MAYO has the highest number of alcohol-related deaths in the country and the lowest rate of treatment for alcohol abuse. These are the startling statistics outlined recently by Orla Irwin of the Western Region Drugs Task Force (WRDTF). Ms Irwin says that in many cases alcohol may not be the apparent cause of the death but is the root cause.
Just before Christmas, Orla Irwin told a meeting of Westport’s Joint Policing Committee (JPC) that the low-pricing of alcohol in supermarkets was a major contributing factor towards its abuse by young people. She said that, while she was ‘not promoting the pub’, the sale of slabs of beer in supermarkets for €15 was of serious concern.
“We want to ban the advertising of alcohol also. There is a contradiction in promoting alcohol at major sports events,” Ms Irwin said.
However, she confirmed that government has indicated it intended to take measures against the low-price selling of alcohol.
Responding, Fine Gael Cllr Ollie Gannon said: “It will take political will to deal with the cheap alcohol issue which is fundamental to the problem.”
Inspector Joe McKenna said that supermarkets competing over low-alcohol prices exacerbated the problem.
“Many young people are drinking at home before they go out for the night. We are then finding they are a lot drunker, particularly girls,” Insp McKenna noted.
Ms Irwin referred to the new drive by Mr Pat Conway, a WRDTF Community Liaison Officer, towards the establishment of community networks. At the first Mayo Drugs and Alcohol Awareness Week, launched by Taoiseach Enda Kenny last month, Mr Conway said alcohol consumption was a complex issue because of its cultural and social significance in Irish society.
“However, we cannot ignore its prevalence and its damaging impact on this region and throughout the country. We have to wake up to reality by confronting the normalisation of what is often alcohol abuse. Alcohol is also seen as a gateway to illicit drug use, particularly for young people. It is recognised as one of the main substances used in poly-drug use,” he said at the time.
Meanwhile, Ms Irwin told the JPC meeting that educational programmes for both youth and their parents were a priority. She observed that “parental responsibility” was a key factor in the educating process.
Responding, Cathaoirleach Christy Hyland expressed his shock at the Mayo statistics. He asked whether rural isolation was a factor.
Cllr Hyland, a retired detective garda, also told The Mayo News afterwards: “It is important for parents to know that over the Christmas period if they are worried about their children having consumed too much alcohol, or another drug, not to be afraid to talk confidentially to the gardaí.”