Speeches

Speech by Pat the Cope Gallagher T.D., Minister for Health Promotion and Food Safety – Opening of Conference “Community Action on Alcohol”

Good morning, Ladies and Gentlemen. You are all very welcome to Croke Park today to this conference entitled Community Action on Alcohol.

As a Donegal Man you might think that my visits to Croke Park are rare. Maybe Donegal have not been here as often as we would have liked. However, on each visit I vividly recall that historic day in 1992 when our team did us proud. Every time I come to this historic venue I am struck by this magnificent stadium. It is a testament to the Gaelic Athletic Association but, more so, it is a testament to the people of Ireland. Croke Park has been the focal point of clubs, communities and counties across Ireland for many years. It is a place that people come to share a common love for gaelic games. It is a place where communities gather.

It is somewhat fitting, therefore, that we have gathered here today as a community representing many parts of Ireland. Today we share a common concern to try to address the problems being caused by alcohol misuse in Ireland.

Alcohol Harm

Alcohol harm is visible throughout Ireland; on the streets, in the courts, hospitals, workplaces, schools and homes. Despite the tendency to ‘blame’ underage drinkers, the vast majority of alcohol harm occurs among the adult population. It manifests itself, for example, in street violence, accidents, hospital admissions, drunk driving, alcohol poisoning, suicides, alcohol dependency, cancers and cirrhosis. Some of these problems, especially the acute problems, arise where the light or moderate drinker drinks to excess on a single drinking occasion, while others result from regular heavy drinking over a longer period of time. We are all too familiar with the pain and suffering for families and communities caused by alcohol misuse.

Our drinking patterns are also a cause of concern. In a study published by the European Commission in March 2007 Ireland was reported to have the highest percentage of “binge drinkers” across 25 European countries. This particular drinking pattern is adding to the burden of health and social harm.

Ireland is ranked as the highest among the 35 European countries in terms of the number of adolescents who regularly binge drink and second highest in reported regular drunkenness. The recently published Health Behaviours of School Aged Children Study shows that half of children aged 15-17 years old report they are current drinkers and just over a third report they have been ‘really drunk’ in the last 30 days.

All this research evidence just confirms to us what is all too visible in our society. Such research should serve to strengthen our resolve to tackle alcohol problems. By your presence here today you are all expressing a desire to do something about this problem. We all have a part to play. We need to take responsibility both collectively and individually. We need to examine our social acceptance of alcohol and the signal that this is sending, particularly to our young people. Alcohol has become too closely associated with many events and celebrations in people’s lives. You may have heard the story of the young girl who had made her communion. She was wearing her communion dress at Mass the following week and a lady enquired where she had made her communion. “In the pub.” she replied.

We have to ask ourselves if adults provide an appropriate example to younger people in relation to alcohol. How many times can we recall smiling benignly at the friend, relative or family member who has had too much to drink and behaves inappropriately? It also needs to become socially unacceptable for people to be excessively drunk on our streets. This change can only occur when we stop excusing such behaviour. It is a change which can be achieved, but I believe it can only occur through multi-sectoral action.

Community Mobilisation

Community mobilisation is a comprehensive response to addressing some of the alcohol-related problems in society. It can involve a wide range of individuals, agencies and organisations that come together to work towards a common goal. Local communities can develop an alcohol action plan involving an integrated set of actions that tackle the community environmental factors that contribute to alcohol problems as well as programmes for those involved in harmful use of alcohol.

Acceptance that no one agency can bring about change on their own and that no one action is sufficient, is the starting point. Therefore, community action needs to be multi agency and involve multiple actions, combined and delivered through an integrated approach with real participation with all relevant stakeholders.

The Dormant Accounts Alcohol Measure was advertised in May 2006 and nineteen grants totalling over €1 million have been awarded. There were over 100 applicants for this funding. I understand that some of the successful groups are represented here today along with some of those who did not succeed in securing funding under this measure. The number of applications for funding is an indication of the large number of organisations willing to become involved.

Conclusion

The aim of today’s Conference is to raise awareness and stimulate interest in Community Mobilisation. I would like to encourage you all here today to continue your efforts. My Department is pleased to have been involved with the Health Service Executive in organising today’s Conference. I might take the opportunity to thank Sheilagh Reaper-Reynolds and her team from the Health Service Executive for all their hard work leading up to today. In backing and supporting this Conference we are recognising the important role of communities. I hope that the Conference can provide some help and support and create an impetus for greater community involvement in tackling alcohol problems at local level. I urge you to participate actively in the Conference and I hope that you have an enjoyable day.

Thank you very much.