Belfast Telegraph

Friday 26 December 2014

DrinkAware responds to student move

DrinkAware insisted that while it does not encourage anyone to drink, it would never support prohibition
DrinkAware insisted that while it does not encourage anyone to drink, it would never support prohibition

A campaign group for responsible drinking has said it refuses to enforce a nanny-state approach to alcohol despite student representatives pulling their support.

DrinkAware, run by Meas, insisted that while it does not encourage anyone to drink, it would never support prohibition.

The Union of Students in Ireland (USI) announced it is to sever all ties with the campaign in a row over the promotion of Arthur's Day, which promotes Guinness.

Fionnuala Sheehan, chief executive of Meas - which was set up by Ireland's alcohol manufacturers, distributors and trade associations - said that telling young people to avoid alcohol altogether does not encourage responsible drinking.

"Meas/drinkaware.ie is an alcohol social responsibility organisation, not an alcohol prohibition body, established to tackle problems arising from the abuse or misuse of alcohol," Ms Sheehan said.

"Meas/drinkaware.ie does not encourage anyone to drink. Indeed it advises there are circumstances where people should not drink alcohol.

"But we seek to address the realities of alcohol in Irish society as they have developed over time."

The USI announced it is to develop its own independent alcohol awareness campaign.

The union's national council agreed earlier this month to end its relationship with DrinkAware, which it said is funded by a self-regulating drinks industry.

USI president Joe O'Connor suggested DrinkAware did little by way of campaigning in the run-up to Arthur's Day in September.

"The Arthur's Day festival by Diageo further deepened our concerns regarding the credibility of DrinkAware's alcohol awareness campaign," Mr O'Connor said.

"Encouraging students to drink responsibly is still an encouragement for students to drink - regardless of how it's qualified.

"Due to this, we have decided that it serves no purpose for USI to work with DrinkAware on any alcohol awareness campaigns."

In a letter to Ms Sheehan, the union said while this may serve DrinkAware's purpose, it does not serve the purpose of the USI.

Ms Sheehan said the campaign's target audience is 18 to 24-year-olds - 87% of whom drink alcohol.

"From extensive research we have conducted we know that adopting a 'do not drink' approach to this age group is actually a turn-off and is regarded as a nanny-state approach," Ms Sheehan said.

"The very difficult task which Meas/drinkaware.ie undertakes is to challenge and change some of the harmful cultural ways in which Irish people have, for generations, used alcohol."

She said the organisation's current campaign about pacing is an example of how it encourages people to drink at their own pace and not be pressured into drinking more or faster than they would like.

Meanwhile, the Rape Crisis Network of Ireland praised the USI for pulling its support from DrinkAware.

Director Fiona Neary described the campaign group's promotion of alcohol consumption as a "normalising influence" that targets young people.

"USI's leadership in this area is vital given the resources the alcohol industry can call upon to resist change to reduce alcohol harm in Ireland," Ms Neary said.

She pointed out that a Rape and Justice in Ireland report from 2009 found that 77% of suspects in rape cases examined by the director of public prosecutions had been drinking on the day of the alleged offence.

"It is important that organisations and those in authority make considered decisions about how and to what extent to engage in promoting a drinking culture in Ireland," Ms Neary said.

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