The brutal impact of the damage caused by the drink was described by a hospital consultant who explained why she and her colleagues are supporting the introduction of a minimum unit price (MUP) for alcohol.
The measure is due to come into effect next January, ahead of Northern Ireland, despite plans to introduce it simultaneously to reduce the potential for cross-border travel to buy cheap alcohol.
Speaking at the policy’s launch, Tánaiste Leo Varadkar said it would save lives and ease pressure on the health service.
Health Minister Stephen Donnelly insisted the measure is being introduced “because there is strong evidence that it works.” He said the government would urge Stormont to act on the issue.
Professor Siobhan MacHale, Consultant Liaison Psychiatrist at Beaumont Hospital underlined the human impact of alcohol-related harm that it sees “on a daily basis”.
She cited a mother in her 40s with alcohol-related brain damage who did not recognize her 12-year-old when they came to visit her and a man in his 30s dying in the intensive care unit in due to the damage caused by the consumption of vodka. and 14 cans of cider and beer a day.
Professor MacHale also spoke of a mother breastfeeding a small baby while drinking a bottle of vodka a day and said Ireland has the third highest rate of fetal alcohol syndrome in the world.
She said even during the pandemic, a quarter of Beaumont’s non-Covid intensive care beds were needed for patients with alcohol-related problems.
She said she and her colleagues “warmly welcome and strongly support the minimum unit price as a targeted public health measure to help the most vulnerable in our society minimize alcohol-related harm.
Mr Donnelly said it was unlikely that MUP would be introduced in Northern Ireland before 2023, and added that Ireland was “not willing to wait that long”.
“I still hope they will do the same and we will put pressure on the parties present to do so, in particular the parties who co-chair the executive: Sinn Féin and DUP.
He said the government will “pressure” the executive to do what has already been done in Scotland and is going to be done here and in Wales.
Mr Varadkar said he would speak about it during his engagements with his northern counterparts and would speak to Secretary of State Brandon Lewis during a meeting in Dublin on Wednesday.
Mr Donnelly said some supermarkets are currently selling alcohol “cheaper than water” which he said was “not good and not healthy”.
Mr Donnelly said alcohol-related mortality was over 1,000 people per year, while international analysis estimated 2,700 alcohol-related deaths in Ireland in 2016.
He said the number of hospitalizations entirely attributable to alcohol doubled between 1995 and 2018.
Minister of State for Public Health Frank Feighan added: “We know from our modeling and evidence from Scotland that the minimum unit price has the greatest impact on harmful drinkers and at high risk.
“If we can get cheap hard liquor out of our stores, we can reduce the burden of disease and we can put hard liquor out of the price bracket of our children and youth.”
The minimum unit price for alcohol in Ireland will see a minimum “floor” price of 10 cents per gram of alcohol, and is designed to target inexpensive drinks with a high alcohol content, and will not apply to the alcohol sold in pubs and licensed establishments, but to those sold in supermarkets and unlicensed. –Authorization for additional reporting