Northern Ireland Assembly Flax Flower Logo

Northern Ireland Assembly

Monday 25 June 2001 (continued)


Personal Statements: Mr Gregory Campbell and Mr Maurice Morrow



Mr Speaker:

I have received requests from Mr Campbell and Mr Morrow for leave to make personal statements.

Mr Campbell will make his statement, and Mr Morrow will formally identify himself with the content of that statement.

The Minister for Regional Development (Mr Campbell):

Mr Speaker, I thank you for the opportunity to make a statement.

On Tuesday 6 May, four weeks before the general election and six weeks before the meeting of the Ulster Unionist Council, the First Minister announced his intention to resign from office on 1 July if decommissioning did not take place. Owing to the results of the general election and the local council elections and the success of anti- agreement candidates, it is clear that the First Minister has no option but to resign.

To make that gesture meaningful, all Unionist Ministers ought to resign with him. To do otherwise would be to reduce the actions of the First Minister to a stunt - [Interruption].

Mr Speaker:

Order. Members on all sides - at least those with any experience - ought to be aware that personal statements are heard in silence. I ask that this convention be observed. It has not always been observed in the Chamber, but Members should adhere to it.

Mr Campbell:

To do otherwise would be to reduce the actions of the First Minister to a stunt, the result of which would be to see further concessions made to Republicans over the summer on policing, amnesties for on-the-run terrorists and demilitarisation. All Members must be acutely aware that that will be the inevitable consequence if the First Minister alone resigns.

My Colleague Maurice Morrow and I have therefore today tendered to the Speaker a letter of resignation effective on the resignation of all the First Minister's party Colleagues from the Executive.

Several Members:

Hear, hear.

Mr Campbell:

That action, together with the election results, will send out the clearest possible signal that the current system does not command the support of a majority of Unionists in Northern Ireland. The DUP is committed to finding an accommodation that can command such support and in pursuing that aim it will talk to any democratic party. However, it will not sit down or negotiate with those who are not committed to exclusively peaceful means. The DUP will not act in a way that will simply hand over Departments to those who support the Belfast Agreement; it will act in the best interests of all the people of Northern Ireland.

Today we challenge the First Minister to see if he is serious about decommissioning and give him the opportunity to take a decisive and meaningful step. The process has reached a moment of truth, and the First Minister can halt the concessions to Republicans that may be made over the summer months. I challenge him to act now. Let him heed the will of the Unionist electorate and prevent a further wave of capitulation and concessions.

It is time to unify Unionism behind a position that can command the support of the majority of Unionists. This is an opportunity that Unionism can ill afford to miss. Mr Morrow and I remain ready to divulge the precise terms of our letter as and when the First Minister does likewise. [Interruption].

Mr Speaker:


The Minister for Social Development (Mr Morrow):

I wish to associate myself with the comments of my ministerial Colleague Mr Campbell. His remarks to the House today are my remarks also. Thank you.

Mr Speaker:

As I advised the House on 8 May, the occasion of a previous personal statement, this statement will be made under the precedent of a statement made on 15 July 1999. When Ministers make statements about their personal position that affect public office, an opportunity may be given to other party leaders or their nominees to make comment or response to them.

Mr Trimble:

I am astonished by some of the comments that have been made by Mr Campbell. He appears to be in some doubt as to what the letter I lodged with the Speaker says. If there is any problem I will publish the letter. It contains one sentence. It is absolutely clear in what it contains and what its effects will be.

Behind the fog of language that we heard from Mr Campbell two things stand out. First, he is incompetent; he has not read the Northern Ireland Act 1998. The letter he has lodged will have no effect. A letter of resignation - if he can read the Northern Ireland Act - should be sent to the Deputy First Minister and myself. Sending a resignation letter to the Speaker has no effect at all.

Secondly, he is a coward, he is a political coward. If he had any courage he would go now. What is he going to do? He says -[Interruption].

Mr Speaker:


Mr Trimble:

He says that after I resign he might think about it. In other words he is content to follow me, and by saying that, he is showing that he and his party regard me as the leader of Unionism.

Mr Speaker:

Order. Normally it is the case that when there is disturbance it is in the Galleries, and they may be cleared. If the House will not settle there will be little point in continuing with this.

