Ireland – an Alcoholic Society

(The Nationalist, 9 August 2002)


Ireland is an alcoholic society. Our social life centres on the pub. And the situation is getting worse, not better.

Here are some statistics that relate to the Republic, though the picture is probably not very different in Northern Ireland:

There is one pub, hotel bar, or off-license for every 290 people.
In the 18-24 age group, 88% of females and 91% of males drink.

In the nineties, consumption of beer rose by 20%, wine by 300% and cider by 500%. Spirits, after an initial decline, rose by 60% since 1995. During the same period, consumption of alcohol dropped in 10 of the other 14 EU countries.

Overall, it rose in Ireland by 40% in the nineties. The average Irish adult drinks 14 litres of pure alcohol a year, as against 9 litres in the EU.

What about the human cost? Of 415 killed on the roads in 2001, 147 were directly due to drinking.
Of 12,000 seriously injured in road accidents, almost 3,000 were due to drinking.
25% of male admissions to psychiatric hospitals are due to drink.
9,000 people were prosecuted for drunk driving in 2001. How many more escaped prosecution?
What about the immeasurable cost to marriage and family life?

And the cost in money? We spend 11.4 million euro a day on alcohol, or 3.8 billion euro a year. The cost to taxpayers is as follows: crime: 190 million euro; road accidents: 315 million euro; extra healthcare: 380 million euro; loss of taxes: 380 million euro; lost work and productivity: 1.14 billion euro. The total is 2.4 billion euro.

Micheál Martin, the Minister for Health, commented on these figures, saying, ‘Market forces versus public health issues have to be confronted once and for all’. But it was his government which extended opening hours just a few years ago and which, despite recent pressure from its own back-benchers, refused to reverse that.

Are we mad?