Dr Tony Holohan, chief medical officer at the Department of Health, said “much had been made” by the alcohol industry of a drop in consumption levels in recent years.
Also at the Oireachtas health committee, Roisín Shortall, minister with responsibility for drugs, criticised advertisements using shamrocks to sell alcohol over St Patrick’s weekend.
“It’s shocking what’s going on regarding advertising, linking alcohol with our national holiday,” she said.
Brandishing copies of ads in newspapers yesterday, Ms Shortall said bottles of vodka and whiskey were being stamped with shamrocks.
“We are trying to break that cultural link between celebration and drink. We need to stamp it out.”
The minister said she “certainly intended to pursue” the introduction of legislation restricting drink promotions and how alcohol was sold in supermarkets and other mixed- trade outlets.
Committee chairman Jerry Buttimer supported her views and said the image the world had of how Ireland celebrated its national holiday had to be changed.
Committee member Denis Naughten said nurses and gardaí were having “cold sweats” as they braced themselves for the fallout from this weekend.
Ms Shortall appeared before the committee to discuss the recent publication of an expert report on a national substance misuse strategy.
She was joined by Dr Holohan, chairman of the national substance misuse strategy report.
The report made a series of recommendations, including the introduction of minimum pricing for alcohol, increases in excise duty, the separation of alcohol from groceries in supermarkets, and mixed-trade outlets, greater restrictions on advertising and the phasing out of sports sponsorship by drinks companies by 2016.
Ms Shortall said there could be “no room for equivocation” by the Government, and said it “won’t be pulling punches” when the action plan was published.
Dr Holohan told the committee that per capita consumption of alcohol had risen from 11.3 litres of pure alcohol per adult in 2009 to 11.9 litres in 2010. He said provisional CSO figures indicated the figure rose to 11.97 litres in 2011.
He said this was despite the fact that alcohol was less affordable due to the impact of the economic downturn
He said the target in the strategy report is to lower consumption levels to 9.2 litres by 2016, which was a European average.
Meanwhile, a representative body for the drinks industry called on publicans and retailers to ensure minors do not access alcohol:
“The Drinks Industry recognises that our products, our pubs, and our retailers all play an important role in celebrating St Patrick’s Day, but we want to ensure that this special and unique day is not spoiled either by those who misuse alcohol, or through minors accessing alcohol,” said Kieran Tobin, chairman of the Drinks Industry Group of Ireland.