The Business Committee has agreed to allow up to one hour and 30 minutes for the debate. The proposer of the motion will have 10 minutes to propose and 10 minutes to make a winding-up speech. All other Members who wish to speak will have five minutes.
I beg to move
That this Assembly recognises the proven link between crime and the overconsumption of alcohol; and calls on the Minister of Justice to work on a joint strategy with the Minister of Health that will aim to deliver a targeted outcome of significantly reducing alcohol-related crime.
Everybody knows and accepts that there is a proven link between crime and the overconsumption of alcohol. I hope that the House will today maybe put aside any differences —
I hope that the House will today maybe put aside any differences and unite to address what is quite a serious issue that affects our society, our health service, our justice system, our economy and many people's lives. Nobody can say for sure how much money is spent by government, either at Westminster or in Northern Ireland, trying to tackle the health problems and, indeed, the problems we have in tackling crime due to the overconsumption of alcohol.
However, figures for England and Wales from the Institute of Economic Affairs indicate that alcohol-related crime costs government nearly £1 billion a year, while other such drinking offences adds another £627 million, making the total cost to the police and criminal justice system in England and Wales £1·6 billion. The Institute of Economic Affairs has also calculated that drink-related health problems cost the NHS in England and Wales another £1·9 billion. That includes £984 million in hospital admissions and £530 million in alcohol-related treatments, such as attendance at accident and emergency.
In Northern Ireland, the figures that we have been able to research suggest that the cost of alcohol abuse to the criminal justice system is around £320 million to £340 million, although I would be happy to be corrected, if there are any up-to-date figures on that. Some £150 million is incurred by health treatments and the estimated cost to the Northern Ireland economy is around £900 million.
Startling facts and figures for Northern Ireland include that 44% of all the arrests made by the PSNI in a single year were as a result of the alcohol factor. Sadly, 300 deaths were caused by drink in 2012. Two thirds of violence between strangers involved alcohol, and one third of domestic violence occurred after drinking. Some 13% of threats to kill involved alcohol.
As reported by Graeme Hetherington, research carried out by a professor at Teeside University showed that three quarters of the people in the criminal justice system have a problem with alcohol. Figures are wide and varied on the issue of the link between crime and the overconsumption of alcohol. However, we know that it is a factor, and we need to look at what can be done to help deal with this huge problem in society.
Let us look at what strategies we currently have from the Department of Justice and the Department of Health. Since 2005, the Department of Health has led the development of a cross-sectoral strategy that has sought to reduce the harm related to both alcohol and drug misuse in Northern Ireland. That was launched in 2006 and was entitled the new strategic direction for alcohol and drugs (NSD). It was to be a five-year plan, aimed at changing culture and behaviour. It was agreed that, rather than undertake a full, new strategy development process, the existing new strategic direction for alcohol and drugs plan would be revised and extended until 2016.
Under the NSD, four advisory groups provide advice and give policy guidance, including on children, young people and families; treatment and support; binge drinking; and law and criminal justice. The function of the groups is to feed back to the NSD. The health service has also established a liaison group, with input from the Public Health Agency, and that meets to monitor overall progress against the NSD's targets and outcomes. We see from the figures from the new strategic direction for alcohol and drugs — phase 2 that there appears to be some limited success in tackling alcohol and drug abuse, but there are also worrying trends that have increased. For example, adult drinking patterns have stayed the same since 2005. Problem drinking has increased slightly since 2005. Lifetime use of illegal drugs has increased from 20% in 2002 to 28%. The number of people in treatment for alcohol misuse has risen from 3,074 in 2005 to 3,891 in 2014. This is really worrying.
On the Justice side, the previous Minister published the 'Building Safer, Shared and Confident Communities' document. We see in it a section on alcohol-related crime and the new strategic direction for alcohol and drugs. We see explained in the document the costs to the Northern Ireland economy and the impact on our society, from the crime in local neighbourhoods to the corruption and effects of organised crime, and the health risks to the individual, families, friends and communities and society as a whole — all are affected. This has led to the outworkings of this, with the aims of support for young people and families dealing with alcohol misuse; increased public confidence and the impact on local communities; supporting offenders with targeted services; and ensuring that effective powers are available.
