Bishops host national conference ‘Alcohol Drugs – Parishes Respond’

04 Oct 2008

4 October 2008

Bishops host national conference ‘Alcohol Drugs – Parishes Respond’

The Irish Bishops’ Drugs Initiative (IBDI) today [4 October 2008] hosted its first national conference in Maynooth. The theme of the conference ‘Alcohol Drugs – Parishes Respond’ was addressed by Bishop Noel Treanor, Bishop of Down and Connor. Bishop Treanor officially launched a report at the conference which explores best practice in drug prevention based on feedback from pilot parish projects around the country.

160 delegates, representing ten pilot parish projects, were welcomed to the conference by Bishop Éamonn Walsh, vice-chair of the IBDI.  Bishop Walsh said, “There are many ways in which parishes can contribute to the prevention of drug and alcohol problems. For example, if parish schools are already teaching the Social Personal and Health Education Programme, then they are already strengthening young people in their response to drugs.

“Similarly, if a parish centre makes a room available to a self-help group, then it is already making a pastoral response to those who need and deserve support. Our initiative combines the spiritual with the practical, so that our responses will address the whole person: body, mind and spirit.” Bishop Walsh said. “The parish, however, has a special relationship with families because the parish is the spiritual heart of each community. As the family is where young people develop their core values, the parish has to be resourceful in responding to the needs of parents,” he said.

Bishop Walsh continued, “The target audience, for the IBDI, is local communities that want their children to be drug free and educated in a way that they become aware from an early age that alcohol is a drug and can damage the brain and vital organs of the body as well as impair judgement and the executive functions of the brain. To use it destructively before physical and mental maturity can do irreparable harm to self and others.”

Officially launching Alcohol Drugs – Parishes Respond Bishop Treanor said, “The raw reality of alcohol and substance abuse is that it exists across all age brackets and socio-economic strata. However, it is heartening to witness in today’s report our Christian faith at work. Alcohol Drugs – Parishes Respond exemplifies the energy, hope and love which have inspired women and men to care for, heal and empower the addict. Here Christian faith, a faith grown from the incarnation of God in the man Jesus of Nazareth, enters the depravity of broken existence and acts as a power to save and heal.”

Mr Denis Bradley, founder of Northlands Addiction Centre, consultant to the North West Alcohol Forum and a member of the Northern Ireland ‘Consultative Group on the Past’ delivered the keynote speech and Sr Consilio, founder of Cuan Mhuire Addiction Treatment Centres, which provides places for 600 people in recovery from addiction, spoke on the required pastoral response needed to deal with addiction in the community.

Other conference speakers included Mr John Taaffe, IBDI Coordinator and Mr Tommy Gilsenan representing Jobstown Assisting Drug Dependency. Presentations were made by some of the parishes involved in the pilot projects and there was also a discussion on the Department of Education & Science’s ‘Walk Tall Programme’ on substance misuse.

The IBDI project is cost effective and maximises local talent and resources:

  • It is a way of changing attitudes of mind where parishes take ownership of a problem by taming it rather than indulging in the blame game; and,
  • It provides a parish with skills that can be transferred to other needs that may arise in the future.

Alcohol Drugs – Parishes Respond is published by Veritas and will be made available to all parishes on the island in order to raise awareness of the practical role that parishes can play in responding to alcohol issues and drug prevention at a local level.

Notes for Editors

  • Please see below conference scripts from Bishop Walsh and Bishop Treanor.  Photography from the event available for publicity from the Catholic Communications Office.
  • The IBDI report Alcohol Drugs – Parishes Respond is a practical resource for local parish communities. It can aid their response to drug prevention by enabling them to play a part in keeping their communities drug free while promoting the moderate use of alcohol. The following parishes are profiled as case studies in the report:

– Mooncoin and Templeorum Parish Drugs Initiative;

– Church of Our Lady, Blessington

– Community Links in Castlebellingham, Kilsaran and Stabannon Drugs Initiative

– Blackrock and Haggardstown Parish Drugs Initiative

– Cavan Drugs Initiative (Urney Parish)

– Carrick-on-Shannon Parish

  • Alcohol Drugs – Parishes Respond outlines good practice in prevention and early intervention. It promotes an ‘inter-agency approach’ i.e. the need for parishes, when responding, to forge links and to work in partnership with other civic service providers currently engaged in both prevention and treatment.
  • Recommendations contained in Alcohol Drugs – Parishes Respond include:

