The wide acceptance of alcohol harms in the Irish society is worrying. Is the proposed public health alcohol bill a step change opportunity for Irish people? Alcohol Action Ireland, an advocacy charity which has been around for more than 10 years, hosted a public seminarwith experts and politicians in the Royal Irish Academy on March 3rd.
|Campaigning for Change seminar in Dublin, March 3, 2014|
Minister White opened the night by pledging the government’s goal to reduce the national consumption of alcohol below the OECD average by 2020. The new public health alcohol bill proposes radical measures, such as minimum unit pricing and alcohol advertising ban, which will cause discomfort. Therefore, the government should proceed with evidence-based consensus. A new North-South minimum unit pricing study will bring concrete evidence for the regulations that the bill proposes.
Dil Wickremasinghe, the second-to-speak activist, broadcaster and Director of Insight Matters, shared her story of coming out as a teenage lesbian. Alcohol companies are behind the sponsoring for many LGBT events. The sponsors and culture create an enormous pressure on immigrants to keep up drinking with the local community. Alcohol and socializing go hand in hand in Ireland – We’re Irish, we need a pint to have a good time.
A public health specialist, Dr Bedford talked about his life-long experience of campaigning for alcohol regulations, such as random breathalyzing, which brought immediate drop in the alcohol harms. Because of the success with previous campaigns, he recommended the public health advocacy tool. If we organize ourselves well, we can get results, but we need to keep the campaign message simple. Celebrities can draw audience to our campaigns, such as Gay Byrne did for the RSA random breath testing. If you’re not in the media in this business, you don’t exist. Repeat the message; repeat the message – same simple message all the time. The public health campaigning is for marathon runners, not sprinters.
Alastair Campbell, a writer, campaigner and a former Director of Communications and Strategy for Tony Blair, pondered when the change comes and how the countries are similar to individuals in their alcohol denial. The leadership comes from people who decide to make change happen; the countries have to admit that they have a problem. Countries’ leaders hesitate with changes, as Mr Campbell recalled a Tony Blair anecdote about the introduction of smoking ban law in UK “let’s see how it works in Ireland”. UK failed with introducing the prepared minimum pricing policy because of the alcohol industry pressure. Ireland can learn from that failure. Unless we understand that we are all paying for fixing of harms caused by alcohol, we won’t understand the minimum pricing. Low-risk drinkers – don’t be afraid of minimum pricing.