Tuesday, 12 May 2015
Alcohol Consumption in Ireland: Statements
I welcome the Minister and thank him for a comprehensive overview of this issue, including the relevant facts and figures. Senator Ó Murchú noted that alcohol-related issues cost the health service €3.7 billion annually. The direct cost of alcohol is €2.4 billion. The Minister noted that 83 people die each month as a direct result of health problems caused by alcohol consumption.
It is interesting to note the change in alcohol consumption in Ireland in recent years. On a visit to Sweden some years ago, I noted that the country had few public houses but a major problem with alcohol. I could not understand this but discovered that one of the reasons was the amount of alcohol being consumed at home. At that time, Ireland did not have a culture of people consuming alcohol at home. This has changed in the meantime, however. When people start consuming alcohol at home there is no limit on consumption, which increases the problem, especially as we already have a pub culture.
In the 12 years I served as a city councillor representing the area surrounding University College Cork, I observed a change in culture. For example, four bars within a mile radius of the college closed as alcohol consumption shifted towards drinking at home.
It is interesting to note the survey produced by the winners of the young scientist exhibition, Ian O'Sullivan and Eimear Murphy, who gave an excellent presentation to the Joint Committee on Health and Children recently. They carried out research on alcohol consumption which highlighted the connection between the attitude of parents and the behaviour of children. They found that adolescents who engaged in hazardous drinking were three times more likely to have a father who is a hazardous drinker; six times more likely to have a father who agrees that it is okay for his child to get drunk sometimes; four times more likely to have a father who agrees that getting drunk is part of having fun as a teenager; five times more likely to have a father who would allow another parent to supply his adolescent with alcohol; almost five times more likely to have a father who would not be concerned by his adolescent son or daughter consuming four pints of alcohol once a month; and five times more likely to have a father who believes it is okay for pupils to drink on special occasions. It was also interesting to note the strong correlation found between adolescents who had a problem with binge drinking and parents with a similar problem. The survey clearly found that parents influence young people.
This research was comprehensive and involved a large number of people.It also sends out some frightening messages of which we need to be aware. We need to work towards sending the message that consumption of alcohol affects one's health and excessive consumption will seriously affect one's health. This has not been sufficiently emphasised in the past.
I note that minimum pricing of alcohol has been introduced in Canada. A survey in one of the Canadian provinces indicated that a 10% increase in the minimum price of alcohol was associated with an 8.4% decrease in total alcohol consumption. In British Columba, a 10% increase in the minimum price was associated with a 32% fall in wholly alcohol-related deaths. We should aim for the introduction of minimum unit pricing of alcohol. I welcome the heads of the Bill and I look forward to the publication of the legislation. However, there is much work to be done, in particular, in the area of education with regard to the use of alcohol. While alcohol is fine in its own way, excessive drinking is a serious danger to health and a serious danger to young people in particular.
I refer to two high-risk groups for whom excessive drinking is causing problems. People on low incomes will look for the cheapest product. Minimum pricing will associate price with the alcohol content of drink. The high-risk groups such as people on low incomes buy the cheapest product with a high alcohol content. Where minimum pricing is introduced, their consumption of alcohol will decrease. Young people comprise the other group who will buy cheap alcohol as they have the least disposable income. We need to focus on this group in particular. Minimum pricing will certainly help to reduce the consumption of alcohol. We must also ensure adequate enforcement of minimum pricing.
A problem that has arisen is that every petrol station and every small shop is selling alcohol but there is no separation of alcohol from ordinary goods. This needs to be changed. I have raised this matter as a Commencement matter. I am informed it is not possible to implement the section of the current legislation in full. I hope the new legislation will provide for a clear separation of the sale of alcohol from other goods in such premises.
I welcome the Minister's statement and the strategy for introducing legislation before the end of this Government's term. It is an important issue from the point of view of the net cost to the taxpayer. The consumption of alcohol contributes to serious health problems and at a very great cost to the health service. The Government must make the changes in order to reduce the high levels of alcohol consumption by quite a proportion of the population.