– It is vital that for parishes to work in partnership with all other service providers. A first step is to identify existing available resources

– Encourage all parishes to formulate a response to drug prevention, beginning at Level One i.e. setting up a small core group

– Get training for the core group from the service providers

– Carry out a needs assessment within the parish community

– Ensure that the schools in the parish are able to fulfil their role in prevention through the SPHE Programme and their substance use policy

– Avail of the preparation for the Sacrament of Confirmation as an opportunity to offer support and training for parents

– Promote the fact that faith plays an integral part as a protective factor in drug prevention

  • History of the Irish Bishops’ Drugs Initiative:

The Irish Bishops’ Drugs Initiative (IBDI) was established in 1997 as a Church response to the growing problem of drug and alcohol misuse in Ireland. Throughout the following decade, the IBDI organised a number of events including a network of national contacts for addiction support. IBDI related publications include Breaking the Silence, Beyond Maintenance and the Bishops’ Conference pastoral letter Alcohol: The Challenge of Moderation, which was published in the English, Irish and Polish languages for Lent 2007 and republished for Lent of this year.

In 2006, the IBDI, with the support of the National Drugs Strategy, set up a joint three-year pilot project. The project intends using the unique parish and diocesan structures to access the wider community. These structures are ideally placed to gauge and respond to local needs, while using the parishes and greater communities, in partnership with voluntary, community and statutory agencies, to identify and help address issues pertinent to substance misuse.

Pilot parishes were identified both in and outside of Dublin, ensuring a cross-section of rural and urban communities. A number of parishes were approached and agreed to engage, while others showed an interest in becoming involved. The evaluation of these parishes has facilitated the formulation of a model of best practice for parishes that wish to be involved in the Bishops’ Drugs Initiative.

In 2007, the IBDI produced a DVD Find the Balance: Dare to Dream which drew on the pastoral letter’s theme and was specifically targeted at second level students. Teachers’ notes accompanied the DVD thus enabling it to serve as an educational tool. 1000 copies were distributed to secondary schools and youth projects, North and South, and it can be viewed on and

In January 2008 the IBDI made a submission to the Government’s Alcohol Advisory Group. To access this submission see the online feature archive entitled ‘Lent 2008’ on

Welcome by Bishop Éamonn Walsh, vice-chair of the Irish Bishops’ Drugs Initiative, at the IBDI national conference

Alcohol – Drugs : Parishes Respond” Renehan Hall, St Patrick’s College, Maynooth – 4 October 2008

It is my great joy to welcome you here this morning on behalf of the Irish Bishops’ Drugs Initiative.  I welcome first of all our guest speakers:

Bishop Noel Treanor
Mr Denis Bradley
Sister Consilio
Members of the National Drugs Strategy Team
Drug and Alcohol Education Service
Pilot Parish Participants and all of you our invited guests.

A special welcome to all our Public Representatives –  Thank you for your Saturday morning.  Thanks to all media present.  You have kept the Drugs and Alcohol issues before the public and prompting remedial action.

The Context of Church Involvement

  1. This initiative is only one of many nationally to address drug and alcohol issues.  It focussed on areas of need and where there was no local initiative.
  2. The IBDI has great admiration of the people power who took to the streets highlighting the destruction that drugs were inflicting on those, particularly in the City areas in the late 80s into the 90s.  Those have gone from strength to strength, and we will hear from the JADD later on
  3. The target audience is local communities that want their children in their community to be drug free and educated in a way that they become aware from an early age that alcohol is a drug and can damage the brain and vital organs of the body as well as impair judgement and the executive functions of the brain.  To use it destructively before physical and mental maturity can do irreparable harm to self and others.
  4. The initiative taps into the concerns of parish communities re the damage of drugs and how to safeguard the young from them as well as preventing the destructive use of alcohol.
  5. We will hear this morning of what progress has been made from a sample of four parishes that decided to get involved in the prevention of drug/alcohol problems locally.  They have come up with practical and imaginative projects and steps.  The greater involvement of parishes the more helpful ways forward will emerge and all to be shared through networking.
  6. This pilot initiative is adding another spoke to the existing wheel of statutory/voluntary organisations.  It is making parish communities aware of the help and resources that are available and providing them with a step by step handbook that draws on what has and continues to be tried and tested.
  7. This project is particularly suited to the economic restraints of today because of its voluntary and professional standard approach.  It addresses local concerns and fears; equips local parish communities with a step by step way forward and uses the professional statutory and voluntary services to train and equip parish groups through training and resources to operate at as volunteers but at a professional standard.
  8. It’s a parish self help approach that asks how can we help and put to good use the existing services.  There is little point in having excellent programmes if they are not used.  This project gathers the community and trains its volunteers to make best use of these programmes.  Its like getting a group of people interested in sport; getting them coaching and in time developing coaching skills at local level so that they become almost self sufficient needing only in-service training.
  9. Our aim is

