06/04/17 Lynn Ruane

Century of Lies
Lynn Ruane

This week we hear from a debate in the Irish Senate regarding the Controlled Drugs and Harm Reduction Bill 2017, featuring Senator Lynn Ruane, Senator Aodhan O Riordain and Senator Niall O Donnghaile.

Audio file


JUNE 4, 2017


DEAN BECKER: The failure of drug war is glaringly obvious to judges, cops, wardens, prosecutors, and millions more now calling for for decriminalization, legalization, the end of prohibition. Let us investigate the Century Of Lies.

DOUG MCVAY: Hello, and welcome to Century Of Lies. Century Of Lies is a production of the Drug Truth Network for the Pacifica Foundation Radio Network, on the web at I'm your host Doug McVay, editor of

In February of this year, the government of the Republic of Ireland enacted a law to allow the licensing of legal supervised injection facilities. By doing so, Ireland joined a growing number of nations that are adopting intelligent, progressive harm reduction policies.

In May, a bill was introduced in the Irish Senate, the Seanad Éireann, which is the upper house of the Oireachtas, which is the Republic of Ireland's national parliament. The Controlled Drugs and Harm Reduction Bill 2017 further implements harm reduction by decriminalizing personal possession of illegal drugs and shifting overall policy emphasis from criminal justice to a public health orientation.

The bill was introduced by Senator Lynn Ruane. On May 31, the Senead held a debate on the bill, so let's hear from Senator Ruane. The following audio comes to us courtesy of the Oireachtas.

SENATOR LYNN RUANE: I'm proud to introduce this legislation, and especially while in the gallery there's so many people from an area that I've dedicated to my life to, and I would like to recognize everyone in the gallery today for their long hard work in the area of drug use and addiction.

And I would like to, obviously, especially thanks to Aodhan, who has worked -- to Senator Ó Ríordáin, who has worked very closely with me on this piece of legislation, has co-sponsored and co-signed the bill, so I would like to thank him, the Civil Engagement Group for their support, and all the Independents in the house that have also co -- co-signed this bill, shown the support that is there for it.

I would also like to quickly before I get into it also thank and recognize Liam O'Brien, who's in the gallery, who, I've often spoken about how I entered the drugs field at the very early age of 17 years, not long out of my own drug use and my own, criminality I suppose, and Liam O'Brien took a chance on me, and invested in me, and empowered me to work in that area, something that not everyone who's criminalized for drug will have the opportunity to do. So I'd like to have it on the record and thank Liam O'Brien for all his hard work in Killinarden for all these years.

I will address the specific provisions of the legislation in a moment, but I feel it's important to start today with explaining why I have dedicated most of my life to the study and treatment of addiction and, as a result, why I have brought this legislation before the House today. It is more than just me, standing here in this Chamber and doing my job as a legislator. This bill is about me, it's about my family, it's about my friends, it's about my community, and the communities across this country that engage in drug use and drug abuse.

It's about the hundreds of people I have supported, advocated on behalf of, and also laid to rest after dying prematurely from drug related deaths. I have been a drug user myself. I have been developing drug addiction programs since I was 17, and I continue to support friends and my community on a daily basis with the often lifelong lasting impact of drug use and addiction. I have no doubt in my mind that the current punishing, shaming, stigmatizing, and criminalizing of drug use has failed in deterring people from using drugs.

Drug use spans across all of society, but problem drug use is primarily concentrated in areas of deprivation. Where poverty is already difficult to escape, being able to navigate your way through socioeconomic disadvantage is almost impossible with a conviction for possession.

We must, and we should, recognize the economic influences that create and reinforce patterns of addiction and criminality, and begin to change policy to unravel some of those patterns, so we no longer punish and prosecute marginal populations in the name of morality.

I see criminalization of drugs as a form of criminalization of poverty, given the high numbers of the working class that find themselves in prison system for drug possession. Currently in Ireland, we spend millions every year on legal aid, probation, and prison. This is a cost that goes nowhere to creating change in a person’s life in relation to their drug use.

Life after addiction is difficult enough. Most have to find new ways to pass the day, new friends, and new environments. In that search for a new sense of themselves, finding employment, and having the option to travel, and not being labelled as a criminal, is key to their development.

