Speaking at a Wexford conference on drugs, the homelessness campaigner Fr. Peter McVerry called for the decriminalising of small quantities of drugs for personal use.
Addressing the theme of the conference which was hosted by the County Wexford Local Drugs and Alcohol Task Force in the Amber Springs Hotel, Gorey, Fr. McVerry of the Peter McVerry Trust which provides support services for homeless people in Dublin, said it is inevitable that there should be a link between drugs, crime and social exclusion.
He told the 120-strong attendance that he recently encountered a situation where a young man was arrested and brought to court for possessing €2 worth of cannabis. Apart from the fact that he now has a criminal conviction restricting his chances of working and travelling, this approach is a waste of police resources and state funding, he said.
Fr. McVerry said the decriminalising of small amounts of drugs for personal use would allow the Gardai to free up their time to go after more serious drug dealers.
Task Force chairman Declan McPartlin said that in the 15 years since the group was established, illegal drugs have become much more widely available in the county with a range of new types of drugs now easily available over the internet.
'Although we do have a strong national drugs strategy, we don't have the resources to adequately implement it', he said, calling on the government to allocate sufficient resources to tackle what has become a major problem in every town and village throughout County Wexford.
Tony Geoghegan of Merchants Quay Ireland said the traditional response to drug treatment in Ireland is based on a medical model with a supply of methadone to those addicted to heroin. However, he said that while methadone is very effective in tackling opiate addiction, it is not an appropriate or adequate response to tackling the new range of drugs that have become available such as Spice and stronger strains of cannabis.
Mr. Geoghegan said young people who get caught up with these types of drugs need the counselling, vocational skills training and group therapy programmes offered by services such as the Cornmarket Project in Wexford.
Speaking on behalf of Wexford Local Development, the conference sponsors, Brian Kehoe said those who become entrenched in substance misuse are much more than just a label, they are the sons and daughters of those who live and work in our communities and they deserve the support to be able to break away from destructive behaviour. Wexford Local Development offers supports in addition to the assistance offered by the Cornmarket Project which is an initiative of WLD, he said. Bred DeGaye, coordinator of a family support service in Wexford, said that often when a parent or other family member discovers drug use in the family there are feelings of shame which can lead to isolation and she urged anyone in this situation to contact the group for support.