Mr Durkan:

Mr Campbell described the First Minister's resignation letter and any implementation of it as a "stunt". Mr Campbell and Mr Morrow seem to be offering what might at best be described as a "shadow stunt". They "may" resign if other Ministers resign following Mr Trimble's resignation. It seems to me that they are suggesting that all the Unionist Ministers should take the same step and the same moves in a manner that I think is dangerously close to a political form of line dancing. I would have thought that on that basis the DUP Ministers might reconsider what they are offering.

For some time it has been clear to many of us outside Unionism that there are two groups of people on David Trimble's back: those within his party are there because they are trying to bring him down; and those from the DUP are there because they are quite happy to piggyback on David Trimble and on the success and the workings of the agreement.

Yet again, we have an indication from the DUP of their attempt to talk up their stance, and how they are out to break or undermine the agreement, while at the same time taking care to shelter themselves within the office of the agreement.

The non-statement from Mr Campbell and the very obvious non-statement by Mr Morrow, or "Mr Ditto", show that the DUP, in spite of its hype about its mandate, has no agenda now that the election is over.

Rev Dr Ian Paisley:

I was always convinced that what my two Colleagues were going to do was right, but having seen the tantrum thrown by the First Minister, to hear his ranting and raving, and to see his attitude - [Interruption].

4.00 pm

That gentleman was not even elected. He is best described as what the scriptures call "a creeper".

Let me make it clear that Mr Durkan, who seems also to be enraged, remembers a day in the House when they were kissing him, congratulating him and patting him on the shoulder because he had been elected to office in the Assembly. Who was it who brought him down? It was not the gentlemen sitting on those Benches, who were hiding away in Glengall Street. It was I and this party behind me who brought the mighty man down. If anyone suggests that my party is interested in office rather than principle, that proves that it is not. If we had been interested in office we could have taken the best offices in the House. That is a fact of history that cannot be gainsaid.

What has happened today is this: the bluff of the First Minister and his fellow travellers who are trying to fool the public that they can stay in power when he goes has been called. We know that when he goes, they have to go. Why do they not do it decently and let every Unionist worth his name and who has any interest in defeating Republicanism and the IRA resign? [Interruption].

We are not prepared to put Republicans into office, as the party that is mumbling would be very glad to do. The moment of decision and of truth has come, and if these men were Unionists they would get out and stay out.

Mr McLaughlin:

We do have to reflect on the message now coming from broad Unionism that after years of preaching about politics and democracy, it has surrendered. We used to hear the "No surrender" catchphrase of Unionism; now we hear surrender. The message from broad Nationalism and Republicanism is that yes, there are problems, but we can resolve them through dialogue, negotiation and commitment to politics. I direct that to all those on the opposite Benches. [Interruption].

Mr Speaker:

Order. There is a Member on the Back Benches who does not seem to have acquainted himself with the proceedings of the House. It would be better if he sat and observed. If he cannot abide by the rulings of the Speaker it would be better that he did not stay here for the rest of the day.

Mr McLaughlin:

My point - and it is an important one - is that if we measure the progress of the last few years against our collective experience of political failure, there is only one option. That option is to continue on this path, take our courage in our hands and exercise the mandate we received to deliver peace and democracy through negotiation, agreement and mutual respect. We will then solve the outstanding problems of militarisation and policing in our society, the criminal justice review and, yes, the question of arms. We will resolve those problems by agreement and by applying ourselves in a diligent, sensible fashion. Those who set ultimatums and unrealistically expect that we can solve the problems of generations in a matter of months betray the expectations of those who voted for the Good Friday Agreement and those who voted for the setting up of these political institutions.

Let us abandon this silliness, this theatre of tit-for-tat: "If you resign, I'll resign; if you surrender, I'll surrender; if you jump, I'll jump."

Let us commit ourselves to exercising the mandate given to us by an overwhelming majority of those who live in the Six Counties and endorsed by an overwhelming majority of those who live on this island and in the international community. Let us make politics work and stay at it until we do.

Mr Neeson:

I do not know what all the fuss is about. Gregory Campbell will continue to be Minister for Regional Development, Maurice Morrow will continue to be Minister for Social Development, and Dr Paisley will continue to be the Chairperson of the Committee for Agriculture and Rural Development. Once again the DUP is trying to bluff the people into believing that they are not going to make the Assembly work, when even the dogs in the street know that they are working the system.

People on the street know that devolution works, and they know that the Assembly works. The Assembly will continue to work despite today's protest by the DUP.

