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Bertie's drink war in wake of murders

The Government is to introduce new laws to deal with alcohol-related violence and public order offences before the summer, the Taoiseach announced yesterday. Mr Ahern has been "saddened and shocked" by a number of recent events.

The brutal murder of two Polish men -- Pawel Kalite and Marius Szwijkos -- following their refusal to purchase alcohol for underage youths in the Dublin suburb of Drimnagh, as well as several other serious drink-related incidents, has prompted a call for decisive action by the Taoiseach.

As the recently-appointed Government Advisory Group on Alcohol prepares to deliver its report dealing with the nation's increasingly difficult relationship with drink, Mr Ahern already appears to be clear on the areas that need to be addressed.

The ready availability of alcohol in supermarkets, convenience stores and petrol stations across the nation, as well as the growing incidence of cheap drink promotions targeting young people, are just two of the issues the Taoiseach wants to see dealt with as a matter of urgency.

Below-cost selling of alcohol and special offers in supermarkets and shops are also set to come in for special attention from the Government, with Mr Ahern pledging to bring an end to these practices, which he believes have had an adverse impact on people's attitudes to drinking.

Commenting on this, Mr Ahern said: "It is my belief that the way in which alcohol is sold nowadays has had an impact on our attitudes towards consumption. The fact that beer is now as easily accessible as bread or milk, and in many cases more prominently displayed, has undoubtedly led to an increase in consumption".

The Government is also increasingly concerned about the growing number of licensed premises choosing to avail of special exemption orders which allow for longer opening hours. Under the terms of such orders, licensed premises are allowed to serve alcohol until 2.30am with a further 30 minutes drinking-up time permitted.

With large numbers of drink-fuelled revellers pouring out of the nation's pubs from 3am onwards, several nights a week, Mr Ahern expressed his belief that this was now contributing "significantly to the downward spiral of behaviour on the streets".

Calling for the licensed trade industry to look at the issue in a "measured and responsible" manner, Mr Ahern expressed his surprise that not one of the country's local authorities has yet availed of legislation which allows them to place their own restrictions on special exemption order closing times. This is despite the fact that the Government introduced the relevant legislation in 2003.

Addressing the matter of Ireland's relationship with alcohol today, the Taoiseach said: "We live in a much changed Ireland now, prosperity has yielded enormous change and, thankfully, most of it has been for the better. Sadly, however, we have a serious problem with alcohol addiction and over-consumption, with all the negative implications this has for the health and well-being of individuals, for family life, for our society and for our economy.

"We have to get the message across that drinking to excess is not fun. In fact, it is very dangerous, highly-irresponsible and seriously -- sometimes criminally -- anti-social."

While the Government's plans for legislation will be specifically aimed at dealing with the public order aspects of the nation's drinking problem, Mr Ahern also called for people to examine their personal relationship with alcohol. Acknowledging that the Government could lead the way, the Taoiseach added that ultimately the responsibility for changing drinking patterns rests with individual members of society.

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'Government can lead way, but responsibility lies with individual' Bertie Ahern, Page 30

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