Supervised Injection Centres in Ireland: An Impetus for Alternatives

Hugh Gallagher


In the Republic of Ireland there are currently no operative supervised injection facilities, or safe consumption spaces (SCS), almost 6 years after initial government approval of the Misuse of Drugs (Amendment) Bill 2015 and 4 years after the official enactment of the Misuse of Drugs (Supervised Injection Facilities) Act 2017.[1] A pilot scheme, consisting of a single facility to be managed by Merchant’s Quay Ireland, now faces potentially significant delays and setbacks as its planning permission was deemed invalid following judicial review proceedings in the High Court.[2] This article will detail the limited repercussions of this decision for similar prospective facilities and argue that the potential introduction of mobile facilities is within the scope of the 2017 Act.

Board of Management of St. Audoen’s National School v An Board Pleanála [2021] IEHC 453

On the 15th of December 2015, An Bord Pleanála purported to grant planning permission for a ‘medically supervised injection facility’.[3] This was the previously referenced pilot scheme, approved by the Health Service Executive and the Minister for Health who is the licensing authority for such facilities under the 2017 Act.[4] This proposed development was to be immediately adjacent to a primary school,[5] with the board of management providing detailed objections thereto.

The submissions from the school board were characterised, in the author’s view, by a deficient understanding of the facilities’ harm reduction capabilities. It was submitted that the proposed development would lead to increased drug use and activity in the area and create a de facto ‘drugs marketplace’.[6] This appears grounded in the complaint recorded by an Bord Pleanála’s inspector which states that ‘public drug use, anti-social and criminal behaviour occurs daily around the existing facility’.[7] It was additionally submitted that its proximity to a children’s learning establishment would result in pupils witnessing practices, such as needle exchange and drug injection, which they would subsequently model their behaviour after.[8] Concern for child welfare is valid, however it would appear that the submissions are motivated by a not-in-my-backyard attitude and correspondingly are selectively ignorant of the positive impacts supervised injection facilities have on localised drug use. The introduction of a supervised injection facility in the locale could potentially lessen public drug use by providing a private location for consumption, reduce drug-related litter such as needles through handling safe disposal, and facilitate rehabilitation for interested individuals.[9] Beyond immediate community impact, the facility would save lives from preventable and treatable causes of death such as overdose, through immediate medical intervention, and transmission of blood borne-diseases through practices such as needle-sharing.[10] Admittedly, the potential impacts raised against and in favour of the facility are hypothetical and potentially speculative, of which An Bord Pleanála remained cognisant thereby granting planning permission on a temporary basis with a stipulation for review,[11] in seeking to balance these concerns raised in the varied submissions.

These submissions themselves were not the grounds on which the decision was made, rather in the court’s view An Bord Pleanála had acted in breach of their statutory obligations.[12] Within the decision from An Bord Pleanála, there was no engagement with the school board’s submissions, and within the inspector’s report there was no adequate engagement.[13] As cited within the judgement,

‘[...] It is a basic element of any decision-making affecting the public that relevant  submissions  should  be  addressed and an explanation given why they are not accepted, if indeed that is the case. This is fundamental not just to the law, but also to the trust which members of the public are required to have in decision making institutions if the individuals concerned, and the public more  generally, are to be expected to accept decisions with which, in some cases, they  may profoundly disagree, and with whose consequences they may have to live.'[14]

Accordingly, by virtue of not properly addressing the school board’s submissions or providing explanation for which they were not accepted, An Bord Pleanála was found to be in breach of its obligations under section 34(10) of the Planning and Development Act 2000 to state the main reasons and considerations on which its decisions are based.[15] They were found to be in breach of their statutory obligations on a further separate ground, by granting the temporary planning permission for a period of 3 years, where the inspector’s report recommended the length to coincide insofar as possible with the 18 month license period,[16] while not stating any reasons for this central finding or having ‘lawful reasons capable of sustaining the decision’.[17]

This was a relatively fair analysis of the issues raised and reasonable application of relevant case law, albeit in an instance in which the judge appeared sympathetic to the school board’s submissions.[18] However, it should be noted that this case turned on its own facts and it is highly unlikely to prove fatal to the development of future supervised injection facilities, indeed the Merchant’s Quay facility will presumably be remitted to An Bord Pleanála for reconsideration subject to the finalisation of orders.[19] This invalidation of the planning permission rested on the particular failures of An Bord Pleanála, the implications for prospective facilities are merely that An Bord Pleanála must act in fulfilment of its statutory requirements in relation to providing rationale and sufficient justification for its decisions, a reasonable expectation in any circumstance.

Mobile Facilities under the Misuse of Drugs (Supervised Injection Facilities) 2017

While this case is likely limited as to its legal repercussions, it is perhaps emblematic of the difficulties faced by prospective facilities who may find themselves engaged in wars of attrition over planning permission. Accordingly the delays faced by the Merchant’s Quay facility should serve to provide momentum towards the introduction of mobile supervised injection facilities.

