Friday, 25 November 2011

Calls for European integration grow louder as democratic facade fades

As we here in Ireland brace ourselves for another round of austerity in the upcoming December budget, the wider European crisis continues to evolve at an alarming pace.

This past fortnight we have witnessed the crisis enter a disturbing new phase. The toppling of the democratically elected governments in both Greece and Italy according to the dictates of the financial markets, and the subsequent decision to replace those governments with unelected technocrats, brings to an end any lingering illusions of democratic accountability in the debt swamped Eurozone nations.

In Italy, the downfall of Silvio Burlesconi may have been greeted with some sense of relief amongst an electorate who had grown tired of the scandal prone premier. There is however a certain sense of trepidation as the reality slowly sets in that he is to be succeeded by the unelected and unaccountable Mario Monti, a former European commissioner and adviser to investment bank Goldman Sachs.

Speaking on the Italian situation on a visit to Rome last Friday, Herman Van Rompuy, president of the European Council, said “the country needs reforms, not elections”.

The sole task of Mario Monti will be to impose the will of the EU and IMF, regardless of the cost to the most vulnerable of the Italian citizenry.

Following the downfall of Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou, it was decided that Lucas Papademos, a former vice-president of the European Central Bank, would be appointed as his successor in a bid to ensure that even tougher austerity measures can be imposed upon the Greek people without delay.

What is often described as the 'democratic deficit' at the heart of the European Union, has now begun to spread to individual member states. Where once there was at least lip service paid to principles of democratic ideals, today we find that the dictates of the financial markets take precedence above all else. What started as a financial and economic crisis, is fast becoming a crisis in democracy.

The EU has long been criticized for the lack of democratic accountability at its core. The European Commission, the executive body in which is vested the power to propose legislation and implement decisions, is wholly unaccountable to the people. While the European Parliament, the only legislative body in the EU directly elected by the people, wields very little influence over decision making.

As we witness the rapid erosion of national sovereignty and democratic accountability in individual member states, the continuous narrative emerging from Europe's centre is that closer political union is the only solution to the crisis. 

German Chancellor Angela Merkel warned last Monday that Europe was entering its "toughest hour since World War Two", and rallying for tighter European integration, demanded "binding" EU oversight of national budgets.

Nikolas Sarkozy has suggested that a 'two-speed' Europe will emerge from the crisis, with much closer integration amongst Eurozone nations. 

"Clearly there will be a two-speed Europe" Sarkozy said. "One that moves towards more integration in the Eurozone, and one speed for a confederation within the European Union". 

The consensus amongst most financial analysts is that we face a choice between full European fiscal integration, or a breakdown of the euro currency, which could in turn jeopardize the European project as a whole.

The push for a federal European superstate is now well and truly underway. The reality for us here in Ireland is that while events may at this moment be transpiring that are beyond our control in the wider European financial context, we may soon be faced with a very stark decision regarding our future position in a newly structured EU.

There is also the chance however, that decision may be out of our hands if weaker Eurozone nations such as Greece and Ireland are forced to leave the Eurozone, as many commentators have suggested.

Although there is not at present any mechanism in existing treaties to enable a member state to exit, this did not prevent Nikolas Sarkozy and Angela Merkel recently threatening Greece with expulsion. That the Franco-German pair had no political authority or legal basis with which to execute this threat apparently mattered little. The EU no longer operates, it would seem, even by its own protocols. 

Should we remain with Europe, Irish Government parties would not relish the prospect of further European treaty changes which may require a referendum here in Ireland. They are aware that any referendum proposing tighter European integration is likely to be defeated with an electorate still reeling over the debacle of the Lisbon treaty.

In recent years there has been a stark rise in Euro-skepticism in Ireland and throughout all of Europe, and referendums on further integration would likely face a similar outcome in many other EU states.

If there is little will amongst the electorate for further EU integration, there seems even less so on the part of our EU leaders to reform or in any way democratize the institutions of the EU. If it is possible to amend existing treaties without recourse to national referenda, it is entirely probable that EU leaders could press ahead with plans for deeper integration, regardless of public opinion, much as they did with the European Constitution of 2005 which was rejected by France and Holland, and which was later re-branded as the Lisbon treaty.

Any such moves would however be met with stiff opposition.

If we are faced with the choice of whether or not to cede total national sovereignty to a new integrated Eurozone, it is likely that it will be framed in the context of avoiding an imminent collapse, and all the disastrous consequences that would come with that.

