Controversial comments made at the weekend by the chairman of the Road Safety Authority, Gay Byrne, about the legalisation of drugs are supported by homeless campaigner, Fr Peter McVerry SJ.
The comments were made on the RTÉ Radio 1 Conversations with Eamon Dunphy programme.
On the programme, Mr Byrne said that he was coming round to the view that illegal drugs should be legalised because attempts to deal with the problem through law enforcement had “demonstrably failed”.
In response, Gráinne Kenny, the international president of the Europe Against Drugs Network (Euraid), said she was “appalled” and that Mr Byrne’s views directly impact on his role as the chairman of the Road Safety Authority.
"If he is to be in charge of road safety, he should be educated on drug use as well as alcohol use. If you are a cannabis smoker, your driving is affected and that is a scientific fact," she said.
Ms Kenny is also the chair of the EU-wide Stupified Driving Committee, which is looking into the links between driving and both alcohol and drugs.
Mr Byrne told Eamon Dunphy that he believed trying to control the drugs problem is a “hopeless task” and that fresh thinking was needed.
"It's a major chasm for me that we should seriously consider legalising drugs. It seems to me that, in no other area of human endeavour, have you tried to cure a problem for 40 years by doing exactly the same thing and finding out that it doesn't work," he said.
Mr Byrne’s views are supported by homeless campaigner Fr Peter McVerry SJ, who provides a drug detoxification house through his Welcome Home charity.
“We have lost the war on drugs,” he told ciNews. “Our present policies are not working.”
Fr McVerry explained that the regulation of drugs would reduce the amount of drugs on the street and the black market would disappear.
Criminal gangs and drug-related crimes would also be eliminated, he says.
Fr McVerry explained that drugs will always be present in Ireland, and therefore regulation is the best way to reduce the amount being used.
He cited the example of methadone. This drug was widely available on the streets prior to its legalisation, but has since disappeared from the black market. He also says that regulation by healthcare personnel would ensure the quality of the drugs.
The Jesuit campaigner for homeless youth said despite the phenomenal amount of money being spent, drugs in Ireland are spreading at a fast rate. He quoted a study which shows that nearly 40 per cent of 15 year-old girls nationwide have already taken drugs.
While he acknowledges that his views are controversial, Fr McVerry said he sees nothing morally wrong with his propositions, but rather sees them as the most reasonable and practical way to limit the consumption of drugs, particularly in young people.
However, a Catholic Youth Care officer strongly disagreed with Fr McVerry's views.
"To legalise drugs is to give in to a culture of death," said Robert Samson, Development Officer with Catholic Youth Care.
"Instead of helping someone to live, you say, 'Here, you can take your own life, slowly.'"
Switzerland and Holland have both legalised drugs with terrible consequences. Mr Samson told ciNews of a square in Zurich known as 'suicide square' where those who want to take their own lives do so quite openly, dispassionately watched by others .
A number of the deaths would be drug-related.
"We in CYC are absolutely against it. We cannot allow the legalisation of drugs. It will not help," he said.
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