Being young isn’t what it used to be in Ireland. It certainly seems to be a mixed bag. Anti-social behaviour orders, or ASBOs, come into force today for children of at least 12 and below 18 years. At the same time, a new report reveals (subs needed) that more than 17,500 children aged between seven and 17 were referred to An Garda Síochána’s juvenile diversion programme for young offenders in 2005. One in five of all referrals was for alcohol-related offences. The same report shows that Irish children are also the second most active in the world.
Other data cited from 2003 shows that Irish 15-year-olds have the third-highest level of binge drinking and illicit drug use in a European schools survey – 40 per cent reported that they had used an illicit drug at least once in their lifetime.
57 per cent were reported to have had five or more alcoholic drinks in a row in the past 30 days. Girls seem to be keeping up with the boys on this one – up from 42 per cent in 1995 to 57 per cent in 2003.
Not surprisingly with an election just around the corner, the Taoiseach Bertie Ahern has dismissed the report, which he claimed suggested that all teenagers were addicted to drink or drugs.
Just because a 14-year-old tried one cigarette or one drink, it doesn’t make them an alcoholic or a smoker, he believes.
He said resources had been put into the anti-drugs stategy, and urged the media to concentrate on positive findings, such as the fact that Irish children were second in the world in terms of being active. Ahern feels more resources should be put into supporting young people’s social activities, ‘whether it’s tiddly-winks or something more sophisticated’. Resources are certainly needed, especially considering that the Irish Republic has the highest ratio of children under 18 in the EU.
The Irish Times in its editorial takes issue with Ahern underplaying the findings of the report:
The figures that we have are damning. Four out of 10 children under the age of 15 reported they had used illicit drugs. And one in 10 had sampled a drug more dangerous than marijuana. Such activity does not, of course, make them addicts. But it does reflect the general availability of drugs and the dangerously complacent attitude of their peer groups. Of the 36 countries surveyed, Ireland was ranked third in terms of drug experimentation by this age group. Young Irish girls came first
The situation is worse in terms of alcohol abuse. Six out of 10 young people acknowledged they had engaged in binge drinking within the previous month. There was no difference between the drinking behaviour of boys and girls. We have the third worst problem in the developed world. One consequence is that most of the 15,500 youth referrals to the Garda Juvenile Diversion programme in 2005 involved alcohol-related offences.
Throw in the fact that one in seven urban children are absent from school for more than 20 days in the year, it’s obvious that there is a whole swathe of young people who are opting out of the mainstream.
On the other hand, 89.5 per cent of young people between the ages of 10 and 17 described themselves as happy, with younger girls the happiest of all.
While most Irish children take more exercise than in most other countries, find it easier to talk to their parents and have lots of friends, it’s not the whole story which is probably why groups like drugtestyourteen.com have been peddling their wares on the Irish airwaves in recent weeks.
“Would you mind urinating into the bottle there please son,” is their preferred method of addressing the issue as it also give parents that all-important peace of mind.
“This is a mighty chasm for me to leap, but I’ve come to the conclusion that the possibility of legalising drugs should be looked at.”
I don’t know how feasible his suggestion that the drugs already confiscated by Gardaí could be sold to countries where their use is legal is but something tells me Mr. Byrne hasn’t indulged very often in what can only be described as extremely dodgy Dublin standard.