Time to tackle Irish drink culture

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Letters to The Irish Times

Sir, – I was saddened to read of the opposition of certain Government Ministers to the long overdue proposals by Minister of State Róisín Shortall to tackle Ireland’s alcohol problem (Front page, July 16th). At a time when death rates from liver cirrhosis have been falling substantially in many European countries they have been rising in Ireland, by over threefold in men and two- fold in women since 1990.

The compelling evidence in favour of minimum unit pricing has convinced other governments to adopt this measure, not least, as you note in your very balanced editorial (July 16th), in response to the recognition of how supermarkets are cynically using alcohol as a loss leader to squeeze small local shops.

Similarly, other governments are targeting sports sponsorship because they recognise that it is part of a highly sophisticated package whereby drinks companies promote their products as part of a glamorous lifestyle experience via social media, thus getting round restrictions of advertising directed at children.

Yet, even if they are unconcerned about the human toll of alcohol abuse, surely we must ask why these Ministers are so reluctant to tackle the huge social cost of alcohol abuse that Ireland can ill afford? – Yours, etc,


Professor of European Public Health,

London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine,

Tavistock Place, London,


Sir, – The reports that Government Ministers are back-pedalling on the proposed alcohol strategy are very disappointing and I hope untrue. Staff who work in student support services in higher education are seeing at first hand the impact of the widespread availability of cheap alcohol. In particular, staff who work in student health centres, counselling services or as chaplains are witness to the serious harm that many young people do to themselves, or others, as a result of drink-related incidents.

The problem does not appear to be improving as the alcohol consumption by female students has now caught up with that of their male counterparts. This will have long-term damaging effects to their physical and mental health.

I think the Ministers have to understand that alcohol companies are not sponsoring sporting and music events from a sense of community spirit.

At a recent health promotion conference a speaker noted that “Young men are interested in four things. The alcohol companies brew one of them, and sponsor two more of them!” Sponsorship of these events is a clear way to target young people. Increasingly alcohol companies are using social media to target young people – a report from 2010 showed that four of the top 10 Irish Facebook pages were for alcohol brands.

By reducing the amount of alcohol consumption in Ireland, the Government has an opportunity to significantly improve the health and well-being of Irish people; reduce the caseload in our A E units; and at the same time to address one of the major causes of anti-social behaviour on our streets. I hope they make the right decision. – Yours, etc,



Confederation of Student Services in Ireland,

C/o Dublin Institute of Technology, Rathmines,

Dublin 6.

Sir,    – Declan Roche (July 17th), among many others, apportions particular blame for our nation’s alcohol abuse on “our young population”. Young people, including minors, are constantly used as a convenient scapegoat upon whom we can direct our attention.

The harsh truth is that adults of all ages are to blame for this alcohol culture and it is time we took full responsibility for it. – Yours, etc,



Zurich, Switzerland.

Sir, – Although I believe banning advertising to be more effective, I have no objection to any reasonable alcohol pricing policy. I cannot help but wonder if it would be more prudent to increase excise duty and ban below-cost selling. At least this measure increases the tax contribution, rather than making the supermarkets richer. – Yours, etc,


Knockieran Lower,


Co Wicklow.