Seanad debates

Tuesday, 12 May 2015

Alcohol Consumption in Ireland: Statements


2:30 pm

Photo of Mary Ann O'BrienMary Ann O'Brien (Independent) | Oireachtas source

None of us here or anyone in society needs to be persuaded of the dreaded problems and costs Ireland faces by misuse and abuse of alcohol. When I was preparing for this and thinking about it over the weekend, I doodled and made a mind map. Sadly, I could not come up with too many pluses.The pluses are all gorgeous and include power, money, glamour, fun, cool, sexy, fast and fabulous. The minuses include words such as rape, suicide, cancer, cheap, mental health, depression, low self-esteem, stress, incredible cost to the State - I could not count the zeros, I am not able for billions but it is a hell of a lot - suffering for children, sex abuse, misery, domestic violence, 2,000 hospital beds every night, premature deaths, crime, murder and death. That was my mind map and I almost do not need to finish my speech because I am going to flatter the Minister. He is a good and particularly strong politician and an excellent Minister for Health. I am pleased to be here this evening because this Bill needs strong political leadership that puts the interests of our citizens ahead of the fortunes and power of the alcohol industry. I welcome the Minister's speech and his impressive critical path. The Bill will be published before the summer break and I hope we can get on with it the moment we return in September because we are keen to work hard, to burn the midnight oil and to go into the detail of the Bill.

Alcohol sponsorship of sports needs to go. It is black and white - all sponsorship must go, with no signage whatsoever or promotional branded merchandise. This includes music festivals, with apologies to the Cork Jazz Festival and the Dublin International Film Festival. We all love sport and recognise it as one of the great joys in our society, which contributes greatly to healthy habits. We need money to promote sport but according to the European Sponsorship Association, the largest sponsors of sporting events were telecommunications, clothing, banking, finance, cars, airlines, insurance companies, electronics, energy, oil and credit cards. The alcohol industry was not present among the top ten industry sponsors, indicating there are definitely other sources of revenue. I will have a word with the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport. I was the sponsorship manager for the Phoenix Park Racecourse for ten years. I do not think the Minister was even born at that time. It was my job to have every race, every day, sponsored to a high level and it was the only racecourse in the world to do so. At the end of my ten years there, the owners wanted to hold the richest sporting event ever staged in Europe, which we did. It was the first £1 million sporting event and a jewellery store, Cartier, from France sponsored it. We do not need alcohol sponsorship. I told the Minister that story because pushing it to 2019 is too big a window to give the sports industry to get its act together. If I was the sponsorship manager, two years would give me enough time and there are all those industries I have mentioned. The Minister and the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport should not be afraid. The Government works in silos but it must be holistic in this case. This involves the Ministers for Education and Skills, Transport, Tourism and Sport, Health and the Taoiseach. We are all in on this.

There is something precious about our culture in Ireland. Unfortunately, we all know that alcohol is mixed in with our culture. Most of us like a glass of wine but we know alcohol has its place. Recently Senator van Turnhout and I attended a most wonderful conference about women and alcohol at which we learned a lot. The Minister for Health is a doctor and knows that no alcohol is good for one. There is no such thing as a glass of whiskey or one glass of red wine being good for stress.

There is much more to say but when we have the Bill before us, we can get into its detail. According to the World Health Organization, WHO, public health policies concerning alcohol need to be formulated by public health interests without interference from commercial interests. No drinks company or any commercial company which profits from alcohol should ever have any door opening to discuss future government policies about alcohol.


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