A CONTROVERSIAL proposal that parents should bring older teenagers to the pub has been criticised for failing to address binge drinking among youngsters.
A heated debate erupted after details emerged of a Christmas campaign planned by a group of vintners in Kerry and Cork.
It will encourage parents to bring their 18- and 19-year-olds to the pub for a pint so they can learn how to drink responsibly – and it has already got the backing of the Vintners' Federation of Ireland (VFI).
Under the proposals, publicans would hold special promotions and events in their pubs aimed at attracting families.
VFI Kerry chairman Ger Counihan insists the aim of the campaign, which will be piloted over Christmas, is to curb the incidents of young people binge-drinking on cheap alcohol.
But critics said it failed to truly address the problem of binge drinking – particularly in younger teens, many of whom begin drinking alcohol well before they reached 18.
A study carried out by the Health Promotion Research Centre at NUI Galway found that one-third of 15- to 17-year-olds reported being drunk in the previous month, while 52pc of this age group said they had been "really drunk". And a minority of 11-year-olds, 4pc, even said they had been "really drunk".
Homeless campaigner Fr Peter McVerry said that for many young people the damage had already been done before they reached the age of 18.
"I don't think it's a runner and it's not something I would support and for some people, the damage has already been done before they reach 18," Fr McVerry said.
"The issue really is that if parents want to bring their kids out, there's nowhere else they can bring them unless they go to a restaurant, which is just going to cost a fortune for a family.
"There is no alternative place you can go to socialise with family except the pub," he said.
A representative group for parents of second-level students has also hit out at the vintners saying it is not their place to tell parents how to bring up their children.
Jackie O'Callaghan, spokeswoman for the National Parents' Council (post-primary), agreed that parents had a duty to teach their children about responsible drinking.
"But I don't agree with the VFI becoming involved in telling parents they should be bringing their teenagers to the pub," she said.
She added that there were social settings, other than pubs, where this could be done.
"You could have a day out doing something that's activity-focused and end up by having a meal and having a drink that way with your children, or a music session where drink is not the main emphasis," she said.
However, Mr Counihan said that the pub was a better model for responsible drinking compared to buying alcohol in an off-licence. "You can't buy two packets of Disprin – but you can buy as much alcohol as you like in an off-licence," Mr Counihan said.
"We have to wise up. It's frightening what goes on late at night."
Mr Counihan admitted the campaign was being pushed by publicans in an effort to reverse the trend of pub closures, but he believed it could have a positive social impact.
The proposal also received support from a secondary school principal in Co Kerry, who described it as a "good idea".
However, John O'Donovan, principal of St Joseph's Secondary School in Ballybunion, agreed it did not address problem drinking among younger teenagers.