The government is preparing measures, including setting minimum pricing, to tackle alcohol abuse.  A major study of how much alcohol Irish people consume is already underway. The report will determine how often they go to the pub and with whom they drink.

A package of proposals to help tackle alcohol misuse will be brought before the Cabinet next month.

Although the study was commissioned several weeks ago, it has coincided with severe criticism of under-age drinking over the St. Patrick’s festival weekend.

Local town councilors have said 12-year-olds sat in a playground in Bundoran, Co. Donegal, drinking alcohol openly. Some of them were “out of their heads,” town councilor Michael McMahon claimed. 

McMahon said it was “an ongoing situation and a tragedy waiting to happen.”

At next month’s Cabinet meeting ministers will consider proposals to tackle alcohol abuse.

They will decide on whether to phase out alcohol industry sponsorship of sport and large public events, and if there should be a 9 p.m. watershed on broadcasting alcohol advertising. 

As part of the study, the drinking habits of 5,000 people aged between 18 and 75 will be surveyed in face-to-face interviews for the Health Research Board. An average benchmark for a national survey would normally be 1,000 people.  Harm experienced while drinking and the weekly consumption of alcohol in households will be among the areas surveyed. 

Information from households will include estimates on the amount of alcohol drank by people at dependent, harmful, hazardous, and low-risk levels. The data will also be broken down by gender, age groups and employment status. 

The national survey on drinking habits will examine the frequency of people’s consumption of alcohol, their number of drinking occasions, and the type of alcohol consumed. 

Adults will also be asked about “risky single occasion drinking,” the days they drink, and where the alcohol is consumed. 

The action plan for minimum pricing levels is based on a government expert group which sat for three years before publishing its report a year ago.

Campaign groups say 3.7 billion is spent every year in Ireland on treating alcohol-related illnesses.