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Pike, Brigid (2013) The President gets young people talking …. Drugnet Ireland, Issue 46, Summer 2013, pp. 10-11.

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In his inauguration speech on 11 November 2011 President Michael D Higgins said that as part of his presidency he would host a number of seminars on themes that went beyond immediate legislative demands but which were important to the shared life of the Irish people. He decided that the first of these seminars would be about ’Being Young and Irish’.
President Higgins invited young people to think about the way we wish to live with others; the way our institutions must work and serve their purpose for the welfare of all; the way we define what is valuable; and how the economy should connect with society.
A total of 775 people aged between 17 and 26 years contributed their ideas and opinions by participating in regional workshops, making separate submissions and/or participating in the final seminar. The published report highlighted nine areas of concern:1
o    Employment, enterprise, social security, concern with the economy
o    Political reform
o    Education
o    Equality
o    Involve young people
o    Being positive
o    Health
o    Community and civil society
o    Identity as Irish
A summary of the issues raised in relation to alcohol, drugs and smoking, which were reported under the heading of Health, is given below.1
Most saw the role of alcohol in Irish society, and in relation to young people in particular, as problematic. For example:‘Alcohol is the drug of choice among youth. Many young people are experiencing the consequences of drinking too much, at too early an age. As a result, underage drinking is a leading public health problem in this country.’ Alcohol was seen as affecting all areas of people’s lives – work, socialising, sport, addiction and mental health.One participant blamed those selling alcohol for the under-age availability: ‘Alcohol is so widely available these days that employees don’t ask the customers for ID anymore.’
Measures identified to tackle the alcohol problem included the provision of alternative and affordable options for socialising. For example: ‘If I’m completely honest it’s not fun living here. There is a great lack of facilities for young people and more often than not most of us resort to drink to fool ourselves into thinking that we are having fun. In reality we spend much of our time on the computer developing a sort of artificial social life, devoid of face-to-face interaction.’ Other suggestions included more education, for example sending secondary school students into hospitals to see the effects of alcoholism and substance abuse, or student campaigns about the effects of alcohol. Higher taxes on spirits, wines and shots were mentioned. Conversely, cutting taxes on alcohol sold in drinking establishments such as pubs, night clubs and restaurants was recommended, as well as simultaneously raising taxes on alcohol sold in off licences: it was argued that this would both support the declining pub trade and reduce the sale of alcohol in off-licences and shops, which were seen as the main problem since consumption of drink is then unsupervised.
Only a small number of participants commented on drugs, with very little consensus. Some submissions related to the harm caused by drugs while some focused on the harm caused by the illegal status of drugs. The participants gave a number of different arguments for legalising drugs, especially cannabis. Overall, it was argued that if drugs were legalised, they would be safer: ‘If legalised there “would not be as much of a black market”, therefore, “less organised crime related to drugs … crimes like robbery and the likes because prices would be lower without the criminals involved”.’
One participant claimed that cannabis ‘has no reported deaths or illness’, and that the laws governing cannabis use need to be changed because, ‘it’s disgraceful that a toxic substance [alcohol] which is the cause of a lot of domestic and social problems as well as mental and physical illnesses is legal while a non toxic substance which many Irish people chose to smoke is illegal. It’s a waste of tax payers money … [which is] negatively effecting many young people … receiving a criminal record for possession of this relatively harmless drug.’
While the call for legalisation focused mainly on cannabis, a couple of participants called for ‘complete legalisation of all drugs’, with strict regulation especially for ‘hard drugs’. Some young people were firmly of the belief that the ‘system’ was ‘enabling … evil people by having the drug illegal’. The need for regulation was emphasised, including a strictly controlled minimum age for use and the use of photo ID or swipe cards.
A small number of ‘passionate’ comments, all negative, were provided about smoking. One participant
proclaimed, ‘I believe in the 21st century it is a failure of a nation that young people still smoke’, while
another stated, ‘the goal should be to completely eradicate smoking from Ireland’. Participants expressed frustration that smoking has not been tackled effectively by society: ‘campaigns based on “MPOWER”2
may marginally reduce the number of smokers, but is … extremely inefficient based on the number of
smokers in the country’. One participant suggested that smoking could be completely phased out in a generation.
1. Centre for Social and Educational Research, Dublin Institute of Technology (2013) Being young and Irish 2012: take charge of change.  Report on President Michael D Higgins’ consultation ‘Being Young and Irish’ with young people. Dublin: Office of the President. www.president.ie/youngandirish/
2.  MPOWER is a package of six evidence-based tobacco control policies promoted by the World Health Organization which has been incorporated by the HSE in its Tobacco Control Framework.

[For the Minister's reply see Drugnet article https://www.drugsandalcohol.ie/20132/]

Item Type
Publication Type
Irish-related, Open Access, Article
Drug Type
Substances (not alcohol/tobacco)
Intervention Type
Issue Title
Issue 46, Summer 2013
July 2013
Page Range
pp. 10-11
Health Research Board
Issue 46, Summer 2013
Accession Number
HRB (Electronic Only)

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