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Tuesday 20 March 2018

Civil servant use of drink and drugs investigated

Fergus Black

GROWING concerns about drinking habits and drug abuse among civil servants were raised by a special working party set up to investigate a series of issues including intemperance, sick leave and falsification of records.

Despite the absence of hard and fast evidence, it concluded there was a "general feeling of a growing problem regarding intemperance".

"As drinking habits change, the problem of individuals going on isolated drinking sprees seems to be giving way to a more widespread pattern of drinking at lunch time and off duty," the working party said.

"Similarly, they note the indications of a possible drug abuse problem."

Details of the potential drink problem are revealed in a Department of the Taoiseach file released under the 30 year rule by the National Archives.

The working party, made up of officials from six government departments, sent detailed questionnaires to the personnel officers of 23 departments, receiving replies from 17.

Just six departments, those of Finance, the Taoiseach, Office of the Comptroller and Auditor General, Revenue Commissioners, Public Service and Economic Planning and Development, did not reply.

In a 28-page report actually dated October 1978, the working party reveals how departments were asked as part of a detailed questionnaire to say whether they considered there was a problem among their staff regarding alcoholism, "heavy drinking, drug abuse and other forms of intemperance".

Most departments replied they had as yet no "significant incidence" of alcoholism although a number of replies indicated a possible growing heavy-drinking problem.

"One department, however, notes that an increasing number of explanations for late attendance refer to the officers being unable to get up on time because they are on medically prescribed tranquillisers.

"A second, large department reported that, while they do not have a problem, the first indications of a drug abuse situation are beginning to show," the report said.

It advised that absences should be monitored for obvious illnesses such as cirrhosis.

"Changing drinking patterns and the increasing abuse of drugs . . . may create serious problems in the future if they are not now tackled in a realistic manner."

There was merit in continuing to use "traditional" disciplinary measures to solve problems but many aspects of these problems called for a different approach.

"Where drunkenness was previously a reason for sacking an employee, it is now put forward as a defence where disciplinary action for other reasons is proposed," the report said.

A service-wide educational programme covering intemperance generally and alcoholism in particular – backed up by a scheme for treatment referral in appropriate cases – was needed.

Irish Independent

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