Written by Declan Moore, Chairperson of Dublin City University SSDP
On Saturday February 9th 2019, SSDP Ireland held a national gathering of chapters at University College Dublin (UCD). The event replaced the annual SSDP Ireland National Conference. The idea came about during meetings between leaders of Irish chapters who wanted to strengthen the inter-chapter relationships across the country in order to run better campaigns and support each other. Essentially, we concluded the usual conference proceedings involving a ticketed event and external speakers, while successful in the past, needs an interim event to reflect on the movement’s national status. The event also served as a platform for national strategy development for all Irish SSDP chapters.
The event kicked off with a round table discussion where each attendee introduced themselves and discussed what their chapter has been up to, or what actions they have planned for the remainder of the year. This gave each member the opportunity to talk about what’s important to them in the context of SSDP topics. Chapters in attendance included Dublin City University, University College Dublin, University College Cork, and National University of Ireland Galway. Also in attendance were some interested members of the public, representatives from UCD student government, and executive members of the Union of Students of Ireland (USI).
I gave the first presentation of the day on the topic of harm reduction. The presentation bridged the gap between the historical timeline of harm reduction and the real-world campaigns in Ireland we’ve been a part of over the past 5 years. I described how we established SeshSafe at Dublin City University to save lives by supplying harm reduction resources, such as reagent drug checking kits, to students on campus. I spoke on the success of that project as well as its implication for student life today and in the future. The group discussed their experiences in providing harm reduction both on and off campus in a variety of settings and best practices for providing such services. We also talked about the current situation around external campaigns we are involved with around harm reduction, particularly our efforts to develop a national campus harm reduction framework with the USI for all their member institutes. Also, developing stronger partnerships with organisations like Ana Liffey Drug Project and Merchants Quay Ireland.
The next presentation was given by Tom Monaghan, the Campaigns and Communications Officer for the Students Union at UCD. His talk was around effective campaign strategy. This is an important area to cover, especially for those of us whose political involvement is limited to drug policy reform and other SSDP topics. Often, we get shrouded by the types of campaigns we work on and it can be detrimental to exclude considerations about overall campaign strategy. An external, generalised view of campaigning can help us develop better ways to reach and engage with students that we may not have otherwise considered.
At this time we broke for lunch, which gave attendees the chance to chat about their personal involvement in their chapter and other activism. Personally, I found the opportunity to speak to other members invaluable. Many of us quickly realised how similar our experiences with SSDP had been in terms of interactions with university bodies, policy makers, and other organisations. It also allowed us a perspective on the diverse backgrounds of our membership and reasons people have for their involvement. The next discussion was around drug decriminalisation, an important discussion in Ireland today. There is currently a government funded working group undergoing an investigation into the feasibility and validity of Ireland adopting a Portugal-style stance to the criminality of drug possession. Ana Liffey Drug Project, Hotpress, and the London School of Economics are currently running a broad campaign supporting such a policy and SSDP has been working to become more actively involved in this campaign since June. Roisin Downes (DCU) and Ailish Brennan (UCD) outlined the current situation and proposed actions SSDP Ireland can take to support this issue. At present in DCU we’re running a referendum of our student body in March to mandate the college to take a stance on supporting decriminalisation. NUIG currently has an existing mandate on this issue, and UCC is currently petitioning their student body to run a similar referendum in parallel to DCU. The next 3 months are set to be an interesting time around social discourse for decriminalisation, and we are confident some semblance of reform in the direction of decriminalisation will come about in Ireland before 2022.
The final speaker of the conference was Ruby Rose (UCC) who gave a discussion on campaign planning. Her presentation was interactive around the theoretical side of strategy development. The group selected the scenario of “getting harm reduction materials on campus” and we looked at modelling a campaign around this onto a variety of strategy planning frameworks used by industry and activists alike. Michelle Byrne of USI assisted in confirming how these techniques are utilised by their organisation in developing national strategies across a range of issues and how we can apply them to our own activism and campaigns.
We concluded the event with a round table where chapter leaders from each university and college could make decisions on key strategies of the organisation in Ireland for the next 12 months and how to prioritise these strategies. Every attendee was allowed present a topic for discussion, and each was accepted, discussed, and added to the agenda. The strategies of SSDP Ireland for the next 12 months are:
- Develop or reform your campuses drug policy. At the beginning of the academic year only one 3rd level institute in Ireland had a Drug Policy for their campus and students; IT Tralee. DCU SSDP successfully campaigned for a supportive drug policy to be developed for the student body which outlined the university’s approach to drug use and drug users. SSDP’s influence over this process permitted a very progressive policy which accepts drug use as a fact of life and attempts to offer student supports as opposed to simply punishing for possession or use. SSDP Ireland advises that all member colleges and universities petition their institute to develop a drug policy that reflects these stances.
- Harm Reduction Campaigning. SSDP Ireland should work towards providing effective harm reduction information and materials to students on campus. Each campus is actively working to create or improve this facility for their own student body. Within this, SSDP are working with USI, who are currently being funded for an ongoing harm reduction information campaign by the Health Service Executive (HSE). SSDP Ireland is attempting to develop a national strategy for harm reduction information and materials distribution with USI to streamline a set of materials to be distributed to each member campus for their student bodies, thus reducing the level of work each SSDP Chapter must go through to get harm reduction on their campus. It also drastically improves the availability of harm reduction to campuses who do not have an SSDP Chapter or are not permitted to having an official SSDP Chapter.
- Decriminalisation. SSDP stand in solidarity with the #SaferFromHarm campaign currently conducted by Ana Liffey Drug Project, Hotpress, and London School of Economics with parallels working group who are investigating decriminalisation as a feasibility policy for Ireland today. SSDP Ireland recommends each chapter conduct an campus petition or motion to their Student Union council in order to mandate their student government to stand in favour of decriminalisation of drugs for personal consumption amounts. Legalisation and Regulation of Cannabis for Medicinal and Recreational Purposes. Following the success of the social movement around medicinal cannabis from 2016 in Ireland, we’ve seen a significant drop in the level of campaigns around this topic. As part of the next academic year, beginning in June 2019 we wish to revive the discussion in Ireland around cannabis and work towards a more progressive availability for medicinal purposes, as well as additional intention to advocate for total legalisation and regulation for a commercial market.
- Integration of SSDP values into student government. Through a variety of methods, we are campaigning that Students Unions around Ireland be presented with motions and mandates which integrate SSDP’s values into their mission statement and constitution. An increased reach plus funding for harm reduction, drug policy reform, and advocacy in a Students Union would help improve the efficiency of our campaigns and activities and foster a longevity to SSDP existence and interest in drug policy reform on campus. UCD’s status in their university is as an integrated component of their SU and we would suggest this to be a more effective position for the organisation as opposed to the typical Society role.
These strategies remain of the highest priority and recommended topics for SSDP Chapters across Ireland for March 2019 to March 2020.
Following discussion and selection of these strategies we hope that we can develop a stronger relationship between Irish chapters and share resources and experiences in tackling these goals. The event concluded with a social meeting in UCD’s student bar where we were able to reflect on the day in a more casual setting. Overall, I believe that the result of the gathering was exactly what we had intended and feel the presence of SSDP in Ireland to be stronger and more unified than in previous years. This event has inspired me to create an Alumni Association for graduate and former members of SSDP Ireland, as well as non-students interested in the cause. I believe that in Ireland’s 10-year membership to SSDP International, we have inspired a sufficient group of young activists who are still passionate about the mission. Having spoken to other prospective graduates within SSDP Ireland right now I feel like it’s the perfect time to start such a body.
Watch this space…