Drink convictions

  • Post category:News

There is something perverse about a government that engages in high-flown rhetoric about protecting the public from alcohol abuse while, at the same time, adopting a softly-softly approach to the drinks industry. The latest public relations offering from Minister for Justice Dermot Ahern involves the use of underage persons by gardaí in securing convictions for the illegal sale of alcohol. The fact that it has taken two years to activate this legal power says it all.

The 2008 Intoxicating Liquor Act was a weak-kneed response to the excessive consumption of alcohol by all sections of society. As incomes rose dramatically in the early years of the new century, so did alcohol consumption. The impact was seen on our streets in after-hour brawls. Hospital waiting rooms became unsafe as more than one-third of those seeking late night treatment were intoxicated. And an increasing number of children and adults became binge drinkers.

Now, belatedly, Mr Ahern has invoked a provision from the 2008 Act that allows members of the Garda send an underage person to purchase alcohol in a licensed premises and initiate a prosecution if he, or she, succeeds. The effectiveness of legislation always lies in its enforcement. This new Garda responsibility comes with 12 pages of detailed guidelines on implementation. A raft of legal challenges can be expected.

The 2008 Act was introduced following a series of high-profile health conferences that drew attention to a rising level of alcoholism within society. We had the worst incidence of underage binge drinking within the EU. And adults behaved no better. As drinking habits changed and cheaper alcohol became available, fingers of blame were pointed at off-licences, supermarkets and mixed retail stores. But, before legal restrictions on where and how alcohol could be sold took effect under the Act, the Government caved in to pressure. Stores and supermarkets were allowed to police themselves.

The Health Research Board reported last year that “enormous damage” was being caused by a binge drinking culture that brought with it a huge increase in assaults and public order offences. It called for the production of a national alcohol policy. And it recommended that a minimum price be set for alcohol in all shopping outlets. The Government didn’t listen. Having left the tax on beer unchanged for 15 years, it bowed to demands from the drinks industry and actually cut excise rates. In the teeth of a recession, the cost came to €90 million. No wonder health specialists despair.

Source: The Irish Times, 24/09/10
Journalist: Editorial