This year’s Arthur’s Day celebrations were the “final straw that broke the camel’s back”, for the Union of Students in Ireland (USI) and its partnership with drinkaware.ie.
Earlier this week, it was announced that the USI were severing all ties with the group, which is run by the MEAS (Moderate Enjoyment of Alcohol group), due to issues they had with the bias nature of their campaigns. MEAS is funded by drinks-industry bodies such as Diageo, the producers of Guinness and other alcoholic products. It is behind a number of campaigns to promote more responsible drinking attitudes among Irish young people
The president of the USI, Joe O’Connor explained that nothing drinkaware.ie does actually changes the attitude towards drinking among youngsters in Ireland; it simply reinforces it.
The decision to cut ties with the campaign group was made at a National Council Meeting, which took place in the Dublin Institute of Technology on November 9.
Mr O’Connor said that representatives from colleges and universities from all over the country were present.
When the vote to end the partnership with drinkaware.ie was put to the representatives, no one voted against it.
In a response to USI's announcement, Ms Sheehan claimed that drinkaware.ie is an “alcohol social responsibility organisation”, and are not campaigning for alcohol prohibition. The campaign's target audience consists of 18-24 year-olds, 87% of whom drink. Ms. Sheehan stated that extensive research proved that a “do not drink” approach is ineffective to target irresponsible drinking, and that MEAS simply aims to “challenge and change some of the harmful cultural ways in which Irish people have, for generations, used alcohol”.
The country's main counselling organisation for victims of rape and sexual assault , the Rape Crisis Network of Ireland (RCNI), issued a statement following USI's announcement, supporting the decision to cut all ties with Drinkaware. RCNI stated that, according to a 2009 report, 77% of individuals suspected of rape were found to have consumed alcohol prior to the offence. The promotion of alcohol consumption by drinkaware.ie is considered by RCNI to constitute a normalising influence which strongly targets young people.
Ms. Neary further said that USI's leadership in this area “was vital”, given the resources available to the drinks industry for resisting social change. Joe O'Connor stated that USI intends to “develop a student alcohol awareness campaign” separately of MEAS, and in future endeavours will work with bodies that are not funded by a “self-regulating drinks industry”.