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Development of Ireland’s Drug Strategy, 2000 to 2007. Health Research Board (HRB) Overview Series. No. 8, 2009. pp 1+137, ISSN 1649-7198

A recent report, the eighth in a research series published by the Alcohol and Drug Research Unit (ADRU), within the Health Research Board (HRB), provides an evidence-base for improved Irish drug strategy. This comprehensive body of work, written by Brigid Pike, assesses Ireland’s drug policy since the inception of the National Drug Strategy (NDS), 2001 to 2008 (formally entitled ‘Building on Experience’). It is written with a view to accounting for past experience and lessons learnt for the upcoming second strategy (2009 to 2016). The NDS contains an explicit strategic focus outlining four ‘activity pillars,’ (Supply Reduction, Prevention, Treatment and Research) within which identified actions are stated and stakeholders are assigned responsibility. The overview, however, is not a narrative of developments since the birth of the NDS, as Ms. Pike points out. It “seeks to analyse the NDS as a policy instrument” (p12). It is defended as being an evaluation of the infrastructural machinery that determines the growth, implementation and outcome of the NDS. The overview is not a story-telling exercise. It does not spout reams, telling the reader what the nature of the drug problem is, how the government is tackling it, and where we are now. The fact that the overview presents the former scenario is refreshing. It provides a notable example of how policy can be overviewed within an analytical framework that creatively balances an array of knowledge streams, including Mintzberg’s organisational theories (1994, 2007), a mention of the policy analytical theories of Stone (2002), research from national and European agencies, parliamentary debate, media opinion and anecdotal evidence. No eyebrows would be raised to hear the report would be of interest to policy-makers, academics, non-governmental agencies and the media. It is presented in A4 style and conveys the appearance of a conventional and non-distinct policy document. However, the cover and presentation style should not dissuade many ‘unpredictable’ readers from picking up this report and delighting in its content, especially those interested in the ‘how and why’ of drugs policy formulation and implementation

The energizing and assertive writing style of Ms. Pike sets the scene for a thought-provoking and methodical review of Ireland’s drugs policies to date. The overview looks at the visionary focus of drugs policy (or lack thereof) which allows for politicians to manoeuvre within ambiguity of the drugs issue. The report goes on to examine how choices have been informed for the NDS, with a focus on the rational and non-rational nature of policy-making. The author calls for a need to bridge the gap between researchers and politicians in Ireland, in order to maximise best available evidence with the most appropriate implementation of same. The implementation of the NDS was significantly enabled by the improved governance style, brought on by the SMI era and the strategic focus which this brought into governing style. The report concludes with an examination of how change has been managed over the lifetime of the strategy. The gap between intended and realised strategy could be improved with the new drugs strategy, in terms of managing explicit public expectations and tensions within and between agencies and government departments.

The reports commences by informing the reader that an analytical and pragmatic overview will be provided of the NDS, analysing it as a policy instrument. This has been achieved. It has been done by examining the strategic direction, how strategy has been informed, how change has been managed, and how institutional governance has enabled or hindered the policy development. The report is noteworthy for the accessible manner in which it is written, ensuring it appeals to a wide readership. This essentially includes any interested active citizen. While Mintzberg’s theories on organisational management is relevant to the analysis of the strategy, I feel the copious literature from the policy scientific field was somewhat missed. For instance, March and Olsen’s (1979) ‘garbage can’ hypothesis of policy making was an obvious theory that this work could have drawn from quite easily. However, the style and substance of the work is a credit to the author, the HRB, and to all who endeavour to develop Ireland’s evidence-base for public policy.

Monica O’Mullane