Category Archives: Local

Colour Me Happy

By Rebekah Logan

Despite the colourful workshops and glitter-strewn table-tops, art therapy is a serious and respected form of psychotherapy that uses art as its primary form of practice.

Not concerned with turning their clients into the next Picasso or Monet, an art therapist’s main aim is to enable their client to utilise art materials and methods as a means of self-expression and stress-relief in a stable and secure setting. It is an idea reiterated by French artist Edgar Degas who wrote, “Art is not what you see, but what you make others see.”

So, is it time for us to view art not only as an enjoyable past-time but rather as an important psychotherapy?

Art therapy is almost unique in its practice that it relies on a three-way relationship, joining the client, the therapist and the artefact produced from their sessions.

This relationship is very important as it sets arts therapy aside from other, less practical therapeutic methods.

Using the arts as a form of therapy can prove beneficial to those who need help but struggle to express their thoughts and emotions verbally, such as children and adolescents.

Young children, of primary school age in particular, may find the standard therapeutic institution to be cold and intimidating making them reluctant to partake in the necessary practice to help them.

It is for this reason this reason that art therapy is primarily directed at the younger generation.

By combining a favourite childhood past-time such as art with therapeutic psychotherapy allows the child to be treated without inflicting feelings of isolation or intimidation upon them.

Liz Cammack, a qualified special needs classroom assistant, has 15 years of experience working one on one with children suffering from severe behavioural problems.

One of the children that Liz is primarily based with suffers from severe behavioural problems; prior to art therapy the child also received regular visits to school from a child psychologist, who in turn referred the child to a licensed art therapist.

Speaking of the benefits to the child of having art therapy, Liz said, “[It] gave the art therapist and ultimately the psychologist an insight into how the child’s mind worked because all his drawings were in black, pencils and paint, he used no colour at all to express himself in his art work.”

A child may not be able to express complex emotions such as these verbally but through their artwork enable the psychologists and therapists to determine the issues they may be having and thus draw conclusions to remedy the situation.

But does it work? “Initially, yes”, said Liz, “however, when the therapy stopped he regressed and his behaviour deteriorated. There needs to be follow-up care such as counselling and this did not happen in this child’s case.”

Art psychotherapist, Jean Beolan Gascoigne tells us that the end products vary with many involving, “the making of visual images through painting, drawing, clay modelling and collage…”

While there are a small number of children who require intensive art therapy it is important to remember that the arts can benefit children of any capability and background.

Inside Art, a creative workshop set up in Londonderry works to develop, “teamwork, leadership and communication, while encouraging participants to challenge conventional ways of thinking.”

While providing activities in everything from creating wall hangings, soft sculpture and glass painting right down to decoupage and mandala making.  Inside Art also provides high quality and innovative workshops, community consultation and creative consultation.

Children partaking in one of Inside Art’s creative workshops throughout October would have seen their artwork displayed during the 25th anniversary celebrations of Londonderry’s Halloween Carnival.

While not therapeutic, art classes followed by presentations such as these can have an intensive effect on a child’s mental health as well as improving their confidence and social skills from a young age.

Projects such as these help to increasing a child’s feelings of relevance and uniqueness, something that can be lost in large groups of children.

Claire Heaney-McKee, Inside Art’s creative workshop facilitator, describes a child’s creativity as, “innate, and continued exposure to art cultivates self-expression, improves concentration, develops planning skills and enhances dexterity.”

Kathryn McCloskey, the mother of a child suffering from Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and Autism, feels that art therapy has helped her son, “in ways [she] could never have imagined.”

One of the primary concerns with children suffering from these disorders is a life-long struggle to cooperate in everyday social situations.

Kathryn told me animatedly of how a careful combination of increased amounts of exercise and art therapy has drastically improved her both her son’s interpersonal and cognitive skills.

“He still struggles with his academic classes and that, because he doesn’t like the structured environment, but in the playground, during breaks, he’s far more interactive with the other children than he used to be.”

The informal environment in which art therapy takes place is imperative to its success as a form of psychotherapy for children, they enjoy escaping, what they generally feel is a confined and constricted environment within their day-to-day classroom activities.

