Dáil Éireann - Volume 530 - 20 February, 2001
Written Answers. - Misuse of Alcohol.
Dr. O'Hanlon Dr. O'Hanlon
371. Dr. O'Hanlon asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform the measures he is taking to address the misuse of alcohol; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [4807/01]
Dr. O'Hanlon Dr. O'Hanlon
372. Dr. O'Hanlon asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform the progress which has been made in tackling the problems of under age drinking; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [4812/01]
Mr. O'Donoghue Mr. O'Donoghue
Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Mr. O'Donoghue): I propose to take Questions Nos. 371 and 372 together.
The licensing laws were the subject of considerable review by the Oireachtas committee which reported in June 1998. The Intoxicating Liquor Act, 2000, which I initiated, took into account many of the recommendations of the Oireachtas committee, including those recommendations which related to underage drinking. I also took into account submissions received from groups and members of the public following a consultation process. In the Act of 2000, I provided for considerable strengthening of those provisions which already exist in legislation of 1988 in relation to the supply or sale of intoxicating liquor to under age persons. The defence of “reasonable belief” in relation to the age of a person is no longer available in proceedings against the licensee, fines for breaches of the law on underage drinking have been increased and where a conviction for the sale of alcohol to an under age person is upheld, the licensed premises can be closed for a specified period.
I officially launched the Age Card Scheme Awareness Campaign in Dublin Castle on 6 September 2000 in conjunction with the Garda authorities who have taken the following steps to pro mote the use of the age card: all Garda stations have been notified of the age card scheme and issued with application forms and posters; non-Garda outlets have also been issued with application forms and posters; a poster campaign has been initiated to target all pubs, stand alone off-licences and grocery based off-licences, night-clubs and dance halls, etc; youth information centres-youth groups nationwide have been issued with information, posters and contact numbers for further support; Garda juvenile liaison officers-community gardaí are visiting post-primary schools, youth clubs, special projects, etc., highlighting the age card scheme; on-going liaison between the drinks industry and the Garda Síochána; and new avenues of ensuring young people get the age card message are being explored. I am happy to say that to date, 23,000 age cards have been issued.
Reform of our intoxicating liquor laws has not ended with the Intoxicating Liquor Act, 2000 and the House will be aware that on 1 November 2000, I established the Commission on Liquor Licensing under the chairmanship of Mr. Gordon Holmes. The membership of the commission represents a wide range of interests and the terms of reference include all aspects of the operation of the licensing laws including an examination of the problems associated with underage drinking. However, while legislative measures, together with initiatives such as the voluntary age card scheme can help to curtail the problem of under age drinking, it cannot be viewed as the total solution. Dealing with the under age drinking problem should not be seen as the province of State agencies alone – parents, the drinks industry and the media too, must also play their part in helping to address the problem. We are all too well aware of the contributing role which excessive alcohol consumption plays in fuelling criminal and anti-social behaviour. Many of the attacks and assaults that happen on our streets, particularly late at night, and sadly even among people of a young age, have their origin in excessive alcohol consumption.
The Garda Commissioner, as well as formulating specific operational policing responses to the issue of violence on our streets, has brought together people to provide expert advice on the particular factors which appear to be at work in the manifest tendency towards serious violence in certain instances amongst young people. Expert advice of this kind – from psychologists, sociologists etc. must inform the type of police response required.
As to the immediate policing response, the Garda Commissioner has indicated on a number of occasions that special emphasis is being placed by the Garda on the enforcement of the law in relation to street crimes. A national public order initiative known as Operation Oíche has been launched by the Garda Commissioner to tackle street violence and public disorder on the streets of large towns and cities. This project essentially involves the strategic use of extra gardaí to tackle  the problem of violence amongst young people at or in the vicinity of certain discos and places where youngsters gather at night. The operation focuses on the primary areas of public disorder, public intoxication, under age drinking, illicit drugs use and under age alcohol sales. Operation Oíche began as a pilot scheme in Dublin, and was extended to large towns and cities which, in the Garda view, require a similar targeted response.
The question of research into the negative aspects of alcohol consumption and the measures that need to be undertaken to limit those effects can also be addressed outside the context of the licensing laws. They are, in effect, matters that fall to be addressed in the context of health promotion generally. In this context, my colleague, the Minister for Health and Children announced the launch of the alcohol awareness campaign last week.
Dáil Éireann 530 Written Answers. Misuse of Alcohol.