Former HSE boss Paul Reid to chair Citizens’ Assembly on Drugs

Forum examining changes to law to reduce harm from use of drugs in Ireland

Former HSE chief executive Paul Reid has been appointed as the independent chairman of the Citizens’ Assembly on Drugs Use.

Announcing the appointment on Tuesday, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said Mr Reid has “vast leadership experience and a successful track record” as head of the health service and Fingal County Council.

“I am confident he will be an excellent choice as Chairperson of the Citizens’ Assembly on Drugs Use.”

Mr Reid was the chief executive of the HSE between 2019 and 2022 and was at the helm during a turbulent period including the Covid-19 pandemic and the cyberattack on the health service. He headed up the Fingal local authority from 2014 to 2019.


He said that “problems associated with drugs use in Ireland affect us all, directly or indirectly”.

“Previous assemblies have shown that members of the general public have an important contribution to make to tackling complex societal problems, and I expect that the Citizens’ Assembly on Drugs Use will be no different.”

The process of selecting 99 members of the public to join the assembly is to begin this week. The first meeting is due to take place on April 14th.

The terms of reference call on the assembly to examine and make recommendations on the legislative, policy and operational changes the State could make to significantly reduce the harmful impacts of illicit drugs on individuals, families, communities and wider society.

Government chief whip Hildegarde Naughton, Minister of State for the National Drugs Strategy, admitted to smoking cannabis in her 20s, saying there is a need for an “open and honest” conversation in society about drug use.

She said that she had tried the drug in her 20s in Ireland and decided it “wasn’t for me”. She said one in four people surveyed by the Health Research Board had said they tried illegal drugs in their lifetimes.

In the context of the upcoming Citizens’ Assembly, she said an open and honest conversation should be had about drug use and “how then that feeds into policy, and that’s what I want as minister with responsibility for drugs policy”.

She said it was important to hear the “lived experience of those who use drugs”.

A spokesman for the assembly said Mr Reid “has not used illegal drugs in the past” but recognises “the huge complexity and impact of the issue” from his experiences working with local communities in Dublin and with the HSE.

Cormac McQuinn

Cormac McQuinn

Cormac McQuinn is a Political Correspondent at The Irish Times