Mr C Wilson:

Is it not sad that those who signed up to the agreement have brought the whole democratic process in Northern Ireland into disrepute with what is taking place in the Chamber today? We are being treated to nothing more sophisticated than a political game of chicken played by the Ulster Unionist Party and the DUP. They have no mandate to remain in the House for one more minute, because they presented themselves to the electorate on the basis of "no guns, no Government" and total opposition to the Belfast Agreement and its institutions. They stated clearly that they would not have terrorists in Government. The only fact is Mr McGuinness's statement - at the beginning of the negotiations in Castle Buildings that brought this whole sordid process into being - that there would be no guns before, during or after the negotiations.

Mr Trimble may issue post-dated resignations, and the DUP may mimic that move, but the only people who have stuck to their guns are those represented by Sinn Féin on the other side of the Chamber. Fifty-nine percent of the electorate cast their votes on the basis of Mr Trimble's promise that he would resign, and on the DUP's promise to smash the agreement. The electorate voted against terrorists in Government. However, they are sitting in the Chamber and will continue to sit in the Executive for as long as they wish to do so.



Alcohol By-Laws


Mrs Carson:

I beg to move

That this Assembly believes that current levels of enforcement of alcohol by-laws are inadequate to address the problem of outdoor drinking; and that increased resources should be made available for the enforcement of the by-laws and for a Province-wide education programme to alert younger people to the dangers of under-age drinking.

Mr Speaker:

Order. Members who wish to leave should do so quietly.

Mrs Carson:

I am grateful that I am able to bring this important motion to the Assembly for debate in order to highlight the problem of alcohol consumption in public places, alcohol abuse by young people under the age of 18, and the problems of overindulgence. Many of my constituents in the small towns and villages of Fermanagh and South Tyrone - especially in Moy, County Tyrone - have seen these problems at first hand. They have endured weekend after weekend of alcohol- related disturbances with severe loss to their quality of life.

I do not condemn people for enjoying alcohol when they are responsible and aware of other people's rights. Each weekend, many people enjoy a drink responsibly and without impinging on the rights of others, either on their person or their property. Most are sensible enough to go home by taxi or with someone who has not imbibed alcohol. I commend groups that socialise together and organise rotas with a designated non-drinking driver.

(Madam Deputy Speaker [Ms Morrice] in the Chair)

In a tolerant society people should be aware that there are consequences for breaking the law. Laws are not made to restrict but to protect. I am concerned about young people who drink to excess, drink in public places, create a nuisance, drop litter or damage and destroy property.

I am also concerned about the high incidence of under-age drinking, which ensures a continuing culture of irresponsible use of alcohol. In 1999, the European School Survey Project on Alcohol and other Drugs (ESPAD) involving 15- to 18-year-old students showed that the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland shared the dubious distinction of being in the top four European nations of students who had been drunk 10 times or more during the 12 months preceding the survey, and of students who reported binge drinking three times or more during the 30 days previous to the survey. Binge drinking is defined as having five or more drinks at a time.

Surprisingly, the wine-drinking countries such as France, Italy and others in the Mediterranean area report the lowest incidences of such behaviour. It is important that parents encourage their children to have a responsible attitude towards the use of alcohol. Lessons in high schools and grammar schools on the effects of alcohol could help to combat the growing under-age drinking culture.

A recent UK-wide study by Dr Martin Plant of the Edinburgh-based Alcohol and Health Research Centre found that 75% of children aged between 15 and 16 admitted that they had been drunk. The study also shows that one in four deaths of young men are alcohol-related. The charity Alcohol Concern, in response to the study, called for tighter enforcement of under-age drinking laws, by saying:

"We just want to see the existing laws enforced properly when they have been broken by people selling alcohol to under-age drinkers."

At the World Health Organisation conference in Stockholm in February this year, EU Commissioner David Byrne said:

"My key message on delivering change on alcohol and youth is the three Es: enforcement, enforcement and more enforcement."

Law enforcement could be combined with a considered approach by the Government to address how the drinks industry aggressively markets alcoholic products.

The drinks industry is very experienced at focusing on particular target groups, and the introduction of alcopops shows that there can be only one conclusion as to what group the industry was targeting and appealing to. One drinks company even undertook market research on women's attitudes to discover how to make bottled beer more attractive to females. The end result was an easier-to-hold bottle and a thicker label for women to peel off. Needless to say, sales improved.