In much the same way as the bank bail out last year was put before the Irish Government on the basis that a refusal to accept the bail out would mean immediate disaster for Ireland, one can imagine a scenario where further Eurozone integration would be presented with a similar urgency.

For now, our politicians are remaining coy on the topic of further European integration, they know it is very unpopular amongst the electorate. Decembers budget remains the primary focus for the Irish people and politicians alike. In the near future however, we may be facing a much grander decision on the long-term future of Ireland as a sovereign nation.

If the noises coming from Europe are anything to go by, it seems almost certain that the EU, as we have known it, will not continue for much longer.

The rather unsettling manner in which European leaders are at this moment riding roughshod over the basic principles of democracy in Greece and Italy, may just provide a glimpse of things to come in a new centralized European state.

Wednesday, 9 November 2011

Irish Government criticized as Israel illegally detains 14 Irish citizens

The Irish Government are tonight coming under heavy criticism for their inexplicable lack of action in relation to the 14 Irish citizens currently being detained by Israeli authorities. They are being held at the Givon Detention Centre near the port of Ashdod.

The 14 man crew of the Irish vessel the MV Saoirse were taken into Israeli custody on Friday last when their ship was illegally boarded in international waters by Israeli forces.

The ship was en route to Gaza as part of the 'Freedom Waves' flotilla, alongside Canadian ship the 'Tahrir'. This was a humanitarian mission carrying medical aid and supplies, and aimed to break the Israeli blockade of Gaza.

A number of Irish political figures, including a current Member of the European Parliament, are among those being detained.

The decision by the Israeli authorities to board the vessel in international waters contravenes international law, and amounts to piracy. The subsequent decision to detain the crew of MV Saoirse therefore, can only by described as state sponsored kidnap.

In a three minute phone call from Givon prison in Israel, MEP Paul Murphy described the treatment of the detainees by the Israeli authorities:

“Our boat was almost sunk by the manner in which it was approached and boarded by the Israeli navy. People were shackled and deprived of all personal belongings.

“In Givon prison the authorities tried to disorientate us through sleep deprivation and the removal of our watches and the prison clock recording the wrong time. We have been given no time frame as to how long we will be kept here before the deportation trial."

Co-ordinator Dr. Fintan Lane who is also among those detained, described the Israeli raid as "dangerous to human life."

"I was hosed down the stairs of the boat" Dr Lane said. "Windows were smashed and the bridge of the boat nearly caught fire. The boats were corralled to such an extent that the two boats, the Saoirse and the Tahrir, collided with each other and were damaged, with most of the damage happening to the MV Saoirse. The boats nearly sank."

The Irish activists have so far refused to sign deportation papers which state that they came to Israel voluntarily and entered the country illegally. This is clearly quite absurd, since Israeli naval ships violently seized the MV Saoirse and the Tahrir, and forcibly transported the vessels and all crew on board to Ashdod.

Back home, the Irish Government have remained coy on the matter, and attempts by opposition TD's to have the issue openly debated in the Dáil have so far failed.

Tonight Deputy Richard Boyd-Barrett described the lack of action by the government as "nothing short of disgraceful".

Mr Boyd-Barrett said: "We are calling on the Minister for Foreign Affairs Eamon Gilmore and the Government to speak out and condemn what Israel has done; and to demand the immediate release of Irish citizens and to demand an explanation from the Israeli authorities as to why they kidnapped, illegally on international waters, 14 Irish citizens."

This sentiment is echoed amongst the Irish general public, where there is a growing feeling that Israeli defiance of international law has become habitual, and worryingly appears to be without any consequence whatsoever.

In May of last year, the world was stunned when Israeli commandos murdered 9 Turkish humanitarian activists and wounded many more during the raid on the first 'Gaza Freedom Flotilla'. This incident also occurred in international waters and involved a number of Irish citizens.

The following June Ireland ordered the expulsion of an Israeli diplomat from the country's embassy in Dublin. This move was in protest of Israel's forgery of Irish passports, eight of which were used in the assassination of a Hamas official in Dubai.

This latest incident, the latest of eleven international attempts to break the blockade of Gaza via the sea, is sure to further damage relations between Ireland and the Israeli regime, if only for the time being in the continued disintegration of the Irish public's regard for Israel.

Some reports are suggesting that up to half of the 14 Irish detainees may be released on Thursday November 10th. There is however no word as of yet to suggest when the remainder of those who have been detained may be released.

