Wednesday, 11 December 2002
Alcohol Consumption by Young People: Statements.
There is no denying the extent of under age drinking in Ireland. However, the problem of drinking is not restricted to under age or young categories but affects all age groups. The Health Behaviour in School Aged Children survey, published in 1999, found that over half of young people begin experimenting with alcohol before the age of 12. In the younger age groups, under 15 years, more boys than girls are current drinkers, but by the time they reach the 15 to 16 age group, statistics show that half of girls and two-thirds of boys are current drinkers.
It is not only the extent of under age drinking which is of concern but also the pattern of drinking, in particular the level of binge drinking and drunkenness. One third of the 15 to 16 age group reported binge drinking three or more times in the last month and one-quarter reported having been drunk three or more times in the last month. The adverse effects of this type of alcohol use in social and medical terms are well known and documented.
Ireland has had the highest increase in alcohol consumption among European Union member states in the past ten years. We experienced a massive 41% increase in per capita alcohol consumption between 1989 and 1999. Three other member states showed a modest increase while ten showed a decrease. Ireland's consumption continued to increase in 2000 and we now rank second after Luxembourg.
While the country as a whole continues to drink alcohol in greater and greater quantities we cannot expect to tackle in isolation the issue of the misuse of alcohol by under age drinkers. We must accept that drinking by young people does not exist in a vacuum; it is influenced by society as a whole. We all have a responsibility to examine our drinking patterns in this light.
The urgency with which we must tackle this problem is clearly seen from the indicators of alcohol related harm. Binge drinking and drunkenness lead to a wide range of problems. Poor school performance, accidents, relationship and delinquency problems are common in young binge drinkers. A study among school-going Irish teenagers reported that 35% of the sexually active respondents said that alcohol was an influencing factor in their engaging in sexual activity. Alcohol use has been identified as one of the main risk indicators in relation to teenage pregnancy.
Unprotected sex also gives rise to increased risk of sexually transmitted infections. Among a group of 32 teenage girls attending a sexually transmitted infection clinic, almost half reported that they had unprotected sex on at least one occasion when drunk. During the past decade the incidence of sexually transmitted infection has increased by 165%.
Excessive drinking increases the risk of drunkenness, fights, assaults and violence. Alcohol related offences committed by juveniles are also increasing. These include assaults, public order offences and drink specific offences, such as intoxication and possession of alcohol in a public place. Some 3,800 alcohol related offences were committed by minors in 2000. By 2001 this had jumped to 6,400.
Tragically, there has been an increase in the number of young people committing suicide in recent years. There has been a sharp increase in male suicides, especially among the 15 to 29 age group and overall it is the biggest cause of death for men aged 15 to 35 years. Alcohol use is a significant risk factor in suicide and compounds the other factors. I appreciate that many factors can contribute to an act of suicide but it must be acknowledged that alcohol use is a significant risk factor in the aetiology of suicide.
While it is important to be informed about the extent and consequences of alcohol use by young people, perhaps the most important question we must ask is what we can do to tackle it. For many of us, looking at our own lives and homes is a good place to start. Research has shown that for the very young, those under 15 years, the most common sources of alcohol are taking from the drink supply at home, being given it by their parents or having older siblings or friends buy it for them. The research commissioned by my Department in particular established this basic social pattern of how the habit of consumption is initiated. A careless attitude towards the household drinks cabinet can demonstrate a casual ambivalence towards alcohol and be a ready source for a vulnerable child. Equally, patterns of purchase and transfer of alcohol can contribute to the forming of that habit.
Senators may be aware that the health promotion unit of my Department is currently running an alcohol awareness campaign entitled Less is More – It's Your Choice. The first year of this three year campaign specifically targeted under age drinkers. A phase of the campaign targeted those who buy, supply or sell alcohol to young people. It consisted of radio advertisements and posters which were displayed in pubs, off-licences and retail outlets where alcohol is sold. The emphasis was on everyone playing their part by not making alcohol accessible to young people. Another initiative involved the printing of sensible drinking advice on airline ticket wallets, which were circulated by the health promotion unit via travel agents. These coincided with the summer holiday season and examination results.
The latest phase of the campaign specifically targets the 18 to 29 year old binge drinker. Binge drinking does not mean the drinker is an alcoholic but it can cost the country more because the person who occasionally overdoes it is at greater risk to him or herself and to others. A national advertising campaign on television and radio highlights the concept of excess. At local and regional level the campaign will focus on awareness initiatives in third level colleges, communities and the workplace. Supporting promotional materials have been developed to help spread the key messages of the campaign. These include calendars, mouse mats, posters, pens, notepads for use in the workplace or at college.
The responsible serving of alcohol programme is a training initiative which was developed for those who work in the bar trade and hospitality sector. The aim of the programme is to limit harm in the drinking environment by not serving intoxicated customers, encouraging the use of age cards as standard practice to reduce under age drinking and promoting alternative strategies to reduce drink driving. The development of the national curriculum in health education, social, personal and health education, the promotion of school policies on alcohol and drugs and the greater involvement of parents and communities under the health promoting schools concept ensures a comprehensive and effective long-term approach in education.
A strategic task force on alcohol was established by my colleague, the Minister for Health and Children, Deputy Martin, earlier this year. It was given a remit to provide advice to Government and public bodies on measures to prevent and reduce alcohol related harm. The task force produced a report in May which I commend to the Seanad. It is an excellent report, worthy of examination. The statistics in the report are set out with unusual clarity.
I have outlined some of the many ongoing initiatives and projects initiated by the Government. However, the process of changing our attitudes in this area depends on the attitudes of the individual, combined with a growing tide of public intolerance of practices which should not be considered socially normal. Debate, such as this, plays an important part in this process and assists in bringing about these changes. I appreciate that Senators will have many views on this issue.
The Government looks forward to this debate and will examine with care any constructive proposal that might help to limit the harm we are suffering. It is important to look at every option, be it the question of advertising, the appropriate legislative character of the licensing code, questions of how we administer the public health system, empower our law enforcement authorities to deal with these matters and how the education system can inform attitudes.
The adult world also has to question how our built environment puts the public house at the centre of so many of our communities. I am certain all these questions will be raised and discussed. We must realise that in many other countries many different types of initiatives have been taken. If we are to foster communal and individual responsibility, we must lead by example. We must put specific deterrents in place to encourage a better standard of conduct.
I welcome the opportunity to contribute to this very important debate, probably one of the most important that we have had in this House in its short time or in the previous Seanad. We are talking about something that goes to the very heart and fabric of society. The Minister of State delivered an extremely good speech which was very good and crisp in its analysis. The reality is that we have had reports, recommendations, studies and task forces, but the problem has slipped out of control. We have an alcohol problem among young people that is of epidemic proportions.
Anybody who saw the "Prime Time" special programme a fortnight ago could not have been but appalled at what was shown on the television screen. It showed people being disgorged from night clubs in one mass exodus. The casualty units of different hospitals in Cork, Dublin and Tullamore were visited to see the strewn corpses of unconscious youngsters stoned out of their minds.
The Minister of State talked about attitude, in respect of which there is a problem. Nowadays it is accepted that when many young people decide what they will do for the weekend, they go out, not to have a social drink, but rather with the sole objective of getting stoned, drunk, intoxicated. It is a problem which we all must confront and cope with. Unless we cope with it as a matter of urgency, we will see a whole generation of young people with brain and liver damage and who are disco-deaf. They will be a liability on society, not to mention to themselves.
We are facing an alcohol problem of epidemic proportions which in the next five or ten years will leave us on a par with the AIDS epidemic in Africa. It is a major problem that is eating into the heart of society and has to be tackled. The "Prime Time" programme showed the manner in which services were put under strain with doctors and nurses having to meet ambulances at the door. They had to pump the young people out in order to get them up and mobile again. It graphically illustrates that it is most unfair on the accident and emergency services in hospitals that they have to cope with this problem. Genuinely sick people who arrive in having suffered heart attacks, strokes or as a result of a road traffic accident have to take their place at the back of the queue. We should seriously consider the proposal that if somebody arrives in such a state of self-inflicted intoxication, there should be a minimum charge of €100 for the service, irrespective of their medical card status.
I wish the schemes well, but they are not working. It is fine to talk about the responsibility of the Garda Síochána, schools or publicans, but it all begins with parents. If parents are not vigilant or caring enough to monitor the whereabouts of their children and their condition when they return, it is not fair to expect schools, the Garda or publicans to act in loco parentis. The primary responsibility lies with parents, both in terms of their own behaviour, performance and attitudes and the manner in which they manage the welfare of their children. Thousands of parents are abdicating their responsibilities on a nightly basis, not just in Dublin, Cork or Tullamore – this is the reality in every single town and village in rural Ireland. I have collected children from discos at appointed times and seen what the aftermath of a disco looks like – a battlefield. One would almost be afraid to walk through the mass exodus of unruliness that is the reality in every town in rural Ireland, not to mention the cities.
There are problems regarding the licensing trade, although the vast majority of publicans are extremely responsible. They like to run their licensed premises in an orderly fashion and within the law. To try to make the distinction between somebody who is 17 years and 364 days of age and somebody who is 18 years of age is well nigh impossible. The Intoxicating Liquor Bill extended the licensing hours. In its passage through the Houses I proposed an amendment that there should be mandatory ID cards.
An industry has been created for the production of forged ID cards. ID cards are extremely easy to forge and very easy to pass off to security staff in pubs and clubs. A Garda Síochána ID card scheme was introduced in recent years. It was bar coded and supposedly foolproof. Unfortunately, the take-up was relatively negligible. We should forget about the whole business of so-called civil liberties. If we have an alcohol problem of such gigantic proportions and are not able to police people going into clubs, discos or pubs and monitor their age on an accurate basis, it is time to look at this provision again and introduce mandatory ID card schemes. There are many countries, including ours, where civil liberties are accorded a very high priority, but I see no infringement whatsoever of one's personal or civil liberty in mandating them to carry an official State ID card.
A huge number of crimes go unreported. I refer to instances where gardaí are either not present at the scene or where some of the people involved subsequently decide not to bring a complaint to their attention. The figures are a gross underestimation. The "Prime Time" programme, which visited three locations – Dublin, Cork and Tullamore – showed that as people emerge from the discos, pubs and clubs, there are inevitable street brawls and consequent injuries, not to mention larcenies and other crimes associated with alcohol abuse.
