Thursday, 18 February 2021
Covid-19 (Drug and Alcohol Services, and Homelessness): Statements
Jackie Cahill (Tipperary, Fianna Fail)
I would like to make a point to the Minister of State, Deputy Butler, on vaccine availability for carers. She has given this serious consideration. I would like to lend my voice to those comments.
The past year has been very tough for many people. During this lockdown, in particular, it is clear that many people are feeling lower than ever before and are really struggling this time around. Loneliness, isolation and the loss of loved ones has taken its toll on so many. There is light at the end of the tunnel and we know that vaccines are on the way. The good news about the Johnson & Johnson vaccine yesterday is proof that brighter days are ahead.
However, I am worried that the necessary lockdowns and associated social isolation so many have experienced may result in a mental health pandemic and an increase in the substance use and addiction. Employers, social workers and gardaí all report a significant increase in mental health issues. Drug and alcohol addiction and mental illness are often linked. The last three lockdowns have resulted in people drinking at home far more than previously. There is absolutely nothing wrong with having a drink at home, but there is growing evidence that for many people binge drinking at home is on the increase. Arising from this, there are higher rates of domestic abuse and more frequent calls to helplines, especially to the likes of Childline. This is very worrying for our young people.
The staggeringly low prices of alcohol in off-licences and large supermarkets is leading to increased rates of binge drinking, especially in our homes. We have to address this. We must commence the Public Health (Alcohol) Act 2018 so that minimum unit pricing comes into effect. This legislation aims to combat harmful drinking. The current pandemic is further proof that it is time to enact this legislation without delay.
Minimum unit pricing is long overdue. The longer the Government waits to enact these laws, the more alcohol will be abused. This is resulting in major damage to people's health. Alcohol abuse in the home also has a seriously damaging effect on the mental health of the young people who witness it. The longer the Government waits to tackle alcohol abuse, in particular in the home, the longer the vicious circle of alcohol dependency and addiction will continue through the generations. This needs to be addressed.
While I am on the topic of mental health, I was delighted to welcome the news from the Minister of State, Deputy Butler, this week that a suitable location has been found for the Tipperary Jigsaw centre that will be located in my home town, Thurles. She told me during a Zoom call on Monday that a lease was signed between two parties which will see Jigsaw being located in Tipperary technology park on the Nenagh Road outside Thurles. The facility will be within walking distance of the town centre and will provide mental health supports and services for the young people of Tipperary.
It is important to stress that these service are currently available online for people all over the country. I thank the Minister of State for the significant effort she has put into securing this service. It is something for which I have campaigned since I was first elected in 2016. It gives me great satisfaction to see the lease finally signed. The service will be up and running in early spring.