An Open Letter to the Taoiseach
An open letter has been sent to the Taoiseach from many organisations and individuals concerned about the transparency of the Citizen Assembly on Drug Use.
An open letter signed by over 40 individuals, includes TDs, DRs, professionals, and organisations working and advocating for drug policy reform, and I am proud to be among the list of signatories. The letter itself may be viewed at the bottom of this article. Among many of the items in the letter, one of the main concerns highlighted revolves around the transparency of the process to date. The terms of reference establishing the Citizen Assembly require the Assembly to “operate in an open and transparent manner” which is fundamental to the operation of the Assembly. To date, the process of the Assembly has been far from these requirements.
The open letter cites a severe lack of engagement with critical stakeholders in the run-up to the Assembly’s first meeting this weekend. Information sessions for stakeholders were held on Tuesday the 28th of March in Dublin. These information sessions are vital in keeping stakeholders engaged in the process and encouraging their participation. The information session which was held with an exclusive list of attendees was held with no public announcement and on very short notice leaving many organisations and individuals scrambling to ensure they had attendance at such a vital meeting. Although the presentation from this session was later published on the Citizen Assembly website, it does not contain much of the important information that was laid before stakeholders the previous week.
Advisory Support Group
The terms of reference state that an “Expert Advisory Group shall be established to aid the Chair during the process. Instead of the expert group people were promised, an “Advisory Support Group” has been established. This process was completed again behind closed doors with a severe lack of transparency around its recruitment and selection process. It has been asked, to no response, is this “Advisory Support Group” is the same as the “Expert Group” promised by the terms of reference. If so, then why are so many voices missing from this panel of experts? We currently have no criminal justice experts, and no representation of the lived experience of drug consumption on the panel, just one of the many missing voices. You may call me naive, but if we are discussing drug consumption, shouldn’t we listen to those consuming? Would we have had a discussion regarding marriage equality without LGBTQ+ representation, or would we have discussed repealing the 8th with no female representation in the discussion? Furthermore, many of the appointees to this group have been vocal in their opposition to reform, frequently attempting to create moral panic around drug consumption.
Among the many concerns contained in this open letter, transparency is the reoccurring key concern. The letter states.
“the terms of reference specify that the Assembly shall “engage subject matter experts…as members of an Expert Advisory Group”. However, an ‘Advisory Support Group’ has already been appointed, behind closed doors, without the slightest effort to be “open and transparent”. These issues go directly to the integrity of the process for Citizens’ Assemblies. Up to now, these have been highly successful exercises in participatory democracy, particularly those on Gender Equality and the Eighth Amendment. It is vital that the integrity of this process is restored for Drugs Use and future assemblies.
Transparency goes to the very heart of the integrity and purpose of the Citizen Assembly. Our current drug laws will be approaching their 50th Birthday soon, we have one chance to have an open and honest debate on drug policy in Ireland and this conversation needs to be underpinned by transparency, clarity and honesty. We will not get an opportunity like this for many years to come.
The letter sent on the 6th of April has yet to receive an official response to the concerns highlighted.