Home > Launch of AcoRN, the UK-Ireland Alcohol Research Network, 2021.

Doyle, Anne (2021) Launch of AcoRN, the UK-Ireland Alcohol Research Network, 2021. Drugnet Ireland, Issue 78, Summer 2021, pp. 36-37.

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What is AcoRN?

AcoRN, the UK-Ireland Alcohol Research Network, was formally launched on Thursday, 29 April 2021.1 The aim of AcoRN is to generate and build capacity for interdisciplinary research into the development, adoption, implementation, and evaluation of alcohol policy innovation in Ireland and the United Kingdom (UK).

Why the need for this initiative?

Alcohol has become an increasingly important public health issue for both the Irish and UK governments. In Ireland, the Public Health (Alcohol) Act 2018 was a milestone in Government recognition that alcohol and its associated harms should be considered from a population health perspective. The passing of the Act demonstrated that while consuming alcohol is popular among Irish people and contributes to the Irish economy, it is also the cause of many social, criminal, and, of course, healthcare costs. Government policies were therefore needed to address this. But how do we quantify the intended and unintended effects of policies, not just on health, but on social, economic, and cultural aspects?

By combining the knowledge of alcohol policy researchers from a wide range of backgrounds interested in the study of alcohol policy, AcoRN aims to develop partnerships, promote the sharing of research ideas and methodologies, and identify common research priorities to deliver on the alcohol policy research needed in the UK and Ireland in the coming years. 

Themes of AcoRN

The activities of AcoRN are organised around four themes:

  • Price – making alcohol less affordable through price policies
  • Availability – making alcohol less easily available
  • Marketing – by reducing how much alcohol is advertised and promoted
  • Politics – policymaking research.

AcoRN personnel

The initiative is the brainchild of Professor Joe Barry and Professor Niamh Fitzgerald and has been funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (UK) and the Irish Research Council. Professor Barry, a specialist in public health medicine in Trinity College Dublin, has worked in substance use for 30 years, while Professor Fitzgerald at the University of Stirling specialises in studies drawing on expertise across different academic disciplines to better understand intended and unintended consequences of policy interventions. They are joined in founding AcoRN by 14 co-applicants from 13 institutions across the UK and Ireland.

Launch of AcoRN

Suzanne Costello, CEO of the Public Health Institute of Ireland, commenced the online launch of AcoRN, which was attended by more than 60 researchers, policy and community colleagues, and other stakeholders. Professor Joe Barry delivered the first plenary presentation outlining the background and structure of the network. Attendees then chose two of the four breakout sessions based on the AcoRN themes.

Theme 1: Alcohol pricing

Colin Angus of the University of Sheffield led the first theme discussing alcohol pricing policy. Those attending had the opportunity to share their opinions, knowledge, and experiences in smaller groups. Minimum unit pricing (MUP) dominated the discussion, with Irish attendees raising their concerns of commencing MUP without it simultaneously commencing in Northern Ireland and the potential ramifications on the border areas in Ireland. Those from the UK spoke of the success of MUP in Scotland despite England not commencing at the same time.

Theme 2: Alcohol availability

Alcohol availability discussions were led by Professor Niamh Shortt of the University of Edinburgh. She outlined fascinating research investigating the impact of the high-density presence of alcohol premises and how exposure to branding and advertising shapes our behaviour. The group discussed how using small area data and consumption data can increase our knowledge of alcohol availability.

Theme 3: Alcohol marketing

The theme of alcohol marketing was led by Dr Pat Kenny of Technological University Dublin. Discussion focused on the Public Health (Alcohol) Act 2018 and how, as the components have been commenced in phases, the effect of each can be evaluated individually.

Theme 4: Alcohol politics

The final theme of alcohol politics/policymaking was led by Dr Matt Lesch of the University of York. Attendees discussed the conflict of interest when industry plays a role in policymaking and how we can better understand the role of ‘industry actors’ who focus on personal responsibility when it comes to alcohol consumption. Also discussed were how drinking at home has become the new norm and how work is being done on alcohol and homelessness.


In the final session, Professor Fitzgerald presented the next steps for AcoRN: a website, blog, and social media account;2 a series of seminars to build teams for future research; early career researchers to be given opportunities to work with more experienced colleagues; a workshop to build capacity on alcohol policy research and allowing time for teams to develop funding applications; and a UK/Ireland open research symposium.

Professor Fitzgerald concluded the launch by outlining the aspirations and next steps of AcoRN:

By developing new partnerships between areas of research and different countries, sharing ideas and identifying common priorities, we will be able to effectively grow and diversify the strength of the vital research in this area. 

1   Further information about the AcoRN initiative is available on their website:

2   To follow the activities of AcoRN on social media, their twitter handle is @AcornAlcohol.

Item Type
Publication Type
Irish-related, International
Drug Type
Intervention Type
General / Comprehensive, Harm reduction
Issue Title
Issue 78, Summer 2021
August 2021
Page Range
pp. 36-37
Health Research Board
Issue 78, Summer 2021

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