Drink spiking which leads to a sexual or physical assault will be punished by up to 10 years in jail under a new law.

The new legislation from Fine Gael will make spiking a standalone offence and carry much heavier penalties if the victim is harmed in any way afterwards.

Government ministers are expected to not oppose the new rules when the issue is raised at Cabinet next week.

Spiking means putting drugs or alcohol into a drink without the drinker knowing.

So-called “date rape drugs” can be used to spike a drink before a sexual assault, according to the HSE.

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The new law will punish those who spike someone so they can “overpower or sedate” a person to “engage in a sexual act, cause harm, make a gain or cause a loss, or otherwise commit an offence”.

“Spiking is different to someone coming up to you on the road and giving you a box – there is normally major malice of intent in regard to anybody who takes the course of action of spiking somebody else’s drink or spiking with an injection,” said the party leader in the Seanad, Regina Doherty.

“This will now make it a standalone offence with a serious response from the State.

“It’s a wide enough ranging offence but it gives the authority to the judiciary and the police service a particular line of action instead of the very vague line of action that currently exists,” she said.

Acting Justice Minister Simon Harris has previously said he believes the current maximum sentence of three years for spiking is too low.

He will introduce the bill into the Seanad next week as his last hurrah as acting Justice Minister before Helen McEntee returns from maternity leave.

“The bill seeks a standalone offence and therefore, it requires detailed consideration,” said a spokesperson for the minister.

“However, it is a welcome opportunity to discuss the harm posed by spiking. There is a strong correlation between spiking and sexual offences.”

She referenced figures from Sexual Assault Treatment Units, which show 15pc of people who reported a sexual assault cited spiking.

The number of incidents of spiking has also increased from 12 in 2020 to 106 in 2022, the spokesperson said.

The Department of Justice is understood to have concerns about spiking being a standalone offence. However, government sources said the issue can be teased out at committee stage.

Students have previously been warned by universities to be vigilant of their drinks on nights out with increasing reports of spiking in recent years.

The HSE warns drinks can be spiked so that perpetrators can rape, sexually or physically assault their victims, or rob them, and can target both men and women.

Depending on the type of drugs used, they can kick in between five minutes and an hour after being administered, with the symptoms lasting for several hours.

Some of the most severe symptoms include hallucinations, memory loss, blurred vision and finding it hard to move, according to the HSE.

The bill was published by Fine Gael yesterday and party senators will present it to the Seanad next Wednesday, where Mr Harris will respond to the legislation as one of his final duties as Justice Minister before Ms McEntee returns to work the following day.

It will then be passed in the Seanad before the summer recess and go to committee stage in September, where changes to the laws may be proposed.

The new laws were previously pushed by Young Fine Gael.

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