Not having access to services, support, and employment often results in a person falling back into addiction, as they find it too hard to integrate into normal working societies because of their convictions. I have seen this many times in areas such as social work and youth in community, whereby a person is denied access to a course because of a conviction they had in previous years for possession.

Recovery can be a very lonely place, and to support a person in staying in that recovery, education and employment are crucial. We have a history in Ireland of putting people in prison unjustly. People experiencing addiction have a complex set of needs that can never be met and supported in the legal system.

Take 2013 for example. A total of 679 deaths in Ireland were linked to drug use. The number of non-poisoning deaths recorded among drug users was 292 in 2013. Deaths owing to hanging continue to be the main cause of non-overdose drug related deaths, accounting for 25 percent of all non-poisoning deaths in 2013. We will never know how many of those deaths could have been avoided if we didn't treat drug users as criminals, and instead by treating addiction as an issue of public health.

The crux of this argument for me is, that it is on us as a society to reduce the harm of people that experience addiction, that experiment with drugs, or that use drugs recreationally. It is up to us a society, and as representatives of that society, to leave this country better than we found it.

Ask yourselves this: if your daughter or son was caught in possession of ecstasy tablets at a musical festival, where do you want them to go? When someone experiencing addiction to heroin is caught in possession, where shall we send them? Should they be sent to a criminal system that reinforces trauma, a system that all evidence shows has done nothing to either deter people from using drugs or improve their situations?

In fact, it's a system that removes the opportunity for full recovery and intervention. Seventy-six percent of all drug convictions are for simple possession. Prison time and convictions don't address the issue of drugs. What prison and conviction does do is create a barrier to education, create a barrier to employment, stigmatizes and shames a person already suffering and struggling.

Prison acts as a gateway to criminality, doesn't stop it. All of these compound the cycle of addiction, criminality, poverty and disconnection. What we can and should do is refer people to a purpose-built and humane system that recognizes the complexities and many forms that drug use takes, to a system managed by experts in the field of health, law, and addiction, that are able to treat people found in possession of drugs with fairness and compassion.

That, instead of sending our young people and people experiencing addiction to a courtroom, that they instead meet with an experienced case officer who is able to recommend the best course of action for the person and with the person. Surely a system where we are able to inform people about drugs, or support people with drugs in accessing rehabilitative treatment, or to reconnect with their communities through community engagement initiatives, is better than them ending up in Mountjoy Prison. That's what we're debating here today.

Drug use is going to happen. It's going to continue to impact lives. Nothing that we do as an Oireachtas will ever result in the elimination of drug consumption. All we can do, as legislators, is control how the State reacts to drug use and how it treats people who use drugs.

So this question is: when someone that you know and love is found in possession of drugs, who do you think you want to work with them? Is it a garda and a judge or even a prison guard, or is it a health professional and an addiction worker? That's what I think this Bill boils down to, and the question that we should ask all ourselves here today is, do we support, or do we ignore the evidence and continue to punish and propagate criminality?

I'm going to now give a brief overview of the main provisions of the Bill itself. Section Three inserts a new section into the original Misuse of Drugs Act 1977, which decriminalizes the possession of controlled drugs for personal use provided it doesn't exceed the quantity allowed for personal use. Section 3(2) allows for the Minister to set by regulation the amount allowed for personal use.

Section 3 also maintains the criminalization of possession of drugs in excess of personal use, and specifically states that nothing in this section will impact at all cases where a person possesses drugs with intent to sell. It's important to note that this legislation maintains strict criminalization placed on drug dealing and selling. It simply provides for the decriminalization of the individual that uses them.

Section 5 allows for An Garda Síochána to refer persons found in possession of drugs to a new Drug Dissuasion Service for assessment. Every person found in possession of drugs, whether it be within the allowed amount or in excess, will be referred to the Service. This Bill simply allows for a referral to a tailor-made and targeted service, rather than a punitive criminal justice environment.

Sections 10 to 16 outlines the structure, functions, leadership, and accountability of the new Drug Dissuasion Service. The Service will be led by a director general who will be directly accountable to the Oireachtas.

When drafting this Bill, we looked to other examples of quasi-judicial bodies that already existed within Irish legislation. And so, as a result, much of the sections relating to the Service draw on the structures that were established for the Workplace Relations Commission by the 2015 Act.

DEPUTY SPEAKER PAUL COGHLAN: You have two minutes.