At this stage, a multifaceted approach is needed. Parents have to be held to account for the actions of their children. I welcomed the provision in the Intoxicating Liquor Bill which forced the closure of pubs that were found to have served those under age. This is working well, but I came across a case recently where a licensed premises was closed for the weekend because the publican was not able to make the distinction between a person aged 17 years and nine months and 18 years. In that case, the drink was bought for the young person by his mother. How can one expect publicans to operate in such circumstances? Tadhg O'Sullivan stated earlier on "Today with Pat Kenny" that when a family is in a pub and the father goes up to the bar and orders a Coke, a gin and tonic and a vodka, the Coke goes to the mother, the gin and tonic goes to the father and the vodka goes to the child. If the family is seated in the corner of a crowded pub, how can the publican be held responsible for such an occurrence?
Young people should themselves be brought to account. If somebody under 18 is found in a state of intoxication, they should be treated as having committed a crime. We must be tough, pragmatic and realistic. We need a multifaceted approach which must start with parents in the home. The police, publicans and advertising companies also have roles to play. The glamorising of alcohol has done a huge amount to induce people into believing it can create a lifestyle and a feeling of joie de vivre. That, in its own way, is a major contributory factor.
Cuirim fáilte roimh an Aire Stáit go dtí an Teach. With other Members, I recently requested a debate on this matter. The level of attendance in the Chamber is clearly indicative of the great importance Members on all sides attach to the debate.
When a person mentions drug pushing, we are immediately placed in a frame of mind which leads us to believe that he or she is talking about one of the illicit drugs. However, we are discussing a legal drug, namely, alcohol. For fear this might be perceived as an exercise in publican-bashing, I assure the House that it is not. Publicans may be part of the problem, but they are also part of the solution.
There have been many reports compiled in respect of this matter. In the late 1990s the Midland Health Board, which serves the area I represent, brought forward a report on under age drinking in second level colleges, convent schools, etc. In tandem with the statistics outlined by the Minister of State, the position has worsened in the interim. This leaves us in no doubt that it is not alarmist to say that the problem matter has reached epidemic proportions.
If we have identified the problem, what is being done in terms of finding a solution? I agree with Senator Higgins that a multifaceted approach is necessary and that the problem must be attacked on a number of fronts. In Mullingar, signs have been posted which ask those who want a drink to prove they are over 18. Let us consider the issue of proof. I agree that uptake of the identity card system introduced by the Garda was minimal. This is a great pity and it poses major difficulties for security personnel at nightclubs. Some people refer to these individuals as "bouncers", but I think "security personnel" is a more appropriate term. All such security personnel need to be educated to some extent about under age drinking because they also have a role to play.
People often demand that parents exercise greater control over their children. There is plenty of parental control from the point of view that young people are controlling their parents well. Any parent who brings a son or daughter in the age group where the ingestion of alcohol is illegal out drinking should be sent to jail and the child concerned should be placed in care. There is no point in joking about it. If a person supplied somebody with cannabis, marijuana or heroin, he or she would be an outcast in his or her own area. However, if a parent is seen giving their daughter or son a drink, people say that they "could do worse". It is taking that attitude, as a society, which has led to this problem reaching epidemic proportions.
Having carried out the diagnosis, what about the prescription? What should we do about the problem? I firmly believe that parents, the Garda, publicans and of course the educational authorities have pivotal roles to play. We are reliably informed that whereas in the past boys and girls would go to school on a Monday morning tired as a result of partaking in games over the weekend, they now arrive with hangovers. The scene has changed and the problem has become much different.
What action should schools take? Is there a case to be made for breathalysing young people? Some would say that would take away their rights, but what about their obligations to society? A great deal has been said about rights, but, in my opinion, people's obligations always play second fiddle to their rights.
I want to return to a point, to which Senator Higgins referred and which I made when calling for this debate, namely, the situation that obtains at accident and emergency units. A recent radio debate revealed that the number of altercations between those attending A&E departments due to the consumption of alcohol is quite substantial. I agree with what Senator Higgins said but, if anything, my solutions would be a little more draconian. Not only must we recognise that these individuals take up the time of nurses, doctors and other personnel at A&E units, we must also take into account that gardaí are far too often called on to quell the disturbances they create and that ambulances must be used to transport them home.
It is amazing to note that a European comparative study on alcohol estimated that alcohol related problems cost Irish society approximately €2.4 billion. Imagine what the Minister for Health and Children and our health boards and hospitals could do with that money if we did not have the nonsense that is going on. Then there is the situation pertaining to health care, road accidents, alcohol-related crime and lost productivity.
How often have we seen young people fall into the clutches of the Dickensian Fagins of this world and exhorted to commit crimes and pass on their ill-gotten gains to them? What about the statistics available on the number of days lost to productive industrial activity? What about the number of people failing to turn up for duty morning after morning in hospitals, schools and other public services as result of over-indulgence in alcohol the night before, or indeed on an on-going basis?
I take a drink. I like to think I am a social drinker. If people take a drink, however, they should ensure that the drink does not take them. That is what we are talking about. We are also talking about another statistic relating to suicide that has become evident in recent years. Anybody who has studied drink-related problems will appreciate that people take their own lives when they get to the stage of denial and delusion, when they no longer appreciate that they have a problem and when they eventually become frustrated by their inability to deal with the problem. It is a well-known statistic. Maybe I am incorrect in saying this since I do not have any clinical proof to substantiate the point, but it is rather strange that the incidence of juvenile suicide has increased in parallel with the growing consumption of alcohol by under age drinkers. Is it a coincidence or a fact?
Young lads and lassies who went to the cinema a few years ago thought they were great when they pulled out a packet of cigarettes and passed it around. It was a very macho thing. People would describe you as a great fellow for smoking a fag. It is different now. It is not a cigarette but a naggin of whiskey, a bottle of vodka or one of those famous products referred to here recently, the alcopops. Alcopops smack of everything that is designed to encourage young people to drink. They even taste like pop. The producers of those drink products should reflect upon what has been said about the products.
A huge amount can be done by sporting organisations. I acknowledge the great role that has been played by all the sporting organisations in this country, the BLE, the GAA, the FAI, the IRFU and the tennis clubs. They have a tremendous role to play because they can dissipate or utilise the energy of young people in some way so that they will not be so disposed to head to the nearest pub.
Reference was made to the pubs that have been closed as a result of serving under age customers. This is a marvellous measure. The vast majority of publicans that I know – and I know many from having travelled around this country in almost 24 years of public life – are decent people. They have no wish to violate in any way the law pertaining to the serving of alcohol to under age people. Regrettably, however, there is a significant percentage of people who have to be weeded out of the vintner trade.
If we are to curb this menace, there is a case to be made for the health boards taking a more positive role. A case has to be made for appropriately qualified people liaising with the educational authorities. There is much information available on under age drinking, but whether it is getting across or not is a matter for debate. We must get the message home loud and clear. Whether it is publicans, parents buying a drink for Johnny or Mary and sneaking it to them in the corner or an adult going into an off-licence and buying drink for young people, these people should be jailed. Nothing less should be done.
Many Members are lining up to speak on this very important issue. The children of today are the leaders of tomorrow. What sort of leaders will we produce if we do not take an interest in this very serious matter? Given the statistics that have been outlined here today and that are freely available, if we do not do something soon it will be too late, and God knows what sort of society we will be spawning in the years ahead.
I welcome the Minister of State to the House and I particularly welcome the mention in his speech of the fact that alcohol has been identified as such an important risk indicator in teenage pregnancy and the transmission of sexually transmitted infections. An even more serious issue I want to address is the importance of alcohol in drug-induced sexual assaults.
I have here the figures from the sexual assault treatment unit in the Rotunda Hospital for the years 2000 and 2001. There were 253 attendances in 2000 and 256 in 2001. Over one third of cases involved girls under 19 and almost 10% of cases involved girls under 16. In an enormous number of cases these young women had consumed huge quantities of alcohol. The toxicologist told us recently that there were lethal levels of 300-400 milligrams of alcohol in the blood of some of these young women. When we think that 80 milligrams is the limit for driving we can imagine the state these girls were in, especially given that some of them would have had very little experience of alcohol.
There was much talk from the mid-1990s about drug-assisted assaults and it was suggested that drugs such as Rohypnol, or benzodiazepine, were very important in the fact that so many young women could not even remember if they had been raped and their drinks had been spiked. When we discussed the "Prime Time" report, for which we should be most grateful, I was rather concerned that some Senators seemed to think that the spiking of drinks was common. These drugs are odourless and tasteless. In ten cases each year the sexual assault treatment unit sent specimens to check if rohypnol which lasts in the system for 72 hours was present in people's blood or urine. There was no rohypnol present, just lethal levels of alcohol. It is extremely important to recognise that alcohol is an important factor in sexual assaults.
The level of alcohol consumed was astonishing. Nineteen women admitted to having had eight or more drinks while a number of them could not remember what amount they had. One admitted to having drunk 21 units. Some of them had also taken drugs such as methadone, cannabis, ecstasy and heroin. However, none had taken what are described as date rape drugs. It was not the case that somebody had spiked their drinks, their problems were self-inflicted. Some of the rape cases involved young men, eight in one year and ten in the next. Young women and men need to be warned that if they put themselves into such an intoxicated state, they are far more liable to be victims of assault.
The figures do not take account of the Well Woman Centre and general practitioners' clinics, where women call the following morning seeking the morning after pill because they do not know if they had sex, consensual or not, the previous night. This is a shocking state of affairs which I hope the Department of Health and Children will tackle it in its educational programmes. It is an extremely dangerous situation.
I am glad to hear so much sympathy being expressed for those who must work in accident and emergency units. All doctors and nurses must work in these units, but when I had to do it, I never encountered what is being experienced by those working in them now. Young drunk people lie around on mattresses until staff can get them to sober up. Some of the people concerned will have head injuries because they will have fallen. As it is hard to assess the head injury of a very drunk patient, some of them will die. This is a serious problem, not only for the dead person's family, but also for the staff who try to deal with the people concerned. I am glad to hear sympathy expressed for those who must work in such circumstances.
I have been raising this issue in the Seanad for the last six years. At first, I was laughed out of court by people who regarded the massive increase in alcohol consumption and the deterioration in public behaviour and health standards as a source of amusement. I remember talking about the filth in the centre of our capital city as a result of people urinating, defecating and vomiting everywhere. Laughter was heard from the other side of the House with the quite witty remark, "urination once again." I hope we have got beyond this and no longer regard it as a laugh. It is an exceptionally serious health, economic and social problem and I am glad Seanad Éireann has at last woken up to this fact. However, it is quite amusing to find myself in danger of being trampled to death by the rush of people jumping on board on this issue. Thank God for it. I hope we will stand together and do something. Before the last general election the Minister for Health and Children, Deputy Martin, a decent man, said market forces versus public health issues must be controlled once and for all. Let us do it. Let us stop talking about it and put teeth into the legislation. It can be done in this House.
