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The great “citizens assembly on drugs” charade

Here’s a not very surprising or important point, but one which is relevant to this article: Citizen’s Assemblies cost money. And quite a bit of it.

For context, the citizen’s assembly on gender equality – which in the end came up with the usual NGO lobby group blabber about changing the constitution and recognising the role of women and blah, blah, blah, cost you and I €653,000 in total. All to tell us, in the end, that the members of the Assembly, having listened at length to prepared presentations from the national women’s council and its allies, broadly agreed with the national women’s council and its allies. Money well spent! The one on biodiversity, having listened at length to environmental NGOs, broadly agreed with them as well. You could usually write the reports of these things before they even commence.

I mention this in the context of yesterday’s entirely predictable announcement of a citizen’s assembly on drug use, or drug decriminalization, or drug legalisation, or, probably, free drug dispensers in every school bathroom.

This one, we can expect, will cost about the same. And you know what? In the context of the national budget, it is not a large amount of money. The problem is that it’s the almost perfect example of a waste of money.

Because we all know – we might pretend not to, but we do – what this citizen’s assembly will say. The Dean of Ireland’s College of Progressive Cardinals practically issued the recommendations himself, yesterday, with a wave of his crozier of compassion:

POLITICIANS AND THE media are among the swathes of people who take drugs in Ireland, Labour TD Aodhán Ó Ríordáin has said, as the Government agreed to begin preparations for the Citizens’ Assembly on Drugs.

The former junior drugs minister today said that there needed to be an honest discussion about the extent of drug use in Ireland and that specific people in society are more likely to be marginalised over drug use.

“People from certain income brackets or certain areas of the country or certain disadvantaged areas are the ones who end up in court and the ones maybe  who are in higher income brackets are able to hide it better and don’t end up in court,” Ó Ríordáin said.

To be sure, there may well be some citizens who enter the citizen’s assembly unsure about the benefits of drug legalisation, but, God love them, seventy odd hours of listening to academics and NGO types and campaigners for drug legalisation will wear them down in the end. Even if it doesn’t, some of them will surely be tempted just to vote the right way in the end so that they get a break from listening to the great and the good preach at them about the way to make Ireland a more compassionate place.

Why is it a waste of money? Well, aside from being wholly corrupt – citizens assemblies are simply a way for progressive Ireland to conduct a large focus group, and road-test their arguments, on the taxpayer dime – it is also an entire waste of time. Because we already know which policy the political consensus now favours.

Fianna Fáil favour drug decriminalization, or possibly legalisation. All of the small left parties do. The Greens certainly do. Sinn Fein have yet to take a position that I know of, but that party has yet to find a trendy cause of which it is willing to get on the wrong side of.

And yet, we are to be told, when this policy is eventually and inevitably introduced, that it will be because the citizen’s assembly recommended it. Which is, my friends, bullshit.

The point of the citizen’s assembly is not to recommend good policy based on all the available evidence. If you genuinely believe that it is, then you are, sadly, very naïve about politics, and how politicians operate.

No, the point of it is to create a steady drum of background noise: The convenient story on a slow news day about how “The Citizen’s Assembly today heard expert evidence that the criminalization of drugs does not work”. Expert evidence, no less. Wait for it, and recognise it when you hear it.

It’s other purpose is to identify recalcitrant members of the public inside the assembly, and observe which arguments work best on them. There will be group discussions at tables, where trends will emerge – “Joan was very wary of legalising drugs, but that personal story of the ex-addict from Amsterdam really swung her around”.

If Irish politicians wish to decriminalise drugs, they have the power to do so. But they do not have the right, in my opinion, to spend hundreds of thousands of euros road-testing their arguments first. It is a charade, and it is a charade that continues for two reasons.

First, because it is to the net political benefit of progressives, who dominate Irish politics.

And second, because it puts money – in meaningful amounts – into the friends of progressives. Academics, and luvvies, and ex Judges, all of whom will be well compensated for presiding over the charade.

This is a terrible way to make policy. We elected a Dáil – if it does not want to do its job and legislate, it should disband.


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