Plan to tackle under-age drinking

  • Post category:News

Madam, – On September 21st, the Minister for Justice announced his intention to recruit young people under 18 to engage in test-purchasing of alcohol. He made this decision on the basis of the recommendations made by the multi-agency Alcohol Advisory Group from 2008. You report (Home News, September 25th) that Deputy Alan Shatter and Councillor Danny Healy-Rea are opposing this innovative measure to tackle underage drinking.

While under-18s access alcohol from many sources, direct purchases are commonplace. Indeed, the European School Survey Project on Alcohol and Other Drugs (ESPAD) study indicates there were 20,000 illegal purchases of alcohol by Irish 16-year-olds last month. It is illegal to sell alcohol to children because it is harmful. Alcohol is responsible for four times as many deaths each year as all illicit drugs combined. It is involved in about one-third of all accidental deaths. The Garda reports that alcohol is the driver behind 50 per cent of youth crime.

Alcohol is very often involved in youth suicide and in cases of sexual assault. Irish children are now drinking three years earlier than their parents’ generation. In light of Mr Shatter’s interest in child protection issues, his opposition to this measure is hard to understand.

Councillor, and publican, Healy-Rea’s use of the term “spies and informers” to describe the young people who volunteer as test purchasers is disturbing. I assume that young people with a strong sense of social justice and a concern about harm caused by alcohol abuse among their peers will be attracted to this role. Surely, these are values that we wish to encourage in our young citizens?

Most parents are very concerned about alcohol use by their children. Most publicans and people involved in the off-licence sector adhere to the law and are appalled at the behaviour of rogue traders who bring their business into disrepute. Unlike real children, the “test purchasers” will be required to be honest if questioned about their age, and will not be issued with fake IDs. Legitimate traders have little to fear.

This measure is another small step in the right direction. Dermot Ahern should be commended for taking it. It will reduce access to alcohol for under-18s. As such, it will unequivocally saves lives, reduce injuries and curtail youth crime. – Yours, etc,

Dr Bobby Smyth, MRCPsych,
Clinical Lecturer,
Department of Public Health
Primary Care,
Trinity College Dublin.
Source: The Irish Times, 28/09/10
Section: Letters