News Analysis

Saturday 30 August 2014

Lise Hand: Now Slab makes move on slabs as he declares a 'War on Terroir'

Published 25/10/2013 | 02:00

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Health Minister James Reilly said the consequences of alcohol misuse cost the State €3.7bn a year.

Be the hokey this Government is on the warpath all right. First, Fine Gael and Labour had to wheedle our EU overlords into letting us skulk off the Naughty Step with fervent promises that we'll never, ever go balubas with our money ever again, fingers crossed and hope to die.

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The job's oxo. But the cleaning-up of the nation's act hasn't ended with the rehabilitation of our international reputation, no siree. Now the Fight on Fecklessness is focused on our over-exuberant relationship with the demon drink.

It's been a twin-pronged attack; alcohol went up in last week's Budget, including a whopping extra 50c levied on a bottle of wine (the War on Terroir, so to speak). And then yesterday the big and little Health Ministers James Reilly and Alex White, and Minister for Children Frances Fitzgerald, launched a new Battle of the Booze, targeting hooch such as the cheap-as-chips slabs of beer sold in supermarkets and off-licences.

Unveiling the measures, Slab Reilly had a simple message: "Ireland has a problem – we drink too much, and we're not facing up to it.

"On average, per person aged over 15, we consume 12 litres of pure alcohol per year – that's the equivalent of a bottle of vodka a week," said James. "Alcohol is responsible for about 90 deaths every month, including many alcohol-related cancers and heart disease. Alcohol is a contributory factor in half of all suicides and it's been estimated that the cost of dealing with the consequences of alcohol misuse cost the State about €3.7bn a year," he added, "funding that if it were available would transform our health service."

Indeed. Just think what the overstretched department could do with an extra 3.7 billion scoots – but let's not mention the Other War.

Some of the questions which followed the launch were more of the glass-half-empty variety – was this clampdown on drink not a bit hypocritical, given that every queen, president and prime minister who sets foot on Irish soil invariably finds him or herself belly-up at a bar holding a pint of plain for the cameras?

"There's absolutely no question of hypocrisy here, there's no question of prohibition," insisted the Health Minister. "This is about protecting people from alcohol, but particularly children."

Unarguably it's long overdue that the problem of blotto kids staggering around the streets is tackled, but could the Government go overboard in their Fight against Fecklessness?

Well, not as long as Luke Ming Flanagan is around. He was in Buswell's Hotel publicising a bill of his own: the Cannabis Regulation Bill to legalise marijuana.

Ming was joined by various experts in medicine and law, including Dr Garrett McGovern, who runs an alcohol and drug abuse clinic in Dublin, and Tom Floyd, former chief constable of Cambridge. He also had meticulous handouts debunking many of the myths surrounding the harmful effects of cannabis.

"Ireland is ready for the legalisation of cannabis," declared Ming, whose bill will be debated in the Dail on November 5-6. He said that if this happened, it could mean an extra €300m in the State coffers which could fund reversals to recent Budget cuts – although he admitted the figure was an estimate.

Given the toxic levels of angst that pervaded the Oireachtas over the last piece of so-called liberal legislation to go through the Houses – the Protection of Life during Pregnancy Bill – Ming has more chance of having the Ceann Comhairle's gong replaced by a bong than he does of seeing this bill passed next month.

Certainly Slab wasn't impressed with the notion of legalising cannabis: "We know from a number of studies that it does cause an acute paranoid state." Not that he needed reminding of the budgetary state of chassis in his department. He's made a bit of a hash of it, after all.

Irish Independent

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