On Thursday, the High Court rejected a plan to open what would be Ireland’s first legal drug injection centre on Merchant’s Quay. Concerns about the proposed centre’s proximity to a local school were raised, with the school claiming this would create a “drugs marketplace.” This comment – and the decision more broadly – reveals not only a lack of empathy for those experiencing drug addiction, but a fundamentally incorrect understanding of harm reduction. Injection centres do not create a “marketplace” for drugs, or encourage or condone drug use. They provide a safe location for drug users which limits the transmission of intravenous diseases, drastically reduces the risk of overdosing, and provides drug users with privacy and dignity. Given Ireland has one of the highest drug related death rates in Europe it is extremely damaging that plans for safe injection are being blocked based on debunked misconceptions about injection centres and a “not in my back yard” attitude.
The school also cited concerns that pupils would be negatively impacted by witnessing drug use. While it is of course reasonable that a school would have concerns about any new developments in the vicinity, the irony of this comment was of course, that supervised injection facilities move drug use off the street, and into a private location. They also reduce the risk of drug paraphernalia related litter such as needles, which can be extremely dangerous if not disposed of correctly. The reality is that supervised injection facilities would eliminate much of the negative impact of localised drug use, for both drug users and residents.
“There is an irony in Temple Bar – essentially an open air zoo for tourists, stag nights, and people with terrible taste in pubs to expel every bodily fluid possible onto the street – objecting to injection centres out of a fear of “anti-social behaviour.”
Temple Bar Company was also supportive of the High Court’s ruling against the plan for Merchant Quay’s legal injection centre. There is an irony in Temple Bar – essentially an open air zoo for tourists, stag nights, and people with terrible taste in pubs to expel every bodily fluid possible onto the street – objecting to injection centres out of a fear of “anti-social behaviour.” This irony would be shocking if it wasn’t completely consistent with Ireland’s hypocritical approach to substance abuse: don’t give homeless people change because they’ll spend it all on drugs, but spend your weekend on a cocaine binge. A glass of wine in an outdoor restaurant is fine, but drink a can a few yards down, and you’ll be baton charged off the street. I don’t want to see people shooting up out in the open, but I don’t want an injection centre anywhere near me. It isn’t necessarily drug use people have a problem with, but the image of a drug user they have in their head, one steeped in classist and often racist stereotypes.
Ireland’s approach to drug use is consistent with an out of sight, out of mind attitude towards those deemed unacceptable in the eyes of polite society, be they unmarried women, refugees or children forced into industrial schools. The incarceration of those charged with drug possession merely seeks to punish, rather than rehabilitate; 37% of inmates in Mountjoy prison are on methadone as of 2019. If the money spent imprisoning those who are dependent on substances was funnelled into rehabilitation, the rates of heroin use in Dublin city would be very different.
It is also worth noting that concerns that supervised injection facilities or methadone clinics in the city centre will concentrate public intoxication into one area are also a direct consequence of public representatives in suburban areas lobbying hard to keep these centres out. Dublin City Council refused planning permission for safe injection centres in July 2019. Josepha Madigan (then Minister for Culture) lobbied against centres in Dublin Rathdown. She sent a letter to her constituents which said “I am pleased to reassure local residents that following representations from my office to the Department of Health, I have been informed that a new methadone clinic will not be developed at the Ballinteer Health Centre as the existing services are adequate.” This approach not only cuts off many drug users geographically, but also provides city centre based bodies like the Temple Bar Company with a battering ram to act as though the area surrounding their business is being overrun with facilities for addicts.
“Safe injection centres should be considered absolutely necessary for any society that values the safety and wellbeing of its residents.”
We are the country of a thousand welcomes, but only if you’re spending money that lines the pockets of vintners and hoteliers. Safe injection centres should be considered absolutely necessary for any society that values the safety and wellbeing of its residents. Supporting these centres is not about encouraging or celebrating drug use; it is simply an acknowledgement that drug use is a reality, and that drug users deserve basic human dignity. The combination of NIMBYism, stigma and criminalisation has cost lives, and will continue to do so, particularly given that those who are addicted to drugs – specifically heroin – are one of the most dehumanised and stigmatised groups in our society.
Ultimately, the objection to the proposed injection centre will do unconscionable harm. It will do nothing to limit the transmission of intravenous diseases. It will do nothing to prevent public injecting, which deprives drug users of dignity and privacy. It will result in overdose related deaths. This is the stark reality of a society that others and disregards the needs of those in the throes of addiction, and fundamentally refuses to treat them as human beings.