Rape Crisis chief backs USI split from drinkaware
THE country's major counselling organisation for victims of rape and sexual assault has strongly endorsed the decision by Union of Students in Ireland (USI) to sever all links with drinkaware.ie.
Drinkaware.ie is the campaign aimed at 18-to-24-year-olds designed to promote responsible drinking.
It is funded by drinks industry cash, including support from Guinness owners Diageo, who are behind the controversial Arthur's Day music festival.
The motion to cut ties with drinkaware.ie was passed at a meeting of the USI National Council earlier this month in Dublin.
The USI wrote to Fionnuala Sheehan, the Chief Executive of MEAS (Moderate Enjoyment of Alcohol group), which runs drinkaware.ie, to inform her of its decision.
The USI said that while the issue had been raised among the union membership for some time, the Arthur's Day festival further deepened concerns.
"Encouraging students to drink responsibly is still an encouragement for students to drink -- regardless of how it's qualified," union president Joe O'Connor said.
Fiona Neary, Director of the Rape Crisis Network of Ireland (RCNI), said that the promotion of alcohol consumption by drinkaware.ie was rightly recognised by the Union of Students in Ireland as a normalising influence which strongly targets young people.
She said that the USI's leadership in this area was vital, given the resources the alcohol industry can call upon to resist change to reduce alcohol harm in Ireland.
But Ms Sheehan of MEAS said the reality was that 87pc of this age cohort did drink alcohol, "whether various parties like it or not".
"We know from the extensive research we have conducted that adopting a 'do not drink' approach to this age group is actually a turnoff and is regarded as a nanny-state approach," she said.
USI insist that they will develop their own student alcohol awareness campaign through working with other bodies that are not funded by a self-regulating drinks industry.
This year marked the fifth anniversary of Diageo's Arthur's Day festival, but this year there was a strong public backlash.
Christy Moore penned a song which hit out at the event, while medical experts, including liver specialist Dr Stephen Stewart, described the music event as an "unnecessary promotion of alcohol".
However, Diageo said Arthur's Day was primarily about promoting great music acts, and not about drinking excessively.
This year, the number of people arriving at A&E departments was down considerably, with most hospitals reporting "standard Thursday nights" for the event.