– Preventing alcohol and drug problems at parish level
– Through local ownership of the task
– Availing of existing statutory and voluntary services
– As volunteers with professional competence
– Networking locally and with other parish groups.

10.  The project is cost effective maximising local talent and resources;

– It is a way of changing attitudes of mind where parishes take ownership of a problem by taming it rather than indulging in the blame game;
– It provides a parish with skills that can be transferred to other needs that may arise in the future.

11.  In conclusion may I thank

  • John Taaffe,Co-ordinator of the Initiative, and
  • Ger Robinson, who piloted the Dublin Diocesan Parishes on behalf of Crosscare’s DAP
  • The Committee members:  Trish Conway – Chair; Chris Murphy, DAP, Sr. Kathleen Kelleher and Mr. Kevin Nelson and Fr. Eamonn Treanor.
  • In particular I thank the NDST for sponsoring the project.

Address by Bishop Noel Treanor, Bishop of Down and Connor at the

Official launch of Alcohol – Drugs : Parishes Respond, a publication of the Irish Bishops’ Drugs Initiative
This initiative helps the Church to address a tragic and disquieting element of contemporary life and empowers parish communities to respond to an evil which often seems to defy response – Bishop Treanor
Just over a week ago during an evening spent with diocesan and religious priests, experienced pastors, working in the parishes of North Belfast, I sought their assessment and observations on the subject of this conference. That exchange highlighted for me the raw reality of alcohol and substance abuse across all age brackets, across the socio-economic strata, whether on the streets or alley-ways, in bars, hotels clubs or wherever. It left room for neither doubt nor indifference. If that unplanned discussion was laced impressively with statistics by these pastoral practitioners, we ended with a sense of the need for action and response for the sake of both the affected and of society.
Like you, those priests, my colleagues, know at first hand the extent, the complexity and even the dimensions of this problem which destroys lives and damages families and society. In the face of the tragic reality and consequences of such abuse, it is encouraging to know that a response is possible and that it works. It is energising to realise that a response such as that which we launch today produces results for the addict, and indeed also for those involved in tackling the problem and for society. For this reason I am honoured to have been invited to play a part in launching the Irish Bishops’ Drugs Initiative entitled “Alcohol-Drugs: Parishes Respond”.Further qualities inherent to this initiative make it a pleasure to be associated with this event. Among those qualities one notes particularly the following:

  • Christian faith is at work here as energy, hope and love which inspires women and men to care for, heal and empower the addict. Here Christian faith, a faith grown from the incarnation of God in the man Jesus of Nazareth, enters the depravity of broken existence and acts as a power to save and heal
  • Precisely as an _expression of faith incarnated in existence, this initiative engages in partnership with secular initiatives promoting the same end. This faith-based initiative builds creative bridges with everyday civic life
  • The initiative manifests the Church as the unity of the people of God at work in society : here bishops, priests, religious, laity unite in outreach and service
  • Here the Church addresses a tragic and disquieting element of contemporary life and empowers parish communities to respond to an evil which often seems to defy response

Origins of the initiative

The book we are launching today grows out of more than a decade of experience, co-operative work and engagement with addiction. It is a further significant achievement in the ongoing evolution of the Irish Bishops’ Drugs Initiative which was formed in 1997. The aptly entitled book, Breaking the Silence, published in that year by the Bishops’ conference, examined addiction issues, was followed by the creation of the Irish Bishops’ Initiative itself. A Report, Faith Response to the Street Drug Culture, followed in 2000. In the same year Veritas published Beyond Maintenance, a collection of the papers of a seminar organised by the Bishops’ Drugs Initiative Committee in association with The Irish Times.