What can be done? Is more legislation necessary? Yes. An immediate start can be made with the enforcement of existing laws and by-laws. Even if the Assembly produced new legislation, any law is useless unless it is enforced. The abysmal failure of existing by-laws to control public and under-age drinking stems from the inability of either district councils or the RUC to enforce them.

District councils have powers to create by-laws under the Local Government Act 1972. Each of the 26 councils in Northern Ireland is responsible for its alcohol by-laws.

4.15 pm

There are 26 council areas and 26 different ways to apply alcohol by-laws. This inconsistency was highlighted by a review of the operation of alcohol by-laws in Northern Ireland that was presented to my local council - Dungannon and South Tyrone - by its director last year. As part of that study, responses were received from 21 councils. The findings showed that the enforcement of alcohol by-laws in Northern Ireland is at best patchy and at worst non-existent. It is a lengthy and costly process for a local council, under an existing by-law, to designate a street, a village or a town as an alcohol-free zone. Legislation is required to make it simpler for new areas to be added to a schedule attached to the existing by-laws. However, serious consideration should be given to the introduction of Northern Ireland-wide legislation to create a consistent approach to tackling alcohol abuse in public areas.

There is an urgent need to clarify the relationship between the local authorities and the police. Responsibility for the by-laws and prosecution lies with the councils. Detection of the offence is the responsibility of the police. That division creates a weakness in tackling a serious issue. Local authorities are concerned that the police do not pursue rigorous detection of offences. Conversely, there are reduced detection rates by the police due to the lack of commitment by some councils to proceed with prosecutions.

The problem of the enforcement of alcohol by-laws is exacerbated when many inebriated persons are gathered together. There is also a high cost, with local policing resources tied up to control public disorder. For example, on a typical Friday or Saturday night the police in a small town with licensed premises would be on alert for three to five hours, with possibly half of a divisional mobile support unit having to be drafted in to cope with the numbers. The approximate cost, totalling man-hours, local resources and extra units, is £250,000 a year.

It must also be noted that 60% of alcohol-related disturbances happen in the vicinity of licensed premises and that 16- to 24-year-old males are the highest risk group for alcohol-related violent crime. There is currently no legislation to enable the police to seize alcohol which is being consumed in public, except from young persons under the age of 18.

There is ambiguity about the use of the word "consumption". Persons in possession of an open container of alcohol in a public place are not committing an offence. Prosecution can only take place if persons are observed consuming the liquid. The current legislation should be changed to allow a charge of possession with intent to consume alcohol. The police must be given the power to detect and prosecute those guilty of such an offence. That could take the form of fixed penalties and the power to confiscate alcohol. The police would then have the information on alcohol-related offences to maintain an up-to-date record and to provide continuing monitoring data. These records would merit inclusion in the police performance indicators for annual appraisal in each council area.

There is a real need to review the operation and application of alcohol by-laws in Northern Ireland. A single accountable body should be made responsible for enforcement and the prosecution of offenders. Logically, that body should be the police.

It is very difficult for the police to identify young persons who are under age and drinking alcohol. We all know that young persons now dress in as mature a manner as possible and look far older than they really are. An approved identity card scheme would go a long way to preventing young people under the age of 18 from obtaining alcohol.

It could take the form of a card that could be produced before purchasing alcohol from licensed premises or before entering a licensed establishment. After the production of approved documentation giving proof of age, local authorities could provide young people with free identification cards. To reduce fraud, the cards could be bar-coded or marked with a hologram.

An accredited scheme for training bar staff, door staff and staff in licensed premises, as set out in the document on the strategy for reducing alcohol-related harm, would be welcomed and should be implemented as soon as possible. The scheme could be co-ordinated by councils, but with centralised direction to ensure consistent standards.

We must pursue a Northern Ireland-wide education programme to alert younger people to the dangers of under-age drinking. I welcome the inclusion of that proposal in the strategy document. To ensure a consistent delivery of the education programme, it should be provided under the direction of the joint action group on drugs and alcohol.

I refer again to the statistics for the United Kingdom in the ESPAD document. They show that young people - 15- to 16-year-olds - who use alcohol admitted to poor educational performance, to having accidents, to being injury prone, to having poor relationships with their parents, to becoming involved in scuffles and fights and to having unprotected sex after drinking. That last point is especially worrying: in Northern Ireland, there are many teenage pregnancies.

Alcohol-related disturbances, typically involving young men, are costing Northern Ireland dearly. The estimated total cost of alcohol-related harm for 1997-98 is £777 million. That is horrendous. Think of what could be done with that money; it could be much better used.

