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 Header Item Mental Health and Suicide (Continued)
 Header Item Sexual Offences

Tuesday, 11 December 2012

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 786 No. 1

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(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy Dan Neville: Information on Dan Neville Zoom on Dan Neville] I commend the Minister of State, Deputy Kathleen Lynch, on her success in ensuring that this particular Government commitment was honoured in 2012. In regard to the commitment to approve the filling of 414 posts in 2012 for the purposes of implementing objectives under the €35 million funding programme, I understand that 17 posts have been filled to date and 270 offers of employment have been accepted. Those appointments are proceeding and staff are expected to commence work this month. It seems clear, however, that the full allocation of €35 million cannot have been spent because the staff were not in place in time. Will the Minister of State indicate the status of the funding which was not spent as a consequence of this delay? I accept that such delays may arise, but the question is whether these particular moneys were transferred to other areas within the mental health sector or were instead moved out to other sectors of the broader health service.

Deputy Alex White: Information on Alex White Zoom on Alex White I thank the Deputy for giving us the benefit of his knowledge and insight on this issue. His point regarding the importance of language is well made. I agree fully that care must be exercised in this regard, even in respect of the individual words and phrases used to describe particular situations. At the same time, we must take on board the reluctance people sometimes feel when it comes to articulating their views and experiences in this area. As such, our efforts to exercise caution in the language we use and to urge others to do the same should not go so far that they run the risk of shutting down any type of discussion. In other words, taking care about the language and expressions we use must not prevent us from having a sufficiently frank and open debate, whether in this House, in the media or elsewhere. Having said that, I very much take the Deputy's point regarding the great hurt that can be caused when factual misunderstandings and so on arise.

I thank the Deputy for his acknowledgment that the allocation of €35 million for measures set out in A Vision for Change will be maintained next year, notwithstanding the very considerable demands on the funding of mental health services. I am pleased to confirm that this funding, ring-fenced as it is for 2013, will be of enormous benefit in terms of achieving our objectives in this area, objectives that the Government shares with the Deputy.

Sexual Offences

Deputy Ciara Conway: Information on Ciara Conway Zoom on Ciara Conway A damning and disturbing report published yesterday by Rape Crisis Network Ireland, RCNI, raises the issue of the role of alcohol misuse in acts of sexual violence. We are all aware that there is a major problem of alcohol abuse in our society. As we enter the festive season, evidence of that will, unfortunately, show up at huge cost in waiting rooms and hospitals throughout the country.

RCNI provides an excellent service to people who are subjected to one of the most serious crimes in our society. Its latest report issues a stark warning that our refusal to tackle binge drinking has contributed to the incidence of acts of sexual violence, predominantly against women. According to Alcohol Action Ireland, 76% of all rape defendants had been drinking at the time of the alleged offence. In addition, RCNI's research shows that alcohol not only plays a large part in sex attacks but also skews attitudes to both victims and perpetrators. It is a grossly unfair paradox that victims who consumed alcohol prior to being assaulted are often assumed to bear greater responsibility for the ordeal of the sexual crime committed against them while, on the other hand, perpetrators who consumed alcohol are somehow assumed to hold less responsibility for their actions than perpetrators who were sober when the crime was committed. This prevailing attitude towards perpetrators and victims, respectively, is a cause for great concern.

Last week's budget included a raft of measures in regard to alcohol, including a timely and appropriate increase in VAT. I am disappointed, however, that we have not seen action on proposals for a regime of minimum pricing. It is intolerable that large retail multiples which engage in below-cost selling are entitled to a VAT rebate on such sales. While I acknowledge that my colleague, the Minister of State, Deputy Alex White, is keen to bring forward a minimum pricing strategy, I am concerned at the rather non-committal answer given on this matter by the Minister for Health, Deputy James Reilly, in response to a recent parliamentary question. Vague suggestions that something will be done at the earliest opportunity are simply not good enough.

The role played by the misuse of alcohol in sexual violence must be addressed if we are to meet our human rights obligations. That is the kernel of the issue. The executive director of RCNI, Ms Fiona Neary, said yesterday that there was a relationship between prevailing attitudes to women, sex and alcohol consumption and decisions to carry out acts of sexual violence. As she outlined in a submission to the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality earlier this year, the impact of alcohol consumption patterns in our culture, combined with victim blaming, can leave young people vulnerable to sexual violence. Research shows that 45% of rape complainants and 40% of suspects in this country were binge drinking before the incident of sexual assault. That is a stark and disturbing figure.

Deputy Alex White: Information on Alex White Zoom on Alex White I thank the Deputy for raising this important matter. The role played by alcohol in acts of sexual violence is undeniable. A fact sheet published yesterday by RCNI details various aspects of this serious problem, and I have carefully considered its recommendations. These include a call to limit the availability of alcohol, a proposal that marketing of alcohol should be regulated, or better regulated, and support for the introduction of alcohol pricing policies.

In addition to this and similar reports in the past, the report of the national substance misuse strategy steering group was launched earlier this year. The group was charged with identifying actions to deal with the harm caused by alcohol use and misuse. In its report, a series of harm patterns and the impacts of alcohol and alcohol misuse were identified. We were informed, for example, that 88 deaths every month in 2008 were caused by alcohol and that one in four deaths among young men are estimated to be due to alcohol, which compares with one in 12 deaths due to cancer and one in 25 due to cardiovascular disease. We learned that alcohol was a contributory factor in half of all suicides and incidents of deliberate self-harm and also increases the risk of more than 60 medical conditions, including some cancers. Alcohol misuse was associated with 2,000 bed occupancies every day in acute hospitals, with a quarter of injuries presenting to emergency departments and with 7,866 admissions in 2010 to specialised addiction treatment centres. In addition, alcohol was identified as a trigger in a third of domestic abuse cases in 2005. Alcohol abuse cost the health care system €1.2 billion in 2007, in addition to an estimated €1.19 billion in the same year arising from alcohol-related crime. The steering group noted that 1.5 million Irish drinkers consume alcohol in what they describe as a "harmful pattern".

One of the studies that informed the work of the steering group was the 2009 report entitled Rape and Justice in Ireland, a national study of survivor, prosecutor and court responses to rape by Conor Hanly and others. This study shows that decisions on the consumption of alcohol made by both men and women can have the effect of facilitating the incidence of rape and making the detection and prosecution of sexual crimes more difficult. It indicates, moreover, that alcohol consumption affects decisions on whether to report alleged rape.

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