There is not merely anecdotal material on this problem. The strategic task force on alcohol has reported that in the last six years there has been a 50% increase in the consumption of spirits. Ireland has moved from 12th to second place in the world rankings of alcohol consumption and by next year we will probably be in first place. That is an extraordinary change in the statistics. Cannabis is a far less dangerous drug than alcohol, yet it is illegal. A total of 53% of young people have tried an illegal drug. A total of 32% per cent of 15 to 16 year olds have used cannabis while 22% have used solvents, but 89% have tried alcohol. That is worrying.
People are afraid to walk the streets of cities and towns after the early evening because they are in danger of unprovoked assault. Several citizens of the State, especially young men, have been killed as a result of our inaction in the Oireachtas. It is many years since I first raised this problem in the Seanad. I predicted that if nothing was done, deaths would be the result. Sadly, my words were only too true. I was the victim of an unprovoked drunken assault outside my house some years ago and received five stitches in my face. On another occasion I went to the rescue of a man who was being kicked to death by his drunken companions. I could hear, in my bedroom, the thuds of their boots against his head. The Garda took a long time to arrive and I was reprimanded for going out with my shillelagh to protect myself.
We need to wake up to this problem. One of the features of the current situation is the involvement of young women. I am middle aged, but in my day young women did not go out to get drunk. They rarely went into pubs. Now they go out specifically to get drunk. The drinks companies know this and target their products at them. There is no avoiding this fact. I had to laugh, when I saw a recording of the "Prime Time" programme, at the shamefaced attitude of everybody representing the drinks industry. They have much of which to be ashamed. Anybody who can read body language could see it. Some of the people concerned were my friends and I almost felt sorry for them. They were craven in response to the questions directed to them.
Think of the tragic case of a young French woman, married to a Cork man, who was attacked in Cork by a couple of drunken trollops. She was beaten so severely that she is in constant pain and unable to bear children. The perpetrators got three years in jail, but the woman concerned and her husband have been given a life sentence. This is an increasingly common phenomenon.
There is a social dimension to this problem. I have been contacted by a constituent who lives in Skerries where the nightclub is patronised by people whose average age is 18 to 27 years. The customers exit from a narrow side entrance onto New Street, a residential area. Some of the incidents that have occurred include urination in letterboxes, rows outside the premises, breakage of car wing mirrors, window boxes being smashed, flower beds on the roundabout destroyed and windows broken in. This happens despite the fact that the nightclub has hired private security men to police the streets. At the weekends most of the residents are barricaded inside their homes, even though this is a civilised country. The licence is coming up again for renewal and one wonders if the judge will do anything. However, I will deal with that issue later. While I am aware of the separation of powers, I am as entitled as anybody else to criticise judicial practice in this country and will do so. I have done it outside this House and will continue to do so.
There is a problem with public disorder. There is also the massive cost to the Exchequer. Alcohol related health care costs amounted to €279 million last year, the cost of road accidents was €315 million and the cost of alcohol related crime, €100 million. There is huge financial output due to alcohol, €1,034 million. The total bill is €2,366 million per annum. Why do we tolerate this? It is because the drinks industry has increased its profits to €6.8 billion. As the Minister said, it is a case of market forces versus public health. This House should be on the side of public health, not market forces.
In the old days we had companies such as Arthur Guinness, Jameson and Powers. It was a paternalistic system. Now we have none of them. Instead we have multinationals such as Diageo and Pernod Ricard. They also make underground railways, nappies and petfood. Their headquarters are in Paris, London and New York and they simply see a chart on which they want to increase profits. It is obvious that they do not give a damn what social damage they do. They have the lunatic idea that a small finite market such as Ireland can absorb limitless quantities of alcohol. There is no question that the major drinks manufacturers are deliberately and specifically targeting young people, particularly women.
Every aspect of the advertising code is routinely broken. This is laid out in the reports; the code is broken every day of the week. Young people are given the impression that the consumption of alcohol will make them more sexually attractive, more interesting, better athletes and generally help them have a better time overall. The creation of drinks such as Bacardi Breezer and Smirnoff Ice make this perfectly obvious.
The consequences are disorder, violence and the clogging of accident and emergency areas in hospitals. After midnight at weekends 50% of emergency cases are related to alcohol. What about decent people who may be taken ill at the weekend? Selfish little blackguards are clogging up services which are rightly the entitlement of those who are genuinely sick, not those who, as Senator Henry said, are sick as a result of their own stupidity. That is the reason they are in hospital.
There are also unscheduled pregnancies and a huge increase in venereal infections. As has been said, it is quite typical for young women not to remember whether they had sex. They get the morning after pill on the basis that they may have had sex but do not remember. This certainly contradicts the message of the advertisements: if one cannot remember whether one had sex within a few hours of the event, it scarcely suggests the experience was either memorable or enjoyable. At least on the few occasions I have had that pleasure I have certainly remembered and knew all about it.
This morning we heard the Heineken Rugby Cup – what an irony – was under review by the IRFU in administrative terms because at the last few matches there were over 300 teenagers getting drunk in the car park. One young woman of 13 years and a boy of 14 years had to be taken to hospital by ambulance.
The current debate is put in context by last week's "Prime Time" programme. I am intrigued by the reaction to that programme – people said they were shocked, horrified, amazed and surprised. I am not, as I see this going home at night every weekend. I have seen it develop over the last ten years and sung like a canary about it in this House. I praise and salute the workers of Dublin Corporation who have the unenviable task of mopping up the urine, vomit and faeces liberally spattered around Dublin city centre.
No doubt this came as a surprise to the middle classes living in the suburbs who have apparently closed their eyes to the situation. I specifically include most members of the Judiciary in that, particularly members of the Dublin District Court. I cannot understand how members of the Judiciary can in conscience rubber-stamp licences for badly run, ill-supervised, dangerous public houses which are a continual source of riot, confusion and even gun battles. I know what I am talking about; I know these places. How can so-called lapdancing drinking clubs be licensed?
A consultant, Dr. Anne Hope, spoke of the obstructionism of the drinks industry, which was evident in the programme. Others spoke of the irresponsibility of the licensed trade. What about the irresponsibility of elements of the Judiciary and other licensing authorities? It seems in Dublin city centre all one has to do is apply for a licence for anything – a traditionally disreputable pub, gambling den or so-called lapdancing club – for it to be granted.
It is perfectly well known that O'Connell Street is becoming a no-go area; one need only look at the cancellation of the Belvedere boys' Christmas fast. The causes are well known: the existence of badly supervised superpubs in the area and the easy accessibility of off-licence sources of alcohol, yet what do we have? The Ambassador Cinema has recently become a weekend boozerama for teenagers while St. Mary's Church is in the process of what one radio commentator with apparently no sense of irony described as reconsecration as a superpub. The Spar outlets on O'Connell Street have been licensed in the last couple of weeks to sell bottles and cans of beer to drunken louts on the streets late at night.
To date the Oireachtas has been shamefully reticent on this subject because of the active political lobby and political subscriptions of the drinks industry. It is time to call a halt. In terms of the damage to society this is a bigger scandal than anything under review by any of the tribunals. We hear a lot about drink being part of Irish culture. Culture my backside – it is nothing short of barbarism. The sight every weekend of drunken louts and hooligans of both sexes brawling, vomiting and excreting all over the centre of the city is something no self-respecting savage would describe as culture. There has been a 301% increase in the number of public order offences, from 18,000 to 55,000, over the last six years in direct parallel with the massive increase in under age drinking. The Government has so far disregarded all warnings and the 1996 national alcohol policy paper was totally ignored. As a result, its dire predictions have come all too true.
Alcoholic drinks should be clearly labelled as potentially highly dangerous to health. Identity cards, including age, should be mandatory for young drinkers. There should be a strict revision of the licensing process. Sponsorship and advertising by drinks corporations should be outlawed. Bar staff in public houses responsible for giving the last drink to a customer who is already drunk should be rendered criminally liable.
In this situation is it still tolerable that we include alcohol in the consumer price index? Alcohol is not necessary to keep breathing, yet we have it with nicotine as two of the main engines in the way we estimate inflation. Let us get them out of the index, as it is utterly stupid to have them in there.
I join previous speakers in welcoming this debate, which is timely, if not too late. International surveys have clearly set out that we are on a slippery road when it comes to our future, but it is no harm to remind ourselves of what such surveys indicate about Ireland. Previous speakers have referred to some of the results, but we should emphasise the point. We need to listen and face up to the situation.
We are now drinking more than almost all our EU colleagues. In the last six years consumption of spirits alone has increased by over 50%, while there has been a staggering increase of 100% in consumption of cider. Between 1989 and 1999 per capita alcohol consumption increased by a massive 41%. Overall per capita alcohol consumption in Ireland in 2002 was 14.2 litres and the latest estimates for 2001 suggest it will have increased.
These statistics are even more staggering when we compare them to the figures for our EU counterparts. Nine other EU member states have shown a decrease in alcohol consumption during the same period, while three showed a modest increase of just 5%. If we look back in ten years' time to see this curve has not peaked, the consequences for our society and health system are frightening.
Speakers mentioned the stresses on our health system. Inappropriate drinking results in immense suffering and costs. A conservative figure of €2.4 billion was estimated as having been spent in 1999 in health care as a result of road accidents, alcohol related crime and lost productivity. That is a serious figure and a wake-up call to our society. We must be serious and face up to this issue.
Binge drinking also features in the surveys, particularly among 15 to 16 year olds. Many of us were raised in an era where we took the pledge in secondary school until we were 18 years. Though some did not take it and took a drink, binge drinking at 15 or 16 years must be recognised as a new phenomenon. People talk about cultural events, but we should look at the coverage in The Irish Times today of events in Donnybrook, to which Senator Norris referred. In one way the IRFU is to be commended for its action, but it has had to restrict ticket sales to schoolchildren for next Friday's rugby match because such games are used as gathering points for under age drinking and the consequences of such drinking. A 13 year old boy and a 14 year old girl were hospitalised after a recent match because of drinking. Children attending matches bring their alcohol with them in mineral or soft drinks bottles. This is a clear example of the abuses that are taking place. While I am disappointed about this, I believe we should salute the Leinster branch of the IRFU for taking the action it has found it necessary to take. Given that I am talking about the Heineken Rugby Cup, is there not a contradiction in terms of the sponsorship versus the reality?
We have an unacceptable tolerance to drunkenness in this country. I am a non-drinker. I have no difficulty in saying that, but it does not mean that I am anti-drink; I am anti-drunkenness. My business is a corner premises in the city centre and, on average, I lose eight windows per year. I do not lose them as a result of people trying to break in, but as a result of drunkenness. I have had everything come through my window, from wing mirrors of cars to a young person as a result of violent behaviour.
