The proliferation of Irish pubs throughout the world is evidence enough of the Irish love of alcohol, but with increasing numbers of Irish seemingly wanting far more than just the odd tipple, the Dublin authorities are becoming increasingly concerned.
Speaking on Monday at the opening of the European Brewery Convention in Dublin, Ireland's prime minister Bertie Ahern recognised the importance of brewing, and the alcohol industry in general, to both Ireland's culture and its economy, but stressed that this did not mean that the negative aspect of alcohol consumption should be overlooked.
"Currently in Ireland there is much debate about the changes we have seen over recent years in our traditional enjoyment of alcohol," he said. "Great concern has been expressed about the negative aspects of these changes that have led to serious social problems arising from greatly increased levels of alcohol abuse.
"Unfortunately, this abuse of alcohol has become a serious matter in our society. In the last decade, Ireland has had the highest increase in alcohol consumption among EU countries. Between 1989 and 2001, alcohol consumption per capita in Ireland increased by almost 50 per cent, while 10 other EU Member States showed a decrease during the same period."
With per capita consumption of 11.4 litres per person, Ireland is second only to Luxembourg in the EU (where the average is 9.1 litres per head) and the authorities are becoming increasingly concerned about the number of young people turning to alcohol on a regular basis.
"Young adults, in other words 18 to 25 year olds, are more likely to engage in binge drinking, which is defined as five or more drinks in a row for females and seven or more in a row for males. Acute problems such as trips and falls, alcohol poisoning, public order offences and so on tend to occur when individuals drink to excess on a single occasion."
While the Irish government is clearly concerned about the health impact of the relentless rise in alcohol consumption, there are many other areas of society likely to be affected by the problem. Alcohol is estimated to be associated with at least 30 per cent of all road accidents, and with 40 per cent of all fatal accidents, the prime minister said.
"The financial impact on our economy is also significant as a result of costs such as healthcare, road accidents, alcohol-related crime and lost productivity. In a paper commissioned as part of the European Comparative Alcohol Study, the real resource cost of alcohol-related problems in Ireland in 1999 was estimated at 1.7 per cent of GDP, or close to €2.3 billion."
In order to combat this growing problem, the Irish government is to introduce a number of measures, among them several designed to limit the exposure of children and adolescents to alcohol marketing.
"The Minister for Health will shortly be bringing forward legislation to protect young people from over-exposure to alcohol marketing including advertising, sponsorship and sales promotions," the PM Sad. "This will include restricting advertising of alcohol products on public transport, in youth centres and at sporting events where young people under 18 years of age are participating. It would also prohibit broadcasting of alcohol advertising on TV and radio before 10pm and in cinemas where movies are being shown for children and young people under 18 years of age."
Other measures include an obligatory health warning about the risks of over consumption of alcohol on all products and adverts, a restriction on happy hours and a new education campaign to raise awareness of the negative effects of alcohol abuse. There will also be tougher measures to combat for alcohol-related offences.
Ahern went to great lengths not to point the finger at any one segment of the drinks trade - producers, the licensed trade and the government itself should all work more closely together to combat alcohol abuse, he said, rather than get bogged down in recriminations - but he did call on the drinks industry to stop the production or import of alcopops and such products "clearly targeted at young people".
"I believe this would be a welcome assertion by the wider industry that it takes its social responsibility seriously," he said, stressing that the government's hands were tied as EU Internal Market rules did not allow it to ban such drinks.