Mayor of Castlebar Town Council Michael Kilcoyne laid down a challenge to Fine Gael Leader Enda Kenny to introduce a private member’s bill to enact legislation to regulate head shops in the country. Mayor Kilcoyne led a protest organised by town councillors in Castlebar which protested outside the two head shops in the town last Wednesday. When it was put to him that the protest was outside two premises which were acting inside the law as it stands he said: “I accept they are not breaking any law and we need to highlight the lack of any regulation. We have two government TDs in this constituency and we also have the leader of the opposition who can put down a private member’s bill to force a vote in the Dáil.”
There was good news for the protesters yesterday evening when the Department of Health said all avenues will be examined in relation to regulation of these shops. It intends to draft regulations this month which will introduce controls, similar to those recently introduced in the UK, on a range of substances currently on sale in head shops.
Fianna Fáil councillor Blackie Gavin, who was born very close to where one of the stores is located on Charles Street, called for the HSE to immediately test all the products on sale in the shops. “I was born, bred, and reared here on this street just 10 yards from here.
“It's scandalous what's going on. I've called on the HSE and the environmental officers to come down here and test these products and let the people of the town and the county know what's going on down here.”
Cllr Gavin also said that individual councillors had gone into the stores and purchased some of the products and sent them away to be analysed themselves.
The lack of regulation of the products and potential long term effects was the main concern of the local elected officials who attended the protest. Cllr Eugene McCormack told the Mayo Advertiser: “There is selling of unregulated, mind-altering substances in this town.
“I'm totally against it and the members of the Town Council and parents are against it. It is unquestioned what they do and can have short-term and long-term metal health effects.”
Sinn Féin councillor Therese Ruane was also very concerned about the effects that these products could have on people:
“I put this as a notice of motion on the town council because I thought this was something that needed to be discussed, because I had young people coming to me along with parents and addiction councillors and they were talking about the impacts that the substances being sold were having on young people.
“So I did some research into them. I'm calling for strict regulations, anyone can open a shop and sell unregulated substances that we don't even know the ingredients of.”
While the 40 or so protesters chanted for the closure of the head shops outside, the proprietors of the shops were standing firm that they are doing nothing wrong. Paul Bannon from the Cosmic Closet located on Charles Street told the Mayo Advertiser: “We're employing people, we're paying our taxes, if these products were banned and made illegal they'd be on the streets in hours, there is no doubt about that. It happened with the BZP pills, it will happen with everything else.”
He went on to say that a lot of the bad publicity was coming from the media and it was uninformed. “It's bad publicity and bad journalism coming from Dublin. People are listening to entertainment shows, and they think it's fact based. Because it's an entertainment show it's jazzed up a bit and people are getting worried and we can understand that. But there is absolutely no need for worry.”
Bannon also said that if any product he sold was made illegal he would pull it straight away. “Without a doubt, we’re not here to break any laws or rules. We're not here to upset or annoy people, we've been doing this for years, it's completely safe. The products we sell are safer than tobacco and alcohol, but people don't hear that in the media, people don't understand that.” He also told the Mayo Advertiser that under no circumstances are there products sold to minors in the store. “Anybody who says there are kids coming in here to buy products is fabricating stories, it just does not happen.”