Taoiseach ‘must give leadership in fight against alcohol abuse’

Taoiseach Enda Kenny needs to “give leadership” in tackling alcohol abuse and persuade ministers resisting change “to play their part”, former drugs minister Roisín Shortall has said.

From the Irish Examiner

Monday, April 08, 2013

By Cormac O’Keeffe

The Labour TD said she was concerned that the long-promised action plan on alcohol was “dragging on for so long” and feared that it was being constantly put back in the hope the issue would “go away”.

The former minister of state at the Department of Health with responsibility for the alcohol strategy claimed there was a tendency within Cabinet “not to confront difficulties”.

The action plan on alcohol, which Ms Shortall first drafted in Jun 2012, has still not gone before the Cabinet. This is despite statements since last October from her successor, Alex White, that it would go to ministers “within weeks”.

Ms Shortall said: “A minister of state is not able to bring senior ministers to the table if they are resisting. The only person who can do that is the Taoiseach.

“I would call on the Taoiseach to give political leadership to persuade ministers to play their part.”

Sports Minister Leo Varadkar, Arts Minister Jimmy Deenihan, Agriculture Minister Simon Coveney, and Communications Minister Pat Rabbitte have, to differing degrees, expressed their opposition to aspects of the plan. These mainly centre on the phased ban on alcohol sponsorship of sports and other events and restrictions on advertising ”” measures recommended by a government-established expert group on alcohol.

“The Government needs to bite the bullet on this,” said Ms Shortall. “Every minister recognises there is a serious problem with alcohol misuse, they’re all saying something needs to be done, but don’t want anything that might impact on their area.”

She said it was over a year since the steering group report on alcohol was published. “We had a series of meetings with ministers. Their concerns were taken on board, amendments were made to the action plan. I am concerned this is dragging on for so long that it is being put back, and put back, in the hope it will go away. The Taoiseach needs to give leadership. He’s not resisting, but he’s not out in the front leading it.”

She said research by UCD, published last week in the Irish Examiner, highlighted the physical and mental health impact on young people from excessive drinking. It found nearly 10% of fifth and sixth-year students were drinking “damaging” amounts of alcohol and a further 25% were engaged in “problem” drinking.

“Without a doubt alcohol misuse is the number one public health issue,” said Ms Shortall. She expressed concern at the “huge influence” the alcohol industry had in society and “within government circles”.

A spokesman for the Taoiseach declined to comment.

Kathryn D’arcy, director of the Alcohol Beverage Federation of Ireland, said alcohol misuse was “very much the exception, not the norm”. She said consumption had fallen in the last decade, down 19% since 2001 and Ireland was now near the European average.

She said some proposals being considered would negatively affect the industry, which employs 62,000 people, and would not address alcohol misuse.