After a 10-month research and consultation period, the Stop Out-of-Control Drinking campaign’s report recommends a new, national Foundation to Reduce Alcohol Misuse to achieve a “generational shift” in drinking culture that will deliver a 30% reduction in alcohol misuse by 2025.
The independent foundation would run for 10 years and be chaired by a government appointee. Its remit would be to co-ordinate public services, health groups, industry, education institutions, and others to implement a wide-ranging set of recommendations focused on changing behaviours and attitudes towards alcohol.
The report also advocates an inter-generational approach to cultural education, and school alcohol education from primary level up to university.
It also calls for more support services to allow parents and peers to take a leading role in the fight against out-of-control drinking. The campaign has been widely criticised since its inception amid claims it is a “smokescreen” to take the political focus away from wider legal reforms around minimum pricing, marketing, alcohol promotion and alcohol availability.
Chair of the campaign and Barnardos chief executive Fergus Finlay defended the report’s decision not to call for a ban on alcohol sponsorship of sports saying health experts “were divided” about the effectiveness of such a measure
“I want to see the link broken between sport and alcohol. I don’t want to see it happen at the expense of sport. I don’t want to see it cause a crisis overnight. I think it’s something that can only be done reasonably quickly. It is noteworthy, however, that neither the Minister nor the Oireachtas Committee [on Health and Children] has come out in favour of an outright overnight ban,” he said.
However, independent senator and former Children’s Rights Alliance chief executive Jillian van Turnhout said that, in 2012 and 2015, the Health and Children Committee members supported a ban on alcohol advertising of sports.
She said she had predicted that the report would focus on the “catchphrase” of education as a tactic to delay the introduction of effective legislation.
“The report is disappointing but not surprising. Education is the catchphrase of the drinks industry as it was of the tobacco industry. The reality is while education is fine, it doesn’t change people’s behaviour. What we need is legislation around pricing and the promoting and marketing of alcohol,” she said.
Social campaigner and founder of youth organisation SpunOut.ie Ruairí McKiernan questioned the recommendation for a new foundation, considering there are already plans to relaunch the drinks industry-funded DrinkAware.
“It will be interesting to see what the link is between this and the plans for industry-funded organisation DrinkAware to relaunch. In April the HSE stated that there should be no role for the industry in public health awareness as there is a clear conflict of interest.”
“The Public Health (Alcohol) Bill will soon go before the Dáil and it will be worth watching to see how health minister Leo Varadkar responds to the continual efforts by industry to frame the debate and prevent meaningful change,” he said.