The Cross Party Oireachtas Group on Alcohol Misuse was launched in Leinster House last week.
The informal, all-party group, which is being chaired by Labour Party TD, Ged Nash, is seeking to progress legislation and policy that can help reduce alcohol harm in Ireland, with a particular emphasis on the Public Health Alcohol Bill.
Alcohol Action Ireland – the national charity for alcohol related issues – will act as secretariat for the group, through which Oireachtas members will gain access to the most recent expert advice and evidence on alcohol-related harm and the policy solutions that can reduce that harm.
The group comprises political representation from across the main parties including Catherine Byrne TD (Fine Gael), Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin TD (Sinn Féin), Colm Keaveney TD (Fianna Fáil) and Senator Jillian van Turnhout (Independent). The group will be seeking additional membership and support from TDs and Senators who are concerned about Ireland’s harmful relationship with alcohol and the huge toll it takes on our society.
To mark the launch of the group, former political advisor to the British Labour Party, Alastair Campbell, addressed its inaugural meeting in Leinster House. Mr Campbell is a strong advocate of evidence-based policy measures, such as minimum pricing, to reduce alcohol-related harm.
Clinical Nurse Manager Anne Burke, of the INMO, and Richard Shannon, paramedic, front-line workers in the health and education sectors spoke of their experiences of dealing with the consequences of alcohol misuse on a daily basis, as did Child and Adolescent Psychiatrist Dr Bobby Smyth.
Deputy Ged Nash said: “The impact of alcohol abuse in Ireland has far-reaching consequences for those affected, their families, communities and workplaces. In addition, the cost of dealing with alcohol-related harm costs the State in the region of €3.7 billion annually, with our health system alone footing a bill of over €1 billion, which equates to the total budget of the HSE West. So very clearly, if we can bring about alcohol harm reduction, considerable exchequer savings can be made and money can be diverted into other areas of need.”
Deputy Nash added that it is important that there is a strong political voice for the importance of reducing alcohol harm. “This cross-party group has come about through a shared view among politicians – all from different political persuasions – that alcohol harm needs a robust political and policy response. Our agenda is about seeking out quality and balanced information about alcohol harm and using that in our roles on formal committees, in our own political parties and as individual politicians to influence better outcomes.
“The forthcoming Public Health Alcohol Bill will be a primary focus of our work, particularly as it addresses the issues of alcohol availability, advertising and placement,” he added.
Alastair Campbell said: “Alcohol has a real grip across all ages and social groups. In the UK, public policy around alcohol misuse is being heavily influenced by the sophisticated and well-resourced alcohol lobby rather than being directed in the interest of public health. This is evident from David Cameron’s U-turn on minimum pricing last year following pressure from both his Cabinet and the alcohol lobby. It is vital that Ireland’s Government are not swayed by similar pressure and prioritise public health over the profit of vested, corporate interests.”
Alcohol Action Ireland CEO, Suzanne Costello said they will support the work of the group in whatever way they can. “The launch of the Cross Party Group on Alcohol Misuse comes at a critical time for alcohol policy in Ireland, with the proposed Public Health Alcohol Bill offering us an unprecedented opportunity to begin to address our harmful relationship with alcohol through a number of evidence-based policies targeting the pricing, marketing and availability of alcohol,” said Ms Costello.