Sunday 26 May 2019

Decriminalise all drugs says Junior Justice Minister

Stanton also wants Traveller ethnicity recognised

Backing: David Stanton says Frances Fitzgerald is on board. Photo: Tom Burke
Backing: David Stanton says Frances Fitzgerald is on board. Photo: Tom Burke
Philip Ryan

Philip Ryan

A newly appointed junior justice minister wants personal possession of all illegal drugs to be decriminalised as part of the Government's plan to tackle gangland crime.

Minister of State for Equality, Migration and Integration, David Stanton, also plans to use his new position to convince Fine Gael colleagues to recognise the Travelling Community as a distinct ethnic minority group.

Speaking for the first time since taking office, Mr Stanton also revealed Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald is supportive of both proposals.

As the former chair of the Oireachtas Justice Committee, the Cork East TD produced a report recommending that Ireland should follow the Portuguese legal system on possession drugs.

In Portugal, people caught in possession of certain small amounts of drugs, including cannabis, cocaine and heroin, are not prosecuted by the courts.

Instead, police have the discretion to send drug users for counselling or education on the dangers of drugs.

"When we went to Portugal, I was quite in impressed with the whole system from start to finish," Mr Stanton told the Sunday Independent.

"The police were very happy about it because it meant they weren't tied up in courts. If somebody had a small amount of stuff on them, the police chiefs had the discretion to send them to dissuasion centres where they had interaction with a social worker, counsellor and a legal person," he added.

The minister said his report on decriminalising drugs was submitted last year to Ms Fitzgerald and he believes she accepted the findings "positively".

Mr Stanton said he will be urging his colleagues, including new junior minister with responsibility for drugs policy, Catherine Byrne, to have "an open mind" to the possibility of decriminalising drugs.

In his capacity as equality minister, the long serving Fine Gael TD believes it is time the travelling Community's "distinct history and culture" is recognised by the State.

Mr Stanton said he wants to become a "persuader" who will convince colleagues reticent about the idea of giving special recognition to Travellers as a minority group.

"Some people say 'Travellers are Irish, they are no different to me, they shouldn't have a different ethnic recognition' - and there are others who say 'they have culture, they have a history, they have a language, they have music'," he said. "I want to capture that culture. There is a certain richness there," he added.

Again, he believes the Tanaiste is supportive of the idea and Taoiseach Enda Kenny is also open to bringing such a proposal to the floor of the Dail.

"It's something we need to have a national debate about. I want to become a persuader on this - and I want everyone to work together on it," he said.

Officially recognising Travellers as a minority group would have no financial impact on the State and it would not include any additional rights, according to the minister.

The Cork East TD also revealed he's committed to drastically increasing the speed at which Syrian refugees are relocated in Ireland.

The Government promised to house 4,000 refugees fleeing war-torn Syria last year but, to date, little more than 300 have arrived.

The new minister recently agreed to increase the number of refugees arriving in Ireland from 40 to 80 every two months.

"We are ready here to receive them but things were not as organised as we liked on the other end but we have got that done," he said.

He said another issue is Syrians would prefer to be relocated in Germany, Sweden and the UK rather than in Ireland.

Sunday Independent

Today's news headlines, directly to your inbox every morning.

Also in this section