Tuesday, 27 September 2011

ITV documentary claims Gaddafi funding Irish dissidents

A source at the British Secret Intelligence Service, MI6, has claimed that deposed Libyan leader, Colonel Muammar Gaddafi, was funding armed Irish dissident republican groups in the north of Ireland as recently as June 2011.

The claim featured as part of an exclusive ITV1 documentary entitled, 'Exposure: Gaddafi and the I.R.A', which aired on September 26th.

The MI6 source alleges that a Libyan government courier flew into London earlier this year with $2 million in cash during a stopover on route to the Irish Republic. The money is thought to have been on its way to an Irish businessman closely associated with one of the armed dissident republican groups.

At present, there are three armed dissident groups active in the north of Ireland, Óglaigh na hÉireann, the Continuity Irish Republican Army (C.I.R.A) and the Real Irish Republican Army (R.I.R.A). The program did not specify as to which group the money was to be allocated.

The MI6 source was also unable to confirm whether or not the money had in fact reached its destination.

Colonel Gaddafi's support for Irish unity has long been documented. Expressing his opinion on the situation in Ireland, Gaddafi once famously said, "We believe the cause of Ireland is a just cause, and we support this just cause, because we believe Ireland is Ireland and Britain is Britain, and the existence of Britain in the north of Ireland is a sense of colonisation."

The former Libyan leader supported the Provisional I.R.A campaign to varying degrees from the early 1970's through to the signing of the Good Friday Agreement in 1998, lending both financial support and substantial arms shipments to aid the Irish campaign. 

The programme also obtained a copy of a video, purportedly showing an Irish dissident training camp taking place in the rural Irish countryside. Dissidents appeared to be armed with AK47 automatic rifles and pistols.

Armed insurgency is again on the rise in the north of Ireland, and there has been a steady increase in the number of attacks over the last several years.

During his decades in power, Gaddafi is believed to have funded several armed resistance groups across the world, these include the Palestinian Liberation Organisation, the Black September movement, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front in the Philippines, and the Japanese Red Army.

Determining the validity of the recent claim featured in the ITV documentary may prove difficult however. MI6 declined to officially confirm its authenticity.

I feel it is also important to draw attention to a number of blatant and rather worrying factual inaccuracies in the documentary. Shockingly, C.G.I footage from a popular computer game entitled 'Arma 2' was depicted in the program as having been a real life incident involving the I.R.A. On top of that, old television footage of street clashes between Irish nationalists and the R.U.C, the former police force in the north of Ireland that were dissolved in 2001, was described by the programs narrator as having occurred "earlier this year".

This shows that the standard of research behind the documentary was completely below what one would expect from a broadcaster of the caliber of ITV.

The program had quite a heavy political slant throughout, and was anything but impartial. In the sixty minutes dedicated to highlighting the evil of Gaddafi's role in sponsoring the Provisional I.R.A, there was not one single mention of the role the British government and British security forces played in sponsoring and colluding with Loyalist paramilitaries in the north of Ireland. Several reports and official inquiries have confirmed that the British state played an active role in sponsoring many violent atrocities in Ireland. To draw attention to Gaddafi's role, without so much as even mentioning the fact that the British state did the very same thing, highlights the politically biased nature of the documentary.

My own personal opinion is that the program seemed more concerned with manipulating public opinion in regards to the current situation in Libya.

There was also a strong sense of irony towards the end of the program as a member of the Libyan Transitional Council lambasted the use of violence to overthrow repressive regimes.

It remains to be seen whether or not the claim that Colonel Gaddafi has again resumed his support for Irish dissidents is true. Given the history of the situation, it is certainly not beyond the realms of possibility. The poorly researched nature and obvious political agenda of the documentary, will however, lead many to question its overall validity.

Link: ITV fake I.R.A footage

Saturday, 17 September 2011

Martin McGuinness to run for Uachtarán na hÉireann

It was announced earlier today that Northern Ireland Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness is set to run for Uachtarán na hÉireann, the office of President in the Republic of Ireland.

The former Provisional I.R.A leader has said that he will run on a broad progressive platform building upon his role in the peace process in the north of Ireland.

