Taoiseach: 'I don't think the drinks industry should be near schools'

Taoiseach: 'I don't think the drinks industry should be near schools'

Micheál Martin said: "I think many of the schools are probably entering in good faith. I mean, they're anxious to try and help students and help young people.” Picture: Gareth Chaney/ Collins Photos

Taoiseach Micheál Martin has said schools should get their resources from the HSE and public health agencies in respect of educating pupils about alcohol.

Mr Martin's comments come after the Irish Examiner revealed Drinkaware, which is funded through donations from the alcohol industry, is offering teachers training against the advice of the HSE and Department of Health.

Mr Martin said: “The partnership should be between education, the HSE and the Department of Health. I think it's through the HSE and the public health agencies that schools should draw resources from school.

“I don't think the drinks industry should be near schools in respect of anything to do with addiction generally, and I think many of the schools are probably entering in good faith. I mean, they're anxious to try and help students and help young people.” 

Drinkaware, whose funders include Diageo, Bulmers Ireland, and Heineken, confirmed that to date, 15,000 first- to third-year students have gone through its schools programme.

Speaking on RTÉ’s Today with Claire Byrne, Sheena Horgan, CEO of Drinkaware said the charity was “funded, not run by” the alcohol industry. She called on the HSE, the Department of Health and the Department of Education to meet with them so they could discuss the “primary preventative programme” which had been provided to schools to “fill the gap” in education.

“We are funded by the alcohol industry, but we have charitable status. The programme was not created by the industry, it was created by educators, it was developed in situ by teachers."

'Inherent conflict'

Speaking on that same programme, Social Democrats co-leader Roisín Shortall called on the Minister for Education to issue a new circular to all schools advising them not to use the Drinkaware programme.

The Irish Community Action on Alcohol Network and Alcohol Forum Ireland said this has been an issue amongst its grassroots members around the country who have been writing to schools in their local areas to advise against using the Drinkaware programme. 

The group considers there to be "an inherent conflict associated with the alcohol industry playing a role in the provision of prevention or public health advice."  

"In a country where three people die as a direct result of alcohol harm every day, we cannot continue to allow alcohol industry-funded charities access to our schools, to facilitate their corporate social responsibility strategy." 

Drinkaware previously told the Irish Examiner that its school programme for Junior Cycle students is based on evidence and best practice. Both the HSE and the Department of Health said they advise 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. Drinkaware continues to make the resource available despite the HSE and the Department of Health stating that it is inappropriate.”

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