Anger as alcohol strategy shelved again

The much-delayed national alcohol strategy has been shelved until next year despite pledges that the Cabinet would meet to sign off on it before Christmas.

The latest hold-up comes as the Rape Crisis Network Ireland warns that continued failure to tackle the country’s culture of problem drinking is contributing to sexual violence.

RCNI spokeswoman Cliona Saidlear said it was time to stop talking about the issue and start addressing it. “We are really disappointed the strategy has not been adopted by Government. There are proposals for minimum pricing and restrictions on marketing we are definitely in favour of.

“We certainly feel it’s not being prioritised and when you look at alcohol harm in society — in terms of public health, crime, antisocial behaviour and domestic abuse as well as sexual violence, it’s clear the Government really needs to prioritise it.”

Studies carried out by the RCNI show alcohol not only plays a large part in sex attacks but also skews attitudes to both victims and perpetrators.

Victims who had been drinking are often assumed to bear more responsibility for their ordeal than sober victims, while perpetrators who consumed alcohol are assumed to hold less responsibility than if they had been sober.

Successive governments’ attempts to temper the country’s drinking habits have faltered in the face of objections from the powerful drinks lobby. Last week’s budget announcement of price increases on wine, beer and spirits was immediately met by claims from the Vintners Federation of Ireland that the increases would cost up to 10,000 jobs in the sector.

The National Substance Misuse Strategy Steering Group delivered its long-awaited report last February, with 45 proposals to tackle alcohol misuse, but its main backer was Róisín Shortall who resigned her junior health ministry in September in frustration at lack of progress in the Department of Health on a number of fronts.

Her replacement, Alex White, said last month the strategy would go before Cabinet before the Christmas break but in a written reply to parliamentary questions during the past week his senior colleague, Health Minister James Reilly, said the department was still working on the proposals and they would be brought to Cabinet “at the earliest opportunity”.

A Department of Health spokesman confirmed last night there was no firmer date than that suggested by Mr Reilly’s reply. And in an indication that the key proposal — minimum pricing — could be long-fingered indefinitely, the minister also stated in his reply that a joint tender was being prepared with the authorities in the North for a “health impact assessment” to be carried out before any minimum pricing arrangement could be considered, as it was anticipated such a policy would be challenged.

Ms Shortall said last night she could not understand why there would be further delays. “Proposals were ready to go to Government when I left in September. I would be very concerned if there was foot-dragging on this.”


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