Minister of State for Communities and National Drugs Strategy Catherine Byrne TD launched the National Community Action on Alcohol Network on 22 February 2017. The opening address was given by Kieran Doherty, CEO of the Alcohol Forum, which will coordinate the network through their Community Action on Alcohol Project (CAAP).1 The network has been set up in response to requests from the communities engaging in CAAP to help address the harm caused by alcohol in their own areas. The network will enable the sharing of knowledge, expertise and experiences across the country, which in turn will ensure that their voices can make an impact on policy at the national level: ‘The formation of the network sends a clear message that people want to see change and that communities themselves have an important role to play.’
The first two speakers on the day represented areas that had already gone through the CAAP process. David Lane (HSE Cork and Kerry) shared his experience as chair of the Cork and Kerry Alcohol Strategy Group. It was one of the initial pilot sites to go through the process and is now about to launch its own local alcohol action plans in three areas: Listowel, Youghal and North West Cork City. In particular, David acknowledged the work already done by communities in Ballymun and Galway, as learning from their experiences proved useful in their own process. He also stated they were aware that this process was a long road, indeed a marathon and not a sprint.
The next speaker was Peter Conway, chair of the North Dublin Community Action on Alcohol and a member of the North Dublin Regional Drug and Alcohol Task Force. Its members were part of the second group to go through the CAAP process. He too spoke about the positivity of community mobilisation and in particular the benefit of involving different stakeholders. He acknowledged the great help they received from the first pilot group, for example, in identifying pitfalls and ‘making challenges workable’. He welcomed the formation of the network, which he felt will allow meaningful conversation about what works, comparisons and constructive planning.
Paula Leonard from the Alcohol Forum also addressed the attendees and gave a concise overview of the alcohol situation, CAAP and plans for the future. Minister Byrne was the final speaker of the morning and spoke of the need for communities to learn from each other and their experiences in order to implement actions in alcohol harm reduction. She noted that communities need to ‘be brave and make hard decisions’ in this area. She acknowledged the work of the Alcohol Forum and in conclusion referenced the upcoming Public Health (Alcohol) Bill 2015 and the new National Drugs Strategy.
The network aims to:
- Promote an evidence-based approach to community action on alcohol.
- Enable the sharing of best practice and provide a space for challenges and barriers to be discussed in a positive shared-learning environment.
- Advocate for and advance the current allocation of resources to support community action on alcohol.
- Act as a learning resource between members and facilitate the exchange and development of knowledge, values, and skills in the area of community action on alcohol.
- Act as a space for members to form collective positions on issues of common concern and support collective action on these issues.
- Develop of number of shared outcomes, thereby enabling/supporting the demonstration of positive outcomes at a national level as the approach expands to other areas.
1 For further information on CAAP, visit http://www.alcoholforum.org/community-action-on-alcohol/