'Drunken Irish' label still a reality

  • Deborah Condon

The Government is being urged to introduce the Public Health (Alcohol) Bill as quickly as possible, after an international report found that Ireland has the second highest rate of binge drinking in the world.

The report by the World Health Organization (WHO) found that almost four in 10 (39%) people over the age of 15 in Ireland regularly took part in binge drinking.

When non-drinkers were excluded from the findings, almost half (48%) of all drinkers were found to have been binge drinking in the past 30 days. Austria topped the poll. Over 190 countries were studied.

According to the Royal College of Physicians of Ireland (RCPI) Policy Group on Alcohol, these findings again clearly show this country's unhealthy relationship with alcohol.

"These figures are not surprising given what we know about our relationship with alcohol. We like to think we are a nation of social drinkers with only a small minority of people drinking in a harmful way. The reality however is that a high percentage of us regularly consume alcohol in excess, to the detriment of our health," commented Prof Frank Murray, chairperson of the RCPI Policy Group on Alcohol.

He described excessive drinking as the consumption of at least six standard drinks on one occasion. A standard drink is equivalent to a half pint of lager, a small (125ml) glass of wine or a pub measure of spirits.

Prof Murray said that sophisticated advertising campaigns had helped to ‘perpetuate the myth of our social drinking', and public drunkenness has now become normalised, as has underage drinking.

"At the same time, the risk of real sanction for either offence is insufficient to deter offenders," he insisted.

He said that the slow progress being made in relation to the introduction of the Alcohol Bill is disappointing, as this could help to save lives and change attitudes towards alcohol.

"It is the only way we can begin to show the world that we are attempting to shake off the ‘drunken Irish' label once and for all," he added.

Meanwhile, the Alcohol Action Ireland (AAI) charity is also calling for the Bill's ‘swift implementation'.

"If we are to effectively tackle this culture of harmful binge drinking then we need to tackle the key areas of alcohol pricing, marketing and availability, beginning with the swift implementation of the Bill. It will replace the existing systems of alcohol industry self-regulation, which have proven to be wholly ineffective with regard to public health, particularly the protection of children and the vulnerable," commented AAI chief executive, Suzanne Costello.

She insisted that the normalisation of drunkeness in Ireland ‘has been fuelled by the widespread availability of cheap alcohol, which is then very heavily promoted'.

Young people, she said, are a ‘particular focus' of these marketing and advertising campaigns.

"This report clearly shows that there is no room for complacency when it comes to reducing the harmful use of alcohol in Ireland and we need to ensure that the Public Health (Alcohol) Bill is implemented as quickly as possible if we are serious about saving lives and improving the health and wellbeing of Irish people," Ms Costello added.

 


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