A controversial alcohol Bill which will introduce minimum unit pricing and curtains over drinks displays in shops could return to the Seanad for debate before the end of the current Oireachtas term, a Government Minister has said.
The Public Health Alcohol Bill has been working its way through the various stages of the houses since December 2015, but progress stalled in October following heated exchanges in a Seanad debate on the proposed legislation.
The issue of retailers having to erect curtains to block alcoholic beverages from general sight has proven to be a particularly contentious aspect, with some Fine Gael backbenchers attacking party colleague and Minister of State for Health Promotion Marcella Corcoran Kennedy over the move.
However, speaking ahead of the launch of the HSE’s new AskAboutAlcohol.ie website on Tuesday, the Minister indicated she is determined to retain that aspect of the Bill as she considers proposed changes ahead of its reintroduction to the Seanad.
“There is a generation of children growing up now thinking that alcohol is the same product as any other product. It’s actually not. It’s a toxin, it’s a carcinogen, it’s a psychoactive drug, it causes cancer like tobacco does,” she said.
AskAboutAlcohol.ie is the first dedicated website dealing with the topic to be created by a State body, and offers advice on safe drinking limits and dealing with a family member who drinks excessively, as well as the mental and physical impacts of problem drinking.
Ms Corcoran Kennedy said the interactive site would act as an authoritative source of information, and pointed to increased alcohol consumption in Ireland last year and the fact that the majority of drinkers consumed excessive amounts of alcohol as examples of why the resource was needed.
“This is a health policy we’re talking about here. It’s critical that the Government and State agencies are the ones that are taking the lead and providing information here. This is a long time coming and it’s great that we’re here today,” she said.
Functions on the website include a drinks calculator so visitors can understand exactly how much they are drinking and whether it is within safe limits. It also contains detailed information on the impacts of alcohol consumption on different organs as well as concomitant mental health implications.
The launch of the website has been complemented by a public information campaign through the media and online. Leaflets exploring how alcohol impacts different individuals and societal groups will be released from next month.
There are an estimated 1.34 million harmful drinkers who exceed safe limits in Ireland, where alcohol is thought to be a contributory factor in three deaths every day.
HSE national director for health and wellbeing Dr Stephanie O’Keeffe said many Irish people remained unaware their drinking may have fallen into harmful patterns, and that underestimation of amounts consumed remains a prominent trend among young people in particular.
"Young men and women often present to their GP with a serious healthcare problem caused by alcohol, unaware that their intake of alcohol was the reason for the problem," said Dr Mark Murphy of the Irish College of General Practitioners. He added that issues associated with alcohol range from mental and sexual health complications to disturbed sleep patterns and fatigue.