When I have been notified at 2 a.m. or 3 a.m. to respond to an alarm call, I have found that my premises has been broken into and I usually worry about the consequences, I have often sat in my car afraid to get out to turn off the alarm. I am not casting aspersions on the gardaí, but the reality of gatherings of people who are severely intoxicated in our city centres leaves a lot to be desired. I was laughed at during a recent meeting of Cork City Council when I suggested that our next meeting should be held at 12 midnight on a bus touring the city centre because this would allow members to see what goes on.
The condition in which one can see young people, particularly girls, in the city centre is frightening. Senator Henry and others referred to the consequences of the state in which these people find themselves and I will not repeat the points they made. Young people have come to me with their parents as a result of incidents in which they were involved in the city centre. I refer here to decent people from respectable homes who have been so intoxicated that they were not responsible for their actions. When the nature of their actions was pointed out to them the following day, these individuals were horrified. We have a responsibility to these young people to protect them from each other and from themselves. We cannot allow a situation develop where, due to a lack of proper supervision and enforcement of the laws of the land, people are allowed ruin the rest of their lives. We must reduce alcohol consumption and control binge drinking.
I return to what I said earlier about the pioneer pin that was available when I was young and when many people took the pledge in school. When I served in the Defence Forces overseas and people were released for weekends, there were always concerns that they would engage in binge drinking. We had a famous chaplain, Paddy Breslin, with us on one tour who dispensed temporary pledges to the effect that one would consume no more than four or five pints.
We cannot tell young people they cannot drink because that is the way of life. However, we can try to educate them to be moderate in their drinking and to limit the amount of alcohol they consume. I am not advocating that the Total Abstinence Association changes the form of its pledge, but there is a message there. The message should be that we should seek a commitment from young people to limit the amount of alcohol they consume. There is nothing wrong with having a drink, but it is not right to get oneself into a state where one no longer knows what one is doing. I cannot subscribe to the boast some people make that they had a great night last night, that they got as drunk as a lord and that they do not remember a thing about it. That is nothing of which to be proud. It is not the direction in which society should be going.
We must compliment our teachers and educational system. We must pay respect to the job teachers do in dealing with students under the influence of drink or suffering from hangovers, but, more importantly, on educating them and on pushing forward the standards that are acceptable in the society in which we live. We must do so because education is the way to correct these problems.
Enforcement of the law is an issue. The laws on the Statute Book, particularly those that relate to public order, must be enforced. I do not find it tolerable that the vast percentage of people arrested for public order offences are released without charge or given the benefit of the Probation Act. We must get real. If we want to set down acceptable standards in society, we must come down hard and show leadership.
We must also, without fear or favour, face up to the vested interests. This is a market driven addiction. People are making vast amounts of money out of it and we must face up to them because they also have responsibilities. I strongly advocate that we face up to the responsibilities of the production of a national ID card, not on a voluntary but on a compulsory basis. We must also examine the area of advertising. I refer in particular to advertising targeted at children and the so-called advertisements on TV that promote the drink culture, alcopops, etc., as being "cool" and an "in" thing of which to be part. They are, of course, nothing of the sort.
This is aimed at students along with other drink promotions. The purpose being the parting of students and their scarce resources. What about the aftermath, these promotions usually occur on weeknights with college the next day? Are these bars and nightclubs so greedy they don't care what these kids get into?
We all know concerned parents, but being concerned does not get parents off the hook. Unfortunately, there is a breakdown in some of the responsibilities parents should have and the control they should exercise over their children. Some Members referred to this point earlier and I am sure others will refer to it again later.
I also wish to highlight the association between sport and alcohol. Sport is a worthwhile exercise. It is an alternative. It gives children a sense of being involved and provides them with the ability to interact with other children. However, the relationship between alcohol and sport is not compatible. Sporting authorities must face up to their responsibilities and not be driven by the markets in supporting alcohol sponsored events. We, as legislators, have a responsibility to face up to the protection of our citizens, particularly young people who are our future. Will we say that we will allow this unacceptable tolerance of drunkenness to continue or will we send out a clear and unequivocal message that the time has come for us to show leadership? Leadership is the only way that we will move forward on this issue.
We, as legislators, must recognise the warning message the international surveys have sent us and say clearly and unequivocally that this is no longer tolerable. We need the courts to enforce the law, be it on licence holders or those in breach of the Public Order Act. Clear messages must be given by the District Court that drunkenness and activities resulting from excessive drinking will not be tolerated.
We have a responsibility to educate young people for their own good and in their interests about what is acceptable and unacceptable. Not only must we protect them from each other, we must also protect them from themselves. I hope as a result of this debate that we will begin that process, which should include teachers, parents and the courts, to bring young people's futures back on track and secure the future of the country.
I agree with speakers that we need a multifaceted approach to the problem. I also agree with the Minister of State that it is a case of the individual's attitude combined with a growing tide of public intolerance for a practice that should not be considered a social norm.
I would go further and say that we should not become reactionary as a result of the information being made available about under age drinking and alcohol consumption. It is an important issue but we should react in a balanced way. We need a programme of education, enforcement and provision of facilities which addresses the problem of under age alcohol consumption over a number of years as well as immediately. The main objective should be to assist young people. We need to protect them while also making them aware. They need other options as well as laws that are clear and enforced.
I am in favour of examining the licensing laws but I oppose the rolling back of the licensing hours. Instead, we should examine what is being done in the United Kingdom where pilot schemes of 24 hour licensing periods are being introduced. The problem rests with people leaving pubs at the same time. Having closing time an hour earlier or a half hour later does not alter that fact.
The problems we have experienced with alcohol have built up over the years. The Minister of State said the increase in alcohol consumption of 41% occurred over a ten year period and relates to changes in society such as modernisation, greater liberalism, higher disposable incomes and both parents working. When it is said that young people have greater disposable incomes, it should also be borne in mind that many cannot afford to buy a house. It is not as simple as saying that they have large amounts of money to throw away.
It is important that we enforce the laws and penalise those who serve alcohol to under age people or sell it to them in off-licences. We should address the phenomenon of older people buying drink for younger people. I witnessed such a scene in an off-licence when a young man of 18 tried to buy drink for a girl of 14. I pointed this out to the man at the counter and he did what was right and did not serve them. It is obvious that this happens frequently and we need to address it by enforcing the law and penalising the people involved. We also need to address it through education because sometimes parents and older brothers, sisters and friends are guilty of buying drink for under age people. We all have a responsibility in this regard. It is a case of education and enforcement.
It is important that we make under age drinking socially unacceptable and there should be strong legal consequences. We know we can do it because it has happened in other areas of enforcement, such as illegal parking. If a person knows the consequences will cause him or her serious inconvenience and stress, he or she will not take the risk. It is important that there are more closures of off-licences and pubs that serve under age people.
I support the idea of a ban on the advertising of alcohol, but we should at the very least examine the law governing this area. It is bad that advertisements can be in circulation for so long before the Advertising Standards Authority of Ireland calls them into question and prohibits them. There needs to be screening of advertisements before they are released. Something must be done about the sponsorship of events by drinks companies, including sports and college events.
It is important that there are education programmes in addition to curbing advertising. There needs to be greater education of people in school about the consequences of drinking. The reality is that people will drink and they therefore need to be educated drinkers. Most people go through a stage where they drink unwisely and eventually wisdom and experience bring them to drink differently later in life. However, people are beginning to drink much earlier, so there need to be programmes to educate them and make them aware of the problems and downside associated with drinking.
We are all part of a society with this problem and it is not a question of them versus us. It has a great deal to do with the way our society socialises around alcohol. There need to be more options for people to socialise. In other countries on the Continent, young people gather in cafés where ice cream and coffee, among other things, are available as well as drink. They do not go out to get drunk but to meet other young people. That is the type of culture we need to develop. We need a firm but balanced policy which not only addresses our immediate concerns but has long-term objectives as well.
I welcome the Minister of State to the House and thank him for spending time with us. I regret that his colleague, the Minister of State, Deputy Tom Kitt, has left. I remember in his previous ministry when he regulated consumer affairs that he described alcopops as insidious concoctions and introduced a regulation requiring them to be displayed alongside alcoholic drinks in bars, supermarkets and off-licences and not put to one side and glossed up to look like sweets or something similar to appear attractive to children. He wanted them highlighted for the dangerous drinks they are. It makes me feel that consecutive Governments, especially Fianna Fáil-led ones, have done something to try to combat the terrible cancer of under age drinking.
People have spoken about statistics relating to the rising numbers and high percentage of young people who are drinking, so I will not cover that ground. Drink is part of our culture and heritage almost from the time we are born. We have always celebrated events with a great deal of alcohol, be they weddings, christenings, graduations – second and third level – sporting events or wakes. We pat each other on the back, congratulate each other and joke later about the morning after the night before.
If one looks at where we are at today, it can be seen that we have not come very far. We can argue whether it is the good economy we have that is resulting in all this drinking or just that we are now coming into our own. There is a different relationship now between teenagers and our generation as parents, but perhaps that debate is for another day.
I was glad to hear the Leader say we would resume this debate if there was not enough time. When I researched this subject, I was alarmed to read that in parts of the country children as young as nine years were experimenting with drink. It is frightening to think what an underdeveloped liver, not to mention a young mind, can make of alcohol at that age.
The Minister will be interested in an article in the Sunday Independent on 8 December, which relates the saddest story ever of a young girl who said that when she became old enough to have her first legal drink, she was drying out in a treatment centre. The names used in the article were Carol and her daughter, Holly, but those are not their real names. Holly said:
Alcoholism turns you into a horrible person. It strips you of your dignity, takes your friends away and hurts everybody around you, in particular those you love most.
That is what I would expect somebody in middle age to say, certainly not a young girl of 18 years on the brink of adulthood. She went on to say:
Most people think the weekends are for getting pissed [I apologise for the language]. The majority of us go out there just to get steamed and locked. That is what weekends are for.
Her mother is a very angry lady and I do not blame her. She is looking to blame somebody. She blames politicians, publicans and lawyers. I hear the Leader saying she should be blaming herself. I know other speakers have blamed parents, but I will not knock them that much. There is an onus on us all. I have four children and do not always know where they are and regard myself as a very responsible parent. The majority are very good parents and it is not right to tar them all with the one brush just because there is a group of bad parents.
Last Christmas my daughter, then aged 16 and a half years, went to a nightclub for the first time. Because of the time of year, I agreed to pick her up rather than have her queue for a taxi. I was in bed at midnight and set my alarm for 2.30 a.m. to collect her. When I arrived and was waiting for her, I locked my car because I was terrified by the number of young drunk teenagers who arrived. I drive a Volkswagen Passat like many of the taxis in Sligo and they thought my car was a taxi. I knew two of the individuals who did not even remember the next day or the following day. I did not ask them, but when I met them, they did not allude to it. I was absolutely horrified by what I saw.