These are all well and good, with good aims, but are they working in reality? In my opinion, they are, at best, keeping the situation at a similar level but not making huge differences.
In conclusion, while there is cooperation between the Department of Health and the Department of Justice, with reports, strategies and documents and well-meaning sound bites, the fact remains that we are not getting on top of the problems related to alcohol consumption and its effects. The problem is costing Northern Ireland £900 million a year. It is affecting our health service, our justice system, our economy and the lives of our people. We need to find a better way to reduce these costs and to deal with the health effects. We also need to find a way to reduce the crime caused by alcohol. That is why I am asking the House to back our motion which asks the House to recognise the link between crime and the overconsumption of alcohol, and calls on the Minister of Justice to work on a joint strategy with the Minister of Health that will aim to deliver a better targeted outcome of significantly reducing alcohol-related crimes.
We need a new strategy between the two Departments that —
No. We need a new strategy between those two Departments that will give annual reports, actual actions and clear results. We owe that to our people to make their lives and society better for all.
I welcome the motion and support it. It is good to see that the Justice Minister is here to listen to the debate. I saw the Education Minister, but he is probably just about to shoot off. I believe that he also has a part to play in this, although not named in the motion.
The motion states the obvious. I do not mean that in a detrimental way. I mean that we have a societal problem with alcohol, which is well known and well documented. That is why I say that it states the obvious. Tackling it needs a joined-up approach. In general terms, it is pretty obvious what we need to do. Where do we start? Do we start with the availability of alcohol, the low cost of alcohol and what you can buy in your local supermarket incredibly cheaply? That is certainly an issue for society. Do we have a look at the effects on the individual of alcohol abuse that drives them towards crime, such as trying to get hold of alcohol on a day-to-day basis? It is pretty much like what they would do with drugs. Do we look at the cost to the public purse of alcohol-related issues? That cost has already been given, so I will not go through it. Do we look at the statistics on alcohol-related crime? Some 76% of those arrested have taken alcohol, 20% of all crime is alcohol-related, which rises to 47% for crimes of violent offences against the person. They are huge statistics that society should be ashamed of.
If you do not mind, I would like to look at this from a victim's point of view, because there is an anger out there when we do not look at the victim. Let us look at Enda Dolan: he was 18 years of age; a first-year student at Queen's University; killed by a hit-and-run driver on the Malone Road in October 2014; and left lying at the side of the road like a bag of rubbish. It was a shocking crime and a shocking waste of life. The man who was convicted for his murder was convicted of death by dangerous driving and awarded seven years, with three and a half years on licence. I think that we all know that that was increased by 12 months. Why was that death by dangerous driving? What was it not murder? Why was it not at least manslaughter, because that driver took 13 drinks before he got into that van? He knew what he was doing. When he climbed into that van, he turned it into a weapon, just as much as if he had been carrying a gun or a knife. We have to look at that, because people are angry. If somebody deliberately drinks and drives, there is a chance that there will be a fatality.
Over Christmas, 380 people were arrested for drink-driving: that is 380 potential fatalities. I mention that because we have a problem with alcohol abuse. I know that I have narrowed it down to drink-driving, but we could talk about other aspects. We have alcohol-related crime. I have said that it is a societal issue. It is not just for the Justice Minister and the Health Minister. It is for the Executive, whatever shape or form they will take in the coming months — dare I say it, years — to tackle this problem.
We have to target schools and schoolchildren. We have to target the workplace and communities. Let us tackle how alcohol can grab an individual and destroy their life. Let us tackle the fact that drinking alcohol, alcohol abuse and binge drinking are, for some people, a lifestyle choice. They do it deliberately, and they fund it through crime. It is important that we look at those aspects as well.
I support the motion. I am not exactly sure that it is the right proposal going forward, but I think that the sentiment behind it is to be applauded, so I thank the Members for tabling it.
