Speech by Micheál Martin, Minister for Health and Children, on Phase 2 of Alcohol Awareness Campaign

Ladies and Gentlemen,

When I launched the alcohol awareness campaign in February, I pointed out that one of the facts research makes clear is this:

Irish teenagers are amongst the highest abusers of alcohol in Europe

This new phase of the campaign is all about making alcohol less easy for under-age drinkers to get hold of.

It is setting out to attack (and I use that word very deliberately) – to attack the culture of acceptance of alcohol as harmless and the tolerance that leads people to collude, often without realising it, with under-age drinking.

That collusion often starts at home. And consequently, parents have a major role to play.

One of the ads that will be going out on radio in the next few weeks points out that if your son or daughter starts drinking before the age of fifteen, they are four times more likely to develop a dependency on alcohol than someone who starts at 21. Parents need to realize that they may be contributing to the onset of early drinking by allowing easy access to alcohol in the home.

Its not only parents who have a role to play. Strangers who are approached by young teenagers also have a role.

I know that sounds odd, but one of the patterns we are seeing is where underage drinkers ask strangers going into off-licences to buy an extra six pack or an extra bottle – on top of what they´re buying for themselves – for the young teenager. And because it´s easy to do, it gets done.

We have got to get it across to people that they are doing young teenagers no favours when they agree to buy them drink. It´s hard to say ´no´, especially if you believe that the next person coming along will probably agree to do it. Of course some of the people who agree to buy drink for young teenagers are not strangers. They are often older brothers and sisters. Or friends. But it´s not friendship to buy alcohol for underage drinkers. It´s important to realize that you are doing them no favours.

This is a blunt campaign.

It´s challenging – it will challenge adults of all ages to be alert to the reality that alcohol is being used to excess by large numbers of Irish teenagers. It´s intended to prompt adults into considering the impact of their behaviour in allowing easy access for their young teenagers to alcohol.

We should also consider how our behaviour as adults and our own drinking practices can impact on our children.

What we must remember is that alcohol is not just a recreational substance, it is also a drug which is often abused. And there are other facts to remember:-

  • The drug that does most damage in this country is alcohol.
  • The drug estimated to be responsible for one in every five patients being given a hospital bed is alcohol.
  • The drug that destroys most lives in Ireland is alcohol.

And – too often – the people facilitating young people with this drug – getting them into it – are not evil members of a criminal sub-culture, but ordinary decent people who do not see the consequences of what they are doing.

Alcohol consumption is part of civilized living. But, when it comes to underage drinking, we cannot afford to be easy-going, relaxed, laissez-faire. We have got to learn to say ´no´. Each and every adult who refuses to do the lethal ´favour´ of making it easy for an underage person to get alcohol is contributing to a culture change. A culture change that is vital, if we´re going to interrupt a vicious circle that is doing long-term damage to our young people.

Right now, we have a grim distinction, in this country.

Young people in Ireland rate among the highest in Europe for alcohol abuse. We are going to change that. By taking individual responsibility – as parents, as strangers asked to do a favour, as publicans, as operators of off-licenses and hotels.

This second phase of the campaign is aimed at buyers and suppliers of alcohol. Buyers being parents, siblings and strangers. Suppliers being pubs, off-licences, supermarkets and hotels – anywhere alcohol is sold.

It´s intended to drive home the realities of underage drinking and prompt adults to think about the impact of their behaviour. Some of that behaviour can make alcohol easily accessible to young teenagers.

Up to now, many parents have minimized the importance of alcohol in their own minds. “I do not mind my children taking a drink,” they´d say. “At least they are not doing drugs.”

Now is the time for us to challenge that idea. Alcohol abuse is the biggest drug problem in Ireland. It starts young. And it can be prevented.

Finally, I would like to thank the Drinks Industry Group, the Vintners, the Off Licences and the Supermarkets for the support they are giving to this campaign. I know they share my concerns about underage drinking and their participation in this initiative demonstrates this concern.

But whether you are a retailer or a parent or a sibling or a stranger, lets all play our part and Keep Kids Safe from Drink.