Ireland is second only to Austria in rates of binge drinking, with 39 percent of Irish people over 15 reporting heavy drinking in a one-month period, according to a 2014 survey by the World Health Organization.
The country’s Health Research Board estimated that in 2015 Irish people above the age of 15 consumed on average the equivalent of 41 liters of standard whiskey or vodka, or more than 116 bottles of wine, per head each year.
The World Health Organization survey also found that Ireland ranked 12th in the world in terms of average alcohol consumption, while in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, a group of developed economies, it ranked fourth, behind Estonia, Austria and France.
Alcohol Action Ireland, a group of activists and health professionals that lobbied for the new law, says that alcohol causes, on average, three deaths every day in Ireland and is a factor in half of all suicides and a third of cases of deliberate self-harm. Excessive drinking disrupts families and communities, it says, and is also a factor in many assaults, rapes and murders, and in two-fifths of all traffic accidents in the country.
While many Irish people are already aware of the social and health costs of alcohol consumption, the strong link between excessive alcohol use and several types of cancer has caught some by surprise.
In the course of the debate, the opposition’s health spokesman, Stephen Donnelly, reversed his party’s earlier objection to the cancer labels, admitting that he had been shocked by research that showed 500 Irish people died of alcohol-related cancers each year, “about three times the number of people who die on the roads,” he said.
The bill was fiercely resisted by a number of groups representing alcohol manufacturers, distributors and retailers. Parliamentary opposition and delays meant that almost three years have passed between the bill’s initial introduction and its passage, which was greeted by applause in the Dail, the lower house of the Irish Parliament.