I represent the South Belfast constituency. I am sure that others in the Chamber will also say this this evening, but I think that my constituency has a particular problem with alcohol-related crime, because it covers part of the city centre and a lot of the points on arterial routes, where there is a concentration of licensed premises and leisure locations. Unfortunately, for us as a constituency, whilst the problem is concentrated there, a lot of the people who are involved in alcohol-related crime do not necessarily reside there. That has a detrimental effect on the residents whom I represent, the workers and, in some cases, even the healthcare provision in the local hospitals, for example.
The reality of it is that, as drunk individuals and crowds move throughout the South Belfast constituency, they disturb the settled communities. Members will know the geography of South Belfast — it includes the Markets, the lower Ormeau, Sandy Row and Donegall Road. A lot of the people who live in the houses there are frail and elderly or have young children and are particularly susceptible to being frightened when they hear a bottle smashing in their front garden, a wing mirror being knocked off their car or any other damage being done to their property. In short, they are the ones who bear the brunt of the disturbances that drunk individuals and their friends bring to the constituency.
Then we have the extreme cases of alcohol-related crime — I am talking about things like actual bodily harm — when individuals or groups get involved in fights outside bars, and somebody inevitably needs hospital care. What then happens is that an ambulance crew has to come to take the injured individual, whether they are an innocent victim or not, to an emergency department, and the staff who are already under pressure — the doctors, nurses and front-line workers — have to direct their attention to that individual and away from people who may be more in need.
At this point, I would like to put on record a commendation of the PSNI's One Punch campaign. Members will know that it is a video campaign that the PSNI takes to youth clubs, schools and community groups. It is really about getting the message across that just one punch can be fatal.
I also commend the likes of Queen's University and the University of Ulster, which, despite some issues around disturbances in the Holylands, have proven that they care about the pastoral needs of their students. They try to guide them by encouraging more responsible alcohol consumption. I will also mention the likes of Drinkaware, some retailers and the Public Health Agency, which are trying to play their part in what seems like a disjointed process.
As I say, I believe that alcohol-related crimes place a burden on the health service. I think that, further down the line, the Justice Department and its associated agencies also have to deal with the fallout from alcohol-induced incidents. I am talking about the Youth Justice Agency, the Probation Board and, in more serious cases, the Prison Service. It is highly regrettable that scant resources from our Budget have to be spent on dealing with needless crimes.
I came to the Assembly in May last year, having spent 19 years working in grass-roots projects. I believe that we will see a reduction in alcohol-related crimes only when the strategy is developed and fed up through the grass roots. To that end, I think that, unlike what is proposed here this evening — leaving it to the Department of Justice in collaboration with the Health Department — the policing and community safety partnerships, which are facilitated in the 11 councils, should be the structures through which any such strategy flows. I mean that in the sense that the strategy for Enniskillen would possibly be very different from the one for South Belfast, and I think the people around the table, such as the Prison Service, the Probation Board and social services —
I appreciate the Member giving way. Does she agree with me that, whilst there is clearly a cost to Health and Justice, there are very significant issues such as those highlighted by Mr Beattie about education, for example, there is clearly a role for the Department for Communities and it is not simply a matter of solely two Departments dealing with it?
I had not noticed the time; thank you. I totally agree, and that is my point. A lot of statutory agencies are already doing this work, and they are to be applauded on and supported in that.
The other reason why I have a wee bit of a reservation about this is that, in the eight months I have been in the Assembly, particularly as my party's health spokesperson, I have heard of so many strategies that are at various stages of development and implementation with little or no funding to deliver on them. Without fear of contradiction, I would say that there are many people out there in the community sector who have very little faith that if another strategy was produced by this Assembly it would necessarily have the desired effects and outcomes.
I also welcome the opportunity to speak tonight as the Ulster Unionist Party health spokesperson. I also welcome that this enables us, as elected politicians, to focus on the issues that directly affect society in Northern Ireland and to put the practical before the political, which is, after all, what we are elected to do.
