Pastoral Letter – Society’s use of alcohol is nothing short of a national tragedy – Bishop Eamonn Walsh

16 Feb 2007


Speech by Bishop Eamonn Walsh, Vice Chair of the Bishops’ Drugs and Alcohol Initiative

at the launch of the Bishops’ Conference pastoral letter Alcohol The Challenge of Moderation for the Day of Prayer for Temperance and Lent 2007

Fr Mathew statue O’Connell St, Dublin – 12 noon, 16 February 2007

Thank you for attending this afternoon for the media launch of the Bishops’ Conference pastoral letter Alcohol The Challenge of Moderation.

While the subject matter of the pastoral is as significant and relevant to the Ireland of the 21st century as it was during the Famine era – which was the backdrop to the life of Fr Mathew – our initiative today is undertaken with a sense of optimism. At the height of our society’s economic boom, surely now is the time to confidently deal with our failings.

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*. As well as talk, action is now clearly needed.

This Pastoral Letter is an attempt to initiate a debate that will enable us all to name what is happening and gradually to change unhealthy attitudes towards alcohol. In the words of the pastoral: ‘What a great legacy and gift it would be for our children in this new emerging country of ours if we would be the generation brave to promote and work for an attitude and culture of moderation rather than excess in our use of alcohol’.

However, the Bishops’ Conference hopes to do more than encourage a debate on this national problem. 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.

Another is a suggestion for the Season of Lent. Many people decide to observe temperance during Lent in the spirit of giving up in order to become better people. Should people decide to make giving up alcohol part of their Lenten fast and abstinence, the freedom and extra resources they experience could be channelled into helping others in need, at home and in the Third World.

To encourage debate at public policy level, it is also our intention to send the pastoral letter to public representatives north and south, the National Youth Council, sporting bodies, chaplaincies, unions, public health authorities and interest groups in this area.

Prayer often motivates the making of such sacrifices that are turned into positive forces for good and not just arid self-denial.

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. The initiative is piloting projects in rural and urban parishes, together with Statutory and Voluntary services, aimed at developing an alcohol and drugs strategy as well as identifying ways of providing alternatives to the present drugs and alcohol culture.

For September, in order to target today’s message specifically, Bishops intend to develop a DVD version of the pastoral for use by schools and colleges. This pastoral is now also available on in English, Irish and Polish.

I would like to thank Fr Dan Joe O’Mahony of the Capuchins for his support for today’s launch. The pastoral work of the Church will continue in this area and to this end I wish to also thank Fr Martin Murphy and Mr Chris Murphy, both present today, of the Irish Bishops’ Drugs and Alcohol Initiative. Our initiative has also received support from the Drugs Strategy Unit of the Department of Community Rural & Gaeltacht Affairs, and I wish to acknowledge that support today.

We owe it to his generation and the next to find a way which is not destructive or harmful, to enjoy alcohol as a gift from God.