Sunday 18 August 2019

Those caught with drugs won't face criminal conviction until third offence under radical 'three-strike' plan

Charlie Flanagan will unveil the proposals today. Picture: Collins
Charlie Flanagan will unveil the proposals today. Picture: Collins
Charlie Flanagan
Hugh O'Connell

Hugh O'Connell

A radical 'three-strike' plan that will see people caught with small amounts of illegal drugs avoid criminal conviction on the first and second occasion but face the courts on the third will be unveiled by the Government today.

Reforms to how those caught in possession of illicit substances are dealt with stop short of full decriminalisation, but represent an unprecedented shift in the State's approach to drug use.

The plan will see a health diversion programme established whereby a person caught by gardaí in possession of an amount of drugs deemed to be for personal use will be referred to the HSE for screening and intervention.

If that person is caught a second time, gardaí will issue the person with an adult caution.

Only on the third occasion this person is caught with drugs for personal use will the criminal justice system be applied and the matter dealt with by the courts.

In effect those repeatedly caught in possession will still be dealt with by the criminal justice system and many existing drug laws are set to remain on the statute book.

The measures are aimed at breaking the cycle of drug addiction, with Health Minister Simon Harris having spoken about a policy of "the helping hand rather than the handcuff".

Responding to concerns raised by senior doctors that the Government was "sleepwalking" toward legalising cannabis for medicinal purposes, Mr Harris said in May: "It's not about legalising, it's about being compassionate and it's about the helping hand rather than the handcuff".

Tentative plans to decriminalise drugs were strongly opposed by Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan.

"I am against the legalisation of drugs. I have a difficulty with decriminalisation of drugs that are currently illegal," Mr Flanagan told the Irish Independent earlier this month.

"I am very conscious of the damage drugs cause to society.

"That said, I believe there is merit in certain circumstances of a health and treatment-led approach."

As part of the strategy being unveiled today, Minister Flanagan is expected to say that he will examine the possibility of introducing a specific offence of grooming children through inducements, including providing them with drugs, for the commission of drug-related crime.

The plans would be with a view to combating any potential exploitation of children by criminal gangs involved in drug-dealing.

The Government's new public health-led approach to drug use will be announced by Mr Harris and Mr Flanagan today along with Minister of State for Drugs Strategy Catherine Byrne.

They will also discuss plans to support additional investment in drug treatment services and promote an awareness campaign on the treatments available and the harms associated with drug use.

The Government plans come on foot of a report by a working group which was established two years ago to examine alternative approaches to the possession of drugs for personal use.

The group failed to reach an agreed report on its recommendations.

Its chair, retired judge Garrett Sheehan, was reported to have warned the Government against decriminalising drugs under any circumstances in a minority report that was discussed by ministers last week.

Irish Independent

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