"Alcohol remains our favourite drug and its continued misuse has a real and lasting negative impact on individuals, on families, on children, on communities, on our health system, on the criminal justice system, on the economy, and on our society as a whole."
Those are not my words, but those of former Health Minister Edwin Poots when, in 2014, he penned the foreword to 'Every Contact Counts: Improving Access to Treatment for Alcohol Misuse in Northern Ireland'. To significantly reduce alcohol-related crime, as the motion states, we need to know the starting point. This document, albeit that it is from three years ago, contains a number of startling and frightening revelations about the burdens alcohol places on our health service and the justice system.
The PSNI confirmed through the Northern Ireland crime survey 2012 that alcohol played a part in 19% of all recorded crime, and my colleague, Doug Beattie, mentioned that. That is almost a fifth. I understand from the most recent statistics that that has changed little in the years since. The figures also show that 11% of antisocial behaviour in Northern Ireland was alcohol related. Alcohol was also involved in a startling 59% of all domestic violence when an injury occurred. That should be enough to send a shiver down the spine.
I have spoken at length in the House on previous occasions about domestic violence and the devastating impact it has on families, ripping them apart and affecting young people at the very beginning of their lives. In looking at this issue, it would be useful to receive more up-to-date figures from the Justice Minister. However, the point I am making here is that this information has been known for some years. The link between the overconsumption of alcohol and crime does not need to be proven or recognised; it is a clear fact — ask any of our constituents who contact us, often at the end of their tether, because of problems they and their families are experiencing. Incidents often start as a nuisance, but the problems escalate to more dangerous and potentially life-threatening levels as time passes.
I have been assisting communities through the Housing Executive, which has seen instances of alcohol abuse and related crime increase. I pay particular tribute to the assistance the PSNI has provided in those instances.
A visible presence is extremely important for community confidence and reassurance. However, we need to be conscious that this deflects resources from other areas and uses, all because some individuals choose to abuse alcohol, and it often does not stop there.
Looking at the overall impact of alcohol-related harm on the health service, I have seen estimates that the cost is up to £900 million every year, roughly one tenth of the block grant. The annual cost of alcohol misuse to the health and social care sector alone is estimated to be £250 million, which means that alcohol abuse costs every person in Northern Ireland £500 a year. With extreme healthcare costs, this could continue to rise by approximately 9% a year.
All this is in the document that I referred to, which was forwarded by the then Health Minister in 2014.
Given the facts that we have known for some years, it is for others to answer why this issue has not been tackled head on and why the draft Programme for Government contains only one reference to tackling poverty and disadvantage, and reducing the negative impacts of alcohol and drugs use, with no specific reference to alcohol-related crime.
Looking in on this debate from the outside, I think that the public would be surprised if the Ministers of Health and Justice were not already working together on this issue —
I am sure that the Assembly readily recognises the proven link between crimes and the over-consumption of alcohol. If it is the last thing we do on this dreadful day for Northern Ireland, it is that we debate an issue that affects people's lives, because goodness knows when we will have an opportunity again to represent the concerns that matter to the people of Northern Ireland.
While I appreciate the sentiments of Mr Easton and Mr Douglas to highlight an issue that none of us in this Chamber — if all were here — could disagree with, it is clear, judging by the events of the day and the emptiness of the Chamber, that practical issues, as Mrs Dobson rightly said, are of no concern to those who wish to play politics.
I welcome the opportunity to demonstrate what my Department is doing to tackle alcohol misuse. It is already working with the Department of Health. I agree with Mr Beattie that that should be extended not just in those two Departments but to Education and across the Executive, which, regrettably, no longer exists. To tackle the complex issues that arise when excessive alcohol is consumed will require support funding, but dissolution of the Assembly will make access to that funding across all Departments more problematic.
I am happy to tell the House that a joint strategy with the Minister of Health is already in place. A strategic direction was established to address many of the concerns raised in the motion on a cross-departmental basis with the Department of Health. However, it feels fruitless standing in an empty Chamber with the prospect of an election around the corner, and we cannot fulfill the aims that we promised when we came into office less than a year ago.
