I was shocked to discover this week that more than 1,700 Irish people have died from alcohol-related illnesses since February 2012. This is the month when the current recommendations to reduce alcohol-related harm were first published, according to Alcohol Action Ireland.
1,700 people in 19 months is a truly stunning number of alcohol-related illnesses, coming in at just under 100 per month, and highlights the truly human toll of alcohol on our society.
We have seen a focus on the harm alcohol does to society through the controversy surrounding Arthur’s Day and, while it certainly helped to get the conversation about our nation’s relationship with alcohol going, I think the focus on Arthur’s Day, which is only one day of the year and the increase in A&E statistics on that particular day of the year, narrows the debate in a way which doesn’t allow us to talk about the impact of long-term alcoholism, the damage it can do to society, to families and to the health of our nation.
The recommendations of the steering group on the National Substance Misuse Strategy, when taken together, provide a practical and achievable means to bring about a positive change in our country’s relationship with alcohol, but we have still seen no definitive action on this unfortunately.
I feel it is time we had a full debate on this and reviewed the various aspects of the Strategy – structural separation of alcohol from food in shops, below-cost selling of alcohol, marketing of alcohol – with the Minister and got definitive answers on when these measures will be introduced and an explanation as to why they have not yet been introduced.