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Senator Black selected as Oireachtas cross-party group on alcohol harm

I was honoured to be selected yesterday as the chairperson of the Oireachtas cross-party group on alcohol harm, which is an informal group seeking to progress legislation and policy that can reduce alcohol harm in Ireland, with a particular emphasis on the implementation of the Public Health (Alcohol) Bill. Yesterday we had our first briefing, which highlighted the impact of harmful parental drinking on children in Ireland. There was a great turnout at the event and it was fantastic to see such huge interest. We were honoured to have such speakers as the chief executive of the ISPCC, Grainia Long; the head of advocacy at Barnardos, June Tinsley; the chief executive of the Children's Rights Alliance, Tanya Ward; and Suzanne Costello from Alcohol Action Ireland.

As many Members may know, I hear daily from family members impacted by a loved one's alcohol, drug or gambling problem. Families all over Ireland are devastated by alcohol misuse and the most vulnerable person within the family unit is the child. Children living with parents who drink in a harmful manner are among the most vulnerable in society. The wide range of harms caused to children as a result of harmful drinking in the home is known as "hidden harm" as the harm is often not visible in public and largely kept behind closed doors. These vulnerable children can suffer in silence. They do not know where to turn for help and the impact of harmful parental drinking has a deep and long-lasting impact on their lives.

The voice of Irish children was heard on this issue when the ISPCC national children consultation surveyed almost 10,000 children aged between 12 and 18 years on the effects of parental alcohol use on their lives. The findings from this survey show that one in 11 young people said that parental alcohol use affected them in a negative way. These negative effects include emotional impacts, abuse and violence, impacts on family relations, changes in parental behaviour and neglect. Some children who took part in this survey commented:

It worries me; I can't get on with my life as I am taking care of my mum. When they get drunk, they don't know what they are doing. It's embarrassing. I hate it. I have to mind my sister while my [mam] looks for my father in the pub.

We need to address the impacts of parental drinking by introducing measures to protect children from alcohol harm in the home. It is imperative that we ensure the best possible start in life for every child and effective prevention of alcohol harm and provide early intervention. The Public Health (Alcohol) Bill is evidence-based legislation that aims to reduce our high levels of alcohol consumption in Ireland and can therefore play a key role in helping to break the negative cycle of harmful parental drinking that causes so many problems for children. The Bill contains a provision for structural separation of alcohol products in mixed retail outlets, such as supermarkets and convenience stores, which will mean they can no longer be displayed like everyday or ordinary products, such as bread or milk.

I also acknowledge all the great work that Alcohol Action Ireland has done on this issue over the last few years. It is a privilege to work alongside them. I look forward to continuing to work with them in the future and I look forward to moving forward with this legislation.

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