Bishops launch pastoral letter ‘Alcohol The Challenge of Moderation’

16 Feb 2007



Bishops launch pastoral letter Alcohol The Challenge of Moderation – 12 noon, 16 February 2007

1. Archbishop Martin launches pastoral for Temperance Sunday and Lent 2007
2. Society’s use of alcohol is nothing short of a national tragedy – Bishop Walsh

On behalf of the Irish Bishops’ Conference, the Archbishop of Dublin, Dr Diarmuid Martin, today launched the pastoral letter Alcohol The Challenge of Moderation. The launch took place at the Fr Mathew statue on Dublin’s O’Connell St. The Day of Prayer for Temperance is on Sunday and the beginning of Lent, Ash Wednesday, is next week.

At the launch, Bishop Eamonn Walsh, the vice chair of the bishops’ alcohol and drugs initiative, said: “Father Mathew addressed the excessive consumption of alcohol in the Ireland of 1850s. Today Ireland is a very different place, yet once again we have a destructive relationship with alcohol. What is our response? Do we just shrug helplessly, leave it to others to do, or do we assume responsibility ourselves? Are we going to let the slide continue, and then in time lament by perhaps quoting the late John Healy, ‘No one shouted stop’?

“Moderation is a responsible approach to consuming alcohol. Some may choose abstinence which is equally laudable. However if we look at international research on alcohol consumption, Irish society’s use of alcohol is nothing short of a national tragedy. Ireland tops two recent international league tables which measure, (i) the level of binge drinking amongst those under the age of 20, and, separately, (ii) in terms of alcohol consumption for those aged 15 and above*.”

Bishop Walsh said: “This Pastoral Letter is an attempt to initiate a debate that will enable us all to gradually change unhealthy attitudes towards alcohol. Also incorporated in the pastoral are some practical suggestions, such as: to reduce one’s consumption of alcohol by one third and assess the difference this makes after three months, and, to initiate a discussion amongst friends and at home about our attitude to and use of alcohol.”

To encourage debate at public policy level, the pastoral letter will be sent to public representatives north and south, the National Youth Council, sporting bodies, chaplaincies, unions, public health authorities and interest groups in this area.

For September the Bishops’ Conference intends to develop a DVD, based on the pastoral, for use by schools and colleges. This pastoral is also now available on in English, Irish and Polish.
The Pastoral concludes with an invitation to forward suggestions to the Irish Bishops’ Drugs & Alcohol Initiative [email protected] or in writing to the Columba Centre, Maynooth, as to how moderation can be promoted at local parish level.


1. *WHO Global Status Report on Alcohol 2004 and OECD Health Data 2006.

1. According to the Institute of Advertising Practitioners in Ireland, the drinks industry spent €65m on advertising alcoholic brands in 2005 compared to €1.75m promoting responsible drinking. Irish people spent €6.5bn on alcohol in 2005.

1. About the Father Theobald Mathew statue in O’Connell Street, Dublin: The foundation stone was laid in 1890, the centenary of his birth. The sculptor was Mary Redmond (1863-1930) and this was an unusual and high-profile commission for a woman at the time. Her model was an ex-footman from St Joseph’s Night Refuge who had fallen on hard times; ironically she had to dismiss him as he was under the influence of drink and replace him with another model. The statue was unveiled in February 1893. As was customary in the 19th century, the Fr Mathew Statue was paid for by public subscription, which was organized by a voluntary committee. The topmost stone of the base for the statue was laid in 1890 by Edward Kennedy, Lord Mayor of Dublin, to mark the centenary of Fr Mathew’s birth. The statue was unveiled on 8 February 1893 by James Shanks, Lord Mayor of Dublin.

1. Fr Theobald Mathew (1790-1856) was a Cork-born Capuchin Friar who led a great temperance movement from 1839-1856. His anti-drink campaign is considered to have been a great social revolution that saw the establishment of Temperance Societies in every parish in the country. At its peak between 1838-1845, it was estimated that there were 3-4 million abstaining from drink in Ireland. This high number was aided by the fact that Fr Mathew appealed to every class and rank in society. In 1843, Fr Mathew went to England and Scotland where he had further success, and later spent over two years in the US where he gave the pledge in over 300 towns. With the words “Here goes in the name of God” he signed the Cork Total Abstinence Society on 10 April 1838, and his campaign began. He became President of the Cork Total Abstinence Society and after just ten months over 6000 had taken the pledge: “I promise to abstain from all intoxicating drinks, except used medically and by order of a medical man, and to discountenance the cause and practice of intemperance.” In January a theatrical production of the life of Fr Mathew, supported by the Cork Opera House, was staged in the Half Moon Theatre in Cork.

1. Selection of print and online media reports on the use of alcohol in Irish society:
1. “I have just given up drink for a month. The first time since I was 16, and it’s not easy. There are not many alternatives to the pub on the weekend, videos and cinema can only be done so much.” (, anonymous contributor).

1. “We need to take stock and take measures to protect our young people and offer alternatives to our alcohol culture. Does it start in childhood with children learning to drink from their parents or is it “Irish Culture”, i.e. craic agus ruille buille [sic]?” (, anonymous contributor).

1. “We are seeing a fairly significant increase in decompensated liver disease which is the end of the road for many patients and also full blown cirrhosis. Patients are generally admitted to A&E and referred on to our centre. Internal referral is now greater than I have ever seen and is predominantly in Irish men and women in their 30s and 40s, which is extremely worrying,” Dr John Crowe consultant gastroenterologist at the Mater hospital’s centre for liver disease (The Irish Times, 5 December 2006).

1. “People are drinking more at early stages in their life and this is especially alarming in young Irish women who are top of the table worldwide in binge-drinking patterns,” Gerry Cooney, co-ordinator of pre-treatment services at the Rutland Centre (The Irish Times, 5 December 2006).

1. Alcohol addiction experts say that Ireland’s reputation as a nation of heavy drinkers is seen to be part of our culture. Many feel that responsible drinking needs to be promoted and more education on the issue made available. (The Irish Times, 5 December 2006).

1. “Alcohol is nothing less than one of the most important public health issues of our time … Binge drinking and drunkenness are the norm for many Irish drinkers while this is not the case in most Mediterranean countries … Focus group research has found that the typical night out for a young binge drinker is to go out with the intention of getting drunk.” (independent alcohol interest group Alcohol Action Ireland, 30 May 2005).

* Useful publications and websites:
* Alcohol The Challenge of Moderation is available in Catholic Churches and on
* breaking the silence (Veritas, 1997) – Drug use and drug addiction.
* Beyond Maintenance (Veritas, 2000) – papers from a drug treatment seminar organised by the Irish Bishops’ Conference with The Irish Times.
* Homily of Archbishop Dermot Clifford at 150th Anniversary Mass for Fr Theobald Mathew
* Homily of Bishop John Fleming on 20 March 2004 for the Pioneer Total Abstinence Association
* Pioneer Total Abstinence Association of the Sacred Heart