It would appear that, at least where children are concerned, the time has come for art therapy to take step forward and encourage more verbal psychotherapy to take a back seat when treating children with complex issues.



Fracking concern for Ballycastle councillor

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By Paul Mullin

A Ballycastle councillor has warned of the damage a controversial new gas extraction process could cause to Northern Ireland.

The process known as hydraulic fracturing, or fracking as it’s more commonly known, takes place by drilling rocks in order to get natural gas.

Shale rock, which is common all over the North West of Ireland, makes it an attractive opportunity for gas companies. The reserves of natural gas in counties Leitrim, Sligo, Cavan, Donegal and Fermanagh could be worth £80 billion at current prices.

The controversy of fracking comes in the methods used in order to get the gas. A combination of water, chemicals and sand, with the use of explosives, is forced into the natural fractures in the rock, which allows the fractures to widen further. The water and chemicals are pumped out, but the sand stays behind, propping the fracture apart which allows the gas to be extracted.

This process was the subject of an Oscar nominated documentary called “Gaslands” which showed the hazards caused by fracking. The documentary followed the fracking process in Pennsylvania, USA and its effect on the residents in the areas were drilling had taken place. It found that chemicals had found their way into the drinking water and in several instances it showed that a lit match next to a running tap turned it into a ball of flames.

The film contained interviews with residents and scientific experts which warned of the health risks and wider environmental impact.

Councillor Donal Cunninham from the Moyle District Council is one such person who opposes fracking in NI as it currently operates. He said: “The process has not achieved or proven itself safe, and it also increases greenhouse emissions which we should be looking to reduce.” The councillor plans on public showings of ‘Gaslands’ in both Ballycastle and Rathlin and urges the public to come along and see the potential dangers for themselves.

Two companies –Tamboran Resources and the Lough Allen Natural Gas company – have been granted onshore gas exploration licences in the North West. Although it is in the infancy stage proper commercial drilling could happen within four years.

Richard Moorman, the CEO of Tamboran, has moved to emphasise how safe fracking now is and the benefits it will have for NI. He said: “Tamboran is commited to brining forward a natural gas project in Northern Ireland that has the potential to create significant meaningful local employment, tax revenues and local commercial spending.”

He went onto add how important the process is for NI’s own gas needs.  As it stands NI imports nearly 90% of its natural gas needs and by exploring fracking Moorman says it will: “Significantly reduce Northern Ireland’s vulnerability to potential future supply shortages.”

The impact of fracking goes beyond health and environmental issues and has raised concern about its impact on tourism in the North West of Ireland. Tourism is worth £120 million to the area and one of the major tourist attractions is the Shannon Erne, which is the longest navigable waterway in Ireland, it is feared that fracking could lead to water contamination, which could have a knock on affect on the Erne as a tourist attraction.

The two counties have 4,000 farm holdings between them and if fracking chemicals were to get into the water and food chain it could be devastating for the area. Residents have argued that if the fracking does go ahead it will affect the rural landscape with drilling pads of 12 acres every two square kms being deployed in the choosen fracking areas.

When asked about this Moorman stressed how paramount the issue of health, safety and conservation was to the company. He said: “It is essential that our operations are conducted without a single incident of water or air contamination and with respect for all landowners and residents by absolutely minimising surface impacts as well as traffic and noise levels.”

He went onto say: “All of our operations will be conducted to the highest standards of natural gas extraction, as  demonstrated by our commitment to completely eliminate chemicals from the hydraulic fracturing process, as well as to conduct two month baseline surveys of groundwater quality, air quality, noise levels, and seismic activity before proceeding to drill any well.”

Concillor Cunningham remains unconvinced though and points to how the process is banned in France, and parts of Canada, Australia and even in the US (it is banned in New York state despite heavy lobbying from the gas industry)

Cunningham added: “Most of the industry are now claiming that they will eliminate chemicals from the fracking process. Chemicals made up 1% of the fluid. Two factors are responsible for the contamination of groundwater – fracking fluid and methane. So the industry is only addressing one of our concerns.”

