Alcohol Strategy — political will key to turning ‘blueprint for change’ into plan of action

Alcohol Action Ireland, the national charity for alcohol-related issues, today welcomed the new National Substance Misuse Strategy saying it provided a blueprint for change and marked an opportunity to have a different relationship with alcohol.

Director Fiona Ryan said: “We know in Ireland that we have a difficult relationship with alcohol. We know because one in 11 children – enough children to fill Croke Park – tell us their lives are being negatively impacted by a parent’s drinking. We know because half of us are drinking at levels currently jeopardising our health – over 2 litres of pure alcohol a year above maximum low risk limits. We know financially because it is costing us €3.7 billion a year in alcohol-related harm with over 2,000 hospital beds a night being used in connection with alcohol.

“The National Substance Misuse Strategy has created a blueprint of recommendations that if implemented will go a considerable way to protecting the health and wellbeing  of children, young people and families in communities across Ireland. In the end, however, they are just a set of recommendations, it will take significant political will to turn a blueprint for change into a real plan of action.”

Referring to the report’s recommendations, Ms Ryan said they reflected the World Health Organisation’s evidence on the most effective measures to reduce alcohol consumption and related harm.

“Recommendations around tackling pricing, availability and marketing including sponsorship are not empty policy gestures but real ways to make a difference.   Alcohol marketing impacts on young people’s decision to drink alcohol and the amount they drink which is why the report emphasises restricting marketing.

“In the debate that follows this report, education will no doubt be presented as an alternative to restricting alcohol marketing.   Unfortunately, the evidence from the World Health Organisation doesn’t support education by itself as a solution for alcohol-related harm – in fairness, how could it?

“Over €60million a year is spent in Ireland alone on marketing and promoting alcohol through sports sponsorship, television, internet and social networking sites. It would be difficult for any country to counterbalance the millions spent on promoting alcohol.”

Ms Ryan underlined the fact that pricing was key to promoting alcohol and welcomed the recommendation setting a floor price so that alcohol would not be sold at ‘pocket money’ prices.

She said: “Concern over young people’s drinking and the impact on their physical and mental health is one of the prime motivators for the recommendations contained in this report. We should remember that there is another group of children rarely seen, rarely heard and rarely the subject of official reports. These are the one in 11 children whose lives are currently being impacted by a parent’s drinking to the extent that it can become a child welfare and protection issue.   One in seven children in care in Ireland, are there primarily because of parental substance misuse and this is liable to be an underestimation.

“Alcohol Action Ireland has actively campaigned for these children to be seen and heard. At the very least, this strategy recognises these children, the challenges they and their families face and the right of these children to be seen and heard by State services. Agencies need to work together to deliver services for children that are consistent and appropriate: a child’s right to help should not be dependent on whether his or her parents are accessing services.

“Despite the urgency of these children’s plight, we are only at the start of this process. Northern Ireland already has its Hidden Harm strategy in operation to address the needs of these children. A child should not have to wait and suffer in silence because their parent may not or want to recognise they have an alcohol problem.”

For more information contact: Joanne Dunne at (01) 878 0610 or Fiona Ryan 087 219 5723

Note to the editor: Alcohol Action Ireland has actively campaigned for minimum pricing for alcohol – that campaign is backed by the following organisations: Barnardos, The ISPCC, Foroige, the National Youth Council of Ireland, The No Name Club, St Vincent De Paul, Focus Ireland, Faculty of Public Health Medicine, Royal College of Physicians, The Irish Medical Organisation, Rape Crisis Network Ireland, The Irish Cancer Society, The Irish Heart Foundation, The North West Alcohol Forum and the Ballymun Local Drugs Taskforce and the Irish Association of Suicidology.