SENATOR LYNN RUANE: Okeh. The Drug Dissuasion service will be administered by representatives from the Departments of Justice and Health, and experts in the field of drug counselling and addiction. This would be to ensure that the work of the Service would be cross-departmental in nature, and informed by expertise. The Service would be able to appoint case officers who would handle the individual assessments and conduct harm reduction research, and to inform the public in relation to controlled substances.

Sections 17, 18, 19, and 20 refer to the functions of the service's case officers, and the case's assessment and recommendations process. In terms of the process, the engagement between a referred person and their case officer is intended to be informal and at a time and place set by the officer. Case officers will be informed of the details of the possession, hear from the person themselves, and consider a number of factors, including age, addiction, personal circumstances, criminal record, and previous engagement with the Drug Dissuasion Service.

Following the consideration of all of this, the case officer will be able to recommend attendance at a drug awareness program, drug rehabilitation, or community engagement process.

Those are the provisions of the Bill. It is the product of months of input from international experts, from domestic experts, such as Niall Neligan, who was the primary drafter of the Bill, who's here today, and across a range of fields from people who work in drug services and from people who use drugs.

I am confident that it is the right first step towards a more progressive, humane, and realistic approach to drug policy, one that focuses on the individual at the heart of drug use. I have worked in this field for almost all my adult life and I would not be putting it before you all here today if I didn't think it would have an immeasurable positive impact on the lives of thousands of people across this country, because I promise you that it will.

I will finish on a phone call I just received as I walked in here from my daughter who's only 16, who has also had her life impacted indirectly by addiction. And she said to me, "You know this is so important, Mam, don't you?" And that's a child. And I just feel that if children can see the logical sense in not putting people, and people experiencing drug addiction in prison, well I think it's on us all here today to realize that if the children can see it, there's wrong with us if we can't see that too.

DOUG MCVAY: That was Lynn Ruane, a member of the Seanad Éireann, the Senate of the Republic of Ireland. Senator Ruane was speaking on a bill she introduced in May, the Controlled Drugs and Harm Reduction Bill 2017.

You're listening to Century of Lies, a production of the Drug Truth Network for the Pacifica Foundation Radio Network, on the web at I'm your host Doug McVay, editor of

Now let's hear from another co-sponsor of the Controlled Drugs and Harm Reduction Bill 2017, Aodhán Ó Ríordáin. Senator Ó Ríordáin is the former drug czar of Ireland.

SENATOR AODHÁN Ó RÍORDÁIN: Thank you very much, Cathaoirleach, I just want to start by thanking Senator Lynn Ruane for her excellent opening speech on this debate, and the Civil Engagement Group for facilitating this debate on the Bill, and my own party, the Labour Party, for supporting this bill, and other parties across this House.

It's very tempting, on a situation like this, to maybe play the political ball, but I don't think we should do that today. There is a reason why this Bill won't pass Second Stage necessarily this evening, but I'd rather not focus on that. I think we need to focus less on the politics and more on the humanity of what we're trying to achieve here today.

I think this is the most important Bill that will come across this Oireachtas, and I think this is probably the most important speech I'll make in my time in the Seanad, because if what I say, and what others say, manage to change one mind of one person who has the potential to pass this Bill further, well then I don't think I'll ever say anything more important.

Drugs are everywhere in Irish society. You will find guards who have in the past taken illegal drugs, you'll find members of the Judiciary in the past who have taken illegal drugs, you'll find politicians who in the past have taken illegal drugs, you'll find Cabinet members in the past who have taken illegal drugs. You'll find prison officers. You'll find teachers, you'll find nurses, you'll find journalists. But none of us would ever suggest that they're criminals for at one stage in their lives taking an illegal drug.

The reality is that this war on drugs is actually a war on the poor. It's a war on poor people. They're the ones who get criminalized. And as Senator Ruane quite rightly said, we are criminalizing marginalization.

When I spent a short time as Minister for Equality and as Minister for Drugs, I met with groups who told me, from the LGBT community, that when you're disconnected you're more likely to fall into addiction. People who advocated on behalf of people with disabilities said, if you're disconnected you're more likely to fall into addiction. People who are advocating for Traveller rights who said if you are disconnected you're more likely to fall into addiction. And of course, we know that deprivation causes people to fall into addiction.