He went onto add that the government and assembly should focus on developing renewable energy which he says will create new green businesses and jobs.

Cookstown looking good, looking great

November brought good news for Cookstown’s manufacuturing and construction sectors, with confirmation funds for a new police academy have been secured. Cookstown council is taking an active role in helping the towns small businesses. Michelle Loughran looks at the reasons why the district should not forget its rural roots …

Cookstown recently received a welcome economic boost with news that funding for a new training college has been secured.

Based outside the town, Desertcret College will provide training facilities for the PSNI, Prison and Fire Services.

Cookstown council estimates this should create around 305 construction jobs. This is a positive development for the entire district.

At the height of the recession in 2009 unemployment rose by 190% across the Cookstown district.

The councils’ economic review for 2010 stated these phenomenally high levels of unemployment were “mainly due to Cookstown having one of the highest proportions of employment in the manufacturing, construction and retail sectors in NI”.

With construction on the college due to start in 2013 there is a real possibility it could be too late for the large manufacturing and construction sector which is already struggling.

Ciaran Higgins, manager of the towns Enterprise Centre said the area has been hit with job losses because Cookstown has a relatively small public service sector.

He said: “One of the reasons this region is one of the more entrepreneurial in Northern Ireland is going back 20 years there was a lack of public sector jobs and investment.”

This developed the mantra if you wanted a job “you go out and make work for yourself”.

One of the growing problems rural manufacturing companies face is consumer buying patterns are changing. As incomes are stretched further people now want cheap products and these are not always available locally.

Martin Loughran runs a small furniture business specialising in bespoke hand-made kitchens. Based outside Cookstown production has gradually slumped from 2009 and order levels are not improving.

Martin said: “People are not coming forward, quality work has gone, the customer base has dropped completely and that’s the type of work we relied on.”

Customers now want budget kitchens for a variety of reasons. He said: “People are being careful and are not prepared to spend excess money”.

Concerns about job security remain prominent and rising inflation has squeezed disposable income. Consumer tastes have also evolved and products that can be changed regularly are now fashionable.

Martin recognises this change and has adapted his product portfolio to include a cheaper range of kitchens but finds it difficult to compete with large competitors like Ikea or Homebase which has a Cookstown store.

These problems are reflective of those most independent manufacturing businesses now face as competition for work has increased dramatically. The threat of a double dipped recession means pressures are unlikely to ease anytime soon.

Cookstown Council has developed schemes to help local businesses and increase visitor levels. Their most successful campaign has promoted the town using a series of advertisements and brochures under the slogan, Cookstown- looking good looking great.

The councils’ main objective is to reaffirm the town’s position as the retail capital of Mid-Ulster. A council report said: “The council continues to place the revitalisation of Cookstown town centre and the wider district as one of its top priorities in the development of the economic and social fabric of the local economy.”

From 2003 the council has funded a shop front improvement and paint scheme which has helped 26 shop owners improve their business façade. The living over the shop scheme run in partnership with the Housing Executive has provided grant aid for shop owners to convert space above shops into residential accommodation.

Council money has been spent on new signage and the main roundabout entering the town has been given a makeover. This has lead to Cookstown being crowned Ireland’s best kept large town 2011.

Chairman of Cookstown Council, Sean Clarke confirmed 79% of VAT registered businesses in the district are in rural areas.

Council money has been targeted at attracting custom to the town centre where the retail sector is the main beneficiary. But, are the rural businesses which form the backbone of the district being neglected?

Sean Clarke says that is not the case: “Rural businesses have the same opportunities as those in the town centre. The onus is not on a council to get involved in economic development and Cooksotwn is one of the leading councils in promoting local businesses.”

He said the council are battling for better broadband access and there “is a big effort to improve the infrastructure in rural areas where it is especially poor”.

Fiona McKeown, the council’s economic development manager said: “Cookstown takes the lead to assist rural businesses. The South West Regional Development division provides grants of up to £50000 to help those who want to diversify their products or invest in new equipment.”

It is encouraging to see the council positively using their influence and resources to help the local economy. UK economic growth is stagnating and profitability is becoming harder for small businesses to sustain: so an all hands to the deck approach is needed.

