Home > Dáil Éireann debate. Topical issue debate - Sexual offences [Alcohol].

[Oireachtas] Dáil Éireann debate. Topical issue debate - Sexual offences [Alcohol]. (11 Dec 2012)

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....Deputy Ciara Conway: A damning and disturbing report published yesterday by Rape Crisis Network Ireland, RCNI, raises the issue of the role of alcohol misuse in acts of sexual violence. We are all aware that there is a major problem of alcohol abuse in our society. As we enter the festive season, evidence of that will, unfortunately, show up at huge cost in waiting rooms and hospitals throughout the country. 

RCNI provides an excellent service to people who are subjected to one of the most serious crimes in our society. Its latest report issues a stark warning that our refusal to tackle binge drinking has contributed to the incidence of acts of sexual violence, predominantly against women. According to Alcohol Action Ireland, 76% of all rape defendants had been drinking at the time of the alleged offence. In addition, RCNI's research shows that alcohol not only plays a large part in sex attacks but also skews attitudes to both victims and perpetrators. It is a grossly unfair paradox that victims who consumed alcohol prior to being assaulted are often assumed to bear greater responsibility for the ordeal of the sexual crime committed against them while, on the other hand, perpetrators who consumed alcohol are somehow assumed to hold less responsibility for their actions than perpetrators who were sober when the crime was committed. This prevailing attitude towards perpetrators and victims, respectively, is a cause for great concern.
Last week's budget included a raft of measures in regard to alcohol, including a timely and appropriate increase in VAT. I am disappointed, however, that we have not seen action on proposals for a regime of minimum pricing. It is intolerable that large retail multiples which engage in below-cost selling are entitled to a VAT rebate on such sales. While I acknowledge that my colleague, the Minister of State, Deputy Alex White, is keen to bring forward a minimum pricing strategy, I am concerned at the rather non-committal answer given on this matter by the Minister for Health, Deputy James Reilly, in response to a recent parliamentary question. Vague suggestions that something will be done at the earliest opportunity are simply not good enough.
The role played by the misuse of alcohol in sexual violence must be addressed if we are to meet our human rights obligations. That is the kernel of the issue. The executive director of RCNI, Ms Fiona Neary, said yesterday that there was a relationship between prevailing attitudes to women, sex and alcohol consumption and decisions to carry out acts of sexual violence. As she outlined in a submission to the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality earlier this year, the impact of alcohol consumption patterns in our culture, combined with victim blaming, can leave young people vulnerable to sexual violence. Research shows that 45% of rape complainants and 40% of suspects in this country were binge drinking before the incident of sexual assault. That is a stark and disturbing figure.
Deputy Alex White: I thank the Deputy for raising this important matter. The role played by alcohol in acts of sexual violence is undeniable. A fact sheet published yesterday by RCNI details various aspects of this serious problem, and I have carefully considered its recommendations. These include a call to limit the availability of alcohol, a proposal that marketing of alcoholshould be regulated, or better regulated, and support for the introduction of alcohol pricing policies.
In addition to this and similar reports in the past, the report of the national substance misuse strategy steering group was launched earlier this year. The group was charged with identifying actions to deal with the harm caused by alcohol use and misuse. In its report, a series of harm patterns and the impacts of alcohol and alcohol misuse were identified. We were informed, for example, that 88 deaths every month in 2008 were caused by alcohol and that one in four deaths among young men are estimated to be due to alcohol, which compares with one in 12 deaths due to cancer and one in 25 due to cardiovascular disease. We learned that alcohol was a contributory factor in half of all suicides and incidents of deliberate self-harm and also increases the risk of more than 60 medical conditions, including some cancers. Alcohol misuse was associated with 2,000 bed occupancies every day in acute hospitals, with a quarter of injuries presenting to emergency departments and with 7,866 admissions in 2010 to specialised addiction treatment centres. In addition, alcohol was identified as a trigger in a third of domestic abuse cases in 2005. Alcohol abuse cost the health care system €1.2 billion in 2007, in addition to an estimated €1.19 billion in the same year arising from alcohol-related crime. The steering group noted that 1.5 million Irish drinkers consume alcohol in what they describe as a "harmful pattern".
One of the studies that informed the work of the steering group was the 2009 report entitled Rape and Justice in Ireland, a national study of survivor, prosecutor and court responses to rape by Conor Hanly and others. This study shows that decisions on the consumption of alcohol made by both men and women can have the effect of facilitating the incidence of rape and making the detection and prosecution of sexual crimes more difficult. It indicates, moreover, that alcohol consumption affects decisions on whether to report alleged rape.
