Secondary school teachers are being offered training in how to lead classroom lessons about alcohol by Drinkaware Ireland, an organisation that is funded by the alcohol industry, distilleries, and breweries.
Addiction experts and advocates say that Drinkaware is working with schools against the advice of the HSE and the Department of Health.
Drinkaware, with funders including Diageo, Bulmers Ireland, and Heineken, confirmed that, to date, 15,000 first-year to third-year students have gone through its schools programme.
The HSE co-ordinator of drug and alcohol services in counties Cork and Kerry, David Lane, is to write to every secondary school in the region this week, urging them against sending teachers to take part in Drinkaware programmes.
Mr Lane said: "We don’t support Drinkaware or anybody else from the drinks industry running training programmes for teachers, or in terms of running their kinds of programmes in our schools."
Schools should be a no-go area for the alcohol industry, according to Alcohol Forum Ireland national lead for community, Paula Leonard.
“We wouldn’t let the tobacco industry in the door of our schools to teach our children how to smoke sensibly,” said Ms Leonard.
“It would be socially unacceptable, it would be unacceptable to the Minister for Education, it would be unacceptable to parents, because we now have a population awareness of the strategies of the tobacco industry.”
The issue was recently raised with Education Minister Norma Foley by Social Democrats co-leader Róisín Shortall.
“When I asked the Minister for Education about this, she completely dodged the question and passed the buck to schools and teachers,” said Ms Shortall. “She seems to have forgotten that she’s in charge.
"We cannot have a minister who is asleep at the wheel when it comes to such an important issue.
“After all, Ireland has one of the highest rates of binge drinking in the world. We should not be outsourcing alcohol education to the very people profiting from this misuse. The conflict of interest is crystal clear. It’s time for the minister to ban this inappropriate practise.”
Drinkaware Ireland said its school programme for junior cycle students is based on evidence and best practice.
It “recognises that alcohol does not exist in isolation” and that it needs to be examined in relation to “our relationship, our coping skills, cultural and media influences, and our health and wellbeing”.
The programme aims to highlight the risk of drinking alcohol, in particular drinking to excess with specific emphasis on alcohol’s effects on the developing body and brain, and to support the development of skills that “promote independent decision-making about alcohol”.
The programme also aims “to delay the age at which young people take their first drink”.
Both the HSE and the Department of Health confirmed to thethat it advises schools against getting involved with alcohol-funded initiatives.
A HSE spokesman said: “It is not appropriate that schools use any materials or resources developed by organisations funded by the alcohol industry.”
Copies of the Drinkaware resource have not been provided to the HSE, he said.
“Drinkaware continues to make the resource available despite the HSE and the Department of Health stating that it is inappropriate.”
The Department of Health spokesman said the Know the Score programme is the first national evidence-based resource on alcohol and drugs for senior cycle students.
“In addition, the Healthy Choices programme for junior cycle students is expected to be available to schools in 2023,” it said.
A Department of Education spokesman said: “It is a matter for schools and teachers in the first instance to determine what resources and supports they will use to support their implementation of the curriculum.”