Decriminalisation of drug use a 'solo run' by Labour, says FG
Controversial plans to decriminalise drug use have been met with staunch opposition from within both Fine Gael and sections of the Garda force, the Herald can reveal.
Senior Fine Gael figures have warned that the Labour Party proposals for a new decriminalisation policy are "at odds" with the Garda intelligence recently provided to the Department of Justice in relation to the drugs trade.
Gardai have expressed deep concern over the level of potency currently attached to both ecstasy and cannabis - two of the most widely used drugs on the market.
Garda intelligence also warns that homegrown cannabis has become a major commodity for criminal gangs and that its wide availability is directly linked to a increase in small-time drug debts.
The warnings, which are understood to have been communicated to Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald, come as new figures show an explosion in the ecstasy trade in Dublin. Gardai have seized almost €1.4m worth of the class A drug in the first three months of the year, including 108,000 tablets. This is a major increase on previous years.
More than €1.7m worth of cannabis was also seized by officers in the capital.
While the figure is down on previous years, garda sources say the rise in the homemade cannabis trade has driven down prices.
There is now a growing sense of unease within Fine Gael over proposals to decriminalise certain drug use.
Junior minister Aodhan O Riordain, who has responsibility for drugs policy, said he believes Labour will campaign for the move ahead of the election.
The Dublin Central TD has spoken in favour of following the Portuguese model, which involved decriminalising possession of small quantities of drugs for personal use in 2001.
The issue has received support from the Oireachtas Justice Committee in recent weeks.
But senior Fine Gael figures accused the Labour TD of performing a "solo run".
"Given the warnings from gardai over ecstasy and cannabis, it is clear now is not the right time to decriminalise drugs. It would send out a completely wrong message," said a senior Fine Gael source.
A Fine Gael minister agreed, arguing that the party would in "no way" advocate for such a move in its manifesto. Another source said that there was "annoyance" that the Cabinet was not informed of Mr O Riordain's plans to call for the decriminalisation of drugs at a recent speech in London.
The figures relating to drug seizures in Dublin were provided in a written reply to Fine Gael TD Mary Mitchell O'Connor by the Department of Justice.
"We need to give gardai all the support necessary in their fight against the scourge of drugs. I would be very concerned if drugs were made freely available," she said.
Last night, Mr O Riordain said decriminalising drugs would happen only after the election.
"I want a national conversation that is evidence-based. So if unnamed Fine Gael sources want to take issue, they should speak to their own members of the justice committee," he said.
"This is about having a longer discussion on the merits of decriminalisation," he added.
The TD is one of those responsible for the revised Misuse of Drugs Act, which is currently going through the Oireachtas.
The new regulations will, if enacted, allow for the creation of special medically supervised injection centres for addicts.
But the row emerged following the publication of a hard-hitting survey on drug and alcohol use among young people.
It found that 82pc of Irish students have tried illegal drugs, 98pc have consumed alcohol, and 82pc have tried cigarettes.