Dáil debates

Thursday, 11 November 2010

3:00 pm

Photo of Mary UptonMary Upton (Dublin South Central, Labour)
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Question 7: To ask the Minister for Health and Children the steps she is taking at national and European level to curtail or significantly reduce alcohol sponsorship of sport; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [36699/10]

Photo of Áine BradyÁine Brady (Minister of State with special responsibility for Older People and Health Promotion, Department of Health and Children; Minister of State, Department of Environment, Heritage and Local Government; Minister of State, Department of Social and Family Affairs; Kildare North, Fianna Fail)
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I am concerned about the high level of alcohol consumption in Ireland, especially among younger people. One in four deaths in young men between the ages of 15 and 34 is due to alcohol, compared with one in 12 deaths due to cancers and one in 25 deaths due to circulatory disease. Suicide rates have doubled in Ireland in the past 20 years. Alcohol is a factor in nearly half of all young male suicides.

As Minister of State with responsibility for health promotion, protecting the health of our young people from alcohol related harm is one of my key priorities. Participation in sport is a key element of the health and social well-being of our children as well as the rest of the population and I want to promote this very positive relationship between sport and health.

Following a Government decision in 2008, a working group was established to deliver on the commitment in the programme for Government to discuss the question of the sponsorship of sporting events by the alcohol industry with a view to phasing it out.

Photo of Kathleen LynchKathleen Lynch (Cork North Central, Labour)
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One of the most staggering figures I have seen in a long time is that 16 and 17 year olds in Ireland spend approximately €145 million a year on alcohol. We all know it is not possible to put an old head on young shoulders and that we need to divert young men and women away from alcohol-related activities. The only way they seek such diversion is through sport and community activity. However, we do not provide enough facilities in communities to allow that to happen. We have magnificent organisations, the IRFU and the GAA, etc., but some teenagers do not want to join these clubs and want alternatives. There was a very sad case in Cork recently.

Photo of Brendan HowlinBrendan Howlin (Wexford, Labour)
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Please be brief

Photo of Kathleen LynchKathleen Lynch (Cork North Central, Labour)
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I will be very brief. A young man in his first few weeks in college while with a small group of friends died from alcohol poisoning. It was not intentional; it was just something they did because they were celebrating.

Photo of Brendan HowlinBrendan Howlin (Wexford, Labour)
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Does the Deputy have a question?

Photo of Kathleen LynchKathleen Lynch (Cork North Central, Labour)
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When the Minister of State receives the report of the steering group, does she have a timeframe for implementing its recommendations? I am sure some of them will refer to activities within communities.

Photo of Áine BradyÁine Brady (Minister of State with special responsibility for Older People and Health Promotion, Department of Health and Children; Minister of State, Department of Environment, Heritage and Local Government; Minister of State, Department of Social and Family Affairs; Kildare North, Fianna Fail)
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I do not have a timeframe at this point. However, the question is on sponsorship of sports events by alcohol companies, one of the issues the steering group is considering, but it has not yet reached a decision. Representatives of sports groups, including the FAI and the IRFU, recently met the Minister, Deputy Hanafin, to discuss the isssue of sports sponsorship. It is still being discussed, but I will certainly take the group's recommendations very seriously.

Photo of James ReillyJames Reilly (Dublin North, Fine Gael)
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An article in The Lancet concluded that "aggressively targeting alcohol harms is a valid and necessary public health strategy". Professor Joe Barry from Trinity College has commented on the matter.

Photo of Brendan HowlinBrendan Howlin (Wexford, Labour)
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Quotations are not allowed at Question Time.

Photo of James ReillyJames Reilly (Dublin North, Fine Gael)
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I beg your pardon, a Leas-Cheann Comhairle. Is that the case, even if they inform the question?

Photo of Brendan HowlinBrendan Howlin (Wexford, Labour)
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I am sure the Deputy is just referring to them.

Photo of James ReillyJames Reilly (Dublin North, Fine Gael)
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I am only alluding to them, Sir. There is obviously still a need to reduce demand for alcohol, address the availability of cheap alcohol and have fewer outlets and restricted sports event sponsorship. Will the Government make representations to the European Union in this regard? I accept the matter is within the remit of individual governments, but we need to start somewhere. Surely Ireland could give a lead and show we have a concern in this regard. While I know it is not within the remit of the Minister of State, perhaps she could discuss with her colleague in the Department of Education and Skills whether there should be school modules on the use and dangers of alcohol. As Deputy Kathleen Lynch pointed out, students arriving from secondary school in university find themselves with freedom and disposable income and we have heard what can happen.

Photo of Áine BradyÁine Brady (Minister of State with special responsibility for Older People and Health Promotion, Department of Health and Children; Minister of State, Department of Environment, Heritage and Local Government; Minister of State, Department of Social and Family Affairs; Kildare North, Fianna Fail)
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The topic of alcohol and health is discussed at the Employment, Social Policy, Health and Consumer Affairs Council which agreed a set of conclusions at a meeting in December 2009, which indicates the importance of the issue across the European Union. As I said, member states may implement measures at national level. As there is no facility at European level, we implement our own measures within our own jurisdiction.

Photo of Caoimhghín Ó CaoláinCaoimhghín Ó Caoláin (Cavan-Monaghan, Sinn Fein)
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Regardless of the recommendations made in the forthcoming report, I have sympathy with the Minister of State and the Government in trying to address this issue which cannot be left to the Government alone to deal with because a major societal issue is involved. In trying to address it is the Minister of State cognisant that in the past week an editorial in a newspaper with a significant circulation figure totally excused the conduct of a radio presenter who had engaged in a lewd act on a flight into Ireland on the grounds that he was not able to remember the incident? It is incredible that an editorial would reflect such sympathy. How will we ever tackle the issue of alcohol abuse against such a backdrop where a newspaper actually excuses the conduct of an individual because he was not able to remember it?

Photo of Áine BradyÁine Brady (Minister of State with special responsibility for Older People and Health Promotion, Department of Health and Children; Minister of State, Department of Environment, Heritage and Local Government; Minister of State, Department of Social and Family Affairs; Kildare North, Fianna Fail)
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As I said, I am concerned at the high level of alcohol consumption among younger people andlook forward to receiving the recommendations of the steering group which is working on the matter. I am taking some action.

Photo of Kathleen LynchKathleen Lynch (Cork North Central, Labour)
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Does the Minister of State agree that advertising has a significant impact on young people? We heard all of the arguments that sports would collapse without tobacco advertising and sponsorship but that did not happen. Does the Minister of State agree that we should consider the connection between alcohol advertising and sport?

Photo of Áine BradyÁine Brady (Minister of State with special responsibility for Older People and Health Promotion, Department of Health and Children; Minister of State, Department of Environment, Heritage and Local Government; Minister of State, Department of Social and Family Affairs; Kildare North, Fianna Fail)
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We are reviewing the effect advertising and sponsorship have on young people. It is a major issue. Obviously, the sports organisations are concerned about the financial impact it would have. Their representatives recently met the relevant Minister.