Although the new strategic direction is led by the Department of Health, my Department and others in the criminal justice system, including the PSNI, the Northern Ireland Prison Service, the Probation Board, and the Youth Justice Agency, provide major contributions to the strategy and its implementation.
The latest statistics produced for the annual report include feedback on analysis that showed that 46% of persons arrested and brought to police custody suites declared that they had recently consumed alcohol. The statistics show that between10.00 pm and 6.00 am on Friday, Saturday, Sunday and Monday that rose to 77%. In over half of arrests for offences where assaults were a factor, alcohol had been consumed.
Ms Bradshaw alluded to the recent PSNI One Punch campaign. This is an issue that affects people on a very real basis; it ruins lives day to day. That is something that we cannot become complacent about. Mr Beattie mentioned the Dolan family. I want to put on record my sincere sympathies to the Dolan family for what they have been put through. Indeed, had I been able to serve for a longer time in this office, I would have looked at addressing that concern, particularly around sentences and how we look at their unduly lenient nature, and at what we as an Assembly have the power to change. I hate to reiterate the point, but those opportunities are being lost by what has been played out in this Building and these institutions today.
In addition, to help monitor the position and in support of its work with health partners to address the problem, the PSNI has been maintaining a statistical record of certain crimes and offences in which alcohol and drugs intake is seen as a contributory factor. Those figures, although modest, show welcome improvements in such links. In 2014-15, alcohol was a contributing factor in 19% of all crimes recorded and in 43% of offences of violence against the person. In replying to the motion, I am focusing today on the work of the Department of Justice to tackle alcohol-related crime. However, tackling alcohol misuse generally is an issue for the Northern Ireland Executive, not just my Department, and that is why the new strategic direction is led by the Department of Health. It has many initiatives under way, including looking at pricing and promotions, as I mentioned earlier, access and availability, education work and understanding the hidden harms caused by alcohol misuse.
Members may be aware that the fourth annual report of the progress towards achieving the aims of the strategy was published in August of last year. As part of the new strategic direction strategy, key links have been made between phase 2 of the new strategic direction, the community safety strategy, the strategic framework for reducing offending and alcohol licensing. At a local level, through the strategy, we continue to promote joined-up work between drug and alcohol coordination teams, policing and community safety partnerships and local councils. Officials in my Department and the partner bodies that I listed have been looking closely at the range of concerns linked to the abuse and misuse of alcohol, and indeed drugs, with the intention of reducing the public health and societal impacts that behaviours such as overconsumption of alcohol can lead to.
Members may find it helpful to be reminded that the new strategic direction looks not only to reduce crime in which alcohol or drugs play a part but to prevent and intervene early in matters relating to alcohol, as well as both prescription drugs misuse and the use of illegal substances. In addition, the strategy looks to enable alcohol and drug users to have access to appropriate and effective treatment and support services, backed up by measures designed to reduce harm and supported by research and monitoring of trends and developments. The work in that area, led by the Department of Health, is producing results. I am pleased to acknowledge the part that my Department plays in supporting the work to address the range of problems.
The approach that I have encouraged since taking up post last year is built on problem-solving justice, which is a person-centred approach to tackling offending. If only my Executive colleagues would take the same attitude. For me, problem-solving justice is at the heart of our new draft Programme for Government, if it ever sees the light of day. It is an approach that would drive our reforms over the next five years. It is so unfortunate that we are to be distracted from this imaginative attempt at addressing the problems being discussed today, because there was a real opportunity to start changing people's lives. I think, too, that the effort that I expended on the draft Programme for Government, which includes plans to have a safe community, in which we respect the law and each other, will be seen by those suffering from the effects of alcohol-related crime as a wasted opportunity to tackle some of the issues that affect people from day to day.
My vision for the justice system in Northern Ireland was one of transformative change, because I believe that it is much more effective to address the underlying causes of offending when they arise, whether those are alcohol-related or due to misuse or abuse of other substances, than to seek to treat the problems later. I am so disappointed not to be able to develop the transformative changes throughout the current mandate. By diverting individuals, where appropriate, to the relevant community support and services in a timely manner so that they can receive targeted support and therapeutic intervention, we would deliver positive incomes for vulnerable individuals, for communities and for the criminal justice system as a whole, as well as reduce the number of victims. I hope that that kind of thinking can be sustained to ensure that the right help is made available to the right people.