The opposite to addiction is not sobriety. The opposite to addiction is connection. And we're not going to connect people with mainstream society if we give them a criminal sanction. It's just not working. I would plead with anybody who thinks that it is working, or is pushing people away from addiction or from drug use, to take a trip down to any court you choose, or in particular the drug court, and what you will find is a room full of sick of people in a courtroom. But worse than that, you will find a courtroom full of sick poor people.

So there is a level of power involved in this, and it's not just politics that has to blame for not moving sooner on this, but we have come a long way in a short period of time in my view. It's only a short number of weeks ago, Minister, you sat in that chair and we together passed, without amendments, the injecting center legislation, ground-breaking stuff that's going to save lives.

But there is a common perception, a common mistrust, a dehumanization of the addict. And all those groups that I named earlier, the LGBT community, the Traveling community, people with disabilities, asylum seekers, poor people. We all know the names that they used to be called. Disparaging names, dehumanising names, undermining names, that are not used in common usage any more, but you can still call somebody a junkie any hour of the day on any media outlet and get away with it. You could probably use it in this Chamber and in the other Chamber and not be censured for it.

A young man died of an overdose in St. Audeon's Park in November 2015. The person who found him dead rang the emergency services and said "It's just another junkie". So what we're really dealing with here is power, and the power that we actually think that people in addiction have, and their families have. Because what we've managed to do by criminalizing them, is making them full of shame.

And they won't come forward and talk about the services that they need. They won't come forward and talk about the lives that they're living, because criminalization is shaming them. And we're actually shaming people into graves. We have the third highest overdose rate in Europe. And if this was working, our statistics would show something completely different.

So what myself, and Lynn Ruane, and the Civil Engagement Group, and other parties here, are not trying to engage in some liberal loonyfest. What we're actually trying to do here, because we do believe, many of us, in having a drug-free society, but we are realists and we know that drugs are everywhere, and we know that people are going to continue to take them, but it's how we deal with that person who is sucked into addiction is the key.

Do we have that person interface with a guard, a judge in a court room, or a prison? Or do we say, you are better off to deal with a doctor, with a counsellor, with a suasion service? Do we think a young person from a disadvantaged area with a broken home who begins dabbling in drug use, who gets a criminal sanction, do we really think that that person's going to change their ways?

Because if I got a criminal conviction as a teenager, or somebody in my early 20s, I think I would probably say, "That's me done. Society has just made their decision on me." But I would also know that I've only got this criminal sanction because I'm poor.

So what I would say to members of this house is what we're trying to deal with here is one of the biggest killers in Irish society. It's one of the biggest killers in Irish society, and it's also one of the biggest lies. The war on drugs is a lie. It can't be won. It's a war on people, and it's a war on a certain type of people. So when we say decriminalization, and it's a word that gets us in trouble all the time, because people think we are talking about legalization, which we are not.


AODHÁN Ó RÍORDÁIN: We're talking about decriminalization of the person, not of the drug. Of the person. Take the person out of the criminal justice system and deal with addiction in the way it should be dealt with.

It's not about the substances, it's about the issues and connection. So with that, Leas-Cathaoirleach, I hope my words have gone some way to convincing people of what they should do in this regard, and in regards to this debate.

I want to finish by thanking those who have educated me along this road. People from CityWide, people from Ana Liffey. The USI are also in support of this move, and also Father Peter McVerry I might suggest as well, who told me at a public meeting I had in my constituency recently, that he was in court with a young man last year who was charged with possession of cannabis to the worth of two Euro. What a complete and utter waste of time. Our criminal justice system should be targeted at the pushers, not the takers of drugs.

DOUG MCVAY: That was Senator Aodhán Ó Ríordáin speaking in favor of the Controlled Drugs and Harm Reduction Bill 2017 in the Seanad Eireann. You're listening to Century of Lies, a production of the Drug Truth Network. I'm your host Doug McVay. Next, let's hear from Senator Niall O Donnghaile:

SENATOR NIALL O DONNGHAILE: When we're talking about legislation like this, and bringing it forward, I'm actually going to take the wisdom in this instance of Senator Ó Ríordáin, and maybe not make an issue of why we won't have a vote to move this bill forward today. We could do that, but I don't think it's in keeping with the spirit of the debate thus far. I don't think it's in keeping in concert with ultimately what we're trying to achieve going forward.

