Social Democrats co-leader Róisín Shortall has called on the Minister for Education to urgently introduce a new programme for alcohol awareness for the Junior Cycle to replace the programme being offered by Drink Aware.
Ms Shortall told RTÉ’s Today with Claire Byrne show the Drink Aware course was a conflict of interest, adding it is not appropriate to have a programme in schools which had been funded by the alcohol industry.
However, Sheena Horgan, chief executive of Drink Aware, said the charity was “funded, not run by” the drinks industry.
Ms Horgan called on the HSE, the Department of Health and the Department of Education to meet with the charity to discuss the “primary preventative programme” which had been provided to schools to “fill the gap” in education.
“They’ve never requested to see the programme. No one came to us. The programme is needed, underage drinking is a serious issue,” Ms Horgan said.
“We are funded by the alcohol industry, but we have charitable status. The programme was not created by the industry, it was created by educators, it was developed in situ by teachers.
“A cursory glance at the materials shows in a very crystal clear way that alcohol has no place in childhood. There is a push back to defer the age at which they take their first drink. Drink Aware has always said that no one should drink under the age of 18.”
Ms Shortall said the alcohol industry should not have any role in schools, adding it was very difficult to accept the independence of Drink Aware.
“I am calling on the Minister for Education to issue a new circular to all schools advising them on health grounds not to use this programme. It has to stop immediately,” Ms Shortall said.
“The alcohol industry should not have any role whatsoever in education. The Minister needs to move quickly to fill the gap and develop a new programme.
“There is no justification for having the alcohol industry in our schools. We wouldn’t allow the tobacco industry into schools to talk about smoking responsibly.”
Ms Horgan said Drink Aware had a public health remit which included addressing the issue of underage drinking: “If we were about selling alcohol, we would not have charitable status.
“It is critically important that we tackle underage drinking by working together, we need to take a collective approach.”