Bishop Éamonn Walsh, Auxiliary Bishop of Dublin and Vice-chair of the Irish Bishops’ Drugs Initiative has expressed his concern about alcohol’s grip on Irish society in a letter published in today’s Irish Times newspaper.
In his letter, Bishop Walsh wrote:
Sir, – I refer to both Dr Bobby Smyth (Letters, June 26th), who quotes recent research that there is no safe level of alcohol consumption, and to your editorial of July 11th, “Alcohol lobby fights back”.
The human devastation caused by alcohol has been a blight on our society for countless years, and one that the Catholic Church has challenged for generations. Whether it was the mass temperance movement of the 19th century led by the Capuchin priest, Fr Theobald Mathew, or the sterling ongoing work begun over 50 years ago by Sr Consilio and the Cuan Mhuire residential treatment centres for people with addiction, the Catholic Church has sought in various ways to alleviate the incalculable suffering caused by drugs and alcohol to individuals and to their families.
After 20 years of service, our experience at parish level in the Irish Bishops’ Drugs Initiative is that alcohol continues to hold a tight grip on our national character.
Even well-intentioned public policy can be trumped by its powerful influence. The fact that the Dáil debate on the Public Health (Alcohol) Bill 2015 has now been deferred until the autumn exemplifies this point.
The removal from this Bill of a ban on sports sponsorship, limits on advertising, point-of-sales display controls and minimum pricing is of deep concern to us.
Irish society requires a public debate to discuss how and why alcohol has maintained such an influence on our culture, including an objective analysis of its effect.
We live in an era where the drinks industry’s well-resourced marketing and lobbying campaigns achieve huge success in identifying and influencing key target audiences, especially our young people. For example, up to recently, it was appalling to see young people playing sports with jerseys emblazoned with alcohol logos, effectively being used as beer mats by the industry. Such blatant promotion continues at an adult professional level.
In a similarly worrying way, the industry’s public relations strategies seek to disempower those working to decouple Ireland’s deep and troubled relationship with alcohol.
As for measuring the effect, the 1,500 hospital beds which your editorial refers to, and that are occupied nightly by patients with alcohol-related illnesses, evidences the human damage whilst also placing an inordinate burden on our health service which itself is creaking at the seams.
When the drinks industry begins to invest its vast resources into addressing the actual damage caused to individuals by alcohol, only then will its supposed concern about consumption be taken more seriously.
Bishop Éamonn Walsh
The IBDI was established in 1997 as a Catholic Church response to the growing problem of drug and alcohol misuse in Ireland. The IBDI seeks to mobilise parish communities, together with other service providers, to make appropriate pastoral responses to prevent alcohol and drug misuse, and to respond to issues arising from the problematic use of alcohol and other drugs. The core values of the IBDI are founded on our Christian ethos and Catholic faith, along with the underlying principles of: respect, equality, partnership, pastoral care, professionalism and accountability.
For more information on the work of the IBDI please see www.irishbishopsdrugsinitiative.com.