Ireland has a long tradition of brewing and distilling, while most of the wine consumed is imported. In recent years, cider and perry, cider made from pears, have become increasingly popular. Overall, Ireland is a net exporter of alcoholic beverages, exporting 1.5 times the amount that was imported in 1996.

Between 1950 and 1998, t otal alcohol consumption per capita has increased threefold, from 3.2 litres per capita to 10.2 litres. This has been associated with a strong period of economic growth. With the slowing down of the economy in the 1980s came a slight decrease in total alcohol consumption. The period since 1990, however, has been one of unprecedented growth in the Irish economy and one that has witnessed another steady increase of consumption.

The number of abstainers decreased from 47 per cent of the Irish population in 1968 to 30 per cent in 1981. Today only 13 per cent of the adult Irish population do not drink alcohol. Abstainers are nowadays largely found in the over 55 age group and they are predominantly women. [1] In a 2002 survey among a nationally representative sample of adults aged 18 years and older (total sample size n= 1069), it was found that 23% (20% of males and 25% of females aged between 18 and 64 years) had not consumed any alcohol during the past 12 months. [2]

According to a national survey conducted in 2003 (total sample size n = 1007; aged 15 years and over), the average number of drinks consumed per drinking day was 4.03. [3]

In terms of drinking frequency, fourteen percent of respondents had an alcoholic drink on five or more days of the week; 15% men and 13% women. Those reporting that they drank more than six drinks on an average drinking day were 41.4% of men and 16.2% of women. [4]

Youth drinking: According to the 1997/1998 HBSC survey (total sample size n = 1457), 27% of 15-year-old boys and 12% of 15-year-old girls reported drinking beer, wine or spirits at least weekly. [5] According to the 2001/2002 HBSC survey (total sample size n = 919), the proportion of 15-year-olds who reported ever having been drunk two or more times was 32.6% for boys and 31.7% for girls. [6]

In Ireland, alcohol is estimated to be associated with at least 30% of all road accidents and 40% of all fatal accidents. In 2002 approximately 13,441 detections for drink driving were made14. The majority (93%) of detections were over the blood alcohol concentration legal limit and 62% of those were over twice the limit. [7]

The SDR per 100 000 population for chronic liver disease and cirrhosis was 4.37 in 2000 and 5.78 in 2001. [8]

Alcohol Policy in Ireland:

On behalf of the government, the department of health and children prepared in 1996 the first National Alcohol Policy – Ireland and as such provided the main structure for preventive alcohol policies from a public health perspective. As part of this, eight regional health boards, through their regional drug coordinators and health promotion officers, provide the regional structure for addressing the prevention of alcohol-related problems and for promoting the health and well-being of local communities.

The document National Alcohol Policy - Ireland aims to promote moderation in alcohol consumption among those who wish to drink and to reduce the prevalence of alcohol-related problems, thereby promoting the health of the community. The policy outlined in this document covers environmental and public health strategies in relation to the availability, pricing and promotion of alcoholic beverages, and to drunk driving regulations, as well as strategies oriented to individual prevention and treatment. National Alcohol Policy – Ireland stresses the importance of a multi-sectoral approach and a commitment at national, regional and local levels. [9]

In terms of prevention, there was a major shift from the 1960s to the 1990s in the approach to
alcohol issues, both in scope and method, which was reflected in the development of the awareness and educational initiatives.In the post-primary schools, alcohol education is part of a wider substance abuse prevention programme called on my own two feet, with a strong life-skills approach. This programme and supporting resource materials, available to teachers after 50 hours of training, is supported by the department of education and science, the health promotion unit (HPU) in the department of health and children and the regional health boards.

The 1988 Intoxicating Liquor Act tried to address the problem of underage drinking in a number of ways. It removed existing loopholes in the sale of alcoholic beverages to those aged under 18 years of age by easing the burden of proof in removing the word knowingly from the Intoxicating Liquor Act, thus making it easier to obtain convictions. It also legislated that a person under 15 years of age cannot be in a licensed bar unless accompanied by his or her parent or guardian.

The 2000 Liquor Licensing Act has further increased the permitted hours of trading with alcoholic beverages. The main changes are an additional hour of drinking on three nights a week, the abolition of winter time regulations and the abolition of the Sunday holy hour regulation, and longer opening hours for nightclubs, which can serve alcohol until 2.30 a.m. plus 30 minutes of drinking-up time. On Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday licensed premises are now open from 10.30 a.m. to 11.30 p.m. plus 30 minutes drinking-up time all year round. On Thursday, Friday and Saturday the opening time is one hour longer (12.30 a.m.) plus 30 minutes drinking-up time all year round. Opening hours on a Sunday are from 12.30 a.m. to 11 p.m. Off-licensed premises may now open for sales at 8 a.m. on weekdays. Earlier they could open at 10.30 a.m. Alcohol is not for sale in pubs on Christmas Day or Good Friday.

Alcohol Advertising:

Advertising of alcoholic beverages is allowed in Ireland, with the exception of the broadcast media, television, radio and cinema, where advertising of distilled spirits is not permitted. No alcoholic beverage advertisements are allowed in or around programmes primarily intended for young viewers or listeners.

The advertising standards authority for Ireland (ASAI) is a self-regulatory body which has drawn up a code of standards as a means of self-regulating the advertising industry. The code, in relation to alcohol, notes that advertisements for alcoholic beverages should be socially responsible and should not exploit the young or the immature. They should neither encourage excessive drinking nor present abstinence or moderation in a negative way. The rules regarding the advertising of alcoholic beverages now require that anyone depicted in such an advertisement should appear to be over 25 years of age.

Overall, the advertising of alcoholic beverages is mainly self-regulated through a number of voluntary codes across various media. There is no effective independent monitoring mechanism to ensure that alcohol advertisements comply with the various codes. The drinks industry group published a voluntary code of practice in 1997 in relation to the naming, packaging and merchandising of single-serve alcoholic drinks. This was in response to the public outcry with the launch of alcopops, alcoholic fruit drinks that resemble fruit drinks in terms of packaging and flavour, and were attracting underage drinkers, especially girls. In Ireland the market value of alcopops was 30 million Irish punts in 1996. A weakness in the code is that the complain procedure is not independent of the drinks industry.

[1] SLÁN (Survey of Lifestyle, Attitudes & Nutrition) Survey (1999) (Dublin, Health Promotion Unit, Department of Health & Children; Galway, Centre for Health Promotion Studies, NUI).

[2] Ramstedt M, Hope A. The Irish drinking culture – drinking and drinking-related harm, a
European comparison. Dublin, Health Promotion Unit, 2003.

[3] Health, food and alcohol and safety. Special Eurobarometer 186/Wave 59.0. European Opinion Research Group, 2003.

[4] The National Health and Lifestyle Survey 2002. Dublin, Department of Health and Children, 2003.

[5] Health Behaviour in School-aged Children: a WHO Cross-National Study (HBSC) International Report. Copenhagen, World Health Organization, 2000.

[6] Currie C et al., eds. Young people's health in context. Health Behaviour in School-aged Children (HBSC) study: international report from the 2001/2002 survey. Copenhagen, WHO Health Policy for Children and Adolescents (HEPCA), 2004.

[7] Strategic task force on alcohol: Interim report. Dublin, Department of Health and Children, 2002.

[8] European health for all database. World Health Organization, Regional Office for Europe.

[9] National Alcohol Policy – Ireland (1996) (Dublin, Department of Health).