The benefits of having a legal drug injection centre “outweigh” potential negative effects, the country’s top planning body has concluded.
In the latest twist in a long-running battle to implement successive government policy, An Bord Pleanála has given the green light to the country’s first-ever drug injection facility.
The centre is to be set up in existing Merchant's Quay offices in Dublin City, operate for a trial period of 18 months, and be evaluated.
The board’s inspection report said that while there is “no doubt” as to the extent and seriousness of the drug-related problems experienced by the local school and the community, the development would actually “significantly reduce” many of those problems.
Inspector Stephen Ward said the accounts he received from locals contained “comprehensive, shocking, and convincing” testimony as to the gravity and frequency of antisocial behaviour and public injecting.
But he said Merchant's Quay has demonstrated “convincing potential” for the centre to reduce public injecting and associated antisocial behaviour.
Long road to approval
Plans to set up the unit were formally agreed in December 2015 by the then government, with legislation published in February 2017 and enacted in April 2018.
It was refused planning permission by Dublin City Council in July 2019, but granted permission by An Bord Pleanála that December, following a report by its inspector.
After St Audoen’s National School took a judicial review, the High Court quashed the planning board's decision in December 2021.
The High Court sent it back to the board for reconsideration, strongly criticising it for failing to consider the impact on the local school.
'Convincing potential to reduce public injection'
In his 64-page report, Mr Ward said he understood the concerns of the school and residents, which, he said, mainly relate to public drug use, drug litter, and associated antisocial/criminal behaviour.
“I am in no doubt as to the extent and seriousness of problems experienced in the area,” he said.
But he said that he finds it credible that the proposed development would result in a "significantly reduced incidence" of public injecting by existing users in the area.
I also find it reasonable to conclude that there would be an associated reduction in drug litter and antisocial/criminal behaviour,” he stated.
He added: “On this basis, the proposal would positively impact on the existing drug-use problem, resulting in an enhanced public amenity for the wider community, including the local school, residents, and businesses.”
He did accept that international evidence submitted to him did contain “conflicting views” on the impact of such centres abroad.
Mr Ward said there is "an inherent level of uncertainty" about the impact of the facility, but that it is reasonable to conclude that “adverse impacts are certain to occur” to local amenities.
“On balance, however, I consider that the application has demonstrated convincing potential to reduce public injection and associated antisocial behaviour," he stated.
"In my opinion, these benefits outweigh the potential risk of adverse local effects.”
Source: Cormac O'Keeffe, The Irish Examiner, 03/01/2023