(Speaker Continuing)
[Deputy Alex White:] Taking this together with all the other evidence considered by the steering group, it is clear there is an irrefutable need for action to be taken across a number of policy areas, including pricing, access, availability and marketing of alcohol. In this context, I assure the Deputy that real and tangible proposals are currently being finalised on foot of the recommendations of the substance misuse report. I intend to submit these proposals to the Government for consideration and approval as soon as possible. I reiterate that these proposals cover all the areas mentioned in the report, including legislation on minimum unit pricing - in other words, setting a statutory floor price per unit of alcohol; the issue of access and availability of alcohol, covering structural separation in retail units where alcohol is sold; and advertising and sponsorship.
I and my officials are in continuing discussions with the Departments of Justice and Equality, Transport, Tourism and Sport and Communications, Energy and Natural Resources on aspects of these proposals. These ongoing discussions relate in particular to structural separation, sponsorship, and advertising. Obviously, the Government's main preoccupation in recent weeks has been with the budget, and so these discussions have not yet been concluded. However, I expect to make progress on this important and necessary plan of action early in the new year, when a package of proposals will be brought to the Government for decision. I emphasise that I have the full support of the Minister for Health, Deputy James Reilly, with regard to proceeding with this plan of action.
In the meantime, work on developing a framework for the necessary legislation is continuing. For example, a health impact assessment is being commissioned in conjunction with Northern Ireland as part of the process of developing a legislative basis for minimum unit pricing. Scotland commissioned the same sort of assessment before it drafted its legislation on minimum unit pricing a short time ago. This North-South health impact assessment will study the effects of different minimum prices on consumption, together with their likely economic impact. I am personally deeply committed to the introduction of minimum unit pricing, but I want to ensure we do this properly and in a way that will withstand legal challenge.
Deputy Ciara Conway: I welcome the reply of the Minister of State and his commitment to legislate for minimum pricing of alcohol. I have some final points. Where alcohol consumption was known, almost 90% of defendants in rape trials had been binge drinking. Ten percent of all reported cases involved a complainant who was incapable of offering consent because of alcohol consumption. Alcohol has been identified as a contributing factor in 97% of public order offences, as recorded by the Garda Pulse system. One in 11 people in the past year said that they or a family member had been assaulted by somebody under the influence of alcohol. Almost half of the perpetrators of homicide were intoxicated when the crime was committed.
We are paying a very high price with people's lives in regard to our inaction on alcohol. In my view, some of the utterances about loss of revenue to sporting organisations because of advertising or marketing curtailment cheapen life when we see how alcohol contributes not only to the commission of sexual assault but to the loss of people's lives as a result of the misuse of alcohol. We cannot leave this go any longer. I welcome this statement and look forward to working with the Minister of State in the new year to ensure legislation is introduced on this issue.
Deputy Alex White: I will add some brief references to the Government's policy as it relates to the issue raised by the Deputy. In March 2010 the Government launched a four-year strategy to provide a framework for sustainable intervention to prevent and respond effectively to domestic, sexual, and gender-based violence. COSC is the national office established in 2007, under the aegis of the Department of Justice and Equality, to ensure the delivery of the Government's strategy on domestic, sexual and gender-based violence. The HSE launched its own policy on domestic, sexual and gender-based violence in 2010. The principal actions of this policy are in line with the Government's strategy. Recently, the national director for children and family services, who has lead responsibility for this area, established a national office for domestic and sexual violence within the HSE. Currently, the HSE funds 16 rape crisis centres, 20 crisis refuges and 27 support services, including two national representative bodies - Safe Ireland and RCNI. The total cost of these in 2011 was almost €20 million. Some €4.5 million was specifically provided by the HSE to fund sexual violence services in 2011.
Again, I reassure the Deputy and the House that the Government is fully committed to addressing the problem of domestic, sexual and gender-based violence. Our alcohol strategy, as identified by the Deputy, will constitute one important element of this work.
Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 786 No. 1
Tuesday, 11 December 2012

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