Problems with extending licensing hours cannot be wished away

Alcohol and society – picking up the pieces

Letter of the Day

Sir, – Una Mullally suggests that negative impacts from offering people more to do at night are hypothetical and unproven (“‘A lot of local leaders lost patience with Dublin’: Give Us The Night campaign renews the fight for a level playing field”, Culture, January 22nd). She is correct and no one is suggesting otherwise. What is not hypothetical and is well-evidenced is that offering more alcohol for sale and consumption will lead to negative outcomes.

The Sale of Alcohol Bill proposes extending licensing hours and increasing the number of venues providing alcohol. Just to highlight one area of concern – road safety. A 2020 systematic review of licensing laws internationally and their effects on injuries found that increasing trading hours was typically followed by an increase in drink-driving offences. This is backed up by a 2022 study in Norway which found that that a one-hour increase in alcohol licensing hours was associated with up to a 30 per cent increase in road collisions in rural areas. In Ireland, 37 per cent of road fatalities have a positive toxicology for alcohol with 72 per cent taking place on rural roads. Coupled with this, recent research from the Road Safety Authority indicates that one in ten drivers admit to drink driving in the past year and sadly road deaths are already increasing at a shocking rate. All of this is adding up to a perfect storm. What is needed is a careful examination of the likely impacts of extending licensing hours and at the very least for Government to provide a plan for these outcomes. This could be done through a health-impact assessment, a key recommendation of the Oireachtas Justice Committee in its pre-legislative scrutiny of the Bill. To date multiple bodies have called for this assessment including the Road Safety Authority, PARC Road Safety Group and the Irish Road Victims Association. They are joined by organisations such as the Irish Association of Emergency Medicine and groups from domestic violence, mental health and children’s sectors. In short, the people who will have to pick up the pieces arising from increased alcohol consumption. These are real and valid concerns. They should not be dismissed as “puritanical rhetoric”. Certainly, the families of the more than 1,500 who die from alcohol each year, a third of them from tragic incidents such as road collisions, falls and suicides, could provide an alternative viewpoint.

Incoming taoiseach Simon Harris has previously shown significant leadership in relation to reducing harm from alcohol, championing the Public Health (Alcohol) Act 2018 while he was minister for health. He was certainly aware of the lobbying power of the global alcohol industry which sought to stymie the modest measures in the Act, often using a favoured tactic of denigrating the unbiased, clear evidence of alcohol harm. It is time for him again to stand up to these forces and put public interest ahead of vested interests. – Yours, etc,

Dr SHEILA GILHEANY,

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CEO,

Alcohol Action Ireland,

Dublin 7.

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