On Sunday 19th February, the Catholic Church marked the Day of Prayer for Temperance which offered an opportunity to reflect on our relationship with addiction, and to pray for all who suffer from any form of addiction and for those who work to alleviate its detrimental effects on individuals, families and communities.

In my roles as liaison bishop to the Irish Bishops’ Drugs Initiative, and as patron to the Family Addiction Support Network in the North East, I invited everyone to avail of Temperance Sunday to reflect on the harm caused by the abuse of drugs and alcohol throughout every parish in our country.

I welcomed in particular the comments last week in the Dáil, by Minister for Justice Simon Harris, who highlighted a “direct link between snorting a line or taking a pill and murder, assault, criminality and misery.”  He stated that, “Drug use on a Friday or Saturday night is funding and supporting violence, crime, murders the next week … We need to get real about this, drug use is not victimless, it’s far from it”.

In an interview with the Sunday Independent on 19 September 2021, I made the point that drug abuse is now “a silent pandemic” in Ireland, and that political will is needed to tackle it.  I, like Minister Harris, called on all those who use drugs as a so-called “recreational” activity, to rethink their behaviour as it helps to fund gangs who prey on socially deprived families.

I know that many community based groups like the Family Addiction Support Network (FASN) in Dundalk, that are dealing with the dreadful consequences of addiction and the associated intimidation and violence.  While better-off families may have resources to pay off a drug debt and can afford to send their loved ones to a private clinic for treatment, there are also a lot of people in socially deprived areas who are not able to do this.  Sadly the personal, physical, psychological and social damage of those without such resources are devastating.  In addition, organised crime gangs are causing immense damage to individuals, families, and communities.  Their tactic is often to keep drug-users indebted to them, to force them to deal in drugs and become involved in other criminal activities.  This vicious cycle can be impossible to break.

The Government’s own strategy, Reducing Harm, Supporting Recovery, calls for a health-led approach to drug abuse.  This direction corresponds to what groups such as FASN have repeatedly called for.  A health-led approach will help move vulnerable people away from the orbit of influence of criminal gangs and stop the ever-increasing circle of drug use, intimidation and violence.  However, this will necessitate the investment of significant public resources into rehabilitation services so that there is early and effective intervention for people who have an addiction to drugs and alcohol. 

I also welcome the Government’s announcement last week of a Citizens’ Assembly on Drugs Use, by Minister of State with responsibility for Public Health, Well Being and the National Drugs Strategy, Ms Hildegarde Naughton.  This initiative will keep attention on the issue of drug abuse and, hopefully, focus minds on finding solutions to what is one of the most corrosive, and seemingly intractable, problems that is facing our society.

As we marked temperance Sunday we also remembered the powerful ministry of Father Theobald Mathew who became known as the Apostle of Temperance.  During the 19th century Father Mathew’s awareness campaign against the widespread abuse of alcohol was recognised at home and abroad.  Father Mathew’s call to sobriety has relevance to our contemporary society, as the cost of human suffering, familial upheaval, work absenteeism, criminality and social disorder has become inestimable. 

May we realise, through our prayers and reflection, that we all have a responsibility to moderate our own behaviour and attitudes to drugs and alcohol so as to bring about the change we so urgently need in our country at this time.

Prayer for Temperance

Compassionate Lord and Saviour, you inspired the Capuchin Friar Theobald Mathew to show your compassionate face to those addicted and burdened by the abuse of alcohol or addicted behaviour, and to promote temperance.

May we today, continue to serve our brothers and sisters with love and joy, and to foster balance, and moderation in our life styles with the help of God.

So, we pray, “here goes in the name of God.”