The Ballina father of a teenage suicide victim recently told an Oireachtas committee that the government owes it to its citizens to protect it from the ‘plague’ of cheap alcohol.
In a statement to the Oireachtas Committee on Health, John Higgins said that alcohol was being sold at ‘pocket money prices’, and that the practice played a large part in the death of his son, David, last March. David Higgins jumped into the River Moy after leaving a house party where large amounts of alcohol had been consumed.
At the inquest into his son’s death, John said the availability of cheap alcohol was leading to all-night house parties and he called for an end to below-cost selling of alcohol in supermarkets.
In a statement, read out to the committee by Fiona Ryan, the director of Alcohol Action Ireland (AAI), Mr Higgins told legislators: “You cannot accept the revenue generated by alcohol with open arms and not accept responsibility of the heartbreak associated with cheap alcohol. The Government owes it to its citizens to protect them from this plague. We don’t have living proof — our proof is dead,” he stated.
Ms Ryan told the committee that the average amount of pocket money received by teenagers was €16, enough for them to get drunk on twice over. She also said teenagers were being bombarded by alcohol advertising.
Ms Ryan said that €65 million was being spent on advertising by the industry. She also said the industry was ‘pumping’ huge money into digital advertising, which she described as the ‘wild west’ frontier of alcohol-advertising regulation. She said Diageo had struck a multi-million-euro advertising partnership with Facebook, while Heineken had made a similar deal with Google.
Kathryn D’Arcy, director of the Alcohol Beverage Federation of Ireland, said that the ‘vast majority’ of people drink alcohol responsibly and the problem was irresponsible drinking by the minority. She said alcohol consumption had fallen by 21 per cent since 2001, and that the country was now approaching European norms.
Ms D’Arcy cautioned against introducing minimum pricing and said Ireland already had strict marketing and advertising codes. She said advertising in Ireland had a ‘very limited’ ability to increase demand and the main purpose was to maintain and increase brand share.
Senator Dr John Crown, who said he is in favour of banning all alcohol advertising and sponsorship, pointed out the alcohol industry was not a ‘philanthropic’ body for the advertising industry and did not spend massive amounts of money on it for no reason.