Tuesday, 5 November 2002
Dáil Eireann Debate
631. Mr. McCormack asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform the action he can take to help reduce the excess consumption of alcohol by younger people; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [20233/02]
Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Mr. McDowell): As Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, I have responsibility for the general policy on intoxicating liquor legislation. In this regard, the legislation on intoxicating liquor already contains a comprehensive set of provisions designed to tackle the problem of under-age drinking. The primary purpose of these provisions is to make it as difficult as possible for persons under 18 years of age to purchase alcohol or to consume it.
The main legislative provisions relating to under-age drinking are set out in Part IV of the Intoxicating Liquor Act, 1988, as amended by the Intoxicating Liquor Act, 2000. The Act of 2000 provides for considerable strengthening of those provisions which already existed in the Intoxicating Liquor Act, 1988, in relation to the supply or sale of intoxicating liquor to underage persons, including increases in fines for breaches of the law on underage drinking. Serious penalties, including temporary closure of a licensed premises, can result where a licensee is convicted of the offence of selling intoxicating liquor to an under-age person. In this regard, a total of 118 closure orders in respect of licensed premises have been made since the 2000 Act came into force.
It should be noted that in regard to offences relating to underage drinking, the only defence permitted under the current legislation is the production of an age card. Under the national age card scheme, any person who has attained 18 years of age may apply for an age card at his-her local Garda station in order to confirm that they have attained the legal age for the purchase of intoxicating liquor. The use of age cards is widespread, the most recent figures available to me indicate that the Garda has issued over 80,000 age cards to date.
It should be noted that the Garda already has extensive powers under existing legislation to address the problems associated with excessive drinking, and the Criminal Justice (Public Order) Bill, 2002, which I reintroduced on Second Stage in Dáil Éireann on 19 June last, will give the  Garda significant additional powers in dealing with drunkenness and disorderly conduct.
Regarding the health and education aspects of intoxicating liquor, these issues come within the ambit of my colleagues Deputy Martin, Minister for Health and Children and Deputy Dempsey, Minister for Education and Science, who is responsible for education matters relating to intoxicating liquor and young people, within his Department.
While legislative measures, together with initiatives such as an age card scheme, can help to curtail the problem of underage drinking, they cannot be viewed as the only solution. Dealing with the demand side of the underage drinking problem should not be seen as the province of the State agencies alone. In reality, it falls on all parties with an interest in this area, the drinks industry, the media, politicians, teachers and in particular, parents, to play their part in helping to address the problem of alcohol abuse, with special regard to young people.
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