The Programme for Government creates the platform for such a change, and problem-solving justice provides the delivery mechanism. As part of the problem-solving approach to justice, we were developing a portfolio of initiatives, some of which might have impacted directly on alcohol-related crime, including multi-agency support hubs to support individuals and their families and the development of a substance misuse court and a family, drugs and alcohol court.
With regard to the link between alcohol and crime, I think that we all accept that the relationship between consumption, particularly overconsumption, of alcohol and drugs and some criminal activity is well established. In the latest new strategic direction update report, research appears to suggest that the consumption of alcohol and drugs is a contributing factor in a large proportion of all crime. I know that the Police Service of Northern Ireland is also acutely aware of these problems.
Within my Department, local community safety partnerships have identified where the misuse of alcohol has been reported as playing a part in behaviour and criminal activities in their areas. In trying to address this, they, too, expend money, time and effort to draw attention to the local concerns and work with their communities to identify, create and implement community programmes designed to help engender more responsible behaviour. Many of the local programmes are targeted at providing advice to students and young people through engagement programmes in schools, awareness seminars and targeted interventions to challenge, for example, on-street drinking. PCSPs work alongside local partners to coordinate, support and lead the delivery of localised responses that are designed to effectively support tackling alcohol- and drugs-related offending, and I fear that much of this good work may also be affected by the dissolution of the Assembly next week and the continuing absence of a Budget which would give greater clarity and assurances to those trying to work in this area.
I have another few pages to talk about, but I feel that my standing in front of the Assembly is, to an extent, fruitless. The work that we have looked at over the past eight months will be lost in what we need to do to take Northern Ireland forward. I appreciate the opportunity to speak on this motion on an issue that affects people's day-to-day lives and I think that, on this really sad day for Northern Ireland, it is important that we put that message out there, because that perhaps demonstrates a little bit of hope for our country. I appreciate all the contributions to the debate.
I rise to support my colleague Alex Easton for bringing forward this motion tonight. It is a motion of real substance and real politics for real people. I stand here tonight heartbroken, and I am prepared to say that I back the Justice Minister 100% in everything that she said. Having worked with the Justice Minister over these past few months, I know that she was doing a good job and making real progress in that Department that would have benefited some of our most vulnerable people.
I know that we do not always get filled Chambers for debates of this nature, but I can look round the Chamber tonight and see genuine people who are here to do the best for their people — the people of Northern Ireland. Every single person in the Chamber feels the way I do and feels that they want to make a difference to their society. They have been deprived and robbed of the chance to make our people's lives better. This is just one of the issues that we should have been debating today.
Whilst we all know that this is a bear pit of a Chamber. I like the rough and tumble, I must admit. I like the debates that we have had here over the last number of months. We were able to debate and be harsh if we needed to be and say our truths if we had to, but we were able to get something done or at least speak about what needs to be done. Now we have been deprived of even that by the actions of one party. Whilst most parties disagreed with my party on this issue and on these issues, they were prepared to say their piece, put down their authority where it was, tell it as they believed it was and see it out, yet one party has now walked away and failed the people of Northern Ireland. We are elected to this House to represent people, not to walk away and resign.
Alcohol-related crime is a massive issue in our society. We can talk about drugs, the harshness of drugs and why we should not take drugs and most people will get that, but alcohol is mainstream and so we have to treat it differently and do something else. That is the reason it costs so much: it is mainstream. We can all look back over our life, and — you have to really concentrate — see how alcohol has affected us growing up through the things that we have seen. We have all been in a place where we have seen somebody a wee bit the worse for wear. That is how we say it. We try our best to get that person home and to make sure that they are safe. There will be a few jokes or gibes and one thing and another. We find that acceptable at times. Hopefully the person will sleep it off and be right as rain the next day. However, that brings risks.