The Initiative did not limit its efforts to the cerebral. Action followed on analysis and reflection. It is worth recalling a few of the salient steps leading to today’s milestone:

  • An all-Ireland network of contacts – persons in various spheres and professions working with addiction
  • Between 2003 and 2005 a number of drug awareness and training sessions for clergy and religious were held in dioceses throughout the country
  • In 2006 the launch of the National Drugs Strategy Team – funded a 3 year National Pilot Project to form ten parish projects to assist in developing responses to prevent drug related problems
  • Regional conference training days for pilot projects
  • The launching of the DVD Find the Balance, an educational tool for teachers and youth leaders on training young people on alcohol use in moderation. It is now available on and
  • Support provided for a network of pilot parishes nationally
What we are offering today to parishes, as constitutive tissue of local community, is the harvest of sustained work and multi-source and multi-competence input. It offers know-how and perspective to parishes and communities in the face of the undeniable fact of a destructive problem at the heart of society.

Some facts

It is reported that there has been a 50% increase in the number of professionals and executives seeking cocaine treatment in the last three year[1].

Nine out of ten young people attending the country’s only residential drug treatment centre for adolescents have a cocaine problem – an extraordinary level which would not have occurred three years ago. Some teenagers spend €3,500 per month on cocaine and a further €500 per month on alcohol, according to Mr. Declan Jones, Director of the Aislinn Adolescent Addiction Centre.

A recent study, published in the Irish Journal of Psychological Medicine, September 2008, indicates that in Ireland six out of ten heroin addicts undergoing treatment have parents who abused alcohol.

As for Northern Ireland, a survey of 11-18 year olds has shown a substantial increase in drug taking between 2000 and 2003 with lifetime rates rising from 15.8% to 22.3%. A repeat survey of 11-16 year olds by the NI Statistics Research Agency reports a fall from 24.5% in 2000 to 22% in 2003[2]. If these surveys do not give a consistent picture, they show that drug prevalence rates among younger persons in Northern Ireland climbed significantly from the mid-1990s and well into the new millennium. There is no evidence of a reduction in illicit drug use among under – 25 year olds[3].

Alcohol is the number one drug in Ireland. Last year alcohol-related problems are estimated to have cost the country €2.65 billion, according to a recent report[4]. In 2002 almost €6 billion of personal income was spent on alcohol – the equivalent of every person in Ireland over the age of 15 spending €1,942 on alcohol in 12 months.

In the case of Northern Ireland there is a rising prevalence of alcohol consumption and binge drinking is on the increase with reported rates of 48% for males and 35% for females[5].

Part of a greater matrix

Alcohol – Drugs Parishes Respond addresses these realities directly. It offers local communities and parishes a rich resource to help them respond. Whilst this is so, it is encouraging to realise that our efforts are supported at the global level by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) and by the European Union and the Council of Europe.

The UNODC Strategy 2008-2011, Towards Security and Justice for all : making the world safer from crime, drugs and terrorism, encourages “increased partnerships with relevant civil society entities that advance Member States’ capacities to provide treatment and rehabilitation that are in accordance with the relevant international conventions”[6].

For its part the European Commission adopted a Communication on An EU Drugs Action Plan for 2009-2012 on 18 September 2008 which the Council will be invited to endorse, after discussion with the 27 Member States, by December of this year. Of course the EU Member States are the primary actors in the drugs field. Drugs legislation is primarily a matter of national competence. However, the EC and EU treaties explicitly acknowledge the need to address drug issues at EU level, particularly in the spheres of justice and home affairs[7] and public health[8].

When launching the Action Plan, the Commissioner responsible for Justice, Freedom and Security, M. Jacques Barrot[9], called on government bodies, public services and voluntary organisations to work in partnership to prevent and reduce the harm caused by drugs in our society. He also proposed to draw up a European Alliance on Drugs in consultation with all interested parties. Churches, faith-based initiatives and other interested groups might explore the pertinence of participating.

