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Home > 9. Deputy Catherine Byrne asked the Minister for Health and Children her views on a recent OECD report which shows that Ireland ranks among the top consumers of alcohol;[47015/09]

[Oireachtas] 9. Deputy Catherine Byrne asked the Minister for Health and Children her views on a recent OECD report which shows that Ireland ranks among the top consumers of alcohol;[47015/09]. (11 Feb 2010)

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Substance Misuse.

9.  Deputy Catherine Byrne asked the Minister for Health and Children   her views on a recent OECD report which shows that Ireland ranks among the top consumers of alcohol; if she will fast-track the publication of the new substance misuse strategy that is to tackle alcohol misuse; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [47015/09]

Minister of State at the Department of the Health and Children (Deputy Áine Brady):    The average rate of alcohol consumption in Ireland has consistently been among the highest in the European Union. My Department will continue to seek to reduce the overall level of alcohol consumption in the population to reduce the burden of alcohol-related harm on the health services and society in general. To tackle the problems associated with alcohol use and misuse, we need to take responsibility both collectively and individually. There is social acceptance of alcohol in society and we need to question the signal this is sending, particularly to young people.

On 31 March 2009, the Government agreed to include alcohol in a national substance misuse strategy that would be co-ordinated jointly by the Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs and my Department. A steering group has been established to develop the alcohol element of the strategy. It will base its recommendations on effective evidence-based measures to deal with the significant public health issue of alcohol in areas such as supply, pricing, prevention, treatment, awareness and education. The steering group is meeting on a monthly basis and it is expected that its report will be submitted to the Government by the end of this year.

Deputy Catherine Byrne:    I thank the Minister of State for her reply. I am grateful to hear the report will be submitted by the end of the year. The Minister of State said that, according to the OECD report, we are 40% worse off in Ireland with regard to alcohol than we were in the 1980s. The number of young people under 15 who are drinking, especially binge drinking, has increased.

As a parent, I am very conscious of alcohol-related problems at weekends when my children go to parties or the picture house. I am always afraid I will get the dreaded telephone call. I did get one last year because my young daughter ended up with a bottle in her face. I spent 11 hours in the accident and emergency unit with her and she had to get five stitches on the bridge of her nose.

There is a lot in the Minister of State’s reply and I appreciate the fact that the steering group has been set up. It is urgent that it produce its report. There are still many alcohol-related practices that need to be curtailed. I refer in particular to the activities of off-licences and dial-a-can services and to the admission of intoxicated young people to nightclubs where they are served even more alcohol. I ask the Minister to address these issues with a sense of urgency, particularly given that so many young people have changed their lifestyles in the family home and their attitudes to alcohol.

Last week, I attended a function in a hotel and paid €12 for four bottles of Coca-Cola. This price is outrageous. My young daughter went to a disco last year in town and was charged €3.50 for a bottle of water. Something must be done to curtail this abuse of the system.

Deputy Áine Brady:    I thank the Deputy. I appreciate the point she made. I, too, am a mother and have four children. I appreciate the concern we all have about giving the wrong message to young people.

I agree with the Deputy’s point on young people drinking in the family home. This is why the steering group was set up. It will make proposals for the overall national substance misuse strategy to be incorporated into the national drugs strategy. It will be reporting to the Minister for Health and Children by the end of October 2010. The proposals will be made to the Government by the end of 2010.

Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin:    Is the Minister aware of the European Charter on Alcohol and the Declaration on Young People and Alcohol? Have the Government and the Department of Health and Children given due consideration to the recommendations contained therein? Acting upon them would make a very helpful contribution to combating the abuse of alcohol, which is what we are trying to achieve. The charter and declaration list quite a number of very sound and sensible steps to be taken.

Deputy Áine Brady:    The steering group has been asked to review existing policies and reports, including those produced at EU and international levels, such that it will identify effective policies and actions to prevent the harm caused to individuals and society by alcohol abuse.

Deputy Jan O’Sullivan:    The Minister of State said there is social acceptance of alcohol in Ireland. There is social acceptance of alcohol in France also but there is no social acceptance of its abuse; that is the difference. In what way does the Minister interact with the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform? As we know, it is illegal to sell alcohol to minors, yet, as Deputy Catherine Byrne said, the use of alcohol among them is widespread. If we could prevent them buying or accessing alcohol, we would be able to address the problem in some way. Has the Minister of State had much interaction with her colleagues at the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform in respect of this matter?

Deputy James Reilly:    Last night’s “Operation Transformation” programme put across a message in respect of a matter in which I am particularly interested, namely, that the calorific content of alcohol should be listed on the side of all bottles which contain alcohol. People do not realise the number of calories a bottle of alcohol contains. There are health implications in this regard. It would be of assistance to those, particularly younger people, who are conscious of their physical well-being, etc.

Deputy Mary Harney: 
   That is why they are smoking.

Deputy James Reilly:    The number of units of alcohol contained in a bottle of alcohol should also be listed. The information provided should list the number of grammes and also indicate what constitutes a unit. Many people are of the view that there are only six units of alcohol in a bottle of wine. However, the average bottle of wine contains nine units.

Deputy Catherine Byrne:    When the report is published, will there be an opportunity to consider how alcohol is advertised? This is particularly relevant in that young children and teenagers might be present when advertisements for alcohol are shown on television. Will the report refer to the cost of soft drinks?

Deputy Áine Brady:    The health promotion unit is considering the issues of labelling and advertising in the context of alcohol. As already stated, the steering group will be examining the policies and actions in the context of five pillars, namely, supply, prevention, treatment, rehabilitation and research. I am in contact with the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform in respect of that matter.

Vol. 701 No. 5
Other Questions
Thursday, 11 February 2010

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