The strategy for reducing alcohol-related harm that was launched by the Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety is a positive attempt to tackle alcohol abuse. It will have an impact on the two areas that I have spoken about today. I welcome the announcement that there will be joint implementation of the alcohol and drugs strategies, although such joint implementation requires adequate resources. The work of the RUC is an integral part of the strategy, and that fact should be openly accepted. The police have to control public disturbances and deal with other offences resulting from alcohol misuse. There is an urgent need for a review of the alcohol by-laws in Northern Ireland. The required resources should be forthcoming.

Mrs Courtney:

I congratulate the Member on bringing this matter to the attention of the Assembly. We are only too aware of the increase in alcohol-related crime, including not only attacks on individuals but attacks on property, cars and businesses. Doctors in accident and emergency departments are constantly dealing with injuries resulting from domestic violence that is fuelled by drink or drugs.

Alcohol is the most abused drug but because it is socially acceptable it is seldom seem as such. Often, a blind eye is turned to alcohol abuse. Most major cities have by-laws that address the problem of outdoor drinking. The enforcement of those laws by local authorities is the difficult part. Council officers must go to court to prosecute. The police arrest individuals and gather evidence, but local councils must decide whether to prosecute.

One of the main problems in the area covered by my local authority - Derry City Council - is that it is often the habitual drinker - or wino - who is brought to court. The fine is derisory, but bringing the case to court is expensive, and it is time-consuming for council officers. Frequently, the offenders who should have been brought before the court are missed. If they are charged, the courts often show leniency, and the offences continue.

By-laws must apply to designated areas, and a blanket ban is unenforceable without adequate resources. Glasgow has such a policy, but in my area it was felt that this policy would not work. Support for such a policy must come not only from the community but from the police. If more resources were available to councils they could employ officers to enforce the policy and bring perpetrators of drink-related crime to court.

By-laws can be easily overcome by moving on-street drinkers to another area where they can laugh at those trying to enforce the policy - which often happens. The support of statutory agencies such as the education and library boards, health and social services boards and those involved in the treatment of young alcoholics is necessary if we are to raise the awareness of the public and get its support. That is why I support the motion and ask for the legislation to be amended and more resources to be made available. A Province-wide education programme is needed to address the problem once and for all, and we must make the by-laws and legislation adequate.

Mr Dodds:

Mrs Carson, who moved the motion, and Mrs Courtney mentioned some of the deficiencies in the legislation and by-laws. I know from experience in North Belfast and as a city councillor that there are problems with enforcing the law. The issue comes up time and again for councils. People say that the by-laws are not effective, but the fact is that the legislation is inadequate.

Mrs Carson mentioned a couple of areas of concern. For example, if the police find someone with an open container of alcohol and know that that person has been drinking outside a designated drinking area, there is nothing they can do unless they catch the person in the act or he or she is an under-age drinker. That brings the law into total disrepute. Much money is spent by local authorities on putting up signs that say "No Drinking", and to a great extent that is a token effort at tackling the problem. I once asked my local authority in Belfast about the number of people who had been convicted of offences in relation to the by-laws, and the number was paltry.

Another area of concern is that although many streets and parks in any borough or council are designated as areas where people cannot drink, the by-laws cannot cover entire areas. That can lead to the problem simply being pushed from one area to another and people calling for their areas to be added to the list of designated areas. One school of thought says that a council should have the power to ensure that an entire area is covered by the by-laws.

The problem causes great concern, and it seems to be on the increase. People are entitled to consume alcohol if they wish, but we must draw the line at heavy drinking in public areas, because it can lead to antisocial behaviour and other problems. Current legislation is inadequate.

I support what the motion says about an education programme. Sometimes we talk about enforcement and neglect education - these two elements must go hand in hand. Neither enforcement nor education on its own will solve the problem. As with litter, there is no point in simply fining people for dropping it; people must be educated so that they do not drop it in the first place.

4.30 pm

I fully support the call for an education programme - or the enhancement of existing education programmes - and increased resources to deal with the problem.

Members have spoken about the need to have legislation amended. The problem is that the motion as currently worded does not call for legislation to be changed, although I think that that is the thrust behind it. The motion states that current levels of enforcement of the by-laws are inadequate, calls for increased resources and mentions a Province-wide education programme. However, I think that many Members - and the proposer of the motion, in her winding-up speech - will accept that the deficiency of legislation is a major issue. Perhaps some sort of amendment should be considered in relation to that. That may be what lies behind the thrust of the motion, although its wording is not explicit. I am happy to support the motion in so far as it goes, and I believe that the underlying message is that there is a need to examine the terms of the legislation itself.

