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 Header Item Sexual Offences (Continued)
 Header Item Northern Ireland Issues

Tuesday, 11 December 2012

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 786 No. 1

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(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy Alex White: Information on Alex White Zoom on Alex White] Taking this together with all the other evidence considered by the steering group, it is clear there is an irrefutable need for action to be taken across a number of policy areas, including pricing, access, availability and marketing of alcohol. In this context, I assure the Deputy that real and tangible proposals are currently being finalised on foot of the recommendations of the substance misuse report. I intend to submit these proposals to the Government for consideration and approval as soon as possible. I reiterate that these proposals cover all the areas mentioned in the report, including legislation on minimum unit pricing - in other words, setting a statutory floor price per unit of alcohol; the issue of access and availability of alcohol, covering structural separation in retail units where alcohol is sold; and advertising and sponsorship.

I and my officials are in continuing discussions with the Departments of Justice and Equality, Transport, Tourism and Sport and Communications, Energy and Natural Resources on aspects of these proposals. These ongoing discussions relate in particular to structural separation, sponsorship, and advertising. Obviously, the Government's main preoccupation in recent weeks has been with the budget, and so these discussions have not yet been concluded. However, I expect to make progress on this important and necessary plan of action early in the new year, when a package of proposals will be brought to the Government for decision. I emphasise that I have the full support of the Minister for Health, Deputy James Reilly, with regard to proceeding with this plan of action.

In the meantime, work on developing a framework for the necessary legislation is continuing. For example, a health impact assessment is being commissioned in conjunction with Northern Ireland as part of the process of developing a legislative basis for minimum unit pricing. Scotland commissioned the same sort of assessment before it drafted its legislation on minimum unit pricing a short time ago. This North-South health impact assessment will study the effects of different minimum prices on consumption, together with their likely economic impact. I am personally deeply committed to the introduction of minimum unit pricing, but I want to ensure we do this properly and in a way that will withstand legal challenge.

Deputy Ciara Conway: Information on Ciara Conway Zoom on Ciara Conway I welcome the reply of the Minister of State and his commitment to legislate for minimum pricing of alcohol. I have some final points. Where alcohol consumption was known, almost 90% of defendants in rape trials had been binge drinking. Ten percent of all reported cases involved a complainant who was incapable of offering consent because of alcohol consumption. Alcohol has been identified as a contributing factor in 97% of public order offences, as recorded by the Garda Pulse system. One in 11 people in the past year said that they or a family member had been assaulted by somebody under the influence of alcohol. Almost half of the perpetrators of homicide were intoxicated when the crime was committed.

We are paying a very high price with people's lives in regard to our inaction on alcohol. In my view, some of the utterances about loss of revenue to sporting organisations because of advertising or marketing curtailment cheapen life when we see how alcohol contributes not only to the commission of sexual assault but to the loss of people's lives as a result of the misuse of alcohol. We cannot leave this go any longer. I welcome this statement and look forward to working with the Minister of State in the new year to ensure legislation is introduced on this issue.

Deputy Alex White: Information on Alex White Zoom on Alex White I will add some brief references to the Government's policy as it relates to the issue raised by the Deputy. In March 2010 the Government launched a four-year strategy to provide a framework for sustainable intervention to prevent and respond effectively to domestic, sexual, and gender-based violence. COSC is the national office established in 2007, under the aegis of the Department of Justice and Equality, to ensure the delivery of the Government's strategy on domestic, sexual and gender-based violence. The HSE launched its own policy on domestic, sexual and gender-based violence in 2010. The principal actions of this policy are in line with the Government's strategy. Recently, the national director for children and family services, who has lead responsibility for this area, established a national office for domestic and sexual violence within the HSE. Currently, the HSE funds 16 rape crisis centres, 20 crisis refuges and 27 support services, including two national representative bodies - Safe Ireland and RCNI. The total cost of these in 2011 was almost €20 million. Some €4.5 million was specifically provided by the HSE to fund sexual violence services in 2011.

Again, I reassure the Deputy and the House that the Government is fully committed to addressing the problem of domestic, sexual and gender-based violence. Our alcohol strategy, as identified by the Deputy, will constitute one important element of this work.

Northern Ireland Issues

Deputy Brendan Smith: Information on Brendan Smith Zoom on Brendan Smith I appreciate the presence of the Tánaiste to take this Topical Issue matter.

  The scale of the challenge facing Northern Ireland was laid bare during recent weeks. The rampant violence, lawlessness and intimidation we have witnessed is symptomatic of a problem which has come to the fore on the streets of Belfast in a profoundly depressing way in the course of the past week. There have also been unwelcome incidents in Derry, Armagh and elsewhere. As I see it, if politics in Northern Ireland is not demonstrably and tangibly about bread-and-butter issues it turns very quickly into shouting and roaring about flags, emblems, parades and all the things that have scarred public life in that area for far too many people for far too long. All of us in this House recognise that this part of Ulster was deprived of normal politics for many decades.

  If loyalist gangs are able to burn the offices of political opponents, issue death threats, close schools early and cause economic havoc in the run-up to Christmas without sanction, all ostensibly in support of a proposition from Unionist parties that was democratically defeated in Belfast City Council, there is something seriously wrong within the leadership of Unionism. This leadership must demand the ending of all street protests once and for all. Every political party must condemn in the strongest possible manner this totally unacceptable behaviour. Similarly, if republican politics in the North has not evolved beyond the point at which a change in the timetable for flying a British flag and the naming of playgrounds are celebrated as major victories, serious questions should be raised about the kind of leadership that is being given and how much serious thought is going into defining republicanism in a post-Good-Friday-Agreement world. That is unless, at some level, it suits the dominant leadership of the Unionist and Nationalist blocs that their society, the media and the political establishment continue to be seized by the images and rhetoric of flags and emblems. Some would ask whether it is entirely unreasonable to worry that arguments about flags and emblems are being tacitly encouraged as a distraction from the fact that politicians are not delivering on the issues that make an actual difference to the quality of people's lives. Those who are interested in real politics wonder where are the campaigns to highlight the fact that Northern Ireland suffers from unforgivably high levels of child poverty and economic inactivity.

  Throughout my constituency of Cavan-Monaghan, small businesses and retailers are struggling to keep their heads above water. For them, Christmas is the make-or-break time when they need to make sales. Similarly, for the workers they employ it is a chance to make a few extra bob for the Christmas holidays or to secure their employment for the coming year. I can only begin to imagine how disastrous closing down Cavan or Monaghan town for a week in the immediate lead-up to Christmas would be for jobs in my area. This is exactly what is happening in Belfast city centre. How many families are quietly and helplessly seeing their livelihoods being threatened in Belfast as this failure of politics continues?

  Our party leader, Deputy Micheál Martin, expressed an opinion on what is happening in the North only to incur a raft of the usual criticism from both dominant political parties in Stormont, parties that seem to be content with the frozen status quo. The peace process is not about two permanently opposed entrenched blocs occasionally flaring up into violence. It must be - and is - about more than that. The Good Friday Agreement was achieved with the work, effort, commitment, diligence and tenacity of so many people on this island, as well as the work of Mr. Blair, who was head of the British Government at the time. The aim of the peace process was always intended to be more than just an absence of violence. The people of the North deserve a political system that delivers progress and demonstrates that politics works. In other words, it is about making their lives better.

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