The enterprise centre currently has 100% occupancy and, surprisingly, new businesses have started in 2011. Ciaran Higgins said: “There is no other work available and perhaps a positive to come out of a recession is the creation of new businesses which will bring new jobs down the line.”

Cookstown district is an industrious part of Northern Ireland with a skilled workforce and entrepreneurial spirit that has helped establish many independent companies.

The goal is to make Cookstown Mid Ulster’s retail capital, but it is vital the council does not forget its rural businesses. As losing manufacturing and construction businesses would have a greater bearing on what the Cookstown district has to offer.

Get the most from a year abroad

Gap years and cultural exchanges are growing in polularity, but many students are unprepared for possible pitfalls.

Nadejda Vidinova reports

Various cases in the last few years have drawn attention to the risks that people face when studying abroad. The infamous murders of British exchange students Meredith Kercher and Lindsay Hawker shocked the world in 2007. The controversial trial of the Kercher murder suspects highlights the legal situations students may find themselves in, whether they’re the victim or the accused.

Students on placements in Arab countries, such as Egypt and Syria, have faced considerable dangers during the unrests. Those in Japan had to be evacuated following the earthquake.

Such cases are extreme and relatively rare, and by no means should deter students from taking part in cultural exchanges. The benefits outweigh the possible dangers, but people should be on their guard.

It is almost impossible to predict natural disasters or riots, but there are reasonable precautions that students can take to keep themselves out of trouble. Dr Nerys Young, co-ordinator of the International Student Exchange Programme (ISEP) at the University of Ulster advised “not to do anything that you wouldn’t do at home.”

Most importantly, students should thoroughly research their chosen location. A basic understanding of the country’s history, politics, religion, culture and society are a must. Knowledge of the local language is preferable, although not essential.

A highly publicised case in the USA, which highlighted the difference in political attitudes across the world, was that of American student Pathik Root. After taking a picture of an anti-government protest in Damascus, he was arrested on suspicion of being a spy.

Although it is an isolated case, it emphasizes the need for caution while in a foreign country. It takes a while to adjust to another country’s culture, and during the period of adjustment people need to be especially vigilant.

This is especially important for students going to regions whose politics are drastically different to those of their own country. Natasha Robinson, originally from Coleraine is a final- year student at London School of Economics and spent a year teaching in China. She said: “I would never talk about politics or religion online, over the phone, in letters or in public places.”

It’s not all doom and gloom however. Most people don’t experience major problems while abroad, and the advantages are plenty.

Studying or working in a foreign country could improve one’s cultural understanding, confidence and employment prospects.

Debbie Peake, a former student of the University of Ulster in Coleraine took part in a work placement organised by the British Council. She taught English at a secondary school in Huelva, Spain and described how her experience has helped her. “My confidence in speaking Spanish has grown, as has my independence. I am now a language teacher and know that I’m a better teacher because of my year abroad.”

While safety is vital, it is also important that students explore their host country and make the most of their time there. One of the most common mistakes people make is spending too much time with people of their own nationality. Natasha Robinson advises students to “throw themselves into making friends with local people.”

On the other hand, there are hundreds of foreign students coming to Northern Ireland each year. Although they also face problems with safety and homesickness, they tend to have a positive experience.

Dr Young said: “Let’s face it, Northern Ireland doesn’t have the best reputation in the world…but it isn’t like this every day.”

One of the issues for exchange students coming to the University of Ulster is the style of learning. In many European countries and the USA, timetables are very full.

Here there is a big focus on independent learning and fewer lectures, which tends to throw people off. However, the University of Ulster has taken a number of steps to help foreign students adjust.

A pilot scheme, called the Cultural Experience programme is being launched at the Magee campus. It takes students on field trips to places such as Stormont and Donegal, allowing them to see things they’re learning about first hand.

Dr Young is keen to stress the importance of preparing people for coming home, as well as for going abroad. Many students find that they get depressed after coming home, once the excitement of the year abroad wears off.

