done so in a careful manner.
"If we fully legalise any drug including cannabis, very often drug use has increased in other countries which have and then there's a greater dependency which could lead to it becoming a gateway for other drugs", said Mr. Cullinane.
He then further stated on the topic that "There's very strong views coming from mental health experts in relation to drug dependency and the impact it has on mental health and the whole issue of dual diagnosis".
Last December, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar weighed in on the issue of cannabis legalisation, declaring that he had "no view" on the subject and that he had faith in the Citizens' Assembly due to "the public being ahead of the politicians" in relation to drug policy.
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