Northern Ireland

Catholic bishops call on voters to urge support for drug decriminalisation among election candidates

Bishops say treating drug use as social, not criminal issue, can help tackle substance use crisis

Archbishop Eamon Martin
Archbishop Eamon Martin.

The north’s Catholic bishops have urged voters to press General Election candidates on supporting drug decriminalisation and the creation of a residential facility to help addicts.

In their Pastoral Reflection ahead of next Thursday’s vote, the bishops, headed by All-Ireland Primate Eamon Martin, have warned the north faces a “crisis of hope” and have highlighted an increase in drug use as contributing to problems faced in society.

However, they have said there is now an “urgent need” to address drug use as a social issue, and not a criminal one, and are asking voters to urge candidates to back the removal or reduction of criminal penalties for possession of small amounts of drugs.

Two women were injured in a hit-and-run incident in Newry, police have said
Use and possession of small amounts of drugs should not be a criminal issue, the north's Catholic bishops have suggested in a pre-General Election statement. (Niall Carson/PA)

“There is an urgent need to address the drugs crisis in our society in a well-resourced, multi-disciplinary way, primarily as a social and medical issue, rather than as a criminal issue to be dealt with as a revolving door phenomenon by the police and prisons,” the bishops said in the joint statement.

“The Irish Bishops’ Drugs Initiative has previously proposed the removal or reduction in criminal penalties for the possession and use of small quantities of drugs, in favour of treating such situations as a public health issue, and prioritising treatment, care, education programmes and longer-term personal development.

“We take the opportunity of the forthcoming election to re-state this appeal to our politicians. De-criminalise the taking of drugs by those who have become their victim. Give them reasons to hope by providing adequate residential, expert multi-disciplinary support to set them free to live their lives again with confidence and purpose.”

They added: “The north of Ireland does not have, but urgently needs expert, multi-disciplinary residential care for those who have become addicted to drugs specifically.”

Meanwhile, the bishops have also warned of a “growing culture of aggression and lack of civility in all aspects of life, fuelled in particular by the lack of regulation of social media”.

They said: “We encourage all citizens to pose this basic question to candidates in the forthcoming election. What are you going to do to restore hope and civility to our society? What are you going to do to improve the quality and tone of public debate, and to improve social cohesion by modelling shared concern for the common good?”

The bishops also urged voters to support those who want to tackle the “totally unacceptable” levels of child poverty in the north, and to replace community funding lost through Brexit.