The HSE has defended using children in sting operations to catch retailers who are selling alcohol to underage customers.
Coordinator of Drug and Alcohol Services for Cork and Kerry, David Lane, said that the practice will continue to be acceptable while children are still able to buy alcohol in shops.
Noting criticisms on local radio, Mr Lane defended the practice at the launch of the HSE South’s Annual Report, 'A focus on Alcohol & Health in Cork and Kerry'.
“We've been involved in programs where we've run tests on the purchasing of alcohol, where children under the age of 18, will go into a retail business and try to purchase alcohol,” he told attendees at the County Hall launch.
"For the children who are served in those circumstances, the gardaí will issue a warning, and maybe even bring those retailers to court.
"I've had my own son do work like that, and in recent months he's been to court in the Cork District Court, where people who own these businesses challenged what happened,” Mr Lane said.
He said both the challenging of the events, and the criticism of the use of children in such operations is an example of the “ambivalence” they face.
“I remember following that particular event, there was some coverage on one of our very popular local radio shows here, and there was even a question as to is it right that underage children should be setting up these sting operations in retail units.
"Do we agree with young people under the age of 18 being able to purchase alcohol or don't we?
"Because until retailers accept that this is not right, children will still be able to go in and purchase alcohol in retail outlets,” he said.
Mr Lane said ambivalence to the dangers of alcohol goes up to Government level, and by way of example told a story involving Dr Ann Hope, a researcher in Public Health and Primary Care who has advised previous Health Ministers on issues such as the definition of binge drinking.
Mr Lane said anything more than three pints constitutes binge drinking.
“When the [unidentified] minister was told that the World Health Organisation says this, the leading experts in terms of alcohol public policy say this, the minister's reply was "Is there any way that we can up that a little bit"?
“That's the kind of ambivalence that goes the whole way to the top of government in this country,” he said.
He said he has looked at his own alcohol consumption in light of the definition.
“I had to look at when I go for a night out, whether with my father, or my brother, or friends, or whoever, that if I drink more than seven units of alcohol in one setting, which is three and a half pints, that's binge drinking.
“So whether I like it or not, that's what it is. So if I'm okay to be a binge drinker regularly, when I go out, then I have the information to know that that's what it is.
"So in as much as possible now anytime that I go out, I'm always very, very conscious that when I'm on my third pint, that if I take another, that's binge drinking, whether I like it or not,” he said.