Ms Ramsey:

Go raibh maith agat. Members have mentioned the lack of resources available for education programmes. I agree. The issue is not just about people drinking in our streets; it is also about educating our young people - and those not so young - on the dangers of the misuse of alcohol.

Alcohol misuse creates massive social and family problems. Joan Carson rightly said that the Minister of Health, Social Services and Public Safety has relaunched a strategy which, as the Minister said in answer to a question in April, is aimed at reducing adult alcohol problems. The strategy commits the Department to three objectives: encouraging a sensible approach to drinking, promoting effective treatment services and protecting individuals and communities from the damage caused by alcohol misuse.

The majority of on-street drinking is done by young people. They are likely to be under age and therefore cannot purchase alcohol legally. We need to ask where they get this drink. We are aware that some adults make money by purchasing alcohol from off-licences for these young people. That happens in towns and cities across the North. Some young people produce fake identification, and others get dolled up to the nines to appear older than they are.

I am not sure whether people are aware that in my own area, west Belfast, my party and several community groups and local drinking establishments were involved in setting up a community off-sales initiative. It was a pilot scheme to encourage the community and the off-licences to tackle the issue of under-age drinking and the associated problem of on-street drinking. We were encouraged by the response of the off-licences, the community groups involved and the wider community. The off-licences agreed to require identification and not to sell drink to people unless they were over 21 years of age. Those involved in off-sales say that they are losing some of their profit, but they do not mind because they are playing a part in helping the community to tackle the wider problem.

We must develop an approach to tackle alcohol abuse through peer education and through educational programmes in our schools. The role of the education system has been mentioned. We need to target and attack the culture of drinking. Drink is promoted in big neon lights. Adults set the tone. The behaviour of adults can encourage or discourage our young people. Young people need to learn about the dangers of alcohol misuse.

I know it has been touched on earlier, but, as an overall co-ordinated approach, we need to deal with people who sell alcohol and adults who make money by encouraging young people to drink. We need a co-ordinated approach to the advertising of alcohol. Alcohol creates damage in the family, and in the social and community sector. We need to say that it is not a glamour issue.

I support the comments of Joan Carson. I was alarmed by the statistics she and Annie Courtney referred to with regard to the money spent on hospital-related incidents around alcohol misuse. We also need to look at fixed- penalty fines. Annie Courtney did mention that the winos seem to be more likely to end up in court. We need to take on board whether these fixed-penalty fines work. Usually these people have little or no money anyway, so where do they go? Are we creating a vicious circle? We need a long-term, strategic, co-ordinated approach to tackle the whole issue, not only of under-age drinking but also of alcohol misuse. Go raibh maith agat.

Mrs E Bell:

I support the motion and the comments made by Mrs Carson in her comprehensive speech. It is an unfortunate fact of life that, unlike most other countries where pavement cafes are encouraged, the situation in Northern Ireland militates against this. It does not lend itself to the often delightful practice of open-air drinking, even in such organised legal establishments as cafe bars, and so on - certainly in my area. Our primary objective must be to strenuously oppose the many, often illegal, forms of largely under-age open-air drinking.

In my constituency of North Down, outdoor drinking occurs on a regular basis throughout the area - unchecked on most occasions. The RUC maintains that its problem is undermanning, resulting in an inability to enforce the law. Therefore, the reputation of the RUC is the first to suffer, and the problem gets worse. The situation on the streets of central Bangor at the weekends is such that many of the youth of the town head into Belfast and other places for their entertainment. Very few residents of any age would dare to venture onto the seafront or High Street areas after dark. This cannot be allowed to continue. Also, when some of the drinkers are moved away from the seafront into the suburbs, the elderly there live in fear of their houses being wrecked, or worse. It makes life very difficult, both for residents and tourists.

A more active enforcement role is required, and this may take many forms, including education, which has been mentioned by other Members. Also, much more concerted action by the RUC, with the support of other agencies and stronger legislation, is first and foremost on my and my constituents' list. It is really a case of having a good working partnership between councils, the RUC and the Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety with its different strategies, as Sue Ramsey mentioned. When this partnership works, it ensures that the dangers of drinking in public places, drink-driving, burglary, vandalism, and so on are recognised by all sections of the community as serious breaches of the law.

