I thank the Minister of State for outlining the Government amendments. The Minister of State is doing a great job and I appreciate the great work she is doing on the Bill. She can be assured of my support for all her amendments. However, I will speak on amendments Nos. 4, 7 to 9, inclusive, 12 and 38 to 40, inclusive.
I thank Senators Rose Conway-Walsh, Máire Devine, Paul Gavan, Pádraig Mac Lochlainn, Trevor Ó Clochartaigh, Niall Ó Donnghaile, Fintan Warfield, Alice-Mary Higgins, Colette Kelleher, David Norris and Grace O'Sullivan for joining with me to table these and subsequent amendments. Many of us have been working as part of our cross-party group on alcohol harm. This is a time when politics is good, and we work together for the public good and the good of our country. I thank the Minister of State and especially her officials, particularly for the briefing they organised yesterday. I welcome to the Gallery Siobhán Creaton from the Royal College of Physicians of Ireland, Catherine Keane and Suzanne Costello from Alcohol Action Ireland, and Brian Allen from the RISE Foundation. I thank Alcohol Action Ireland and the Royal College of Physicians of Ireland for their tireless work over the years to guide us to this point and, in particular, their support for my work in this area. I also thank Professors Frank Murray and Joe Barry. I also warmly thank the wide range of public health campaigners who have come together as the Alcohol Health Alliance with a mission to reduce the harm caused by alcohol. I especially thank former Senator Jillian van Turnhout for her assistance personally to me.
In my manifesto, I committed to being a voice for the vulnerable, and this Bill is one of my priority areas. I will be sharing a glimpse of the work of the RISE Foundation which is focused on family members who have a loved one with an alcohol problem. Children living with parents who drink in a harmful manner are among the most vulnerable in society. I am extremely passionate about this, as the Minister of State knows. The wide range of harms that are caused to children as a result of harmful drinking in the home is known as "hidden harm". The harm is not often visible in public and largely kept behind closed doors. I have examined the evidence and I hold the life stories of the most vulnerable, and so it is with confidence that I say both my head and heart fully support the Bill and the package of measures it contains. The amendments I put forward are to strengthen the Bill, and I hope I am successful. At the very least, let us not water down the Bill.
In this morning's Irish Examiner there was a powerful letter by a father, John Higgins, to his 19 year old son, David, who died by suicide in March 2011. In the letter he said:
In the coming week the Public Health (Alcohol) Bill will go to Committee Stage in the Seanad. After the decision by the Court of Session in Scotland to clear the way for minimum unit pricing to be introduced in Scotland there is now a very distinct possibility that minimum unit pricing may well become a reality in Ireland.
There is still a chance that the alcohol industry will challenge this ruling in the UK Supreme Court.
No doubt the lobbying to minimise the effect that the Public Health (Alcohol) Bill would have on the price, availability and promotion of alcohol in Ireland has gone to another level, if that is possible, seen as it has been unrelenting since the early days of the birth of this Bill.
We read of IBEC and the alcohol industry submitting amendments to the Bill.
They say structural separation of alcohol in retail outlets would be costly and unmanageable and that as a result jobs could be lost, they also say that minimum unit pricing won’t work, they also believe advertising restrictions are too strict.
The purpose of this Bill, in its entirety, should not be lost to the pressure of lobbying and perhaps threats of job losses and closures. This Bill will save lives, it will reduce consumption, it will help to minimise the continuous bombardment of our children and grandchildren by alcohol companies advertising their product. We can attribute three deaths per day to alcohol abuse, 547,500 hospital bed nights every year are occupied by people suffering from alcohol related illnesses, and alcohol is a contributing factor in at least 50% of suicides.
Our 19-year-old son David died by suicide in March 2011.
It states on his death certificate that alcohol was a contributing factor in his death, that information is there for a reason. I write this letter for that reason.
We should remember David and John Higgins and all the other families who are impacted by alcohol related harm.
Amendments Nos. 4, 7 to 9, inclusive, and 38 are interrelated. The amendments deal with the availability of free alcohol when another service is paid for, such as free wine when getting one's nails or hair done, free beer in the barber, or free alcoholic drinks when buying special cinema tickets. Many of the businesses which are offering free alcohol with a service are not licensed premises and, therefore, should not be supplying alcohol in this manner. The provision of free alcohol in barbers or hair salons highlights the increased role alcohol plays in our daily lives. Alcohol is heavily promoted, widely available and, very often, given away for free as if it were just another ordinary, risk-free product, while the level of public awareness and understanding of many of the serious health problems associated with alcohol is low. The Healthy Ireland survey recently published found that just 16% of women were aware of the links between breast cancer and alcohol consumption. The national cancer control programme, NCCP, found that 12% of all breast cancers over the course of a decade in Ireland were associated with alcohol consumption.
When I worked as a therapist in the Rutland Centre, I met a young woman who was struggling with alcohol. She used to drink wine. We picture an alcoholic as somebody roaming the streets. This was a functioning woman who had small children. The biggest problem for her was walking past her local shop, going to her hairdresser or going to the cinema. Although she wanted to do things where there was no alcohol, it was impossible. The energy she had to put into it was soul destroying. She would walk into the hairdresser with her child and a glass of wine was given to her. It is the same in the cinema. Everywhere we go, there is alcohol. Even at first holy communions there is a marquee out the back and there is alcohol all over the place. It is vital we consider the amendments. For these reasons, alcohol given away for free with a service should be prohibited under the Bill.
Amendments Nos. 39 and 40 relate to advertising on television and radio. I welcome Government amendments Nos. 36 and 37 and support them, given that they have a similar purpose. It has been established beyond all reasonable doubt that alcohol marketing influences drinking behaviour, particularly among children. The World Health Organization, WHO, states that "exposure to alcohol marketing increases the likelihood that young people start to drink alcohol, and that among young people who have started to use alcohol, such exposure increases the frequency of drinking and the amount of alcohol consumed". An NUI Galway study, commissioned by Alcohol Action Ireland, provides a recent and important insight into the experience of a large sample of Irish children aged 13 to 17 with alcohol marketing. The results showed 91% of the children surveyed reported they were exposed to traditional - offline - alcohol advertisements, including television, during the week prior to the study, and more than half reported they were exposed to four or more advertisements per day. Yesterday, in the AV room somebody talked about asking a young child about cigarette brands. While the child did not have a clue about cigarette brands, when asked about alcohol brands, the child could ream them all off.
There are no statutory protections in place to protect children from alcohol advertising on television and radio, and the self-regulatory system is not working.
As part of our efforts to break the close links between alcohol and sport, we must prevent alcohol advertising from being shown during televised sports events and bring an end to alcohol sponsorship of sports. Television is the most popular channel for watching sports. The current system of self-regulation is failing to protect children who watch sports events on television from exposure to alcohol advertising.