Seanad debates

Tuesday, 12 May 2015

Alcohol Consumption in Ireland: Statements


2:30 pm

Photo of Sean BarrettSean Barrett (Independent) | Oireachtas source

I welcome the Minister. I compliment him on what he has said on Portlaoise, Swinford and the high level of medical negligence claims he is dealing with. I very much like what he says on all of these issues and on the enhanced role of ambulances.

On this particular issue, mere alcohol does not thrill me at all. I do not go to pubs. I am probably responsible for one of the 590 pubs which have shut in recent years. I am seriously concerned about a groupthink herd instinct. The Garda figures show 8,762 drunkenness offences were committed last year. This means 499 of 500 people in Ireland were not drunk. There are also doubts about what is happening to consumption. Alcohol Action Ireland sent me information during the week that alcohol consumption in Ireland peaked in 1999 at 14.5 litres per capitaand has reduced to 11.5 litres per capita. Let us keep this in perspective. Many countries, particularly around the Mediterranean, do not have the alcohol fixation which has grown, especially in the medical profession, in this country. I have been with young people from many decades. They are far better on this matter than the generation which preceded them. I came to Leinster House thinking the Dáil bar was full of transmogrified people but I have never seen anyone in that condition. The same is said about academics and journalists. Consumption is falling. Other countries come to terms with alcohol. The Garda reports do not have the type of exaggeration I have seen elsewhere. Public order offences have been reducing dramatically over the past four years and this is acknowledged in the Garda report.

I saw the OECD numbers, which my good friend mentioned, but in the WHO numbers I counted 13 EU countries which have higher alcohol consumption than we do. I downloaded the numbers from Wikipedia before I came here. The Economist World in Figuresshows Ireland is quite far down the list in terms of alcohol consumption, and places such as Australia and the Czech Republic are much higher. Let us get the problem in perspective and let us have accurate data.

Minimum pricing is a boost to the industry because something is being sold for X but the Government insists 2X must be paid. We did this with regard to pub licences in the previous century and it seriously enriched publicans in every town in Ireland until 20 or 30 years ago when the supermarket took over. We enriched pubs by a measure which was supposed to promote temperance. Minimum pricing puts the money into the industry's kitty and it will laugh all the way to the bank. If we want to increase the price I nominate the Ministers, Deputies Michael Noonan and Brendan Howlin, and the Minister of State, Deputy Harris, in the Exchequer to get the money and not to give it to the industry in this way.

If certain forms of retailing do a better job than the traditional Irish pub, it is economic progress. Why are we intervening to say the low-cost people are doing damage? There are also serious income distribution aspects. We are saying a bottle of Château d'Yquem consumed by people who are extremely rich is not affected because they never get drunk so we should go for people on low incomes and give them the hammer by increasing the minimum price. Instead of this, let us look at the 8,762 drunkenness offences, and come up measures to deal with those who do have an alcohol problem and not intervene in the lives of people who do not have one, are not affected by one and have managed to treat this as a normal commodity as people around the Mediterranean typically do.

I am concerned there seem to be vast differences in the statistics and what way the industry is going, whether it is expanding or contracting, and how our consumption compares with that of other countries. The WHO numbers put Belarus way ahead of us, and the EU countries ahead of us include Lithuania, Hungary, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Portugal, Poland and Finland. Its 2015 projection of 10.9 litres is pretty much average and is the same as Germany, Spain and Belgium. I worry when there is an emphasis on political correctness galloping in one direction and perhaps not looking at the evidence. Let us ensure we have the evidence when the legislation comes before us. If instead of this effort more can be done to help the Minister in the mainstream of the health service, I would be delighted to support him, which is why I mentioned the endeavours in which he is currently engaged.

Imagining that other people drink too much and the Minister, Deputy Varadkar, has a duty to intervene, and saying we are unable to persuade this relatively small number or to do anything else for them except these blanket measures requires much evaluation between now and the production of the Bill. I share the Minister's goals but I have been concerned about the fairly strange use of statistics in this debate. It does not correspond with what I see, particularly among young people. The most dramatic statistic comes under the Minister's previous portfolio and is the reduction in driving accidents from 650 fatalities per year to 160. There is a responsible generation. The Parliament talking up the drunken Paddy image, which the figures do not support, is wrong. Let us make sure it is properly based.


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