The continuing sale of alcohol to people under the legal age limit is also something that needs to be more rigorously investigated - again, a measure requiring the attention of the RUC - although, as Sue Ramsey pointed out, there are more community initiatives. That is very welcome. Those found selling alcohol to under-age persons should be put out of business immediately, if possible. We must strengthen and implement the legislation effectively so that the RUC and other agencies have the appropriate support. We have to cut down the supply of alcohol as much as possible. We need to arrest those who still insist on flouting the law and prosecute them with the full might of the law. We must ensure that the courts not only are able to sentence them effectively and severely but also are charged to do so to a much greater degree than they tend to do at present with the few who are brought before them.

I agree with Nigel Dodds. The position is comparable to that of people who fail to buy dog licences, or to prevent their dogs from soiling the streets. When they are brought to court, the magistrates consider the matter to be too small and simply fine them. We must get out of that mindset. We can make major headway towards greatly reducing the blight on our society if the motion is passed and the attention of the relevant authorities is drawn to it. I support the motion.

Mr C Wilson:

I support the motion and congratulate Mrs Carson on the excellent manner in which she proposed it. Not one constituency represented in the Assembly has been free from the blight brought about by the increasing problem of outdoor drinking. It is reaching epidemic proportions throughout Northern Ireland, and even in those areas where the local authorities have attempted to take some action, law enforcement is difficult. The problems are compounded by the fact that the already hard-pressed members of the Royal Ulster Constabulary do not have enough resources. They are struggling with major problems such as domestic crime and the increased terrorist threat, and unfortunately alcohol abuse is fairly low on their list of priorities. It is only when this kind of activity takes on the magnitude of some of the incidents that have occurred in the Queen's University area, where many people drink excessively, continue to do so on the streets and then start to fight, that it becomes a major problem for the security forces and the RUC.

Mrs Carson's motion proposes attempts to educate young people in order that we may in the future help to alleviate the problem or remove it from society. Probably most people, and particularly those with young families, are conscious of the fact that there is increased pressure on our young people through television, magazine and newspaper advertising. Alcohol has been glamorised and made fashionable, and it represents something desirable for young people.

There was good reason for the banning of tobacco advertising, and urgent attention and serious consideration should be given to the promotion of alcohol. As the father of a young girl, I am aware that children are taken up with advertising such as that for Budweiser and the vodka ads that are made to look glamorous or have catchphrases that even the youngest child starts to parrot and mimic. It shows the impact of unscrupulous people who have only financial gain in mind. These large companies that promote alcohol are not targeting older age groups, who have already determined the type or brand of alcohol they are going to use. They are carefully and clearly targeting the younger market that will be coming on stream in a few years' time. I particularly welcome the opportunity that may be created when someone is appointed as an ombudsman for children's affairs - a matter referred to in a previous debate. This matter should be given top priority in our attempts to prevent our children being subjected to this type of abuse - it can be described as nothing else.

In closing, I congratulate Mrs Carson on tabling the motion, and I am delighted that we have an opportunity to support it.

4.45 pm

Mr Kennedy:

I am sorry that more Members cannot be available for this important debate. I warmly commend and congratulate my Colleague Joan Carson on bringing the matter to the attention of the Assembly. It gives this issue necessary attention, which is very timely. As Members have already said, we have all been faced with problems in relation to illegal outdoor drinking in our districts. The problem of enforcement is a major task confronting everyone. Current legislation is clearly unsatisfactory. It necessitates someone being caught in the act of consuming alcohol. Apparently, it is not enough to catch someone with a glass or bottle in their hand; they must be partaking. That has been a major flaw in the current legislation.

I am interested to know - and Mrs Carson may be able to shed some light on this - who has overall responsibility for the matter. Is it the Minister of the Environment because of his responsibilities for local government, or is it the Minister of Health, Social Services and Public Safety? In any education programme, it is important that there is joined-up government and that all bodies with input into helping resolve these matters give consideration to them.

Enforcement is a serious problem. It has already been said that it is not possible or practicable to expect the RUC to be at every street corner or town centre. However, the problems created by illegal drinking in open places now dog many town centres, which are not now being inhabited by the "right" kind of people, so to speak. Largely speaking, many of our larger towns have become ghost towns, particularly at night. The only people found in them are winos and people with serious alcohol- and other substance- related problems. We should remember that we have a responsibility for those people too - to give them proper care and attention, and to try to ensure that we lead them away from those activities and give them better opportunities in life.

