Press Release

Minister addresses first all-island alcohol conference

Dr James Reilly, Minister for Health and Minister of State Róisín Shortall today (26th January, 2012) attended the first all-island conference on the issue of alcohol abuse held in Armagh. The conference was jointly opened by both Ministers for Health, Dr James Reilly and Mr Edwin Poots and brought together policy makers and representatives from a range of agencies on the island to explore common issues and challenges in relation to alcohol culture and alcohol abuse. The conference focused in particular on the challenges relating to alcohol and young adults.

Commenting Minster Reilly said “This conference has set the scene for a longer term, all-island collaborative approach for tackling issues relating to alcohol abuse. It makes sense to work together on an all-island basis to reduce levels of alcohol consumption in order to save lives and reduce the burden of alcohol abuse to society. The areas we would like progress on a North South basis are measures to reduce the availability of cheap alcohol, treatment and rehabilitation of those affected by alcohol misuse”

Minister Edwin Poots said “There is no doubt; alcohol misuse is one of the main threats to public health in Northern Ireland. Research has shown that it costs Northern Ireland up to £900 million every year, and almost £250 million of these costs are borne by the Health and Social Care Sector. If we do not take significant and robust action the costs to Northern Ireland, and the health and social care system in particular, will continue to grow.

“I believe that alcohol is a cultural and societal issue – one that has a significant impact on both sides of the border and indeed across the UK. It makes sense that we share common goals and ambitions and, where appropriate, work across the UK and Ireland to develop a consistent and long-term approach. Today’s conference is the perfect opportunity for us to build a consensus of common goals and to look at how we can work together most effectively to reinforce the actions already underway in each jurisdiction.”

The key objectives of the conference included:

  • To broaden understanding of the impact of alcohol abuse across the island of Ireland
  • To consider particular challenges relating to alcohol and young adults and our drinking culture
  • To consider possible broad strategic responses
  • To consider ways in which responses across the island of Ireland could be better co-ordinated.

Minister of State with responsibility for Primary Care and Drugs Strategy Róisín Shortall stated: “Alcohol use and misuse is an area where both jurisdictions can achieve a lot together – especially in dealing with the challenges that alcohol presents for young adults. I am particular concerned with the relationship Ireland has with alcohol, My Department has a report on alcohol from the National Substance Misuse Strategy Steering Group which shall shortly be brought to Government.”

At the conference expert contributions came from Sir Ian Gilmore, who chairs the UK Alcohol Health and also the European Alcohol and Health Forum Science Group; Dr Peter Anderson, an international public health consultant and expert on alcohol policy and Dr Fiona Measham, a renowned researcher in the fields of drug and alcohol use, gender, licensed leisure and the relationship between crime and culture.

The conference was jointly organised by both Departments of Health, the Institute of Public Health in Ireland, the Public Health Agency in Northern Ireland and Co-operation and Working Together, the cross border health partnership.


Notes to Editor

    1. Funding for the conference ‘Working Together to Develop a Joint Response to the Challenge of Alcohol,’ has been secured from the European Union’s INTERREG IVA Programme which is managed by the Special EU Programmes Body and delivered by Co-operation and Working Together.
    2. The Department of Health (RoI) and the Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety (NI) agreed to hold a North South conference on alcohol misuse in January to explore some of the common issues in relation to the alcohol culture on both sides of the border. The idea for the conference was discussed at a meeting of the North South Ministerial Council, Health and Food Safety Sectoral format on the 20 July 2011, with Ministers for Health noting the scope for sharing information and evidence based material, on an all-island basis, in a number of areas including the tackling of alcohol abuse.
    3. Key statistics

In the Republic of Ireland, alcohol:

    • was responsible for at least 88 deaths every month in 2008; 1 in 4 deaths in young men were estimated to be due to alcohol, which compares to 1 in 12 deaths due to cancer or 1 in 25 due to cardiovascular disease;
    • is a contributory factor in half of all suicides and in deliberate self-harm; it also increases the risk of more than 60 medical conditions – such as cancers;
    • is associated with 2,000 beds being occupied every night in Irish acute hospitals; a quarter of injuries presenting to emergency departments and over 7,866 admissions in 2010 to specialised addiction treatment centres;
    • is associated with harm to the baby because of mothers drinking during pregnancy and is a factor in unplanned pregnancies;
    • increases the risk of children needing special care, with an estimation that adult alcohol problems are associated with 16% of child abuse cases;
    • was a trigger in a third of domestic abuse cases in 2005;
    • related illness cost the healthcare system €1.2 billion and alcohol-related crime cost an estimated €1.19 billion, both in 2007; the cost of lost economic output due to alcohol was estimated to be €527m in 2007 and finally, alcohol related road accidents cost an estimated €530m in 2007.