Wednesday 26 October 2016

'Safe rooms' for drug addicts a shot in the arm for city centre

Published 29/07/2015 | 02:30

'Ó Ríordáin is the epitome of the modern liberal – in the sense that he seems to want to ban, criminalise, punish and fine anyone who expresses opinions that don’t fit into his particular world view'
'Ó Ríordáin is the epitome of the modern liberal – in the sense that he seems to want to ban, criminalise, punish and fine anyone who expresses opinions that don’t fit into his particular world view'

If I'm being perfectly honest, Aodhán Ó Ríordáin would not be my favourite politician.

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He is, after all, the man who first came to national prominence when he sent his secretary to the gardaí to report the then Mayor of Naas, Darren Scully, for inciting racial hatred.

The fact that he was forced to refile his complaint - apparently, dispatching your PA with a letter to the The Man is not an appropriate way to file a legal objection - only served to make the Labour politician look both incompetent as well as cynical.

Since then he has done his best to become Irish politics' leading Social Justice Warrior - always ready with a new law or prohibition to prevent behaviour he doesn't like.

Ó Ríordáin is the epitome of the modern liberal - in the sense that he seems to want to ban, criminalise, punish and fine anyone who expresses opinions that don't fit into his particular world view.

It's all very predictable, of course. After all, nobody ever lost friends - or votes - for loudly proclaiming how firmly they are opposed to racism, or sexism, or bullying.

But - and this is not an easy sentence to write - credit where it's due, it looks like the Minister for Drugs might have actually stumbled across an idea that is actually useful and practical and, refreshingly, this one seems to be grounded in common sense rather than coming from a demented urge to criminalise everything he doesn't approve of.

Ó Ríordáin is not the first person to propose shooting galleries for Dublin's junkie population, but as Minister for Drugs, and with the apparent support of Leo Varadkar, he might actually be in a position to get something done.

The idea is a controversial one, and it has met with resistance in other countries where it has been trialled. But the simple fact of the matter is that Dublin city centre is, for all intents and purposes, broken - but it's not beyond repair.

Dubliners love to bitch about their home town while also becoming vociferously defensive whenever anyone from outside the Pale (particularly those who hail from Cork) have a pop at the capital.

But the one issue that can unite a populace who have a hard time agreeing on anything else is the fact the main streets in our city have become virtual no-go areas, such is the proliferation of junkies.

Whether it's begging, mugging, fighting amongst themselves or attacking innocent passers-by, or the sight of them nodding off in the middle of the pavement, the centralisation of methadone clinics in the city means that many addicts come in from the suburbs in the morning and then spend the rest of the day wandering the streets like dazed pilgrims, creating an atmosphere of often unbridled aggression and menace.

In an effort to curb such anti-social and downright dangerous behaviour, Ó Ríordáin says: "We are trying to get rid of street heroin injection.

"If we were to be successful, I would envisage possibly one city centre room.

"It may even be a mobile unit or an existing facility with experience of dealing with people of that vulnerable nature."

It's ultimately irrelevant whether you look on junkies as hopeless, feckless losers who contribute nothing to society or whether you come from the Peter McVerry school of infinite tolerance and think that they're simply victims of an uncaring system.

You can firmly believe either of those propositions and still agree that the sight of a bunch of smack heads shooting up in a doorway as nervous pedestrians pick up their pace when they pass by is hardly the best way to run or advertise a busy city.

Of course, critics will be quick to point out all the tired, hackneyed complaints and objections.

In Australia, where such a scheme has proved to be a success, albeit a controversial one, one local politician in Melbourne objected to a trial period because: "An injecting room will just encourage more drug use, not less."

That sentiment will be echoed by many people in Dublin but it is based on an entirely bogus premise - the delusion that the 'war on drugs' can be won.

It can't and it won't. In fact, the war on drugs is nothing but a costly, spiteful, ignorant and dangerous war on our own citizens.

Meanwhile, the idea that people who have managed to resist the quixotic lure of smack all their lives will suddenly start shooting up just because there is a room available to them is not only historically inaccurate, but shows a wild and deliberately perverse misunderstanding of human nature.

Nobody sets out to become a junkie, it comes in three almost imperceptible stages - first as user, then as an addict and the final stage is becoming a fully fledged junkie; the difference between an addict and a junkie is that the addict keeps their habit private while junkies are defined as such by their own drug-fuelled, anti-social behaviour.

Critics also claim that opening safe rooms is the first step to legalising drugs - it's not, although it should be.

There is no guarantee that such safe rooms would work.

But maintaining a broken system without even trying a viable alternative manages to be stupid and cruel - both for the addicts who have to shoot up on street corners and the pedestrians they prey upon.

Irish Independent

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