The best solution, while abroad as well as when they come back, is for students to stay in contact with each other. They often find that everyone has similar experiences.

Ultimately, living abroad for more than just a holiday period is an experience of a lifetime.

And what better time to do it than at university, while you’re still free from ties and responsibilities?


Year Abroad Survival Guide:

Research, research, research before you go!

Make friends with the locals and immerse yourself in their culture.

Try to learn some of the language if you haven’t done so already.

Note down emergency numbers, hospitals, police stations and areas to avoid.

See as places of interest in your host country as possible.

Go with an open mind. It won’t be like home, but embrace the differences.


Sports NI come under fire over allocation of sports funding

 By Damien Edgar

A prominent MLA has claimed that he was “appalled” to find that GAA clubs across Northern Ireland have received more than double the exchequer funding allocated than their footballing counterparts over the past five years.

According to the answer TUV leader Jim Allister received from a question to the Assembly , GAA clubs have received £18 million over the past five years, while soccer clubs associated with the IFA have received £8.5 million in the same period. The starkest contrast is struck with the funding that rugby clubs have received in that period, a mere £708,187 leaving them far behind their Gaelic and soccer counterparts. Allister went on to point out that even with Lottery funding taken into account, the gap was still remarkable.

As recently as March of this year, GAA, soccer and rugby clubs were given a huge financial boost when then Stormont Sports Minister, Nelson McCausland, announced they would receive a post-budget injection of cash. Again, the GAA and the IFA was the main benefactor, with the GAA receiving more than £60 million to redevelop Casement Park in West Belfast as the provincial headquarters of Gaelic Games in Northern Ireland.

The IFA were also granted about £61 million, with £25 million earmarked for the redevelopment of Windsor Park and the other £36 million going towards developing other stadia. IFA Chief Executive Patrick Nelson, claimed that the money set aside for the development of local football was a great day for football. “We have been working with the minister and the sports department to look at making Windsor Park fit for purpose. Football is the most popular sport and this money will make the difference at club level as well”.

Rugby clubs received a fraction of the money allocated to the latter, just £15 million for building new and upgrading existing stands at the Ravenhill ground.

The current wealth of funding afforded to the “big three” sports in Northern Ireland raises valid questions over whether smaller sports can survive or come into creation in an environment where funding seems to be primarily channelled into sports that are established and already make more money than the smaller sports around them.

Under the current system, sporting organisations apply to Sports NI for grants and funding, with their applications being considered on the current level of facilities available within their area. GAA clubs can also apply to the Ulster GAA Council for funding.

Jim Wells, MLA, made headlines recently when he proposed that GAA clubs should be pushed out of bag-packing activities at local supermarkets, claiming they deprived “genuine charities” of the chance to raise money and that the GAA was an “organisation rolling in money”.

The criticism voiced by both Jim Allister and Jim Wells demonstrates that the more hard line Unionist parties in Northern Ireland still harbour some resentment towards the GAA, having previously cited the organisation’s willingness to name grounds after IRA members as non-inclusive.

However, when asked about the current level of funding for the GAA, Sinn Fein MLA Barry McElduff defended it and said Sport NI should be allocating more.

“The GAA is truly the “Big Society” in action. I believe that Government does not give sufficient funding to the GAA, an organisation which is the most community rooted sporting and cultural body of its kind in Europe.

“I believe that the GAA has recently lost out because of the withdrawal ofthe ‘Places for Sport’ programme. This capital funding programme fitted really well with the GAA because in nearly all circumstances the GAA owns its own property or has a long term lease on it and is ready to go in terms of community fundraising, planning permission etc. The pulling of this programme has left things very difficult for GAA Clubs and County Boards in the north which have plans for flood lighting, second training pitches etc.

“These facilities are necessary because of the expansion of the GAA and the large numbers of participants.

“Rural Ireland, in particular, would be a social wasteland if it wasn’t for the existence of the local GAA club. Any funding which the GAA receives from Government is more than well earned. The GAA is a godsend for government and communities are far more cohesive as a consequence of the GAA.”

Adrian O’Kane, chairman of Drumragh Sarsfields G.A.C. agreed with Barry McElduff’s assessment.