I was heartened when I listened to "Morning Ireland" this morning and the story as related by other speakers. Senator Minihan has complimented the Leinster branch of the IRFU for only issuing 500 tickets with the rest being issued as family tickets. It is not banning young people from the grounds who will be allowed in with their parents. The Senator went on to say the Leinster branch of the IRFU was very responsible. I have two sons who play rugby and know this holds true across the board with the IRFU. During school rugby matches the IRFU blanks out any advertising for alcohol, in particular the ones we see in Donnybrook that carry the name of the sponsors of the Heineken Cup.
I am somewhat worried about the Public Order Act, as we know it today. It dates back to 1984 when Margaret Thatcher was in power in the United Kingdom. We modelled our Public Order Act on the UK Act. We all remember the miners' strike that was ongoing when it was introduced. There were many public order offenders at the time. It may now be time to look at the Act and consider what we can do to control under age drinking. As politicians, we have a responsibility to grab it by the scruff of the neck. I know Senator Minihan started off by saying he hoped it was not too late. I do not believe it is. We have often stood here and said what a great bunch of people the youth of this country are, which is true. However, we need to educate them when it comes to drinking and need to lead by example. They see adults whose only way to celebrate is through alcohol.
I pay tribute to the excellent work done by the Garda. I know other speakers mentioned medics, nurses and teachers, all of whom I would highly commend. However, the Garda should come in for a special word of mention. Some of the men and women of the force are not much older than the people with whom they have to deal at weekends. They are putting their lives at risk. Some of them have told me that when they take in people who are drunk and disorderly, some young men are carrying Stanley knives and other weapons while young women have sharp pieces of glass in their handbags.
I also welcome this debate on the high levels of alcohol consumption among teenagers. While the problem of alcohol consumption is not new, it is now becoming an epidemic and drastic steps must be taken. The drink culture, as we know it, is very much part of the Irish psyche. We have given it a status and tolerance. The alarm bells are now ringing very late in the day which is worrying. I hope it is not too late to halt this stampede, but if we do not stop drinking at the present level of consumption, it will be too late.
It took the graphic RTÉ "Prime Time" programme to set off alarm bells. I commend the makers of the programme for raising public awareness of the destruction caused by drink. It focused on young people and the drink culture. However there seems to be something inherent in the Irish psyche which makes drinking compelling to all of us. I enjoy a drink and sometimes have overindulged. It seems to be compelling, however, for young people of 16, 17 or 18 years, some of whom may have had fathers or other family members who drank.
As a publican, I know the vast majority of publicans are very conscious and have tolerated laws relating to young people coming into pubs. It is now time to prevent young people under 18 years from doing so. I know the law is in place, but it is still tolerated. As politicians, we hold many meetings in pubs. The Taoiseach has opened pubs, as has my leader. The Tánaiste has opened off-licences. We are all to blame. We must ensure we cut out the opening of public houses because it sets the wrong example.
We also have the Guinness All-Ireland Championship. Recently, at the Rose of Tralee festival, Gay Byrne paid tribute to the manager of Guinness group sales. Many members of the GAA who watched the recent "Prime Time" programme will no longer view as positive their association with the name of a brewery or local bar.
We created the Irish pub, which we export throughout the world. Many such pubs feature slogans such as "Drop into an old friend" or "Guinness is good for you". This is a myth. I have never got up in the morning, having had a few pints of Guinness, with the feeling that it is good for me. We have created a major industry with its vested interests around alcohol. The vintners will lobby to promote their products and licences. Now is the time to shout stop.
Each year we spend some €3.5 billion on alcohol, equivalent to the total amount spent on the health service. We are now ranked second in the European alcohol consumption league. Between 1989 and 2000, a period in which consumption of alcohol in other countries was declining, consumption here rose by more than 50%. That is hard to believe. Some 60% of young women and 50% of young men drink dangerously and there is a strong connection between alcohol and suicide.
Alcohol is also involved in 40% of road fatalities, despite the growing culture of opposition to drink driving and the rising number of detections by the Garda, nearly 11,000 in 2001. In light of some 400 road deaths every year, I welcome the introduction of the new points system. Despite the universal awareness that drink driving is wrong, many people continue to drink and drive. Nobody ever stops drinking and driving because of the fear of killing somebody. Instead, we stop because we fear losing our driving licence and the consequent rise in insurance costs. What kind of civic pride do we have when these fears, not the fear of being killed or killing some poor unfortunate, cause us to stop drink driving? We have a very selfish attitude to alcohol.
The "Prime Time" programme showed the violence associated with alcohol, which I, too, have seen. It featured young people, gardaí, ambulance crews and hospital emergency units being threatened. Fortunately, although I like a drink, I have never resorted to violence. It is time the courts implemented the law when the Garda brings people before them under the public order Acts.
A decade ago I would not have had a problem intervening in a drink related row to ensure people did not make fools of themselves. One would not do so today because of another substance, ecstasy, which has led to people becoming much more violent. This has to stop. The cost to the health service must be enormous in terms of domestic violence and abuse. One also has the degrading spectacle of people appearing in court pleading that drink was responsible for their actions. This is no longer acceptable.
The motion refers to alcohol and young people. The alcohol companies are targeting young people with their alcopops, pink clouds, Butterball, blue margarita, Aftershock and Smirnoff Ice. These are potent and expensive drinks which can be consumed in large quantities in a short time. We must put the brakes on the problem. While there are no quick answers, two studies of the problem have been published, the national alcohol policy report of 1996 and the task force report of 2002.
During the St. Patrick's day festivities children are present in pubs in every town in the country in flagrant breach of the law. We must demonstrate a willingness to tackle alcohol abuse. Every occasion from birth to death is used as an excuse to drink alcohol. The practice by many pubs of hosting first communion and confirmation parties sends out the wrong signal, as does the presentation of winner's medals to football teams in pubs. We have to make a difference.
I wish to share time with Senator MacSharry. I welcome the Minister of State at the Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs, Deputy Noel Ahern. I agree with the comments of the Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children, Deputy Brian Lenihan, and most of what has been said by other Senators.
Publicans, whom I represent, do not agree with under age drinking and do not serve under age people. For years my organisation and the Vintners' Federation of Ireland have been pushing for the introduction of identification cards. For some reason this has not happened. The small steps taken to date are not working because the voluntary ID cards are being forged, creating many problems. While I favour the introduction of ID cards for everybody as a way of solving many of the problems of under age drinking, it would not solve them all.
Publicans are not the only people with a problem. As was pointed out, kids are going into discos and clubs with liquor, such as naggins of vodka, in their handbags and pockets. They then order orange juice or coke and mix their own drinks. When they go outside drunk, the proprietor of the establishment, whether a publican or club owner, gets the blame for serving them alcohol.
The other problem is that teenagers have too much money. Most of them are working part-time in the service industry, particularly pubs, hotels and restaurants, where they get significant sums of money in tips – some as much as €100 a night. They do not know what to do with all this money and many spent considerable sums on drink. I will not blame parents for allowing their children to go out and get drunk. However, there is a trend by which young people drink alcohol, either at home or in groups at friends' houses, before going out. It is sad that many young people have consumed a considerable amount of drink before they even leave the house. In such cases, parents are responsible and should address the problem.
Some pubs and clubs, especially the latter, consistently serve drink to under age people. The same people appear to be doing it all the time, yet the Garda does little about it, even though its members appear to be well aware of the problem. The Garda should clamp down much harder on this type of operation. If they consistently serve under age people, they should be closed down. I have no sympathy for publicans or anybody else who serves under age people.
The supermarkets chains, which have off-licences, employ foreign staff, particularly Chinese. With all due respect to them, those Chinese people have no idea what age people are, whether they are 16 or 26 years of age, because they come from a different culture, are a different people and have a different look.
Senator Norris spoke about the condition of O'Connell Street on a Monday morning. I agree 100% with him. For years the gardaí at Store Street station have had a terrible problem on O'Connell Street. Only a few weeks ago an application was made for an off-licence there. Everybody objected to it, including the Garda, but the District Court saw fit to grant the licence. That is ridiculous. If people are in a pub, at least one has some control over them. With an off-licence, under age people can get others to go in and buy drink for them. People who are of the legal age are going into off-licences with too much drink on them to buy drink which they are consuming on the street. Permission has been granted for another off-licence on Westmoreland Street. There seems to be no restriction on the number of off-licences granted and that is a major problem.
I speak for publicans in Dublin and, I think, elsewhere when I say I have never seen a publican deliberately serve under age people to collect some money. I know nearly all of them and am glad to say I have been in many of their pubs. I am not saying there are not a few black sheep around but publicans are not the ones to blame.
I welcome the Minister of State to the House. I had a long-winded and pre-prepared speech but as so much has been said with which I agree, I will make a few brief points.
This is a huge problem of which we are all aware. As a result of public order offences in my home town of Sligo, I was the victim of unsolicited alcohol induced attack on no less than three occasions and was hospitalised twice. Perhaps more than many, I appreciate the problem is critical.
There are many reasons for failure but there are no excuses. This is an area in which we have consistently failed because we have tried to deal with a huge problem with small solutions. While I acknowledge Ministers across the party divide have tried to deal with the problem over the years, it needs a more strategic approach. It is about culture. It is not about the publicans. As Senator Bohan rightly pointed out, no self-respecting publican would set out to sell alcohol to any young person to make money. However, if we expect publicans to be responsible and to carry out their duties, that is, to allow people of the proper age enjoy a drink in moderation on their premises, we as legislators must supply the means by which they can do that.
As so many Senators have said, we must have a statutory, compulsory identification card for all citizens. I appreciate this might be difficult for older members of society due to modesty and other reasons but if we implemented such a scheme, the public would accept it in time in the same way as it accepted the 15 cent levy on plastic bags, for example. As in the United States, whether one is 16 or 60 years of age, one would be asked for one's identification card and turned away if needs be.
Senator Henry spoke about date rape, spiking drinks and so on. While I agree that sometimes people have too much alcohol and use it as an excuse, there is a problem in this area. I mentioned in the House some weeks ago that I know of two families who had daughters raped as a result of these drugs. Something must be done in that regard.
This is a cultural issue. It is not about changing licensing laws but about putting a compulsory national identification card scheme in place. It would have many other benefits. One's PPS number or health information could be carried on the card, as is the case in so many other countries. That is where the solution to this problem lies.