Section 3 of the Misuse of Drugs (Supervised Injection Centres) 2017 enables the Minister for Health to grant licenses in relation to the discussed facilities ‘in respect of a premises’ where the Minister is satisfied the application, applicant and premises themselves meet certain conditions. Premises is left undefined within this enabling legislation, and accordingly may extend to cover the introduction of mobile supervised injection centres, which have been successful in Germany, Denmark, Australia, Canada, and Spain.[20] Section 2 of the 2017 Act, setting out the requirements for applications seeking a licence requires ‘the address of the premises of the proposed supervised injection facility’, which may on certain readings suggest an expectation it be a fixed location but on perhaps a more pragmatic reading be a mere formality relating to the base location from which the facility will operate. These competing readings of ‘premises’ within the act therefore necessitate further scrutiny, to assess the legal feasibility of a mobile facility being introduced. Within the Planning Acts, associated regulations and ministerial guidance, ‘premises’ is similarly left undefined.[21] However, in relation to alcohol licensing, the courts in applying statutory interpretation to ‘premises’ have generally concluded that the appropriate definition relates to buildings or similarly fixed structures.[22] This has generally been informed by the surrounding words within the provisions themselves, for example section 6 of the Licensing (Ireland) Act 1902 as amended by the Intoxicating Liquor Act 1960 relating to ‘premises attached to or adjoining premises licensed for the sale of intoxicating liquors’.[23]

This does not appear to be the case with regards section 3 of the 2017 Act, and accordingly it appears that ‘premises’ is sufficiently ambiguous for section 5 of the Interpretation Act 2005 to apply. Therefore, in construing the meaning of ‘premises’, it should be given the construction ‘that reflects the plain intention of the Oireachtais … where that intention can be ascertained from the Act as a whole’. From its preamble, and a broader reading of the 2017 Act, it seems apparent that the plain intention of the Oireachtais was to simply facilitate the establishing, licensing, operation and regulation of supervised injection facilities to allow for the provision of this service with its associated benefits for people who use drugs and the wider locale. It would, in a sense, be inconsistent with this to construe ‘premises’ in such a manner that restricted the licensing power available under section 3 solely to fixed sites where the Oireachtais had not provided for such a limitation. The conditions relating to the grant of licenses specifically relate to the suitability of any relevant facility and provider, and do not rule out a mobile facility, indeed the afore-referenced international examples of their success illustrate that they may be encompassed within its remit. Therefore, in the author’s view, mobile supervised injection centres are potentially permitted under the Misuse of Drugs Act 2017.


Ireland has one of the highest rates of drug related deaths in Europe,[24] and supervised injection facilities are a necessary step in changing this. It is not an exaggeration to state that lives are at stake insofar as intravenous drug-use is concerned,[25] and more generally preventable harm will continue to occur until these facilities become operational. As Dr Garret McGovern argued, ‘[t]he he immediate establishment of mobile Supervised Injecting Facilities is a matter of choice'.[26] Therefore, the delays to the Merchant’s Quay facility ought to serve as a push for more immediately viable strategies, such as mobile facilities, and ultimately be taken as an impetus towards the pursuit of alternatives rather than a potential defeat.

[1] Garrett McGovern, ‘Legislation is now four years old but Ireland is still without its first drug injecting centre’ (, 15 June 2021) <> accessed 21 July 2021.

[2] Board of Management of St. Audoen’s National School v An Board Pleanála [2021] IEHC 453.

[3] ibid [1].

[4] ibid [13].

[5] ibid [2].

[6] ibid.

[7] ibid [11].

[8] ibid [17].

[9] Chloé Potier and Benjamin Rolland, ‘Supervised injection services: What has been demonstrated? A systematic literature review’ (2014) 145(1) Drugs and Alcohol Dependence 48.

[10] ibid.

[11] Board of Management of St. Audoen’s National School (n 2) [27].

[12] ibid [69].

[13] ibid [31], [69].

[14] Balz v.  An Bord Pleanála [2019] IESC 90; [2020] 1 I.L.R.M. 367 [57].

[15] (n 11).

[16] Board of Management of St. Audoen’s National School (n 2) [13].

[17] ibid [38] – [52], [70].

[18] ibid [21], [48] – [49].

[19] ibid [71].

[20] J. Kimber and others, ‘Drug consumption facilities: an update since 2000’ (2003) 22(2) Drug and Alcohol Review 227.

[21] Planning and Development Act 2000 Revised (Law Reform Commission, 30 April 2021).

[22] Re Hannigan Holdings LTD [2000] IESC 9.

[23] McElvaney v The Licensing Acts, High Court, Unreported, 2 April 1974.

[24] European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Alcohol Addiction, ‘Drug-related deaths and mortality in Europe’ (Publications Office of the European Union, May 2021).

[25] Health Research Board, National Drug-Related Deaths Index 2008 – 2017 Data < > accessed 21 July 2021.

[26] Garrett McGovern, ‘Legislation is now four years old but Ireland is still without its first drug injecting centre’ (, 15 June 2021) <> accessed 21 July 2021.

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