Per capita alcohol use in Ireland remains among the highest across OECD countries. By the time Irish adolescents reach 17, four in every five have consumed alcohol, and girls are ranked 3rd and boys 4th for their rates of binge drinking in a comparison of 195 countries globally. In recognition of this, the Irish Government passed the Public Health (Alcohol) Act in 2018 in an attempt to reduce overall alcohol use and alcohol-related harms, but central to the legislation is to delay and prevent alcohol use among children.
Section 14 of the Act prohibits alcohol advertising near schools, as the evidence confirms that intoxigenic environments increase childhood exposure to alcohol marketing, normalise alcohol use, lead to earlier alcohol initiation, influence education performance and increase rates of school absenteeism.
In 2022, the General Scheme of the Sale of Alcohol Bill was published by the Irish Government’s Department of Justice. The legislation proposes to remove the limit on the number of licences that can be issued thereby likely increasing outlet density.
High alcohol outlet density is associated with increased price competition, making alcohol more affordable and accessible and has a significant influence on alcohol-related harm, through violence and injuries, drink-driving, disorderly conduct and property damage.
Publicly available data identifying the location of all liquor licences and all schools (both primary and secondary) in Ireland was imported into geographic information system software. The density and proximity of alcohol outlets surrounding schools were examined.
We found that 44% of all schools in Ireland have at least one licensed premises within 300 metres; 43% of primary schools and 52% of secondary schools.
With the evidence firmly indicating that such intoxigenic environments increase the risk of alcohol-related harm, and adversely impact young people’s lives, it is important that public health be prioritised when considering the proposed legislation to increase outlet density.
What can be done?
Prohibiting or limiting the issuing of licences near schools and/or restricting the number of licences in localities already densely populated with such premises, should be considered. So too should the issuing of licences in close proximity to certain facilities such as mental health services or addiction treatment service providers.
Further research is required to understand the influence of alcohol availability and accessibility on schoolchildren. We also aim to examine the data in greater detail to identify the types of licences close to schools (e.g., pubs, shops, standalone off-licences etc.) and to explore their prevalence by area of deprivation.
Written by Anne Doyle, Research Officer, Health Research Board Ireland.
All IAS Blogposts are published with the permission of the author. The views expressed are solely the author’s own and do not necessarily represent the views of the Institute of Alcohol Studies.