Government has finalised the terms of reference for the new Citizens' Assembly on Drug Use, and defined its aim as seeking to "significantly reduce" the harmful impacts of what are described as "illicit drugs" on individuals, families, communities and wider society.
The Minister of State Hildegarde Naughton will bring a motion to both Houses of the Oireachtas next Tuesday afternoon.
In a document seen by RTÉ News, the Citizens’ Assembly is to be charged with considering "the legislative, policy and operational changes the State could make" in order to achieve the goal set by Government.
The Assembly will consist of 100 members - 99 randomly-selected members of the general public, and an independent chairperson who will be nominated by the Taoiseach.
It will convene this April and must report back to government before the end of the year.
The Terms of Reference stipulate that the Assembly must consider "the drivers, prevalence, attitudes and trends in relation to drugs use in Irish society" as well as "the harmful impacts of drug use on individuals, families, communities and wider society".
There is an emphasis on the Assembly hearing from "the lived experience of young people and adults affected by drugs use, as well as their families and communities" and also the "best practice in promoting and supporting rehabilitation and recovery from drug addiction."
There will also be a wide focus with the Citizens’ Assembly hearing about "international, EU, national and local perspectives on drugs use" as well as "the efficacy of current strategic, policy and operational responses to drugs use".
Read more: Citizens' Assembly on drugs could make way for radical shake-up
The Terms of Reference also request that the Citizens' Assembly examines "international best practice and practical case studies in relation to reducing supply, demand and harm, and increasing resilience, health and well-being".
They also seek delegates to assess "the opportunities and challenges, in an Irish context, of reforming legislation, strategy, policy and operational responses to drugs use, taking into consideration the implications for the health, criminal justice and education systems".
When the Citizens’ Assembly completes its work and submits its recommendations to the Oireachtas, they will be considered by an Oireachtas Committee made-up of both TDs and Senators.
The Government is also obliged to provide a response to "each recommendation of the Assembly, setting out a timeframe for implementing those recommendations which it accepts".
All votes of the Assembly are to be decided by majority votes, with the chairperson having a casting vote if the members are equally divided.
Members of the public who participate in the Assembly must be over 18 years old and normally resident in the State.
Those precluded from participating as members of the Citizens’ Assembly include TDs, Senators, Councillors, Members of the European Parliament and lobbyists.
The Labour TD Aodhán Ó Ríordáin has said the key to the success of the pending Citizens' Assembly on will be who the government appoints as its chairperson in the coming days.
He said it would also be very important to see who is invited to contribute to the Assembly's discussions.
The Dublin Bay North deputy warned that the Assembly's focus cannot just be about supply, reducing drug use and enforcement.
He said: "While that has a place in the debate, it cannot be what this Citizens' Assembly is about. The Assembly has to be about those who are at the rough end of drug use, in addiction and how the system deals with them. And how unfairly the system deals with them - the stigma and shame that's caused by the current approach."
Mr Ó Ríordáin expressed concern that "finding space" to legislate on the Assembly's recommendations, before a General Election, will be "difficult" - particularly if what flows from the Assembly are "on the radical side."
He added: "I wish we had another year to play around with. It will be tight."
Full terms of reference
I move that Dáil Éireann:
(1) Approves the establishment of a Citizens' Assembly, to be known as the Citizens’ Assembly on Drugs Use, to consider 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, and to bring forward recommendations in this regard.
The Assembly shall consider, inter alia:
- the drivers, prevalence, attitudes and trends in relation to drugs use in Irish society;
- the harmful impacts of drugs use on individuals, families, communities and wider society;
- best practice in promoting and supporting rehabilitation and recovery from drug addiction;
- the lived experience of young people and adults affected by drugs use, as well as their families and communities;
- international, EU, national and local perspectives on drugs use;
- the efficacy of current strategic, policy and operational responses to drugs use;
- international best practice and practical case studies in relation to reducing supply, demand and harm, and increasing resilience, health and well-being;
- the opportunities and challenges, in an Irish context, of reforming legislation, strategy, policy and operational responses to drugs use, taking into consideration the implications for the health, criminal justice and education systems.
(2) notes that the Citizens’ Assembly shall:
- consist of 100 members in total, including 99 randomly-selected members of the general public, and an independent Chairperson to be nominated by the Taoiseach;
- preclude from membership any individual who is either:
a) under 18 years of age;
b) not normally resident in the State;
c) a politician currently serving in either House of the Oireachtas, in Local Government or in the European Parliament;
d) a lobbyist as provided for under the Regulation of Lobbying Act; or
e) any person unwilling to adhere to public health measures as prescribed by Government and public health authorities from time to time.
- hold its inaugural meeting in April 2023 and conclude its work and submit a report to the Oireachtas by the end of 2023;
- have flexibility to determine a revised timeline for completion of its work in the event of extraordinary circumstances delaying or disrupting its work;
- submit a report and recommendation(s) on the matters before it to the Houses of the Oireachtas. On receipt, the Clerks of the Dáil and Seanad shall refer the report to a Committee of both Houses for consideration; this Committee will, in turn, bring its conclusions to the Houses for debate. Furthermore, the Government shall, on consideration of the report from the Citizens’ Assembly, provide in the Houses of the Oireachtas a response to each recommendation of the Assembly, setting out a timeframe for implementing those recommendations which it accepts;
- have a Secretary and Secretariat staff assigned to support the effective governance and operation of Assembly meetings, to support the Chairperson and members in their roles, and to support the drafting of the final report;
- agree its own rules of procedure and work programme to enable the effective conduct of its business in as economical and efficient a manner as possible;
- operate in an open and transparent manner, including by live streaming public proceedings;
- determine all issues by a majority of the votes of members present and voting, other than the Chairperson, who will have a casting vote in the case of an equality of votes;
- develop innovative programming to feature individuals and communities directly affected by drugs-related issues, and those working in front-line service delivery;
- engage subject matter experts to inform its deliberations, including as invited speakers or as members of an Expert Advisory Group;
- engage with stakeholders and the general public, including through a public consultation process, and by inviting select speakers to participate in meetings of the Assembly.
- make payment of an honorarium to the Chairperson at a per diem rate to be sanctioned by the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform;
- make payment to the Members of the Citizens’ Assembly and members of the Expert Advisory Group of a nominal honorarium to recognise their civic service.