I welcome the Minister of State to the House. I appreciate the opportunity to speak on this issue. To know where we are going, but we must find out where we are at. We must start by being honest. As a society, we must say we are a nation which likes to drink. At any festivity or occasion, whether a World Cup in Germany or Florida, we are all flat out on the beer and that is socially acceptable.
I was in Orlando during the 1994 World Cup and people from Holland and Ireland drank massive amounts. The recent World Cup was a disaster for people in this country. Those in Japan enjoyed it but people here were drinking from 7 a.m. They were in pubs and were drunk by 2 p.m. Marriages were on the brink by 6 p.m.
Publicans threatened to leave the business because they had such a hard time as people were out of control.
Young people are not to blame. We can use them as scapegoats and blame them for drinking, but they do not have facilities to which they can go to meet their friends. All young people want to be with their friends or to be in groups where they gain a sense of independence.
I passed through Carrickmacross one day and went into Supermacs. I happened to eavesdrop on ten young people who around 14 to 16 years of age. Approximately six of them were smoking – all female. One guy, who seemed to be the leader, was mouthing off, cursing, hitting young lads across the head and making derogatory comments to the girls. Two other girls sitting quite close to me were talking about the different concoctions they could make to get "pissed" more quickly – let us use the language they use. They were not talking about WKDs or alcopops – they mix their own concoctions.
At a recent school prom, young people of 15 and 16 years of age spent €21 on a pint which included two shots of vodka, two shots of Bacardi and cider. One person spent €150 that night. That is the problem.
I welcome these statements because alcohol abuse is a serious problem. However, we are faced with the question of how we should move forward. Young people must become involved in the debate through programmes in school, for example. Advertising campaigns could be directed at them to encourage them to participate in the debate. Donegal County Council established the first democratically elected youth council in the State. This was done through the schools. There is a shadow youth council in four of the county's electoral areas and there are plans to establish similar councils in the remaining electoral areas.
Youths represent their peers on the councils and are able to discuss issues relevant to them. Young people will always say their parents do not know what they are talking about, what their issues are or what they need. The Minister should consider involving our four youth councils in the debate. He should fly to Carrickfin or Derry and request a meeting with the young people concerned who will tell him the reason they drink so much to enjoy themselves and there are so many alcohol related problems.
I refer to the different fora at which young people can meet. The GAA must be commended in this regard. If one is good at hurling or football, one will get on the gaelic team and young people can meet their friends in a structured environment where they have role models such as the team managers or older players. However, there is an issue regarding where young people who are not good at various sports or not interested in sport can meet.
Youth clubs were successful in rural Ireland in this regard in the past. I was a member of a youth club and it was great. I worked on a farm all day and was able to meet my peers at the club. I was not subjected to advertising campaigns for various products and so on and became involved in the local youth club where my father, the local priest and a few volunteers worked as supervisors. However, nowadays, young people have no interest in youth clubs because they want independence and to be treated as adults when they turn 14 or 15 years.
An area should be set aside in every parish and town where young people can meet their friends and feel safe. They could be supervised by youth workers who will know whether they are behaving responsibly. Young people use places like Supermacs in Carrickmacross to congregate and they are not supervised. However, while many of them want to participate in society and enjoy themselves, they do not have a forum in which to do so.
Bullying and suicide are also significant issues among young people. I mentioned the guy who was hitting another guy around the head while hurling abuse at some girls in Carrickmacross recently. Suicide is discussed regularly, but there is no place for a young male to go to talk about his problems. A young person who is in trouble or in dire straits will not go to his or her parents all the time and if he or she feels trapped, he or she may express himself or herself in a pub or at a disco where he or she experiences peer pressure to drink.
That is the reason new outlets must be created for young people to express themselves. The Minister should travel to County Donegal to meet the representatives of the youth councils who will discuss the issues which are important to them such as transportation and bullying. They do not mention drink as a problem and say they are reacting to the lack of trust and confidence in them on the part of adults and the lack of responsibility they feel. The issue should be turned on its head and we should stop looking for scapegoats.
I disagree with my colleague, Senator Higgins, who blamed parents for these problems. While I do not have a child, I would find it difficult to be a parent in this day and age. I do not blame parents because their children are out and about. It is not possible to know where they are all the time because they have a little independence. I agree, however, that drinks companies must take responsibility and legislation must be enforced.
We are reacting to the problem in this debate. Young people seek space and want to be trusted, but we do not respect them. When I was speaking to a Portuguese man earlier, I asked him about drinking patterns in his country. He said the Portuguese were not like the Irish and that we were all drunkards. While he was joking, he pointed out there were outlets for young people in Portugal. There are societies and sports clubs in the United States, for example, in which young people can participate, but we do not provide for young people in Ireland.
Any Government worth its salt would appoint a Minister for youth and separate the office from the formal education system. A Minister for youth could examine all the non-formal aspects of a young person's development and address issues such as bullying, date rape, depression and suicide. This proposal must be taken seriously.
I thank the Cathaoirleach, the Leas-Chathaoirleach, the Leader and fellow Senators for their loyalty, support and encouragement since I entered the House, which has been very much appreciated.
With regard to the issue of alcohol abuse among young people, parents must become more involved in the lives of their children. Teenagers are forced to be independent and cannot cope. They are given mobile telephones and significant amounts in pocket money when the one thing they crave is security. We are shirking our responsibility by making them live the lives of adults, even though they are not mature or skilled enough to handle various situations in which they find themselves.
Certain children try to attract attention to themselves by consuming large amounts of alcohol. Their lives are damaged by parents who will not say "No" or "Stop". They are allowed out of their houses and feel they can do what they like. Our children will not thank us for the excessive freedom we have given them. I know many young people who believe their friends are the most important part of their lives, but their friends are just as inexperienced as them and they lead each other along. It is high time communities recognised what is happening and looked out for both our youth and elderly people.
Society accepts unsociable behaviour because no one will stand up. However, parents should be the first to stand up. Neighbours and friends must not be afraid to bring problems relating to their children to the attention of parents who, in turn, must accept the concern expressed to them by members of their community. This breakdown in parental control forces the Garda into a position in which it does not want to be. Gardaí want to be part of the community. They want to prevent crime and steer people in the right direction. This cannot happen if parents do not play their part. The problem should be addressed in the home and should not end up in the Garda station. Control is not a restriction, it is a safe way of allowing our children to grow up. Why can we not practise it more? Our children will inherit the world we create for them.
Alcopops are alcoholic versions of soft drinks normally associated with children. They are also known as FFABs, fruit flavoured alcoholic beverages. They arrived first in the UK in the form of alcoholic lemonade, but they are now being marketed in most countries – including Belgium, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Italy, Portugal, Spain, Sweden and Ireland – in Europe. Designer drinks are mainly wine based or spirit based, but some of them contain ciders. They are normally considered stronger than alcopops but, like alcopops, they are sold in trendy bottles and given names thought likely to appeal to children and teenagers.
Both types of drinks have caused much controversy and have come under sustained attack, not only from alcohol control groups but also from politicians, educationalists, the police, the media and some alcohol retailers, for encouraging underage drinking and alcohol abuse. In Scotland, for example, 4,000 alcohol retailers refuse to stock alcopops. Perhaps we have reached the stage where voluntary restraint is needed in this country. We have seen what it is possible to achieve in terms of introducing legislation from the considerable success of smoke-free zones and the penalty points system for traffic offences. Voluntary restraint should be the first thing we look at in this regard.
In Italy, as in the UK, the tax on alcopops has been increased as a disincentive to young drinkers. In Sweden, the state alcohol monopoly refused to stock such drinks at first but was forced to retract its decision as it was in breach of European Union rules on the free market. I was pleased with the decision of the Minister for Finance, Deputy McCreevy, last week. I was also glad to read that he would have preferred to raise duty on so-called alcopops by even more than 35 cent per bottle. He was precluded from doing so by law.
Anyone on the streets of Dublin, of my home town of Thurles or of any provincial town or city will notice the hordes of drunken people at weekends. Violent crime is on the increase and it seems to be linked to alcohol consumption. What was interesting in the recent "Prime Time" debate on teenage drinking was that very few young people were able to give concrete suggestions on how to tackle the problem. It is definitely a problem because the emergency and counselling services seem to be overrun with the fallout from this disastrous love affair with alcohol.
People will have to start taking responsibility for their actions. Our society has a dangerous passion for alcohol, which is deeply rooted in our collective psyche. Other countries have longer opening hours and cheaper alcohol, but there does not seem to be the same level of alcohol consumption among their citizens. In this country, the pub is the bedrock of the social scene and therein may lie the problem. If Santa Claus visits a rural village, he uses the local pub as a base even if there are five halls are available.
We have to face this problem as a nation and consider how we treat alcohol. I am not suggesting that the winners of the county final should go back to the pub for tea and sandwiches. We love chat, craic and the informality and friendliness of the pub scene, but we must strike a balance. The pub scene often leads to long boozing sessions which result in somebody getting drunk or, worse, becoming aggressive.
What I like about pubs is the sociable atmosphere. One can settle down for an alcoholic drink or mineral and have an amiable conversation. This has become increasingly difficult in Dublin city centre with the advent of the massive trendy pubs that charge outrageous sums of money and pump out loud, intrusive music in order that people will drink more. This goes against the essential character of Irish drinking houses and we are being pushed into binge drinking. Relatively speaking, Ireland, as a society, is a teenager; it suddenly got a job, started making good money and, buoyed up by previously unknown economic spending power, went over the top with drink. This problem is part of the country's growing-up process. I hope that things will improve as maturity settles in.
I welcome the Minister. He has been here frequently and is paying much attention to us.
The subject with which we are dealing is of great concern to everyone. It is certainly of great concern to me because I am particularly concerned about our young people and their future. There will be a serious alcohol problem in the country in a few years. How will we deal with it? If we do not deal with it as a matter of urgency, it will, as has been the case to date, get worse.
Irish teenagers are among the highest ranking in Europe in terms of alcohol consumption. This is not a statistic about which we should boast. What effect is it having on their lives? Last week's "Prime Time" programme showed how alcohol is affecting them and how it can result in their getting involved in assaults of various kinds or reaching such a state of drunkenness that they end up in hospital. Alcohol misuse can lead to suicide and also to unwanted pregnancies.
Apart from the damage being done to young people, the cost the State will incur in terms of treating their alcoholism and treating those who are hospitalised will be considerable. One in four people arriving in accident and emergency units is there as a result of an injury or an attack due to alcohol.
I will not mention many of the criminal offences relating to this problem because other Senators have already done so. These offences pose a serious problem for everyone. We are not tackling the problem or treating it as a serious issue. Perhaps we all ignored it when we were concentrating on drugs as the most serious issue. I am not trying to minimise the damage hard drugs do, but we have forgotten the problems that arise because of alcohol abuse. I would like the Government to tackle the drink problem in the same way it is continuing to tackle the drugs and tobacco problems.