I remember, when I was growing up, running about with young friends from a neighbour's house. I just knew by the way things were talked about in the household and in the neighbour's household that there were issues there at night. You heard it through the walls. It was drink induced. It is not only the person who takes the drink that we should be looking at; it is the family circle. It is the young people who see that on a nightly basis. It is scary. I have been in houses when I was young, maybe staying over, and one of the parents came home drunk. It is quite intimidating. You have never really seen them in that light before. You wonder if everything is going to be OK. So, drink, whilst it is mainstream, is a massive issue for us as a society. Figures have been bandied about, and, of course, we can all recognise them.
I understand that it is a societal problem, so the whole Executive should tackle it. However, where does the burden really hit? It hits Justice and Health more than anywhere. Those Ministers should lead any strategy going forward, and I would support that. We look at the work that we are trying to do. Look at the work that the Justice Minister has been doing on domestic violence, a lot of which is drink induced. Now this Justice Minister will not be able to move forward with her plans and her legislation on this very issue. Is that not a shame? It is a shame for the people of Northern Ireland who need our help — for the people who have a drink problem, the people who have a problem with drink, which is different, and the family members and people in society out there who suffer because of drink.
Think of the assaults on police officers, firefighters and ambulance workers because of drink. Think of people out doing a duty — a day or a night's work — and the way that they are treated because people take too much to drink and do not make the right decisions. I have a private Member's Bill sitting ready to go. I launched the consultation today on bringing accident and emergency workers into line with those services to make sentencing for assaulting them tougher. The amount of abuse that our accident and emergency staff take and the number of assaults in our accident and emergency rooms because people have too much to drink is woeful. It is a disgrace to our society. It is a tarnish to our name. We need to do something about that, and now we cannot. It is an absolute shame that here tonight we are talking and we do not really have any power — none of us. We can say what we like, but we cannot have any effect. We cannot cause something to become better. Our chances are gone.
To sum up: Doug Beattie raised a lot of issues. He rightly focused on the spectre of drink-driving — it is something that I have not mentioned yet — and how people think that it is acceptable to jump into a car intoxicated and drive somewhere, when they are not able to make an informed decision in that regard. That is completely unbelievable. He is right. Every time that happens there is a risk of one death or more. That is something that we should be looking at seriously. I do press release after press release about speed on our roads, a bad bend, driver behaviour and how roads are dangerous. Roads are not really dangerous; it is the people on the roads and how they drive. That is something that we need to get through. We need to get education and awareness into the very hearts and souls of our people and tell them that, whilst this is mainstream, this is how much it is costing.
It is not just pounds and pence; it is lives.
I was struck by something in Doug Beattie's contribution. He was a soldier in a former life. He, like me, will know the practices in our armed forces with regard to drink: all the lads go out when they can get R & R and everything else. It is an issue not only in the army but across society. We have to tackle that. We have to educate people, and we have to be responsible about it.
I thank the Member for giving way. Will he join me in commending the PSNI for its excellent campaign at Christmas? One night, I was stopped and breathalysed on two occasions. Thankfully, the breathalyser returned readings of zero. I do not know who would have been more shocked had it demonstrated anything different. That highlights that that type of enforcement works. The PSNI needs to be commended for its hard work and expertise this Christmas.
I thank the Member for making that contribution. I hope that it was not anything to do with her driving as opposed to the campaign. It was a very good campaign; she is absolutely right to raise that. It made a difference — people were talking about it. Although I did not get breathalysed, I was stopped at a checkpoint. You are absolutely right.
Paula Bradshaw mentioned the One Punch campaign. I have a friend who has had health issues for the last 20 years because he was the victim of a one-punch attack. The violent conduct on that night was drink-induced.
Question put and agreed to. Resolved:
That this Assembly recognises the proven link between crime and the overconsumption of alcohol; and calls on the Minister of Justice to work on a joint strategy with the Minister of Health that will aim to deliver a targeted outcome of significantly reducing alcohol-related crime.
Adjourned at 8.42 pm.