Cocaine has become a “major substance” in Irish society and is seen everywhere, “even in Dáil Éireann”, a Sinn Féin TD has told the Dáil.
Dublin North-West TD Dessie Ellis was speaking as statements were being heard on the Citizens’ Assembly on Drug Use on Tuesday.
The inaugural meeting of the assembly is due to take place in mid-April with the recruitment of its members to begin over the coming days.
Mr Ellis said the establishment of a Citizens’ Assembly on the issue was “long overdue” and that open drug-dealing was now “common”, even around schools.
“Cocaine has become a major substance use in our society. You see it in pubs, you see it everywhere, it’s even in Dáil Éireann,” he said.
“We’ve seen all these [places] where it’s become acceptable. Education is needed, we need to teach people that this is unacceptable.”
The Sinn Féin TD also said drug intimidation was “a major issue”, mainly in working class areas. Mr Ellis said people were “crying for help” and that hopefully the Citizens’ Assembly could come up with answers.
Minister of State at the Department of Health Hildegarde Naughton said across the length and breadth of Ireland, “individuals, families and communities are grappling with the harmful impact of illicit drugs use”.
“Directly or indirectly, illicit drugs use affects all of us. No matter what our gender, age or socioeconomic background, whether we live in rural or urban areas, no one is immune from the risks or harm caused by illicit drugs use,” she said.
Ms Naughton said too many families have “lost loved ones through addiction” and that the State needed to reduce harm, supply, demand and increase resilience, health and wellbeing in society.
“I believe there is a strong consensus in this House and among the general public that the State and society generally need to respond far more effectively to the problems caused by illicit drugs use,” she said.
The Galway West TD added that the assembly’s inaugural meeting would take place in April, with it scheduled to conclude its work and submit its report by the end of the year.
Labour TD Aodhán Ó Ríordáin said the assembly was “a once-in-a-generation, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for us to do something to stop the body count”.
“We have a body count of poor people. If the body count was of anything else but poor people, we would have done something before now,” he said.
“I say with all sincerity that if the body count was of cattle, we would have done something by now. But the people who die from drug overdose just don’t matter as much. As has been said, they are called names, even in this House. They are derided and dehumanised and their families are accused of poor parenting.”
Social Democrats TD Holly Cairns said the Government’s proposal for what the assembly will consider was “irresponsibly narrow”.
“It doesn’t cover the impacts of criminalisation of drug use and possession, which is a key component of understanding a medicalised approach to drug use,” she said.
“We need to face up to not only the harm caused by drugs but also the harm of systems that punish addiction.”