Head-shop owners must prove products legal or face closure
Gardai are to be given new powers to allow them shut down head shops.
The onus will then be placed on the owners of the shops to prove that they were not selling illegal drugs in their premises.
The powers will be included in a new criminal justice bill, which is being drafted by senior officials from the Department of Justice and the Attorney General's office.
The legislation will be enacted following a Department of Health directive, which is due to be published in June and will ban a range of products that are legal at present and on sale in the head shops.
One of the substances, mephedrone, was officially banned in Northern Ireland and the UK from yesterday and this has led to fears that the head shops will attract more custom from across the Border because of its availability here.
Health, which is the lead department in tackling the increasingly worrying threat posed by the substances, is currently compiling its ban list following studies in other jurisdictions and here.
But Justice Minister Dermot Ahern revealed yesterday that the Government was also looking at confronting the problem through the criminal justice system.
After discussions with new Northern Ireland justice minister David Ford in Belfast, he said he was very concerned about head shops and what could happen to communities.
He said that as soon as the authorities banned a substance like mephedrone, "something else came up".
The legislation will focus on mind-altering, psychotropic drugs and officials hope to produce a generic ban, which will prevent attempts to circumvent a list of illegal substances, by changing the components of the items on sale.
The legislation will also allow gardai to enter head shops, examine items such as "bath salts", on sale for €50, and form the view that they are mind-altering substances.
This will enable gardai to shut down the head shops. If the owners want to re-open the premises, they must go to the courts and prove that the substances they are selling are not illegal or dangerous.
On Thursday a head shop in Dundalk, Co Louth was badly damaged in an arson attack. This followed similar incidents in Dublin and pipe-bomb attacks in Athlone, Co Westmeath, and Letterkenny, Co Donegal.
The Labour Party last night accused the Government of a tardy response to the growth of head shops and said this meant the substances on sale had taken a foothold among a growing number of young people. Its justice spokesman, Pat Rabbitte told the party conference in Galway that a supply-side solution alone would not deter most of those newly-addicted customers from attempting to source the products elsewhere.
He said the Government had sat back while the head shops increased to more than 100.
Meanwhile, Cork University Hospital A&E specialist Chris Luke said last night that head shops posed a greater public threat here then swine flu.