“The GAA is a wonderful example of a community organisation. It gives young people the opportunity to meet peers with the same interests and it teaches them valuable lessons about teamwork and the value of working together”.

Drumragh Sarsfields was the beneficiary of a £1 million development loan from Sports NI, that allowed the club to create a state of the art facility as well as two new pitches at Clanabogan, just otuside Omagh. However, O’Kane was quick to point out that this was all subject to certain conditions.

“The loan was granted on the basis that we meet certain targets every year. We have to make sure that we increase membership every year by a certain percentage and that we are completely inclusive for the community as just two examples and to those ends we have made great progress”.

On the other side of town, the manager of Omagh Hospitals F.C., Brendan Morrisson, has experienced different fortunes.

“For whatever reason, we haven’t been able to get the same sort of funding that the GAA enjoys. However, it must be said that the local GAA clubs have done a great job of engaging the community, along with fundraising activities”.

The soccer side do not own their own pitches, nor do they have facilities in which their own players or visiting teams can change.

“Currently we use the council pitches, but if we were ever to push into the top division, we would be required to meet certain standards, to have our own pitch and stands etc. It’s just frustrating that there is such a disparity between the funding figures at the minute”.

With an opening allocation of £14.5 million and a proposed allocation of £13.2 million for Sport within the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure, the focus will now be very much on how the Department chooses to allocate the allotments for the three main sports in Northern Ireland.

 Both the IFA and the IRFU will be watching with interest to see whether the trend set by the past five years continues or whether a change in focus is revealed.

Queens Radio Thriving Against All The Odds

queens radio

By Gerard Walton

At the heart of every good university is a thriving Students’ Union. At the heart of every good Students’ Union are thriving clubs and societies. Queen’s University Belfast is no exception to this rule, and Queens Radio is a key part of this.

A controversial issue in these troubling financial times is funding, and QR is no different, with secretary Sarah Laverty claiming the society had been given “a quarter of what we need”.

This will obviously hinder any progress that is to be made but a Students’ Union Finance Department official claimed that:

“There is less money around the Union this year. We must cut our cloth accordingly. However we are confident that QR and our other established societies will continue to flourish.”

QR has been broadcasting since September 2003 and has been gaining deserved recognition of late.

In 2010, the station had three shows nominated for the Irish Smedia awards.

The society itself won Best Contribution to SU Media at the QUB Media Awards.

Perhaps most tellingly of all, the club was nominated for Most Improved Society of the Year, showing the upward momentum that has been gained.

To find out how this success would continue I spoke to deputy station manager Jamie Glover.

As deputy station manager, Jamie had a laudable aim when asked of the station’s hopes for the current year:

“(We aim) to improve members’ experience of the station by delivering more training and running more society nights.”

Last year QR ran two acoustic nights in the Students’ Union, and Jamie, recognising the popularity of these nights, promised a continuation of the events, alongside the occasional club night in surrounding Belfast venues.

However those expecting a return to the Treehouse venue in the Elms Village will be disappointed.

Jamie said, “The Union used to run the Treehouse, but it is being taken over a private company, who will charge a far higher rate and more than the society can afford.”

“It was pretty quiet there as well. We did a night in there for freshers week which was completely packed, but the popularity was only because it was the first or second night in Elms for new students.”

There is still reason for Jamie to be cheerful about QR though, as the station is looking into the possibility of an FM broadcasting license.

QR previously held a Medium Wave license between 2003 and 2006 and Jamie claimed that “the format is dead.”

He said: “You can’t get MW frequencies on all car radios.”

On the subject of cost, Jamie admitted: “It (FM) will probably be more expensive than the MW one but we aren’t sure how much exactly yet.”

Attracting new members to replace graduates will also be important in maintaining success for QR, and Sarah Laverty plays a key role in this as secretary, ensuring any interested students are kept well informed.

Sarah said: “I am the main point of contact for the society about any information in general. I organise voice training for new members, and keep track of the mailing list as a whole.”

A good measure of QR’s progress would always be how accurately it prepares members for a potential career in radio broadcasting.

