Minister to end alcohol sponsorship of sports


ALCOHOL SPONSORSHIP of sports events is to be ended, Minister of State for Health Róisín Shortall has pledged. “I am committed to phasing that out over a reasonable period of time,” she said in the Dáil. There is “no room for ambivalence in our approach”.

Ms Shortall was responding to Fianna Fáil spokesman on children Charlie McConalogue, who asked if the Government was committed to banning “the advertising of alcohol in conjunction with sports events”.

The Donegal North East TD raised the issue following research published yesterday which found young people who drank to excess were more likely to suffer from severe depression, stress or anxiety. The Headstrong/UCD survey of 14,000 people aged from 12 to 25 found 38 per cent had problematic or harmful drinking behaviour, and 7 per cent of those surveyed showed signs of alcohol dependence.

Mr McConalogue highlighted an incident in his constituency last October when 26 students were checked into Letterkenny General Hospital’s emergency department on one night for alcohol poisoning.

“That came as a result of a 99c drinks promotion.”

Referring to the research, Mr McConalogue said “alcohol abuse has become a cancer in our society in recent years” and he demanded to know the Government’s response to the report and what it would do to address the problem.

Ms Shortall, who has responsibility for primary care, stressed that “we as a society can no longer tolerate the level of alcohol abuse in this country, particularly among young people”.

She said “there is no room for ambivalence in our approach”, adding that the Department of Health was working on “developing an action plan on alcohol based on the recommendations in the substance misuse strategy report”.

Recommendations from the majority report of the National Substance Misuse Steering Group, published in February, included a ban on all alcohol sponsorship of sporting and large outdoor events, as well as a ban on outdoor advertising of alcohol, higher excise duties on some alcohol products and the introduction of minimum pricing.

Ms Shortall noted the steering group’s findings that young people were drinking more than ever and from a younger age, that more than half of Irish 16-year-olds have been drunk, and one in five is a weekly drinker.

The report also said alcohol marketing led to young people starting to drink at a younger age and drinking more. And 16-21-year-olds “list alcohol advertisements as five of their top 10 favourite advertisements”.

Pledging to end alcohol sponsorship of sports events, the Minister said “there are contractual arrangements in place at present, and I am working with the different national sporting bodies to agree a proposal to phase that out over a period of time”.

She added: “We must tackle this on a number of fronts” and she looked forward “to support from all sides of the House on the measures I will shortly be announcing”.

She said the Headstrong/UCD survey showed the period between 15 and 25 years of age was a critical developmental time for young people. If issues could be identified as they emerged research showed “early and brief intervention prevents people from experiencing lifetimes of pain and lost opportunities”.

Mr McConalogue highlighted the cost of alcohol-related illness in Ireland at €1.2 billion in 2007 and alcohol-related crime cost €1.19 billion that year. Alcohol abuse was responsible for 2,000 hospital beds being occupied every night.

Questioning the Government’s commitment to banning alcohol sponsorship of sports events, he said “we should be promoting sports as an alternative to those who are drinking too much but instead it is intrinsically associated with sporting events”.