The Irish Association of Social Workers (IASW) is deeply concerned and dismayed at the delay in holding a citizens’ assembly on drug use, which was promised in the current Programme for Government, (2020). Government has decided that the other two citizens’ assemblies – on a Dublin mayor and on biodiversity – will take priority this year, with the assembly to consider drug use taking place next year (2023), after the other two are completed. Social workers in every area of practice across the country, every day, see the negative impact of drug use and the resulting frequently devastating effects on individuals, families and communities. That impact is exacerbated by our response as a society to those who use drugs, specifically the punitive laws and policies that reinforce social exclusion, have their worst effects felt in the most disadvantaged communities and make recovery at every level more difficult. As Citywide Drugs Crisis Campaign has pointed out: “The Citizens Assembly will provide a civic space to look at the evidence and agree the policy changes that are needed – as a society we cannot afford to wait any longer for this debate to take place.”
IASW Chairman, Vivian Geiran said: “The Irish Association of Social Workers regrets the government postponement of the citizens’ assembly on drug use. Criminalising those individuals who use drugs helps no-one and in fact is counter-productive. Too many people have died from drug-related deaths, not to mention the insidious problem of drug-related intimidation and other associated harms. Social workers stand with those directly affected and with those who have been calling for reasoned debate on the issues, to inform future policy and practice. The time for action is now.”
The IASW calls for an urgent review of the government decision made to postpone the citizens’ assembly on drug use and for that decision to be reversed so that the commitment to hold a civic debate on how we respond to this life and death issue be restored as an immediate government priority.