Examiner – Alcohol will be included in drugs strategy, says minister

Alcohol abuse is a “serious social problem” and a “gateway” to the abuse of other substances, the new drugs minister has said.

Róisín Shortall, minister of state at the Department of Health, said she wanted “early progress” in the inclusion of alcohol into the national drugs strategy (NDS).

Ms Shortall assumed responsibility for the NDS on May 1 after it and the Office of the Minister for Drugs was transferred from the Department of Community Affairs to the Department of Health.

The previous government signalled in March 2009 that alcohol was going to be included in the drugs strategy. This was formally announced when the current NDS 2009-2016 was published in September 2009.

The new National Substance Misuse Strategy was scheduled to be published at the end of 2010, but has been repeatedly delayed, most recently because of the election and change of government.

Responding to questioning in the Dáil from independent TD Maureen O’Sullivan, Ms Shortall said alcohol would be included in the strategy.

“It was scheduled to happen this year. I have a particular interest in this area and I want to ensure it is addressed in the NDS,” she said.

“Alcohol abuse is a serious social problem and alcohol is also a gateway to the abuse of other substances. For that reason, it will be included in the NDS and I want early progress on that, particularly in respect of the enforcement of the law on underage drinking.”

She said she would report back on the progress in the strategy “over the coming months”.

Ms O’Sullivan, deputy for Dublin Central, said there were concerns that the drugs issue “would not be taken as seriously at Cabinet level as previously”.

The last drug minster, Pat Carey, was minister for community affairs and, as a minister, sat at the Cabinet table, which Ms Shortall, as a minister of state, does not.

Ms O’Sullivan said excellent work was being done by community projects on a limited budget and that there were fears for their future from any further funding cuts.

Ms Shortall, who formerly sat on the Ballymun Local Drugs Task Force, said she was aware of the work of community drug projects and there was “no question” of them discontinuing.

Funding has been set aside for this year and will continue to be available, she said.

Source: The Irish Examiner – 03/06/11
Journalist: Cormac O’Keeffe