National Children’s Charities Join Forces to Support Alcohol Bill: Enough is Enough

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Three of Ireland’s leading children’s charities, Barnardos, the Children’s Rights Alliance and the ISPCC have joined forces today to express disappointment at the postponement of the debate on the Public Health (Alcohol) Bill.

Grainia Long, Chief Executive of the ISPCC, addresses the Oireachtas Cross Party Group on Alcohol Harm

30 Nov 2016. Published by the Children’s Rights Alliance.

This comes in the wake of comments in the Seanad yesterday by Nicola Sturgeon, MSP, First Minister of Scotland in relation to the introduction of minimum unit pricing on alcohol already implemented in Scotland, and now up for debate here in Ireland in this Bill.

The three organisations are supporting the passage of this Bill from the perspective of children’s rights, child protection and public health. Indeed, the group is calling for further strengthening of the Bill in relation to children, particularly in the area of online advertising of alcohol products and a ban on alcohol sponsorship of sport on a phased basis.

Fergus Finlay, Chief Executive of Barnardos, said: “Every day we work alongside children affected by alcohol abuse. This Bill introduces essential and much-needed protections for children and we are keen to see it passed in full and believe there are areas where it could be strengthened. The provisions contained are a minimum standard and it is extremely concerning to see the Bill delayed with a real threat of it being watered down. Political leadership is needed now more than ever to tackle our passive societal relationship with alcohol.

Tanya Ward, Chief Executive of the Children’s Rights Alliance, said: “Alcohol ruins children’s lives. Children’s drinking has dire consequences for their health, social and emotional wellbeing. Over a quarter of a million children live with parents who drink too much and alcohol abuse is the main reason children go into care. Children need protection from the double-edged sword they face – misusing alcohol themselves as well as suffering the misuse of alcohol by their parents. Let’s start by passing this Bill.”

Grainia Long, Chief Executive of the ISPCC, said: “Last year, Childline received almost 4,000 calls relating to child substance use and misuse, many of those concerning alcohol consumption. Those calls demonstrate to us the profound risk to children where alcohol is a regular factor in their lives. Culturally, in Ireland, we have not sufficiently accepted that the presence of alcohol in children’s lives is damaging, and affects their enjoyment of their childhood. Many children report to us that excessive alcohol use affects their relationships with the parents, can cause a stressful family environment and children are very often worried for their safety and that of their siblings. It is astonishing that debate on the bill has not sufficiently reflected the concerns of children, and we are extremely disappointed at the postponement of the debate of this important bill.”

The UN Committee on the Rights of the Child has called on Ireland to ’strengthen its efforts to address alcohol consumption by children’ and expressed its concern ’about the high level of alcohol consumption by adolescents’.   Prof. Geoffrey Shannon, the Special Rapporteur on Child Protection has also highlighted the negative impact of alcohol on children stating that ’the failure on the part of society to comprehensively address the alcohol problem leaves the child protection system to deal with insurmountable consequences’. In this context, he has called for a complete ban on alcohol sponsorship of sporting events.

The evidence is stark. A survey, published in December 2015, found that of children aged between 13 and 17 years, 64 per cent had consumed alcohol, 53 per cent had been drunk at least once and 50 per cent reported that they drink every month. We know that young people are especially susceptible to the influence of marketing. Yet, the marketing and advertising of alcohol in Ireland is widespread and self-regulated by the drinks industry which consistently disputes the link between marketing and increased consumption. Children must be better protected.

There is also an estimated 271,000 children under 15 years living with parents who are regular risky drinkers. In fact in 2014, the Child Law Reporting Project noted that parental alcohol abuse was the primary reason for seeking a care order in 12 per cent of the cases it documented. The wide range of harms that are caused to children, as a result of parental alcohol misuse, is often hidden. This means these children may not be known to the appropriate services, suffering harm in a number of ways and impeding their physical, emotional and social development. We must break the negative cycle of harmful drinking among adults in order to provide protection for children from harm.

Barnardos, the Children’s Rights Alliance and the ISPCC is calling for the passage of the Public Health (Alcohol) Bill as an important statement of intent towards protecting and promoting children’s rights.