McGuinness says, "This is an opportunity for the people of Ireland to make a stand for the new Ireland, this is an opportunity for a new beginning and I do new beginnings"

McGuinness has extensive experience in the area of reconciliation having played a pivotal role in both the formation and implementation of the Good Friday Agreement, and has promised that if elected Uachtarán na hÉireann he will continue to reach out to the Unionist minority on the island.

Asserting his commitment to true and progressive change, McGuinness says "it's about bridge-building on the island, it's about bringing into place a process of national reconciliation, being a unifier of all the people that live on this island"

"My vision is to be someone who inspires, someone who has a track record in bringing important change, someone who will be seen as a figurehead, representing Ireland on a world stage."

McGuinness secured his nomination with the backing of his party, Sinn Féin, as well as four Independent Teachtaí Dála, deputies Luke 'Ming' Flanagan, Finian McGrath, Michael Healy-Rae and Tom Fleming.

If elected, his term will oversee the significant 100 year anniversary of the 1916 Easter Rising, and the prospect of a distinctly Irish Republican president for this occasion is sure to resonate resoundly amongst the republican and nationalist sections of the Irish electorate.

McGuinness' nomination is also likely to bring to the fore the debate over the extension of voting rights to Irish citizens living in the north of Ireland. At present, Irish citizens living in the north are not entitled to vote for their president, however Martin McGuinness has signaled his support for the extension of voting rights to Irish citizens in the north, as well as the Irish diaspora at large.

Expressing his thoughts on the campaign, Sinn Féin president Gerry Adams said “I believe that this election will give Martin the platform to continue the work which he has led in the North and in the peace process and to put it on a national footing.

“I believe he can be the people’s president. If elected he will draw the average industrial wage. He will dedicate himself to a genuine national reconciliation and the unity of our people. He will personify hope in the great genius and integrity of all the people of this island, Catholics, Protestants and Dissenters."

Adams asserts "Oileáin amháin, tír amháin, Uachtaráin amháin". That is, one island, one country, one President.

This promises to be an intriguing campaign with a few twists and turns to come yet.

Friday, 2 September 2011

Irish public outrage over illegal U.S renditions through Shannon

The Irish Government are coming under intensified pressure today to introduce new measures which would conclusively guarantee that Ireland will no longer facilitate illegal U.S rendition flights.

Newly released American courtroom documents have revealed that US authorities contracted out their illegal rendition flights to a host of private American corporations. The documents show that many such renditions en route to Guantanamo Bay and various secret CIA-run prisons and torture camps operated through Ireland's Shannon Airport over the past decade.

The revelations came as Richmor Aviation and SportsFlight Air, which acted for US government contractor DynCorp, are locked in dispute over unpaid costs from rendition flights.

Richmor Aviation operated the rendition plane N85VM/N227SV, which we now know beyond doubt passed through Shannon Airport regularly between 2001 and 2005, and was responsible for the rendition of an Egyptian cleric, Abu Omar.

The Seattle Times reports that:

    On Nov. 8, 2002, a Richmor Gulfstream, Tail No. N85VM, took off for Shannon Airport in Ireland, then to Dubai, in the United Arab Emirates, on a flight that paralleled the arrest that month of USS Cole bombing suspect Abd al-Nashiri.

    It was the first of a run of secret long-distance flights by the Gulfstream between 2002 and 2005 that paralleled the suspected movements of captured al-Qaida and other terrorist leaders who vanished into CIA-run black prisons after their arrests following the Sept. 11 attacks.

Recently released cables from the U.S. embassy in Dublin have also highlighted the complete disregard both the Irish and U.S governments have shown for national and international laws, Irish sovereignty and human rights. The cables show that protecting U.S. interests has been the primary concern for politicians on both sides of the Atlantic. Cables from former U.S Ambassador to Ireland, James C. Kenny, state that the Irish Government have consistently acted "to ensure continued U.S. military transits at Shannon" and that "the Irish Government has repeatedly defended U.S. interests in the face of public criticism".

Such statements are of deep concern to Irish citizens.

The same cables also reveal that Ambassador Kenny sought U.S Department guidance "on any next steps regarding the Shannon Five". This is despite the Shannon Five having been acquitted on all charges by a jury in an Irish Court. Ambassador Kenny's comments come dangerously close to suggesting U.S interference in the affairs of the justice system of a sovereign state.