Before leaving this brief glimpse of the work of our EU institutions in our field of concern here today, it may be of interest to take account of some recent data on drug use in the EU, as supplied by the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA)[10] :

  • use of heroin, cannabis and synthetic drugs has stabilised or is declining
  • cocaine use is rising in a number of Member States
  • the total number of people in the EU who use drugs — or have at some time taken them (‘lifetime prevalence’) — is estimated at 70 million for cannabis, at least 12 million for cocaine, 9.5 million for ecstasy, and 11 million for amphetamines
  • at least half a million people are known to be receiving substitution treatment for drugs like heroin
  • around 7, 500 people die of drugs overdose each year
Likewise it may interest some to explore the work of the Pompidou Group, a multi-disciplinary co-operation forum to prevent drug abuse and illicit trafficking in drugs. It was set up in 1971 and incorporated into the Council of Europe in 1980[11].

Such policy measures and initiatives at the supra-national and global level strengthen local initiatives such as that which we salute here today. Indeed initiatives at these levels are interdependent, as they address at their respective levels addiction and related issues which are local and global, or “glocal”.

“New Aliveness”

In the end there is no better recommendation of this overview of Pilot Parish Projects’ Responses to Alcohol and Drug issues than the comments of many involved in this third stage of the Irish Bishops’ Drugs initiative. Their evaluations assure us that even in the face of what often seems an intractable and insurmountable problem for families and communities, we are not doomed to submit to the powers and agents of darkness.

The pilot projects have impacted on addicts, abusers and carers. They have given “confidence” in dealing with drugs and related problems : “since getting training we don’t see drugs or the problem of drugs in our town as overwhelming … we feel more confident” (Blessington parish Drug Initiative) and “results have been amazing …. there is a new aliveness in our parish” (Mooncoin parish Drug Initiative). The comments from the parishes included in the book indicate that this “new aliveness” is at once a liveliness of faith and of diaconal outreach : faith engenders and promotes action and service, it enables believers to pursue inter-agency co-operation for the common good and the diaconal service rendered in turn energises religious faith both at the personal and community/parish levels.

Launching this book, Alcohol/Drugs Parishes Respond, together with you today I salute and thank all who have been involved in its production, – in parishes at the coal face, in the planning rooms, at keyboard, in designing and in printing stages.

Evoking a citation in the book itself, I believe we are carrying on, in our time and society, the mission which Christ announced as His when He cited Isaiah in the synagogue at Nazareth (Lk. 4.18): “The Spirit of the Lord is on me… He has sent me to bring good news to the poor… to proclaim liberty to captives … to set at liberty those who are oppressed.”

I underline the comment from Carrick-on-Shannon parish: a manual setting out cumulative experience and insight gained is a gift. And I consider it such for both Church and society.

The book underscores the responsibility of all – individual, parish, community and society – for addressing drugs and alcohol problems. It offers a roadmap for a vibrant response: in faith to build up awareness, to provide and facilitate holistic training and to foster partnership among all interested parties. I pray that it will enable and empower many throughout Ireland to discover anew the word of Jeremiah: “But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare” (Jer 29.7).

Thank you for listening.

[1] Austin Prior, Head of Treatment at the Rutland Centre, Dublin

[2] Better Managing Northern Ireland’s Alcohol and Drugs Problems, H. Parker, Alcohol and Drugs Misuse Consultancy, March 2005.

[3] idem

[4] Second Report of the Strategic Task Force on Alcohol set up by the government in 2002

[5] DHSSPS, 2006

[6] UNODC Strategy 2008-2011, Result area 3.5., United Nations, New York, 2008.

[7] Title VI,, articles 29 and 31 (1) (e) TEU

[8] Article 152 TEC : The Community shall complement the Member States’ action in reducing drugs-related health damage, including information and prevention.

[9] M. J. Barrot is also a Vice-President of the European Commission

[10] EMCDDA Annual Report 2007

[11] Council of Europe, Pompidou Group, See reference to more than 100 projects on the new version of the register on research in this field. More than 300 registered researchers and more than 100 research projects are listed: the new version of the online register permits registration of information to be centralised on who is doing what in research today as regards drugs.

The register on research projects in progress with regard to drugs was launched in 2007, and modified in spring 2008 on the basis of comments made by the first users. It is directly accessible from the Pompidou Group website and allows users to obtain and register information not only on current projects but also on research and research institutes involved. See

For further information please contact:
Martin Long, Director of Communications 086 172 7678
John Taaffe, IBDI National Coordinator 086 8611531