We have done very well in trying to raise the awareness of the damage tobacco can do. That has worked for a large group of people. Unfortunately, younger people still smoke but many people in the 30 to 40 age group have heeded the warnings and have given up. If we could apply the same warnings to alcohol, we could send a message to our young people to avoid abusing the drugs available to them.
There must also be far greater law enforcement. The Garda must tackle misbehaviour on the streets. If people are drunk, causing trouble and a danger to themselves and others, they should be picked up by the Garda and prosecuted. They must be held responsible for their behaviour. We cannot ignore the problem.
People have a huge responsibility. Any parent who ignores the fact that his or her children go out at night with a lot of money knowing they will spend it on drink is behaving irresponsibly. As a mother of four sons, I know that parents are under huge pressure. I also know what it is like to try to control children and their spending. Many parents are unaware of what their children are doing. They do not see them returning home under the influence of drink.
Many school principals testify that alcohol is a huge problem in schools. Secondary schoolchildren work and spend their money on drink. In many schools Mondays are impossible because children do not attend or if they do, many still suffer from hangovers. The serious problem of too many children working too many hours during the school week must be addressed.
Publicans have a huge responsibility in this area. On the radio this morning a gentleman said they took their job responsibly and would not serve drink to those who had consumed too much. However, it is too easy for young people to ask others to get them a drink. They are also clever in getting older friends or siblings to procure drink for them in off-licences which should have their names imprinted on cans and the bags used to carry drink they sell to children. It would be a means of tracing back drink procured by children.
Promotions involving free drinks should not be allowed. From what my son has told me it is clear many students only join societies to avail of the free drinks available at parties. There are many ways to tackle the amount of drink made available to young people, much of which is provided free to encourage them to drink even more.
The association between sport and alcohol must be addressed. Nowadays, unfortunately, too many young people are spectators rather than participants in sporting activities. As such, they associate with the drink companies which advertise sports. There has been a failure, especially at a time when more money is available, to provide sports facilities in communities to get young people involved. In my area young people who participate in sport generally do not drink as much. For example, because they may be involved in a match on a Saturday or Sunday morning they are more careful about their drinking at weekends. We must get children involved in sport at a young age. It would be a good lifestyle for them and take them away from the serious drinking in which, unfortunately, so many are becoming involved.
This debate is significant. Even more significant is the number of Senators who have offered to speak. No doubt one of the reasons for this is the "Prime Time" television programme we all watched. It was shocking, especially the depiction of the number of young females – someone's sister, wife or daughter – brought to hospitals, lying on the floor unconscious. It says something about us as a community that we had to wait for a television programme to tell us of the extent of the problem. I have no doubt we knew of the problem, yet we did not want to speak about or highlight it, nor to admit that there was a problem.
People are seeking solutions. There is no point in attempting to apportion blame in one direction, because if we do so, we become sectional and possibly dilute any good we do as legislators or leaders. We can have all the legislation and constraints we wish, much of which is needed, but we must get back to fundamentals as to the reason society has developed in this way. I know that even to talk in this way will mean others accusing one of being old fashioned, of not living in the present and pursuing an ideological or religious agenda that is no longer relevant. However, the longer we do this the longer we delay the possibility of resolving the present difficulties.
We talk of giving independence to young people. There is no independence in a 12 or 13 year old out of their mind from alcohol. It is, rather, a case of dependence on alcohol, peer friendship and acceptance by society by following others. We must first get right the use of terminology. There is no independence in ruining a young person's life. Anybody aware of the development of young people who start using alcohol over a period of five or six years will know that, by and large, they seldom master it. Those of a more advanced age possibly have a better chance of being moderate in their approach to drinking, only engaging in it socially. However, that opportunity does not present itself to young people because they lack maturity. That is the reason it is important for this Legislature to talk about fundamentals, even while disagreeing.
In recent times, radio and television programmes have often touted some type of liberal approach to life. I heard two very fine people on "Today with Pat Kenny" yesterday pointing out what has happened to Ireland, as a society, as a result of the abuse of alcohol. They had all the statistics and they were idealistic in the manner in which they made their presentation. I do not wish to criticise Pat Kenny because he was acting as a facilitator and compere on the show. The arguments he was putting forward suggested to me that the young children are setting the agenda for the parents.
I listened to Marian Finucane's programme this morning. Her two guests were Brenda Power, who tends to talk a great deal of sense, and Emily O'Reilly, who was also talking a lot of sense this morning. They were discussing Christmas gifts and what it is children enjoy about Christmas. They both made the same point, namely, that we must go back to the drawing board because we have got it wrong. Marian Finucane summed it up by suggesting that there was an absence of spirituality at Christmas. These three very wise people have come to the conclusion that we have squeezed spirituality out of Christmas and we have put in its place the need to buy gifts costing €100 or pay €3,500 for trips to Lapland. None of these bring any great sense of contentment to young people.
If we transpose what was stated on the radio to the subject we are debating here, the same rule applies. If we do not have values and a sense of spirituality and if we do not have a conscience, then we will be victims of every promotion – whether it is sponsored by a syndicate, a brewery or whatever else – that comes our way. We must be prepared to discuss the problem, but not in a jocose way. Irish comedians tell more jokes about drunkards than about any other subject. We all laugh when we see them being impersonated on stage and we think it is funny. However, there is not a person in the Chamber who has not walked down the streets of their town and seen a misfortunate wino sitting on the road who has no future and is seen as being no different to a sack of refuse awaiting collection. We must stop making excuses and clouding the issue.
It is very easy to lay the blame. Let us look at what young children must contend with. Those of us who grew up in less affluent times do not realise how lucky we were. Both our parents were not out working, we could come home in the afternoon and there was someone at home to talk to. Children come home from school now and there is nobody there. They go out with their friends, who are all of a similar age, and there is nobody to provide them with an anchor in life.
Religion was another anchor. It is very easy to pick out the black sheep among the clergy and they form a tiny percentage. It is terribly wrong to tar every priest, brother or nun with the same brush. We have undermined the church. I am not condoning any of the things for which it was responsible, but we have done damage to ourselves as a society by undermining all those structures which existed. Members of the clergy may have had failings, but we were taught what was right and wrong. We did not always do what was right, but at least there was a marker there. That authority is gone.
While I do not wish to criticise the media in general, there are sections of it that have a lot to answer for. Good news is no longer news; bad news is headline material. Various parts of the very section of corporate society that could have done something for us – the media – are competing with each other for sensational headlines and they often ruin people's reputations the process. However, I acknowledge that there are some very good and responsible journalists.
There is only one way to tackle this problem and that is with a task force comprising media interests, parents, publicans, etc. I participated in debates on this matter on two occasions during the lifetime of the previous Seanad. I do not know for how long I will be a Member of this Seanad, but if we are still here in three or four years we will be obliged to return this debate. We are not prepared to look at the fundamental issues involved. If there is a genuine partnership of concern, we can bring about some solution.
I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Browne. I was somewhat surprised that this item was given the heading "Statements on the high level of alcohol consumption by young people" on the Order Paper. I believe that alcohol consumption is a problem for all members of society. While it is manifest among younger people, the fundamental problem of alcohol consumption affects all age groups. A more appropriate heading would have been achieved if all the words after "alcohol consumption" were deleted, because the problem is alcohol consumption.
As the Acting Chairman stated, I am here to give the view from the coalface. Alcohol is seen as a social lubricant. Senator Ó Murchú is correct when he says that in order to be part of the gang and to be accepted by one's peers one must do what they do. From a young person's point of view, I believe that is the problem we face with alcohol.
Last week there was a debate in the House after the introduction of the budget. A number of Senators expressed their delight at the increase of 35 cent in the price of alcopops, as if this would have an effect in terms of reducing the problem of alcohol abuse among young people. Nothing could be further from the truth. When one enters into a nightclub, one pays one price for a drink before midnight and another – it rises by €1 or €2 – after midnight. An increase of 35 cent in the price of alcopops will have no effect whatsoever on the consumption of these products by younger people. The Government should seriously examine the issue of banning alcopops completely. As a younger person, I know that many of my friends and I would not check the change we get from the bartender after buying a round of drinks.
When people were starting to drink alcohol for the first time 20 or 30 years ago, or even more recently, alcopops did not exist and the traditional spirits and beers which were available were harder to drink. The taste of alcopops, which is similar to that of minerals or soft drinks, makes it easy for people to drink large quantities of them. If it is serious about this matter, the Department must look at the possible outright banning of alcopops.
We must also look at another measure in the area of alcohol consumption which was taken by the previous Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform. I refer here to the extension of pub opening hours. There was no clamour from any sector of society to extend pub opening hours, but the then Minister proceeded to do so and, as a result, made alcohol even more widely available. The Government should consider making a U-turn on the extension of pub opening hours. There was no great desire among the general public to see the opening hours change and the Government should reconsider the issue.
I read a recent publication by the Association for Health Promotion which stated that the key to any solution to the problems with alcohol would involve controlling access to and the availability of the product. If we are to look seriously at resolving the problem, we must consider both the availablity of alcohol and the possibility of overturning the decision to extend opening hours. We must also consider the licensing laws in general, the rise of superpubs in most urban areas and the gradual demise of smaller local pubs in many towns, cities and rural areas. That is an issue at which the Government must look.
I am particularly interested in the issue of national identification cards, which is important in the context of the general debate. I do not doubt that there should be a national ID card. However, it should not be only for younger people; it should be for everyone. Everybody in the State already has a PPS card. It would not take much to put a photograph and a few more pieces of information on that card and make it into an national identification card. This should be done immediately.
Although the vast majority of publicans enforce the licensing laws, there are a number of publicans who do not do so. We need to permanently remove licences from people who are proven to have not enforced the licensing laws. I did not agree with everything Senator Ó Murchú said, but he was right when he spoke about the attitude towards alcohol and drunkenness that exists in this country. People's attitude to alcohol is far too lax and it needs to be somewhat strengthened.
Although I know Senator Ó Murchú was not trying to talk down to people, young people must be involved somehow in the process. There is nothing worse for a younger person than looking at a crowd of middle-aged men and women who appear to be trying to dictate the way one should live one's life. If younger people are going to live up to the new rules which will be put in place, they must be involved in the process. There is a danger that we will be seen to be talking down to younger people.
We need to encourage younger people to take responsibility for their actions. We need to ensure that the Garda and other State authorities enforce the laws that already exist. We need to reverse the decision that was made regarding the licensing laws and we need to involve younger people in the process of trying to find some solution to the problem of excessive drinking among their number.
