Trinity students will have noticed the gradual sweetness returning to campus air over the last couple of months, palpable through such delightful normalcies as packed lecture theatres, trendy Arts Block outfits being flaunted (sans mask) and the novel chatter of who kissed whom on the weekend. The post-pandemic spring/summer season is emerging, and just in time for the most highly anticipated event of the last two years – Trinity Ball.
The anticlimactic announcement of headliner Tinie Tempah with a wholesome dash of Luke O’Neill and some techno thrown in (for good measure) arrived last week, followed by the annual Wednesday-morning ticket frenzy that momentarily broke PayPal. The hype phenomenon of Trinity Ball means that an entire cohort of skint students will hold no qualms about sacrificing 91 quid to see, yes, Tinie Tempah.
But there is an eagerness among the student body to reclaim that part of college which, let’s be honest, is the sole reason some of us chose this particular university to attend. The anticipation to partake in the closest thing to a Trinity pilgrimage is evidently more heightened this year than ever before. I, for one, have bagged my ticket and am equally as excited to indulge in the nostalgia of re-wearing my debs dress and bopping to “Drinking from the Bottle”.
Yet, some things remain constant. Hype aside, Trinity Ball is just an embellished night out. You can expect the usual things – outfit stresses, messy pre-drinks, small talk with people-from-your-course-you-know-but-not-really, kindling of friendships and flirtations and, as equally normal as the rest, drug consumption.
Hype aside, Trinity Ball is just an embellished night out. You can expect the usual things – outfit stresses, messy pre-drinks and, as equally normal as the rest, drug consumption
Drug consumption among students and young people generally is, of course, a pervasive practice and nothing new. Yet, as a country characterised by a Catholic-guilt-induced need to blatantly ignore the presence of anything taboo, we are still getting used to acknowledging its ubiquity.
This fact is made evident by the continued failure to decriminalise drug possession, and the slow nature of the progress made by campaigners to prioritise drug-related harm reduction over penalisation. Still, such campaigns and the broadening general discourse around drug use is beginning to shift our approach. Gradually replacing the ineffective and unrealistic stance of “don’t do drugs” is the acceptance that drug consumption is a common facet of young people’s recreation, and that education and availability of services is the most responsible way of reducing drug-related harm.
Whatever one’s personal attitudes towards drugs may be, the historical evidence is clear – strict penalisation for drug possession does not significantly reduce drug use, and results in long-lasting and detrimental effects for offenders. While policy at government level has not yet adapted to reflect modern understandings of how to reduce drug-related harm, Trinity College Dublin Students’ Union (TCDSU) has pioneered the way in advocating for the decriminalisation of drugs.
Education and availability of services is the most responsible way of reducing drug-related harm
In 2016, TCDSU council made a significant statement by voting to officially adopt a pro-decriminalisation stance on drugs. At the meeting in question, they cited the Portuguese model as an example of how decriminalisation can have significant effects on reducing drug-related harm. For the young people who have grown up in an environment that has often denounced the subject of drugs with a swift sweeping of it under the carpet, having our student union enact such a sensible approach is refreshing.
The same union understandably expressed dissatisfaction, then, when in the same year that the union adopted this stance, Trinity Ball saw 26 searches and detainments of students by undercover Gardaí for drug possession. This scenario is not in keeping with TCDSU’s stance that no individual should have to suffer permanent criminal consequences for possession of drugs for personal use, and yet a repeat of 2019’s Garda policed Trinity Ball is set for this year. Unfortunately, despite the efforts of the union, rejecting the presence of Gardaí at the event simply isn’t workable.
As is often the case, the government is one step behind the improvements being initiated by the younger generations in relation to reducing drug-related harm. This Trinity Ball, like with any other live music event that has gone before, some attendees will choose to engage in drug consumption. No amount of strictly enforced rules could prevent this common practice from occurring. Unfortunately, some of these individuals will leave the night with a drug charge on their record that will have implications for their future job prospects and be accompanied by a sense of stigmatised shame – all for having engaged in the same recreational choice that people make every day.
The negative consequences do not stop at those detained, however, and the counter-productive outcomes for students’ health and wellbeing is telling of our society’s priorities. Many students will be prompted to consume all of their drugs early on in the night for fear of being caught with it in their possession, risking harm that could be avoided by pacing their intake. Some who do find themselves or a friend suffering from the effects of taking too much of a substance will be reluctant to seek help for fear of penalisation. Those wanting advice about how to safely consume drugs may retract from seeking it.
Some who do find themselves or a friend suffering from the effects of taking too much of a substance will be reluctant to seek help for fear of penalisation
The same inevitability of drug use accompanies the negative wellbeing effects that will emerge at this Trinity Ball, as a direct result of the intimidating loom of drug criminalisation. I, like many other students, have had the saddening experience of returning home from festivals only to hear that one or two festival goers died from drug overdose. Each time, I am reminded of the archaic attitudes surrounding drugs in this country that are still present in the pillars of our law. The resources used to maintain criminalisation of drugs in place of education and awareness surrounding drug safety costs lives.
I am left to wonder how many years it will take before a Trinity Ball attendee won’t make it home due to the “don’t ask, don’t tell” attitude towards drugs in this country. TCDSU may be unable to object to Garda presence at Trinity Ball, but each year it is forced to submit to outside regulation is another year it should be amplifying efforts to campaign for decriminalisation and promote education. Students are at the forefront of turning the tide in relation to drug policy, and its relevance to Trinity Ball should present an opportunity to heighten this conversation.