Unlike many other universities, QUB does not have a media department and so the focus falls heavily on societies such as QR to pick up the slack.

Sarah revealed: “A lot of the people joining (the society) have no experience whatsoever. Therefore they get training right from the very basics. We’re not a huge station so people are free to run their own shows and make the inevitable mistakes which come with this.”


We all know how tough it can be to get your feet on that first rung on the ladder, and Sarah was quick to assure potential new members that joining QR was worth it in the long run.

She said: “Those wishing to break into the NI music scene will have lots of opportunities to network and people can keep copies of all their own shows for use in a portfolio.”

Time will tell whether QR can deliver on its promises, but it will be through no lack of determination, as the society looks forward with great optimism in the face of adversity.

Dying to Dry

Health Minister, Edwin Poots has announced plans to increase the price of alcohol to combat irresponsible drinking habits. But as figures reveal almost 300 people die every year due to alcohol addiction in Northern Ireland, Natasha Millar asks whether the focus should be on treating the problem which is already here and tightening its grip on a generation….

It’s a problem we believe we are familiar with. We may know someone who has a problem with alcohol. It might be the friend who has too much shiraz at dinner, or the colleague who looks bleary eyed on a Monday. It might be office gossip or a growing concern. Yet the term alcoholic conjures up different imagery, of park benches and brown paper bags, but it is a reality for many Northern Ireland homes. The stress and problems which stem from this can tear apart marriages, families and careers. As anyone who has battled addiction will testify, little else matters but the bottle.

It comes then as little surprise that the British Medical Association announced alcohol misuse costs Northern Ireland £700m a year. The figure includes £160m in health services and a further £82m in social service costs. Justice Minister, David Ford, told the Assembly in November, that the cost to the justice system, including policing, courts and prison services was estimated to be £382million for 2010. It’s an expensive problem for the public purse. So what is being done to tackle alcohol addiction?

The Health Minister is determined to introduce legislation to raise the price per unit of alcohol following similar legislation in Scotland. No figure has been confirmed but it could be in the region of 45p per unit in a bid to limit alcohol misuse. But critics of a levy claim it contravenes free trade and the NI Retail Consortium argue that prices and promotions do not cause irresponsible drinking. But what happens when choice is no longer an option?

Sarah Davies*, 42, struggled with her husband’s addiction for 20 years. “I didn’t admit there was a problem until after my second daughter was born. I realised that he needed the drink rather than enjoyed it,” she said.

Fast forward 15 years and he had lost three jobs and missed most of his daughters’ childhood. “He would literally lose weeks on end due to his binges”.

So when the addict turns to the chronic phase, where do you turn? For Sarah it was a never ending cycle of closed doors and unanswered calls.

“I found the help and caring services I needed where strictly office hours only, but ironically the off license trades for 12 hours a day.”

GP’s and Out-Of-Hours services have strict policies on visiting patients who are drinking, due to the risk of violence. When she contacted them for help during his binges, Sarah was told on every occasion to ensure her husband was sober for at least 72 hours before he could be considered for the residential programme which he desperately required. He was asking for the help but yet she was handed a prescription for Libruim and Diazepam, and had little other support.

This ‘drying out’ period is leaving many addicts and their families in desperate circumstances. “When the body is mentally, physically and emotionally craving drink this is a mammoth task, not just for the addict but for the family around them” said Sarah.

“There were nights he would throw up blood, sometimes for days. He couldn’t keep down food or water for anything up to 36 hours when he was drying out. I had to be with him 24/7. He would violently shake thanks to the DT’s, and even hallucinate rats were running up the walls” recalls Sarah.

One evening, after he threatened to commit suicide, she tried to get her husband sectioned. “I was praying for admission, for both his physical and mental well being. He had one light beer in a 24-hour-period” said Sarah, “but once the crisis team knew this, they were unable to admit him and we were yet again sent home.”

Sarah feels that some of the agencies, such as the residential clinics and AA groups are “invaluable when the craving is over” but worries about the interim period, which in her experience, leaves the addict and the family with nowhere to turn. “The problem is the mix of physical, psychological and psychiatric symptoms” she said, “no department will treat all three”.