We are discussing a serious social problem which involves people's spending power, peer pressure and the perennial teenage desire to demonstrate one's adulthood at an ever earlier age. As everyone knows, the law is routinely flouted, with long-term, and sometimes short-term, consequences for health, education and law and order. That is as true for those who have just passed the age of 18 as for those who have not yet reached it.
I am afraid, for better or worse, that the authoritarian culture of the past is gone and young people must be taught responsibility. One of the best ways parents and others can do this is by setting an example of moderate drinking. I am of the view that any serious business one undertakes, including driving, is not compatible with anything more than a very moderate intake of alcohol. Not many Members would like to face Vincent Browne, for example, having had several pints.
I have always believed that the saying – it is one of my favourite quotations and I do not mind if I receive a Falstaffian response in respect of it –"Ireland sober is Ireland free" has a great ring to it. I was horrified at the suggestion of my dear friend and former colleague Anthony Cronin that the city fathers should remove the statue of Father Mathew from O'Connell Street. This would be a posthumous poetic triumph for the literary generation of Patrick Kavanagh, Flann O'Brien and Brendan Behan, but it would be a terrible symbolic surrender to the drinking culture. I refer here to that culture in the sociological, rather than the artistic, sense.
Obviously we need to encourage alternative forms of socialising, entertainment and sport. There needs to be more in the way of health promotion. Most of the health promotion relating to alcohol is to do with dangerous driving, but a broader approach must be taken. I would wish to see an emphasis on the longer-term damage young people can do to themselves through excessive drinking. I am sure we are storing up serious problems for the future.
I am not convinced about a ban on advertising because a great deal of this involves promoting the merits of one drink as opposed to another. We have tax incentives based upon the amount of horse power in one's car. There is a much heavier tax if one's car engine is over 1,900 cc and so on. There is merit in the suggestion of a tax gradation on drinks. Even at the cost of revenue to the Exchequer, the tax on soft drinks should be lowered. A Garda identity card would obviously be important but that depends on enforcement.
Changes in social habits can be achieved. We have seen this autumn the dramatic effect of the penalty points system. We might have said that plastic bags were part of our culture, but we have managed to change that. We can adjust to many things if the will exists. The licensing laws need to be looked at. Licences, particularly those in Dublin, are rather restricted. This leads to enormous crowds of people in bars who have no room to move and this, in turn, contributes to greater aggression. It may sound paradoxical, but there may be a case for liberalising the licensing laws. I am not saying it never happens, but one rarely hears of big fights outside pubs in small villages because there is adequate space and a more congenial atmosphere. I agree with the previous speaker that the licensing laws should be reviewed with a view to fine-tuning them.
I agree with most of what the previous three speakers said, although I would not want to follow Senator Ó Murchú down every cul-de-sac he presented to us. I agree that this is a cultural issue and a matter of social change with which we must try to grapple. There is no point in dumping on young people, this is a problem for society. What is happening, as Senator Mansergh said, is that childhood and adolescence is being compressed and that people are becoming adults more quickly. What they are doing is trying to be like adults. They want to do what they see adults doing. We cannot achieve progress unless we can effect some change in the values of society as a whole.
The other morning I was sitting with a group of solid businessmen who had been to a dinner the night before. Each of them came arrived at the table and sort of boasted about their hangovers, their sore heads, etc. A subtle sense of values is transmitted through what people say. Young people go to drinking establishments because that is where the "buzz" is. Rather than condemning that we should be trying to think of what alternative buzz we can offer. Does it have to be through alcohol and the pub or are there other ways? I saw a programme recently about how former Kilkenny hurler Eddie Keher was developing this type of thinking. We should support efforts in that regard.
Another frightening matter is the purchasing power that young people have at present. Advertising and drinks firms are concentrating on that. I do not entirely agree with Senator Mansergh that advertising simply extols the virtues of one brand over another. Cigarette manufacturers have been spreading that hairy yarn for years and none of us believe them.
Worst of all is the sponsorship of sporting occasions. I find it a crisis of conscience to have to go into the Guinness All-Ireland Hurling Final. It is appalling. I happen to be trustee of a GAA club, and not Rostrevor, a matter to which a former Member of the House previously took exception. I was approached by members of the club last week and informed that they were seeking a change in the deed of arrangements so that they could accept a large subvention from a drinks firm. They are not doing that for nothing. This is one area on which we could ask people to concentrate. There should be no association between sport and alcohol and no aggressive advertising of such a connection.
We also need to deal with this issue on a health and educational front and encourage young people to think of the danger to their bodies. They are taking a drug that is addictive and, in may cases, quite destructive. It is a very difficult proposition to interest young people in what is going to happen to them in 40 years. The distance between gratification and retribution is great and this creates a problem for almost every health and educational programme. Nevertheless, we need to involve society as a whole in the educational process. As other Senators stated, we need to engage young people and involve them in the process. There is no point in talking down to or lecturing them.
There is a great deal to be said for exploring the way in which people socialise, what brings them together and what gives them a buzz. If that is alcohol, we must explore whether that can be dealt with in a sensible and moderate way and whether there can be alternatives to it. It is through this process, more than through denunciation or absolute prohibition, that we will perhaps help to deal with this problem.
There has been much discussion in recent weeks about the chronic alcohol problem this country is facing. However, precious few solutions have been offered. Scanning the newspapers or listening to local radio in my area, the north-west, one would believe that all crime is drink related. Practically every court case we read about or hear about on local radio involves a drink related incident.
Ireland had the highest increase in alcohol consumption according to the interim report of the strategic task force on alcohol, which was published last May. Between 1989 and 1999, alcohol consumption per capita in Ireland increased by 41%, while in ten other EU states there was a decrease. In 2000, pure alcohol consumption per capita in Ireland reached 14.2 litres, compared to an EU average of only 9.1 litres. In the last six years, the consumption of spirits alone has increased by over 50%. There has been a staggering increase of 100% in the consumption of cider. The increase in the consumption of spirits is apparently due to the new designer alcopops, which are targeted at the young adult market.
These drinks should be banned completely because young people can drink them without even knowing they are drinking alcohol. That is very unfortunate and is causing serious problems. The abuse of alcohol by young people should also be a focus of concern for parents. Heavy fines should be imposed on older people who purchase alcohol for people under 18 in pubs and off-licences. The purchase of alcohol by adults on behalf of young people is irresponsible and damaging behaviour which should be made unacceptable in our society. The crisis level of alcohol consumption has resulted in increasing numbers of children of school-going age developing behavioural problems which endanger their health, education and future and inflict stress and hardship on their parents and families.
The adverse effects of alcohol abuse are not confined; they affect the entire population. The areas particularly affected are the accident and emergency services, in-patient and out-patient care and the ambulance service. Binge drinking has the greatest effect on general hospital services and accounts for many admissions to accident and emergency units, particularly on weekend nights. The incidence of binge or recurrent heavy drinking is increasing, particularly among the young. It imposes a heavy burden on hospital services which is difficult to quantify in terms of cost and the availability of limited health care. Many of these patients are admitted for observation or treatment, not only because of injury but also because of the adverse effects of excess alcohol on the liver, heart, brain and other organs.
Binge drinking also adds greatly to the cost of the ambulance service because of the large number of weekend night admissions with acute alcohol problems. It places a serious burden on hospital services, contributes to the waiting list for elective medical and surgical treatment and occupies hospital staff in a disproportionate amount of work. The effects of binge and heavy drinking on the health services should be seen against the wider background of the effects of alcohol abuse on society. These include accidents, drownings, violence, crime, poverty, poor health, mental illness, family disintegration, unemployment, intimidation and a reluctance to walk the streets in certain areas.
The adverse effects of alcohol abuse are not confined to drinkers and their families, but affect the population at large. We are too permissive about alcohol abuse. The Government and local authorities, the professions, industry and the commercial sector, sporting organisations and the media are all culpable in this attitude. However, these institutions are simply reflecting the attitudes of the public in general. We need a more mature approach to this issue. We need an effective public education programme, aimed particularly at older children and young adults, which will not demonise alcohol but teach them to understand its benefits in a mature and affluent society.
Drinking in public places, such as streets and parks, should be forbidden. Better control of advertising and inspection of nightclubs must be considered. Great improvements could be made in these areas. Plain clothes gardaí should visit these discos and nightclubs. The law provides that young people should not be served alcohol but they are. Nobody seems to know how they are obtaining drink. There is a function in that regard for the Garda, which could take a more proactive role.
The abuse of alcohol is one of the most serious challenges facing society at present. The "Prime Time" programme brought this problem into the living rooms of houses in middle and upper class areas throughout the country and showed what is happening in the streets of our towns and cities. People knew and accepted that the problem existed in the streets of Dublin but they were not aware it was so bad in the small and large towns throughout Ireland. The programme really confronted them with the drinks culture and the devastation that has resulted from the abuse of alcohol.
I have listened carefully to the debate and the fact that so many Members have contributed so eloquently to it demonstrates the concern that exists. We are addressing the concerns of our constituents and neighbours in contributing to this debate. Something will have to be done and it must involve all the agencies concerned. We do not need another committee to sit for months or years to solve it. People involved in the drinks industry, the health sector, the Garda Síochána and the emergency services must be brought together to advise us, the legislators, on what to do so solve this problem.
I have nothing but praise for the Garda. The television programme clearly showed what its members have to endure in the streets at 2 a.m. and 3 a.m. when drunken blackguards come out looking for a fight. The violent behaviour in our streets at that hour of the night is absolutely appalling. While we are sleeping, gardaí are dealing with these thugs. There is no question that the Garda Síochána requires additional resources, particularly in the towns and cities. It is frightening to realise how small is the number of gardaí available to deal with these problems at night. Additional gardaí have to be called out to deal with violent incidents. There are not enough gardaí on duty at night.
Senator Bohan mentioned identity cards. This issue is raised every year. Why do we not have an identity card system? Why have the cards not been issued? Who is objecting to them and what is the problem with having such cards? A standard identity card will not solve the problem, but it might help. There should be an analysis of how much the abuse of alcohol is costing the health service and the accident and emergency services and of the pressure it puts on personnel in accident and emergency units. Dealing with the ravages of alcohol abuse must be costing the country a fortune. There is also the cost of security and cleaning up the mess created when pubs and clubs close.
The drinks industry is a powerful lobby and it must accept responsibility. Its members know there are bad eggs in the industry; there are bad eggs in every system. However, it is up to the industry to expose the members who are serving alcohol to underage people and to deal with the off-licences who sell drink to young people and the adults who buy it for them. Young people obviously have more money to spend than ever, which is probably the reason they can go out and get stoned at weekends.