Unfortunately, the courtroom files and the recent cables only confirm what many people in Ireland have long known or suspected, but which the Irish Government has repeatedly refused to address. The Government has in the past claimed that it had relied on reassurances by the US that it had not operated such flights through Irish airports or airspace. However, in light of this recent evidence this argument can no longer be reasonably sustained. If such assurances were in fact given to the Irish Government by U.S authorities, we now know that the U.S was supplying false information to the Irish Government. If such assurances were in fact not given to the Irish Government, we now know that the Irish Government was providing false information to the Irish public. Either way, it does not bode well.

Those responsible must now be meaningfully held to account, and the Irish Government must take immediate action to ensure that Ireland will no longer be complicit in illegal U.S renditions, kidnap and torture.

Monday, 29 August 2011

The Case for Irish Drug Policy Reform

The folly of prohibition:

It is now fifty years since the initiation of the UN Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs, and 40 years since American President Richard Nixon launched the US government’s war on drugs.

It is also 40 years since Ireland’s first major policy document in the area of Drug misuse, the 1971 Report of the Working Party on Drug Abuse, and despite vast expenditures on criminalization and repressive measures directed at producers, traffickers and consumers of illegal drugs, the evidence now shows that we have completely failed to effectively curtail supply or consumption.

Quite simply, we have tried the same policy for 40 years and it is not working, it is glaringly obvious that fundamental reforms in both national and global drug control policies are urgently needed. 

In the current economic climate, the issue of drug policy is all too easily swept under the carpet by our politicians, who instead prefer to focus on budgetary cuts as a means of addressing our massive fiscal deficit. What our politicians apparently fail to recognize however, is the economic idiocy of continuing to pour hundreds of millions of euros of taxpayers money into failed drug policy.

Wasteful government expenditure on futile supply reduction strategies and incarceration displace more cost-effective and evidence-based investments in demand and harm reduction.

Without a doubt, the current bull headed anti-drug crusade will go down as among the greatest follies of modern times.

The time has come for Ireland to radically reassess our approach to drugs. The war on drugs is based on a set of ideas which have never been adequately explored or reviewed, principally the notion that problems arising from drug use can be tackled by policy measures which are aimed at controlling the supply of illicit drugs. All the data suggests that in fact the opposite is true, that policies of prohibition exacerbate social problems such as organized crime, sex trafficking, and drug related infections, while doing nothing to reduce drug related deaths and addiction rates.

Throughout the world, a punitive regime of prohibition has turned streets into battlefields resulting in uncontrollable overcrowding in our prisons, all the while a multi-billion euro untaxed black economy lines the pockets of major organized criminal enterprises. Producing and distributing illegal drugs is a highly organized business, whose effects are felt throughout all levels of society.

Studies have consistently shown that policies of prohibition and criminalization, as we have in Ireland, create a situation where the most substantial barrier to offering treatment to the addict population is the addicts’ fear of arrest, therefore hindering our ability to treat those who are in greatest need of treatment.

Our current approach to drugs has done nothing to reduce the availability of drugs, the rates of addiction, drug related deaths or drug related infections. For decades astronomical sums of Irish taxpayers money has been poured into a policy which can no longer reasonably be accepted as being in any way sensible. The fact is, in Ireland, drugs today are more available than they have ever been, are worse quality than they have ever been, and as a result are responsible for more deaths than at any other time in our history.

In defense of prohibition, it has been suggested that no one has ever believed illegal drug use could be entirely eliminated, however there was a defensible view that prohibition could prevent more harm than it caused. Such a defense can no longer be reasonably accepted, as innumerable international studies have conclusively shown that the costs of drug prohibition now far outweigh any possible benefits the policy may bring.

It is time for a radical shift in policy.

The failed 'war on drugs': 

According to a massive 2009 study by the European Commission, the 'war on drugs' has not reduced the production, trafficking, availability or use of drugs. The research project said the prices of drugs have fallen significantly in western Europe, by as much as 10%-30%, despite massive efforts and investment in law enforcement.

Similarly sobering conclusions were reached by the Global Illicit Drug Markets Report 1998 to 2007, which found that "there is 'no evidence' that the global drug problem has reduced", that "there is a 'lack of evidence' that controls (crop eradication, seizures and arrests) can reduce total global production or trafficking", and that "little is spent on prevention and existing programmes have little effect".

Critical studies of drug policies in other countries have generally concluded that drugs have been irrationally demonised, that is they have been regarded in an exaggerated way as corrupters of otherwise well-functioning societies, and that our current policy of prohibition fails to recognize that wider social and situational needs such as poverty, housing, health, education and employment prospects are as fundamental to reducing drug use as addressing supply.

