Tuesday, 12 May 2015
Alcohol Consumption in Ireland: Statements
I know it has been a tough day in the office for the Minister and I very much appreciate his being here for this debate. For most of my young life, I was around drink in one way or another. My second job at the age of 12, which was a summer job, was as a waiter in a bar. By the time I was 13, I had graduated to be a barman in the same bar and by the time I was 15 and a half, I had run a bar in Lisdoonvarna on my own. My father was very drink aware and bought me my first drink on my 15th birthday. He sat me down with a pint of Guinness and said: “There you go son, drink that and don't ever be afraid to have a drink again for the rest of your life.” He ruined my teenage years because there was no sneaking into the house drunk or sneaking anywhere. He did not mind if I had a drink. As a result, I never really had much interest in it.
I grew up and at the usual births, marriages and deaths, we drank, had fun at some of them and cried at more of them. It did not bother me until about four years ago. I never worried about drink or saw any real danger in it but four years ago, I saw a man whom I loved deteriorate over several years. It started off with a couple of drinks after work but then it became several drinks, binges and getting lost in Europe and my having to find him. I watched his life disintegrate around me. I remember one time going to Spain to find him, arriving at a house at 2 a.m. and finding him sitting in the middle of the sitting room surrounded by empty bottles of Bacardi. I saw the ruination of a human, his absolute destruction. I remember thinking I could cure him. I locked himself and myself in a bedroom because he wanted drink and I did not want him to have one. I nearly killed him. I did not realise at the time that one cannot do cold turkey with somebody like that.
My opinion of drink and the drink culture in Ireland changed over those few years. I started to notice people, not teenagers but those in their mid-20s and 30s, falling around the streets of Dublin, footless. I met colleagues and friends who could not remember where they had been the night before or what they had done. I have to pay some degree of compliment to Alcoholics Anonymous. They are a tremendous group of people who are there at all times, day and night, to support those who want to try to give up the demon drink.
Yesterday, I listened to Deputy Shortall on the radio talking about takeaways and chippers in Dublin, delivering chips, pizza, Chinese meals, burgers or whatever else with a six-pack, a half bottle of whiskey or a couple of bottles of wine. Something has gone terribly wrong in our country if that is how we are beginning to live. Yesterday, on the same programme, I heard about drink-driven anti-social behaviour and, in some cases, the people before the courts could not remember what they had done. All of a sudden the innocent behaviour of having a couple of pints is no longer innocent.
I agree with my colleague, Senator Barrett, in that I am not so sure that pricing drink out of the reach of the community is the way forward. Several things must happen. There must be an education programme and a drink awareness programme, which is not funded by the drinks industry but by those in education. We have to educate young people in schools.
In regard to the heads of the Bill and labelling, when we talk about grams and so on, as a rather portly man who tries to watch his diet, when I read the labels on the back of boxes for the most part I cannot figure out what they are saying, so I just eat what I feel like eating. There is some truth in what Senator Barrett said about minimum unit pricing. Should we penalise those who cannot afford to buy the more expensive drinks?We must find a way. We also must find a way to stop the six young fellows I passed on Sunday afternoon who were climbing over a fence with four or five six-packs to go into a broken down house and drink for the afternoon. I would swear they were not over 13 years of age. We must get rid of the cheap rubbish that these young guys are drinking.
On the marketing, advertising and sponsorship, I can already hear the sports sector screaming. We must stop sponsoring sport through alcohol. It is the only way forward. Definitely, we must do something on enforcement. Finally, price-based promotions, such as six for the price of five or three for the price of two, must stop.
I commend Deputy Varadkar, who, as has already been pointed out, is an exemplary Minister for Health, on this initiative. He has probably seen more during his training years of drink and the need for drink awareness than most of us. I commend him and I will support him in any way I can.