By Brian Houlihan
Help Not Harm can reveal that Gino Kenny’s medical cannabis bill will be debated in the Dáil (parliament) next month. The debate has been set for December 16th, which is also the final day of the Dáil before the Christmas recess.
Earlier Gino Kenny stated that “We are very happy the Bill is being discussed in December but we had hoped that we could have had an earlier date for this. It is unfortunate that it cannot be debated sooner. We are hoping that there will be no more delays in the process of this Bill.”
The debate on the bill comes at a critical time for medical cannabis in Ireland. It was revealed recently that the The Health Products Regulatory Authority (HPRA) will provide scientific advice on medical cannabis and report back to Simon Harris in January.
The Oireachtas Health Committee is also set to discuss cannabis later this month, though details on this meeting are limited at the moment. But this can be seen as another positive step forward.
Help Not Harm helped the People Before Profit TD prepare the bill earlier this year. We were invited to meet Gino and his team and we shared with them our thoughts during the initial meeting and the numerous subsequent emails.
Gino’s bill was then introduced to the Dáil by his colleague Brid Smith back in July. During its introduction Ms Smith stated that “I know from living in Ballyfermot that many MS sufferers already obtain cannabis oil to give them relief.”
Today’s announcement follows on from events which took place inside and near the Dáil on Wednesday and today.
On Wednesday Vera Twomey, the mother of a Ava who suffers from dravets syndrome, met the Health Minister Simon Harris to discuss medical cannabis. Their meeting was initiated by Vera’s protest walk during in which she declared she would walk to the from her home in Cork. Vera had walked over 30km’s before receiving a call from Simon Harris asking her to meet.
On Wednesday Vera and others, including Help Not Harm’s Tom Curran, also took part in a press conference about the bill. Following the press conference a cross party briefing organised by Gino Kenny was held. Vera, Tom and others told their stories to a roomful of TD’s and Senators.
The briefing was quite emotional with those presenting their story moved by the desire to urgently access cannabis for their those in need. There was also a sense of frustration at the slowness of the process.
The bill has been given an earlier hearing thanks in part to Fine Gael TD Regina Doherty, who is the chief whip of the party. Regina is also the part of the Oireachtas Business Committee, which sets out the agenda in the Dáil. She and others requested the committee suspend the normal rules to secure the bill an earlier reading. It was hoped the bill would be heard sooner but December 16th was the earliest date available.
Whether the bill passes remains to be seen. Sadly for political reasons the government party(ies) often rejects bills proposed by opposition parties or independents. However, in some cases a government often later proposes a similar bill when they agree with the principal in theory proposed by the opposition bill.
Some Fine Gael members have expressed support for medical cannabis and they were also central to getting this bill heard earlier. However, how they will vote on the matter remains to be seen. But there is massive pressure on the Minister for Health Simon Harris to take action and this may help sway his colleagues.
Individual Fianna Fáil politicians have expressed their support for the bill and medical cannabis. However, given their support of the government whether the Fianna Fáill party supports Gino’s bill remains to be seen.
There appears to be some support for Gino’s bill from others. Speaking from politicians and/or members within the party it seems Sinn Féin, the Social Democrats and the Greens would be somewhat supportive of it. Labour members are also widely in favour of medicinal cannabis but we’ve yet to hear how they’ll vote on Gino’s bill.
We’ve not heard anything substantive from the Independent Alliance, however we’d be confident some of its members are supportive. But how they will choose to vote as a bloc we don’t know yet. Given their support of government they maybe swayed by how Fine Gael chooses to vote.
We will be lobbying these parties/groups along with every member of the oireachtas (houses of parliament) ahead of the vote. The debate around medical cannabis has now become a serious topic of political consideration. While the bill may not pass there is an increased likelihood that some form a medical cannabis reform will be enacted in the coming months.
“Yesterday, we had a very emotional meeting with parents, including Vera Twomey, who need this medicine urgently for their children to help alleviate their suffering. It is vital this this Bill be debated and passed through the legislative process as soon as possible”.
Help Not Harm are planning an event to show public support for the bill. Keep an eye on our Facebook page for more details.
Brian Houlihan is a Director of Help Not Harm which seeks to shift the emphasis of Irish drug policy from criminal justice to public health.