A recent report released in June of this year by the Global Commission on Drug Policy also argues that the decades-old "global war on drugs has failed, with devastating consequences for individuals and societies around the world". The Commission includes former heads of state of several Latin American countries such as Colombia, Mexico and Brazil, the Prime Minister of Greece, George Papandreou, former Secretary General of the United Nations, Kofi Annan, former State Secretary at the German Federal Ministry of Health, Marion Caspers-Merk, as well as several high profile social rights activists and business moguls like Richard Branson.

The report outlines the folly of continuing criminalization and prohibition policies, and makes several key recommendations to Governments. The report recommends that Governments: 

  • "End the criminalization, marginalization and stigmatization of people who use drugs but who do no harm to others"
  • "Explore models of legal regulation of drugs to undermine the power of organized crime and safeguard the health and security of their citizens"
  • "Implement syringe access and other harm reduction measures that have proven effective in reducing transmission of HIV and other blood-borne infections as well as fatal overdoses"
  • "Respect the human rights of people who use drugs. Abolish abusive practices carried out in the name of treatment – such as forced detention, forced labor, and physical or psychological abuse – that contravene human rights standards and norms or that remove the right to self-determination"
  • "Begin the transformation of the global drug prohibition regime. Replace drug policies and strategies driven by ideology and political convenience with fiscally responsible policies and strategies grounded in science, health, security and human rights – and adopt appropriate criteria for their evaluation"

For reasons known only to themselves, the Irish Government have chosen to ignore the recommendations of the Global Commission on Drugs, discounting the vast experience and expertise of those behind the report. Instead the Irish Government seem intent to continue ploughing Irish taxpayers money into a policy which by all measures, has not and can not work.

A very brief history of Irish drug policy:

The first discussion of drug problems in an official Irish policy document is almost certainly that which is contained in the 1966 Report by the 'Commission of Inquiry on Mental Illness'. The overall conclusion of the commission, was that Ireland had as yet avoided such problems, although a cautionary note was sounded:  
‘the Commission considers that drug addiction could reach serious proportions in this country unless a constant effort is maintained to prevent the abuse of habit-forming drugs’
The commission accepted however that the treatment and rehabilitation of drug addicts was a legitimate function of the mental health services, although it favored the creation of a centralized, residential treatment unit rather than advocating that drug problems should be dealt with by generic, community mental health services.

Two years later, following the establishment of a special Drug Squad in the Garda Siochana and considerable media interest in drug problems in Dublin, the Minister for Health, Sean Flanagan, appointed a Working Party on Drug Abuse.

The Report of the Working Party on Drug Abuse was completed and made public in 1971.

It is interesting to note that in the Minister’s prefatory comments, was included the opinion that ‘persons who have become dependent on drugs … should be regarded as sick people in need of medical care to be treated with sympathy and understanding’.

It recommended, among other things, that statutory controls be contained in comprehensive, new, anti-drug legislation, and these should not unduly infringe on individual civil liberties; that there should be a system of scaled penalties for varying types of drug offence; and that the courts should have the power to commit convicted drug abusers to a treatment facility rather than to a conventional prison.

The working party recommended that the whole question of drug education should be considered by a specialist committee and this, in turn, led to the establishment in 1974 of the Health Education Bureau.

Despite these early rational health oriented approaches to drug policy, we have in Ireland increasingly moved towards greater degrees of criminalization, reflecting a preoccupation with law and order, rather than care for the health and well-being of drug users. 

The other major development of the 1970s in this area was the enactment of the Misuse of Drugs Act 1977, which was not put into effect until 1979.

1983 saw the establishment of the Special governmental Task Force on Drug Abuse, a committee consisting of six ministers of state under the chairmanship of Fergus O’Brien, Minister of State at the Department of Health. The most obvious result of their task force was that the existing legislation was amended by the Misuse of Drugs Act 1984, which introduced higher fines and harsher sentence for drug offences, this included a symbolic ‘life’ sentence for 'drug pushing'.

In addition to the increased fines and jail sentences mentioned above, the new legislation dropped the requirement that justice should defer sentencing convicted drug offenders pending the completion of medical and social reports. This essentially amounted to the abandonment of drug addicts, "sick people in need of medical care", to the criminal justice system.