So this isn't about new politics or anything like that, Minister and colleagues. It's actually just about politics, and doing politics well, and doing politics right, I believe, because, what was it Einstein said about the definition of insanity? You know, you keep repeating the same mistakes, you keep making the same mistakes over and over again, all of the issues, all of the statistics are there.

You know, and a blind man or woman on a galloping horse can see that, can see that, whether it's so-called war on drugs, whether it's even the best intentioned policies and strategies thus far, haven't been making the difference that we wanted to make.

So I do think, I think that's why, as I said, we would have -- we will seek to amend this particular legislation, the core principle and spirit of this Bill and this legislation, to me, represents everything that actually new politics should be, because it's about trying to look at a problem, look at a societal issue, that is, you know, staring us right in the face in terms of the most tragic and awful ways where people are suffering greatly as a result of dependency on drugs, and drug addiction.

And I think anyone who comes into this House in a spirit of trying to assist and change that is to be commended, is to be supported, is to be worked and cooperated with, in order to try and achieve a goal, yes, that we can all live with, as politicians and elected representatives, but most importantly and most critically of all, that can actually start to tangibly make a change in our society, moving forward, Minister.

So, I mean, I just, without over-egging it, without hamming it up, and I don't say this to be contentious or to be controversial, but I mean, I grew up at a time and an environment in Belfast where people were -- who were, you know, using drugs or selling drugs, were being shot. Were being kneecapped, as it was called in Belfast, some of them were being killed. And that never, ever stopped people from taking drugs, it never stopped people from engaging in dealing drugs.

And I think if we look at the same issues that of -- whether it's strategic policy, whether it's policy direction, why would you stop? You know, what -- if you're going to take somebody up an alley and shoot them, that's not going to stop from engaging in this, why do we actually think what we've been doing over and over again is going to stop them?

So as I say, I don't say that to be controversial, I just say that because I think this discussion warrants frank contributions. I think we'd be doing people a disservice if we don't speak frankly about the realities that are present.

So, Minister, I know you're hearing this, and I know you're committed to this issue that's been outlined, I've heard you speak before on this stuff, and I know you share a desire to see a change in policy, to see a change ultimately, hopefully, in society, and see a change that actually starts to treat the issues highlighted in this legislation with the kind of legislation that it deserves.

And that has to be, you know, I hate to engage in cliches or rhetoric, but I can't think of any other term other than to say it has to be about putting people first. It has to about thinking of the individuals who are suffering as a result, and it has to be reacted to in a way that looks after their health, that looks after their well being, and I think will ultimately benefit your department and resources of government by actually taking them away from the criminal justice system, by actually taking them away from some of the issues that they face as a result of their drug dependency, by directing them on a path that is actually about their recovery.

And I say this to you, Minister, and I finish on this, Leas-Cathaoirleach. I'm in no way advocating a soft approach to the people that are peddling drugs on the most vulnerable in our society. I actually believe they should feel the full rigors of the law. People who are poisoning communities, at a broad level, at a wholesale level, are doing the people we're talking about today and trying to help today as much and bigger a disservice than anyone else.

So, while I advocate and support fully the issue, the primary objective of the bill in terms of dealing with this as a healthcare issue, I do appreciate there is a balance to be struck, and I do acknowledge fully that regardless of our best intentions, there are people out there who are intent on harming communities, and they have to be faced down as well.

SENATOR PAUL COGHLAN: Thank you, Senator.

DOUG MCVAY: That was Senator Niall O Donnghaile speaking on the Controlled Drugs and Harm Reduction Bill 2017 in the Seanad Eireann, which is the Senate of the Republic of Ireland.

We'll have more from that debate next week. Over the coming months, we'll be reporting on other developments in Ireland and throughout the European Union. The drug war is global, and so is the fight against it. Thank you for joining us.

You have been listening to Century of Lies. Century of Lies is a production of the Drug Truth Network for the Pacifica Foundation Radio Network, on the web at The executive producer of the Drug Truth Network is Dean Becker. Drug Truth Network programming is also available via podcast, the URLs to subcribe are on the network home page at

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We'll be back next week with thirty more minutes of news and information about the drug war and this century of lies. For now, for the Drug Truth Network, this is Doug McVay saying so long. So long!

For the Drug Truth Network, this is Doug McVay asking you to examine our policy of drug prohibition: the century of lies. Drug Truth Network programs archived at the James A. Baker III Institute for Public Policy.