In my constituency of Newry and Armagh, and indeed in the district council area of Newry and Mourne, there are local initiatives such as pubs with no beer. That might sound unusual to some Members, but experiments are being tried to alert young people to the dangers of alcohol. It is one thing to be in a party mood or quite sociable, but it can lead to serious addiction and to the most serious social problems.

I am bound to say that there is parental responsibility in this area. It is crucial that parents are aware of where their children are and who they are with, and that they put parental influence at a premium.

I welcome the fact that the Government did not propose to introduce legislation in the Queen's Speech to extend the opening hours of public houses and make drink more readily available, as was advocated by some very misinformed people, on a 24-hour basis. More than enough alcohol can already be bought and consumed. Extending the licensing hours would only exacerbate many of our social problems. We should consider restricting the opening hours of places where alcohol is sold, particularly if it is being sold to people who are under age. There should be severe sanctions against the owners and proprietors of such establishments.

I welcome the motion. It is timely and should be brought to the attention of the relevant Ministers and their Committees, so that appropriate legislation can be framed and the Assembly can make a contribution to society. That will be a positive result that will help us to deal with this intractable problem.

Mrs Carson:

I thank all those who remained for the debate after a hectic period earlier. It shows that they feel that the matter is important. If other Members take time to read Hansard, they will see that we have a big problem in all constituencies whose Members have spoken. We have a problem common to all: not a town, village, area or townland is free from under-age drinking and the accessibility of drink. Mrs Courtney said that the blanket ban was unenforceable, but it is something we must think about - either a ban or some other way of dealing with the problem throughout Northern Ireland. Mrs Courtney also brought up something that I had forgotten about - the pressure that is put on our hospital services at the weekend - and I welcome that.

Nigel Dodds said that the by-laws are not adequate, and I agree with him about signage. We have the country covered with no-drinking zones, yet nobody takes any heed. The legislation requires amendment.

I was interested in what Sue Ramsey said about her area of west Belfast and the pilot scheme. Some people are doing that in local areas, and it is very commendable. Danny Kennedy said much the same, and that is fine in particular areas, but we need an overall response on this.

Eileen Bell talked about the fear generated at weekends. In a local village in my country area there is an atmosphere of fear caused by drinking. Cedric Wilson talked about television advertisements and the pressures on young people. The banning of tobacco advertising was a good suggestion and something to be considered - perhaps not by the Assembly, but other places could ban television advertisements. Those advertisements target young people, and once they have them hooked on alcopops and such things, they have customers for the rest of their days.

To tackle the problem sensibly, the present by-laws need to be amended to include powers to confiscate alcohol being consumed in public. A clearer definition is needed of what is meant by the possession of, or consumption of, alcohol in public. The power to prosecute offenders should be withdrawn from councils, but there should be a liaison role for them with the RUC.

Stricter control of the licensing of establishments that sell alcohol would be useful, as would an accredited Province-wide training scheme for staff of bars and off-licences. It might be considered mandatory for businesses to be included in this scheme as a condition to obtaining a licence or a licence renewal.

A Province-wide scheme to provide identity cards for those over 18 years of age might reduce the incidence of alcohol purchase by under-age customers. A valid identity card could be used as a proof of identity in situations other than the under-age purchase of alcohol. The co-ordinated approach suggested in the document on the strategy for reducing alcohol-related harm should include direct co-ordination and co-operation with the RUC. If the statistics on alcohol-related harm were combined, councils, the Assembly and the public could be made aware of the human and monetary costs involved.

I thank everyone who contributed to the debate. This is a complex subject, and the debate highlighted the problems we have to address. I ask that the points made today be noted and acted on by the Departments concerned.

Mr Kennedy has asked which Department has overall jurisdiction on this matter. I cannot answer that. The Department of Education, the Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety and the Department of the Environment could all work together to develop appropriate legislation to address effectively the problems of drinking in public, under-age drinking, the resultant disturbances and social problems. I ask that the motion be supported.

Question put and agreed to.


That this Assembly believes that current levels of enforcement of alcohol by-laws are inadequate to address the problem of outdoor drinking; and that increased resources should be made available for the enforcement of the by-laws and for a Province-wide education programme to alert younger people to the dangers of under-age drinking.

Adjourned at 4.57 pm.

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