Citizens’ Assembly on Drug Use

Pavee Point Traveller and Roma Centre welcomed the opportunity to participate in the Citizens’ Assembly on Drug Use on the 13th and 14th of May 2023. John Paul Collins, Community Development Worker on the Drug and Alcohol Programme in Pavee Point, participated in the panel discussion on community impact, highlighting the disproportionate impact of substance misuse on Travellers which is further compounded by racism, discrimination and stigma. John Paul spoke about the challenge of widespread drug availability, intimidation and violence which has devastating impacts on Traveller families and the wider community. 

A video submission was also presented to the Assembly in partnership with Pavee Point, UISCE and the Traveller Drug Advisory Group. The video presented the lived experience of Travellers and addiction, with racism and discrimination identified as a key determinant. 

Shannon Connors, member of the Lived Experience Advisory Group, spoke about her personal experience of addiction, reflecting on trauma as a precursor to addiction after experiencing a suicide at 6 years old which had a significant impact on her and her family. Connors highlighted the overrepresentation of Travellers in prisons, including those for drug related offences. She also identified the importance of peer workers in this area.

Anne Marie Sweeney, Traveller PHC Worker with Balbriggan Travellers Project and member of Traveller Advisory Group, highlighted the effects of substance misuse on families and the additional barriers for Traveller women seeking help with addiction; highlighting stigma and shame (both internally and externally) as a significant challenge. She also went on to say the experience of discrimination was “hard to bear” from the settled community. 

“Travellers have experienced systemic trauma and stigma fuelling a pandemic of substance misuse. There is an urgent need to address this in policy and service provision through targeted and mainstreaming measures. Mainstream services must work in partnership with local Traveller organisations to support culturally appropriate access for Travellers” said John Paul Collins. 

The Citizens’ Assembly on Drugs Use has been established to consider the legislative, policy and operational changes Ireland could make to significantly reduce the harmful impacts of illicit drugs on individuals, families, communities and wider Irish society. The Assembly is likely to conclude its work by the end of the year.

Inclusion of Travellers within the work of the Assembly is vital. Submissions are invited from stakeholders and the wider public who wish to engage with the Citizens’ Assembly on Drugs Use. Submissions can be made, in written or video format here. The process is open for eight weeks, with a closing date of Friday 30 June 2023.

Participants from the Citizens’ Assembly Panel Discussions: [L to R] Anne Marie Sweeney, Shannon Connors, John Paul Collins. Photos taken by Conor Ó Mearáin