At present, Northern Ireland has no facilities to detox an addict. Pat McGinn, part of Friends of Cuan Mhuire addiction clinic, Newry, feels that during a ‘window of opportunity’, an alcoholic will agree to treatment and go anywhere, but if the phones are not answered or the criteria is not met, the window closes, sometimes for good. Pat says that such a system is “sending out the wrong message”. “Addiction to alcohol is poison, and it will poison everything and anybody around it” he said.

Pat, who himself battled addiction, is passionate about recovery but feels it is becoming “tougher and tougher” for people to get help. He said detoxification is essential on site. At present Cuan Mhuire only has an isolation room to help if the person has been drinking. Pat says that once the “DTs” begin, they need medical supervision. “We can only talk support not treatment”. He said voluntary centres, like Cuan Mhuire could deal with addiction if the resources where together, as this is “the only way treatment will work”.

“The mantra from ministers is that not one department should deal with this, but yet they actually work in splendid isolation” said Pat.

Poignantly, Alcohol Awareness Week and Remembrance Sunday fell only a day apart this November. While thousands in the province remembered fallen soldiers, a wall at Cuan Mhuire stood as testament to another group of men and woman. This list contains the names of over 920 people who have died due to addiction. “There is not a week goes by that we don’t add a name” said Pat.

Addiction is a lifelong illness and there is no cure only recovery. Thankfully Sarah’s husband has embarked on such a journey and will continue with outpatient programmes. However the marriage has not survived the addiction. As for the minimum price per unit, Sarah fears that for chronic drinkers, the family behind the addiction will suffer.

“If it had come down to food for the children or drink, it’s a no-brainer for an addict. I know we would have gone without electricity or food if the price of alcohol had been raised” she said.

Pat is also clear that any price increase must be part of a wider change in light of our “win or lose, we booze culture”.

Perhaps Mr Poots should consider where, if it succeeds, the extra income from the alcohol increase will go? Into the assembly coffers or reinvested into the treatment programmes and facilities that are desperately needed? The Assembly purse might be full of coppers at the minute, but perhaps the question should be asked at what level are we willing to help a drunk? If we wait until the gutter, it may be too late. The next stage is the grave, a reality some will face.

“If I had the obstacles which have now been enforced, I would be dead” said Pat. “There is no half way house between death and recovery for some”.

From christenings to birthdays, weddings to funerals we spend our life celebrating and commiserating with our favourite tipple. It is not the homeless and socially deprived who suffer with the illness but the mothers, fathers, husbands, wives, daughters and sons from our community. Alcohol addiction does not discriminate against gender, class or religion.

Surely asking for three days of sobriety is like asking a newborn to sleep through the night? It might be an ideal, but with all the will in the world it is an unreachable goal. Addicts need support and an environment which is cohesive to recovery. The experience for many chronic alcoholics is not one of straight-forward acceptance, treatment and sobriety. But they are faced with a quandary, to get help they must be sober, yet to be sober they need the help……

*Names have been changed to protect identities




A man lies on his sofa. The room is dark and the curtains remain closed. The smell of stale cigarettes and sour milk catch in the back of his throat. The TV is the only source of light. It flicks in the background but the sound is muted. The silence is deafening. The man has spent four hours trying to move from the sofa. It is soaked with urine. He floats in and out of consciousness. His body is covering in excrement. His muscles weak and drained. As he manages to rise to his feet, aided by the furniture, the ground feels like it will swallow him whole. He wishes it would. As his vision focuses on the mess around the room, he notices the bottles that litter the floor. His first thought is not to clean them but to check if they are empty. They are. He struggles to the bathroom. He wishes someone would help. But no one will come. No wife, no mother, no GP, no hope. He looks in the mirror. Its smashed but he can‘t remember why. His hair is matted with dried blood. His clothes hang over his bony frame. His cheeks are sunken and his pallor grey. He is unshaven, bruised and battered. Now imagine the reflection is your father, brother or husband? Do you know where to turn? Who do you call?


Better yet imagine the reflection is you…..