More recently, the National Advisory Committee on Drugs (NACD) was established in July 2000 to conduct research on drug misuse and to advise the Government on policy development in the area. The NACD operates under the auspices of the Department of Community, Equality and Gaeltacht Affairs. While we should commend renewed attempts by the NACD to emphasize the need for improved access to treatment, we should recognize that the NACD's continued support for prohibition and criminalization effectively negates any progress they may make. Ultimately, we must concede that despite being in existence for over a decade, the NACD has failed in all respects to make any significant impact on the drug situation in Ireland.

At present, the Government’s policy framework on drugs is the National Drugs Strategy 2009-2016, an interim plan which fully supports the continued policy of prohibition and criminalization, despite innumerable international studies which identify the explicit harms caused by such policy.

The Irish electorate are now faced with a decision, do we continue to pump hundreds of millions of euros into a policy which has conclusively been shown to be failed, or do follow the example of countries such as Portugal who have successfully reduced drug addiction and death rates through policies of decriminalization and a health oriented approach?

Portugal, a working model of decriminalization:

“Decriminalization” comprises removal of a conduct or activity from the sphere of criminal law. Prohibition remains the rule, but sanctions for use (and its preparatory acts) no longer fall within the framework of the criminal law.

On July 1, 2001, a nationwide law in Portugal took effect that decriminalized all drugs, including cocaine and heroin. Under the new legal framework, all drugs were “decriminalized,” although not “legalized.” Thus, drug possession for personal use and drug usage itself are still legally prohibited, but violations of those prohibitions are deemed to be exclusively administrative violations and are removed completely from the criminal realm. Drug trafficking continues to be prosecuted as a criminal offense.

Portugal remains the only EU member state with a law explicitly declaring drugs to be “decriminalized”, Portugal therefore provides a working model of drug decriminalization on which the Irish Government can base future policy.

Significantly, none of the nightmare scenarios touted by pre-enactment decriminalization opponents — from rampant increases in drug usage among the young to the transformation of Lisbon into a haven for “drug tourists” — has occurred

Decriminalization has had no adverse effect on drug usage rates in Portugal, which, in numerous categories, are now among the lowest in the EU, particularly when compared with states with stringent criminalization regimes

Drug-related pathologies—such as sexually transmitted diseases and deaths due to drug usage—have decreased dramatically.

Drug policy experts attribute those positive trends to the enhanced ability of the Portuguese government to offer treatment programs to its citizens—enhancements made possible, for numerous reasons, by decriminalization. As evidenced in Portugal, when the fear of being criminalized and arrested is addressed through decriminalization, the number of addicts who will seek treatment greatly increases.

The data shows that, judged by virtually every metric, the Portuguese decriminalization framework has been a resounding success.

Decriminalization versus Legalization:

Portugal provides an excellent example to it's EU neighbors on the benefits of decriminalization, but does simple 'decriminalization' go far enough?

Decriminalization clearly leads to a reduction in drug related harms, but there is a down side. Simply decriminalizing leaves production, quality control, distribution and massive profits in the hands of an organized criminal underworld, keeping that revenue out of the taxable economy.

Through a system of decriminalization, coupled with the legalization, taxation and regulation of certain 'soft' drugs, such as Cannabis, which has been shown to be considerably less damaging to an individuals health than tobacco or alcohol, the government could generate hundreds of millions of euro to fund drug awareness and drug rehabilitation programs.

Estimates suggest a policy of regulation and taxation would raise more than enough to cover the costs of education and rehabilitation strategies.

Full-scale legalization, with the state intervening chiefly to regulate quality and provide education on the risks of drug use and care for those who have problems with the drugs they use, should now shape the agenda of drug law reform.

In conclusion:

Figures from the Office of Tobacco control show that overall tobacco smoking prevalence has drastically declined in Ireland over the last decade. This massive reduction was brought about not by criminalizing and incarcerating tobacco smokers, but rather this was achieved by making good health information available to responsible adults, who can then make the responsible and informed decision not to smoke tobacco. All of the evidence available suggests that similar strides can be made in relation to illicit drugs, if we approach these in the manner in which we approach tobacco.

An educational health orientated approach, together with a functioning system of taxation and regulation, would drastically reduce Irish gangland crime, overcrowding in our prisons, drug addiction rates, drug related deaths and infections.  It would also enable us to address the budget deficit in a meaningful way by eliminating wasteful spending on failed policy, and by putting an estimated 500million euro annually into the taxed economy.

