Home > Seanad Eireann debate. Alcohol consumption: statements (resumed)

[Oireachtas] Seanad Eireann debate. Alcohol consumption: statements (resumed). (07 Nov 2012)

External website: https://www.oireachtas.ie/en/debates/debate/seanad...

 Acting Chairman (Senator Pat O'Neill):   I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Alex White, back to the House. We resume with Senator Mullins, who has three minutes remaining.
Senator Michael Mullins:   I welcome the Minister of State back to the House, and welcome also this very important debate and discussion. On other days when we have discussed this issue, the many problems associated with the abuse of alcohol have been raised, such as domestic violence, unwanted pregnancy, child abuse, pressure on the health services and the fact that our accident and emergency rooms are full at weekends and 2,000 hospital beds are occupied as a result of alcohol abuse. That is without mentioning the number of road deaths, other health issues and the increase in the number of suicides in recent years, many attributed to the abuse of alcohol. We all agree there is no more sad sight than witnessing young people on our streets at night getting sick, not knowing where they are and exposing themselves to grave danger.

The price of alcohol is a major issue and we must bite the bullet in this regard. Minimum pricing must be introduced. It is a crazy situation that in the large supermarkets one can buy beer and other alcohol more cheaply than a bottle of water. Alcohol is a drug capable of damaging people's health and its availability at such a low price is not acceptable. The cheap and easy availability of drink in supermarkets, off-licences and petrol stations is seriously damaging the health of many people. It is also killing the pub trade. This is a controlled environment where the barman decides whether a customer has had enough and, in many cases, looks out for that person if he or she is in danger. Those of us who come from rural Ireland know the difficulties the local pub trade is experiencing. The multiples have a very unfair advantage in that area. We must call for stricter control on the sale of alcohol.

Alcohol should be located in a cordoned off area in large supermarkets and that proof of identity should be requested if it is being purchased by a young person. There should be mandatory training for staff involved in selling alcohol. There is little doubt but that those who are under age are consuming alcohol purchased by their older friends. This is a major issue. In the context of education, schools and colleges must place much greater emphasis on alerting young people to the dangers of alcohol and drug abuse. We should use and exploit social media to get the message across in this regard, particularly as so many young people use such media.

My final comment relates to rehabilitation facilities which are inadequate to cater for the number affected by addiction. There is a lack of residential facilities, particularly public facilities. If one has money, one can gain entry to a private residential facility. If, however, one does not have money, one will have difficulty in obtaining treatment in a residential setting. A number of years ago the HSE closed down a wonderful facility in Ballinasloe - the town in which I live - that was doing tremendous work in treating people for addiction to drugs and alcohol. An adequate facility was not established to replace it. I am concerned that many medical practitioners regard people with alcohol problems as a nuisance. As a result of what happened in Ballinasloe, this problem is not being taken seriously. I urge the Minister of State to consider the position on the facilities in place for the treatment of addiction, particularly the number of residential beds available. The facilities in place must be publicised in a much better way in order that many of those who suffer from the effects of alcohol addiction can be catered for and receive treatment in a more timely fashion and more suitable surroundings.
Acting Chairman (Senator Pat O'Neill): The Senator is like Galway, he scored in extra time.


Senator Ned O'Sullivan: Alcohol has been available either as a product or a commodity for as long as people have been on the planet. These statements are on alcohol consumption as opposed to alcohol abuse. I would, therefore, like to consider some of the positive aspects of alcohol before I focus on the downsides. I am partial to a drink. When consumed properly by adults, alcohol can be of benefit both socially and from the point of view of health. It lends gaiety to festive occasions and can be a source of comfort at funerals and other times of grief and trauma. A drop of sherry brings a good colour to one's complexion. All of these aspects must be mentioned before we refer to the downsides.

The alcohol industry is extremely important to the economy of this country and many others. For example, the annual turnover of the industry in Ireland is €3 billion. It is responsible for generating €2 billion in VAT and excise revenues and employs over 50,000 people. A great number of the owners of pubs have raised their families on their premises. Pubs are a huge part of the fabric of Irish life, particularly in isolated rural areas where they provide the only social outlet for many. I refer, for example, to elderly and single men who live alone. I take the opportunity to compliment publicans. I accept that there are bad apples in every barrel and that individuals occasionally let the side down. In the main, however, publicans are exemplary. They run their businesses professionally and have a great sense of their duty of care for their customers. I would trust most publicans to ensure their customers do not over-imbibe. If people do have one too many, they are immediately taken care of by those publicans to whom I refer.
The difficulty we face is that most individuals no longer drink in pubs. People purchase alcohol in off-licences and consume it in their apartments, homes and less salubrious places. As Senator Michael Mullins indicated, there is some level of control when people drink in a pub.

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