Home > Dail Eireann debate. Priority question 2 - Public health policy [Youth drinking] [6694/14].

[Oireachtas] Dail Eireann debate. Priority question 2 - Public health policy [Youth drinking] [6694/14]. (12 Feb 2014)

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2. Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs the steps she is taking to address the dangers of the Neknomination Internet craze in view of the recent tragic consequences; and if she will make a statement on the matter.  [6694/14] 


Deputy Frances Fitzgerald: I express my sincere sympathy to the families of all those who have been involved and the tragic outcome there has been for some families. The underlying problem we have to deal with is attitudes to alcohol. The Government is very concerned generally about the level of alcohol consumption among young people, but specifically about the recent tragic deaths involving young people participating in the Neknomination trend. Clearly this is a social media craze that started out in what was thought was an innocent way but has turned out to have lethal consequences. Peer pressure is a significant issue.


I was very impressed with the Union of Students in Ireland which initiated a proactive approach to informing, educating and interrupting this craze by the actions it took. Scouting Ireland and others got proactively involved in interrupting it and replacing it with something positive.


Much of the interaction is between adults rather than children. However, there can be lethal consequences. Clearly, the dangerous drink misuse in those circumstances has had very serious consequences. It does reflect on our cultural attitude to alcohol. The important point is that we must focus on information and education. There is a strong role for Government. That is why we have taken the issue of public health and attitudes to alcohol extremely seriously. The Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children, Deputy Alex White, is working on a public health (alcohol) Bill. Last October, the Irish Government approved an extensive package of measures to deal with alcohol misuse, including the drafting of the public health (alcohol) Bill. Those measures were agreed on foot of the recommendations in the steering group report on a national substance misuse strategy. The recommendations in the strategy are grouped under the five pillars of supply reduction, prevention, treatment, rehabilitation and research. We want to reduce alcohol consumption to the OECD average by 2020.


Additional information not given on the floor of the House


The package of measures to be implemented will include provision for: minimum unit pricing for alcohol products; the regulation of advertising and marketing of alcohol; structural separation of alcohol from other products in mixed trading outlets; health labelling of alcohol products; and regulation of sports sponsorship. The general scheme of the Bill was approved in October. Work on developing a framework for the necessary Department of Health legislation is continuing.


I am conscious that the Neknomination trend has manifested itself through social media and, as a result, been disseminated much more widely and extensively. Contact has been made by my staff with the head of policy in Facebook to express my concern and that of the public with this trend. Facebook has said it addresses reported concerns regarding content on a case-by-case basis. I hope that these contacts and the reporting of such concerns will lead to a reflection among social media providers on the role they can play in limiting the dangers of these trends for the general public, and in particular children and young people.


Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin: We must be sensitive to the families of those young men who have lost their lives in what are tragic circumstances linked to Neknomination dares or challenges, whatever one may call them. I join with the Minister in expressing my deepest sympathy to the families and friends of those who have lost their lives. I do not wish to contribute to any hysteria surrounding this Internet craze or the use of social media. However, we must recognise what is happening. We must acknowledge that it is real and that this Internet craze is tapping into the culture and vulnerability of young people in particular. That is not to suggest that this applies uniquely to young people, as it does not.


A dangerous mixture of youthful exuberance, peer pressure and excessive alcohol have all too often contributed to the premature loss of young lives in this country, but this social media platform has presented a new dimension to this threat and that has been contributed to further by the advent of Neknomination. I am anxious to know what measures the Minister is taking to try to address this unhealthy development and what discussions she has had, if any, with her colleague the Minister for Health, or other Cabinet colleagues on this matter.


Deputy Frances Fitzgerald: This issue will primarily be impacted by young people's understanding, information and education and the potentially serious consequences of being involved.

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