Calls to end ‘drift’ on alcohol policy

Senior health and community figures are calling on the Government to end the “drift” on its long-promised alcohol policy when a key Cabinet group meets today.

Calls to end ‘drift’ on alcohol policy

The sub-committee on social inclusion, chaired by Taoiseach Enda Kenny, is set to discuss the troubled action plan.

Government sources told the Irish Examiner there had been a “big push back” within the Cabinet away from the alcohol plan.

The plan was based on the report of a Government strategy group, which was published some 20 months ago.

The Irish Examiner previously reported that a 2020 deadline for ending alcohol sports sponsorship — originally set for 2016 by the strategy group — has been taken off the table and that there may be no time limit now.

It addition, sources said a second key recommendation of the strategy group — that of minimum pricing for alcohol — was in the balance, not helped by the recent U-turn by British prime minister David Cameron to introduce it.

Sources have said they don’t even know whether today’s meeting will actually make any decision or recommendation to the full Cabinet.

The sub-committee is made up of the ministers for social protection, education, public expenditure, environment, justice, health and children.

It also consists of four ministers of state, including minister for primary care Alex White, who has responsibility for drugs and alcohol.

Since Mr White was appointed almost a year ago, the Government’s action plan has constantly been promised “within weeks”.

Group member, Dr Joe Barry of Trinity College Dublin, said: “The Substance Misuse Strategy was published in Feb 2012. Three years went into that report. It was published 20 months ago and since then nothing has happened, nothing but talk.

“I don’t have any confidence the Government is going to do anything. The strongest voices in the Cabinet are against it.”

He said people had so far not criticised the Government because they felt they were working in good faith. “That’s coming to an end now,” he said.

Consultant psychiatrist Dr Bobby Smyth said he was worried about the strategy and feared there would be just “tinkering around the edges”.

He said he wanted to see a clear, firm commitment from the Government that it backed the Department of Health goal to reduce alcohol consumption to 9.2 litres per capita, from 11.7 litres currently.

He said that even if a ban on sponsorship was not currently financially feasible, the Government should set a 10-year deadline and commit to working within Europe to introduce it.

Community representative Fergus McCabe said the strategy had now drifted for so long people assumed “the Government was not at all serious” about it, but wanted to see the final plan.

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