TEENAGERS are being used as "beer mats" by giant drinks firms through their sponsorship of GAA, rugby and soccer, a bishop has claimed.
Dr Eamonn Walsh has demanded a phased winding down of all major alcohol marketing of youth events as he drew a direct link with spiralling addiction rates in Irish society.
Dr Walsh, the auxiliary bishop of Dublin, said he is appalled to see youngsters playing sports with jerseys emblazoned with beer logos.
"They are being effectively used as beer mats to promote it," he warned.
Dr Walsh, who is vice chair of the Irish Bishops Drugs Initiative (IBDI), backed the positions on alcohol marketing regulation adopted by Primary Care Minister Alex White and former minister Roisin Shortall.
He also paid tribute to comedian Des Bishop for his efforts to highlight Ireland's destructive relationship with alcohol.
But the bishops are now on a collision course with Transport Minister Leo Varadkar, who this week disputed the link between alcohol advertising and underage drinking.
Mr Varadkar also said drinks advertising in Irish sport was here to stay, saying that it is worth €30m a year compared to the Irish Sports Council's total budget of €40m.
But Dr Walsh warned it was time for Ireland to say "enough is enough" in relation to alcohol addiction.
He acknowledged that given major alcohol sponsorships of rugby, GAA and soccer events in Ireland, "a phased withdrawal" would obviously have to be implemented.
He also drew a distinction between sponsorship by an individual publican of his local GAA team to the high-profile endorsement of major Irish sports events by drinks brands. This includes the GAA hurling championship and rugby's European Cup.
The bishops are now to launch a public awareness campaign to achieve a political consensus for alcohol-free youth marketing.
Dr Walsh said there wasn't a family in Ireland that hadn't been impacted in some way by alcohol, drug or gambling addiction.
"What can we do? We can join forces and say enough is enough. The time has come for (Irish) society to no longer stand idly by allowing conditions and practices continue which expose our young people to a life of unnecessary misuse or drugs or alcohol," he told the Irish Independent.
Dr Walsh said that, despite the claims of the powerful drinks lobby, there were other sponsors who could fill the sports marketing gap.