In the week that police seized 90,000 ecstasy tablets in Portstewart, Dallat told agendaNi of his concern for young people who “drink excessively”, are approached by drug dealers and take drugs which they are “not able to handle.”
In a no-day-named-motion (i.e. is yet to be debated be the Assembly), Dallat called for a comprehensive night-time strategy which would take full account of the potential associated night-time problems of noise and anti-social behaviour, particularly around places of entertainment.
In addition, action needs to be taken against irresponsible night-club owners who “pump cheap vodka down young people’s necks” in order to make a profit, Dallat claims.
“Some young people [in my constituency] have died and there has been no great public acknowledgement of it because the authorities don’t want to add to the grief of the parents by saying the young person died of an overdose,” the East Londonderry MLA reveals.
“The motion arose because of the abuse by clubs by enticing students to drink excessively, with advertisements up inviting them in on their way home from class for happy hours and cheap booze, leading them to take drugs.”
He says thousands of young people going to clubs in Portstewart and Derry were encouraged by posters urging them to ‘get blitzed’. He adds that company promotions are “highly questionable.”
The night-time economy is “very important”, according to Dallat. “It must be protected from nightclubs which are obviously financially strapped and are using any means at their disposal to make money.”
He welcomes Social Development Minister Alex Attwood’s commitment to bringing in legislation to regulate the sale of cheap alcohol and hopes his own motion will be debated before Christmas.
According to Dallat: “We need to rediscover the value of a publican who runs a tight ship, who is disciplined and makes money by offering good service and good entertainment, not by pumping cheap vodka down young people’s necks.” He does acknowledge that there is a tendency to tar all clubs with the same brush and that some do operate in a more responsible manner than others.
An example of best practice, according to Dallat, is the ‘town and gown’ scheme in Aberystwyth University, Wales.
There, students who misbehave are dealt with very quickly and any damage caused during the night is cleared up before the next morning.
“In turn, the students are expected to act in a similarly responsible way and the pubs, restaurants, cafes and clubs in the town have been getting a good response from the students.”
He does recognise that the universities are doing the “best they can” but they need the support of government.
Dallat agrees that the young people have to take some responsibility, saying: “Given the terrific cost of education, students need to be focused on why they are at university rather than being used by people who don’t know or care how valuable our young people are.”
He concludes that “there is too much emphasis on excessive drinking” and “we have to change that culture and ethos.”