In spite of the increasing evidence that current policies are not achieving their objectives, Irish policy makers  have tended to avoid open scrutiny or debate on alternatives. The Government need to come into line with public and academic opinion on the issue of drugs, and quick, because aside from the obvious social benefits, in the current economic climate we can no longer afford to continue this wasteful and utterly ineffective policy of prohibition.

An article by Ruaidhrí O' Conghaile


DECRIMINALIZATION IN PORTUGAL: Lessons for Creating Fair and Successful Drug Policies, Glenn Greenwald, CATO Institute

THE NATIONAL DRUG STRATEGY 2009 - 2016, Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs (An Roinn Gnóthaí Pobail, Tuaithe agus Gaeltachta),

Drug Problems and Drug Policies in Ireland: A Quarter of a Century Reviewed, Shane Butler, Administration, 39(3), Autumn 1991, pp.210-235. 


Expenditure Review of the Local Drugs Task Forces, October 2006, Goodbody Economic Consultants,7759,en.pdf

Thursday, 18 August 2011

British government criticized over 'disproportionate' response to riots

"Mindless destruction" committed by a "feral underclass" seeking to "gratify their bestial and selfish urges", that is how Edward Turnham, Chair-elect of Cambridge University Conservative Association, described the recent riots which swept Britain.
Mr. Turnham's words serve only to highlight the social bigotry which is rampant throughout the British establishment. At every opportunity British politicians have sought to relegate the fundamental causes of the riots to nothing more than opportunistic criminality, and we have seen terms such as 'mindless hooliganism' and 'disgraceful yobbery' plastered across the media in an attempt to de-legitimize and de-politicize the cause of the "feral underclass".

That the rioters lack leaders to articulate their grievances is certainly true, and perhaps that is an inditement of British left wing politics which have failed to engage the impoverished communities from which these riots have emanated, but to dismiss the legitimacy of their grievances will only further exacerbate the class division and further isolate communities which already feel as though they are on the very fringe of British society.

The incident which sparked the riots was the shooting dead of 29 year old father of four, Mark Duggan, by British police. Although it had originally been claimed that Mr. Duggan had opened fire on police, the Independent Police Complaints Commission has now said that there is no evidence Mr. Duggan opened fire at police before being shot dead by a firearms officer.

While this incident provided the spark, it can not be doubted that the violence which unfolded in cities and towns throughout Britain was the direct result of the marginalization of a generation by capitalism and it's inevitable crises.

The mainstream media have opted to focus on incidents of looting, and like the British political establishment, have made no attempt to understand the position of those involved. We would do well to ask ourselves, why do those involved feel as though they have nothing to lose?

The communities from which these riots spread are those worst affected by chronic unemployment, and cuts to public service spending. Community centers have been shut and community funding has been slashed, the vast majority of youths involved in the rioting are essentially excluded from third level education in the face of astronomical tuition fee's, and are facing a future with no real prospects for employment.

All the while, the needs and well-being of the "feral underclass", as Mr. Turnham puts it, are sacrificed by British politicians to pay for the greed of an extremely wealthy Banking elite, and as impoverished communities across Britain continue to deteriorate into a state of hyperghettoization, the British Government continue to pump hundreds of millions of pounds into sustaining the British war machine in Afghanistan and Iraq.

The response by the British government in the wake of the riots has been telling, they have opted to grant themselves sweeping new powers to shut down social media websites such as Twitter in times of social unrest, in this regard finally bringing Britain in line with countries such as Syria. Hefty prison sentences have also been handed down to youth's who attempted to use Facebook to co-ordinate rioting.

Many defence lawyers and civil rights groups have expressed deep alarm about the 'disproportionate' punishments being handed down to those involved, for example one student has been jailed for six months for stealing a bottle of water from a supermarket.

The fact magistrates were advised by justices' clerks to disregard normal sentencing guidelines when dealing with riot-related cases is cause for great concern.

At this point over 1000 rioters have been charged, and in some cases the British government have decided to evict the parents of rioters from social housing schemes, and are mulling over plans to cut any remaining benefits being claimed by those involved.

The heavy handed response of the British government runs the risk of not only further isolating these impoverished communities, but fueling an already growing sense of genuine oppression.

There is something deeply wrong in a country where a Member of Parliament who steals thousands of pounds of public taxpayers money receives nothing more than a slap on the wrist, but you may be sent to jail for stealing a bottle of water or setting up a Facebook page.