Seanad debates

Wednesday, 6 February 2008

National Waste Strategy: Statements


5:00 pm

Photo of Paul BradfordPaul Bradford (Fine Gael)

I am glad to have the opportunity to speak on this important all-party motion. It is especially appropriate that we are debating the motion on Ash Wednesday, a day of religious significance for many people. With that in mind, it is amazing, disappointing and indicative of the fixation we have with alcohol that, notwithstanding the right of individuals to comply with religious obligations, there still will be an enormous number of people here who will feel unable to endure a day without alcohol. Just as we have the circus every Good Friday, when the pubs are shut, whereby thousands of people feel unable to pass the day without having a drink. It is extraordinary. It is also depressing and shows that we, as a nation, are still obsessed with alcohol. It is many years since the temperance movement was begun by Father Theobald Matthew. To the best of my knowledge, last Sunday was Temperance Sunday. However, it would appear that in 2008, our problems with alcohol and other drugs, particularly illegal drugs, are greater than ever. One must wonder why.

I agree readily with everything Senator Hanafin stated. My colleague, Senator Twomey, mentioned the need for a cultural change. While that is obvious, I do not know how to bring it about. Our obsession with drink and with having alcohol at the centre of every function, social occasion, sporting event and occurrence in rural and urban Ireland is worrying, disturbing and depressing. We seem to be unable to go beyond the links between drink and success, alcohol and sporting prowess and alcohol and social acceptability. It is a major problem and I wish I knew the answers.

I can see the problems all around me. Practically every family is affected by alcohol to some extent. Despite significant social problems, a considerable loss of earnings, enormous medical bills and grievous problems faced by tens of thousands of people, we seem unable to respond. This is my basic analysis of the alcohol side of the debate. Illegal drugs are of greater significance and pose a greater problem, but where alcohol is concerned, we must start by ensuring that young people and teenagers in particular have sporting and leisure facilities in abundance in order that they can see an alternative way of enjoying themselves at weekends and during long summer nights and know that their social experience need not centre on the local pub or night club culture.

Our sporting organisations are doing fantastic work. I commend GAA, soccer and rugby clubs and all types of sporting organisations. On the other side of the equation, however, too many of the national sporting organisations depend too much on drinks companies' sponsorship. This must be reflected on and changed. We must break the link between sport and alcohol because the former should have no connection with the latter and should not need drinks companies for sponsorship purposes. There was a similar link between sport and the tobacco industry, but various Ministers and Governments here and at European and global levels introduced bans on tobacco companies advertising at or sponsoring sporting events. We must do likewise in respect of our major national sporting organisations and drinks companies. Guinness and other groups pour significant money into sport. This is welcome at one level, but the subliminal link between alcohol and sporting organisations must be broken. The organisations will have a major debate on their hands if they are to achieve that.

From the Cathaoirleach's previous involvement in the GAA, he will recall how its former president, Dr. Mick Loftus, spoke eloquently and at length on this issue. He had first-hand knowledge of the damage caused by alcohol. He was and is a coroner in parts of the west and has experience dealing with the crisis caused by alcohol abuse. He made known his firm opinions on the sponsorship of sporting organisations, particularly the GAA, by drinks companies and we should take a message from him.

Regarding the drugs culture that seems so invasive, when the parties agreed this motion some weeks ago, presumably before Christmas, there was a great deal of national media attention on the situation, particularly in respect of the death of a well known young lady from the celebrity - if one wants to accept that ridiculous word - world. However, the majority of the many deaths due to drugs do not feature in any media outlets or on any television or radio programmes. Nearly every community and certainly every parish has suffered as a result of the drugs epidemic. Some state it is the result of our affluent society. If so, it is a sad result.

While we must reflect on the fact that, on a worldwide scale, Ireland is no different from most other so-called modern countries, our history in terms of alcohol abuse and the difficulty in breaking the link between alcohol and social, cultural and sporting events present double difficulties when it comes to drugs. Given a society that made alcohol and its abuse common or, for certain young people, mandatory and popular - drinking to excess is a stamp of approval among a young person's peers - it is understandable how we have allowed drugs to become so acceptable. While it is obviously unacceptable, it is understandable how the drugs culture became so prevalent and invasive in working class communities, where people with no jobs, incomes, hope or support of any description are easy prey for drug pushers and drug dealers. My heart goes out to all of those people because they did not walk into the drugs culture. Rather, they were led blindfolded.

On the other side of the equation, we hear and read about the so-called middle class's obsession with cocaine and other dangerous drugs. Generally speaking, these people are well educated, well-off and, in many cases, well connected. It is disappointing to read some of our so-called celebrities, people who should know better and who are leaders of society in some ways, boasting about their drug-taking exploits. They give a shocking example to our young people and the community at large. People do not boast about drink driving or breaking the law. Middle class people and so-called celebrities who write about and make known their drug-taking habits have much to answer for given their attempts to make the reprehensible concept of drug-taking acceptable.

This debate requires a great deal of attention from the Government. I congratulate the Minister of State, Deputy Carey, on his sincere efforts, but we have a long way to go. Whether in respect of alcohol or other drugs, the need for a cultural change must be taken seriously before society is further ruined. Considerable damage has been done, but we may have enough time to stem the tide if a significant commitment is shown by the Government and all leaders of civic society.


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