A child’s right to a childhood free from alcohol harm 

Delay in implementation of Public Health Alcohol Act contravenes children’s rights

As Ireland is examined before the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child this week, Alcohol Action Ireland (AAI) is calling on government to commit to the vison that children have a childhood free from alcohol harm by implementing laws designed to protect them. 

It would be remiss not to mention the damning report into Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) published this week, and we join with the Children’s Rights Alliance in calling for root and branch reform, starting at the top with the clinical governance of the service. 

In terms of AAI’s remit – alcohol and children, we know that children in Ireland are currently experiencing harm from alcohol in multiple ways, including:  

  • Exposure to alcohol during pregnancy (FASD) 
  • Being brought up in homes where there is problem alcohol use 
  • Exposure to risk on the streets from others who are engaged in high-risk alcohol use 
  • Introduced to alcohol at an early age and exposed to harmful marketing practices 

In Ireland, at least 50,000 children in Ireland start to drink every year and 37 per cent of those aged 15 to 24 who drink have an alcohol use disorder. 1 in 6 children live with parental problem alcohol use and that places children at risk of developing a range of difficulties with psychological well-being, education and long-term health. 

“Children’s intrinsic rights – survival rights, development rights, protection rights and participation rights are all impacted by alcohol use, not just in the home, but in wider society too,” Dr Sheila Gilheany, CEO of AAI said. 

“In our submission to the UNCRC we highlighted the need for the Public Health (Alcohol) Act 2018 (PHAA) to be implemented. For example, In respect of children, there has been inordinate and inexplicable delay regarding the broadcast watershed, a simple mechanism whereby alcohol ads are not shown before 9pm on TV and radio. Indeed, the government’s own report to the Committee states that a core objective of the PHAA is to delay the initiation of alcohol consumption by children and young people. 

AAI also raised the issue of Foetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD). Ireland is estimated to have the third highest rate of drinking in pregnancy globally and with it one of the highest estimated rates of FASD with around 6000 babies born every year with this lifelong, entirely preventable condition which has serious impacts on the child’s development, education and life course.  

“Again, we have laws that could help with this. It is essential that the provisions around health warning labels including drinking in pregnancy (Section 12) are implemented without further delay,” Dr Gilheany said. 

In respect of alcohol harm in the home, AAI notes that the government’s report to the committee highlighted the Hidden Harm strategy, which gives information and training to professionals about the impact of this adverse childhood experience which as well as being highly traumatic in itself is also a gateway to multiple other ACEs such as domestic abuse. 

“We have long highlighted that the hidden harm strategy needs funding and an action plan.” Dr Gilheany continued. 

“We need to develop and plan appropriate services to address the multiple needs of the 600,000 children and adults affected by this widespread trauma for children and families. There is also a need for a whole of government approach to this issue. One example of a low-cost intervention which could give immediate support for children impacted by domestic abuse is Operation Encompass which provides for data sharing between the Gardai and schools. Despite widespread acknowledgment of its value across three government departments the proposal remains mired in an interdepartmental quagmire. When will Ireland put children first?” Dr Gilheany concluded.  

We examine the impact of alcohol harm on childhood with a children’s rights lens in our most recent blog piece which you can read here.



For all media enquiries and interview requests, please contact:   

Hannah-Alice Loughlin   

Advocacy and Communications Lead   


M: 087 995 0186   

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Media guide re non-stigmatising language