A parliamentary Bill proposing the legalisation of medical cannabis for certain health conditions due to be debated in the Irish Parliament this Thursday, has been declared a free vote, thanks to The Independent Alliance Party.
Originally proposed by ‘People before Profit’ representative Gino Kenny, several prominent Irish politicians such as Minister for Transport Shane Ross and Minister of State Finian McGrath, have successfully requested that the Bill be a vote of conscience.
A number of parties had already come out in favour of the bill, including Fianna Fail, Sinn Fein, the Social Democrats and the Green Party. So far only Fine Gael are publicly in opposition.
However, the nature of a free vote means that members of Dail (the Irish Parliament) won’t be obliged to follow party lines and will be permitted to vote according to their own personal beliefs.
The topical nature of this Irish vote is much down to the dogged determination of Cork mum of four, Vera Twomey-Barry, whose daughter Ava has the rare genetic condition, Dravet Syndrome. Ava, now aged 6, regularly had up to 20 epileptic seizures a day, and after her parents had been told by her doctors that there was nothing more they could do to help her, mother Vera turned to Cannabis Oil.
Vera had read about high profile cases such as Charlotte Figi and Katelyn Lambert, children with the same condition as Ava, whose seizures had been drastically reduced thanks to the non-psychoactive compound from the cannabis plant, CBD.
After just two months taking CBD oil, Ava’s seizures have reduced by 80-90%.
“She was standing up straighter,” recalls Vera, “she was making more eye contact and the next thing in a family joke, Ava’s giggling just like the other kids. She had never laughed like that before”.
But for mum Vera, Ava’s improved health wasn’t enough. She felt that medical cannabis should be legally available and prescribed through a doctor. So last month she decided to walk from her home in Cork to the Irish Parliament in Dublin.
News soon reached Irish Health Minister Simon Harris, who asked Vera to call a halt to her protest, agreeing to meet with her to discuss the issue.
A month on, Harris has agreed to review Ireland’s policy on medicinal cannabis, stating, “I know that many patients believe cannabis should be a treatment option for their medical condition. However, cannabis is not currently an authorised medicine and has not gone through the normal regulatory procedures for medicines which are designed to protect patients and ensure treatments are supported by good evidence of their effectiveness.”
He is also in discussion with the family about granting Ava an individual exemption, pending an assessment by a doctor and the issue of a special license.
However, Harris will not be voting in favour of the Bill until the review he has ordered has been completed.
With a coalition government currently in power in Ireland, it remains to be seen what the eventual outcome of the vote on the medical cannabis Bill will be.
Either way, the courage and tenacity of one mother has certainly brought the debate into the homes of the ordinary Irish people, with a recent poll estimating 92% in favour of the legalisation of cannabis for medical use. And for that Vera Twomey-Barry can be proud.
For more information about Vera’s campaign to legalise medical cannabis in Ireland please visit Change.org