Diverting away from drink this St Patrick’s Day

Derry is gearing up for next Thursday's St Patrick's Day parade.
Derry is gearing up for next Thursday's St Patrick's Day parade.

When the world marks St Patrick’s Day it does so with shamrocks and green beer.

It’s an image played out everywhere from New York to New Zealand and marching bands aside, alcohol is a major feature in the way we celebrate Ireland’s patron saint.

It’s against that backdrop that groups like DIVERT, the Dove House-based alcohol awareness organisation, have to operate, and March now sits with Hallowe’en and Christmas as one of their busiest times of the year.

This year, keen to bring a bit of cool to the concept of the alcohol free event, DIVERT have linked with local indie label Practice Makes Perfect for a major music event in Derry’s Nerve Centre on St Patrick’s Eve.

A number of young service users within Divert will help organise the event and will be present with staff on the night to look after information stalls, distribute ‘stay safe’ goodies and give away spot prizes in a bid to raise awareness of the project.

Divert’s Coordinator, Brónach McMonagle is thrilled to be part of the event.

“Divert consistently strive to not only raise awareness at a public level but to take practical steps to making a difference, which is why we are extremely excited about this music event. We feel it gives young people an alternative high and diverts away from other risky behaviours associated with heavy alcohol consumption.”

Martin Connolly, a support worker with Divert’s Vulnerable Young Persons project, said the collaboration with a well-established local music group was a bonus for everyone involved.

“Practice makes Perfect will present bands like Wonder Villains, The Brickettes, Emily McCormick, The Ipod Disco, Luke Mac’s Acoustic Cafe and the Reverb.

“We couldn’t have done this without them and we’re expecting a really big crowd on Wednesday 16th. The whole evening is focused on letting young people take the responsibility for the night, with DIVERT staff in the background. It’s about giving them ownership and letting them enjoy a really good night, without the pressure to take alcohol.

“We’ll have around 500 young people there and for us it’s a great way to get them all into the same place and give out our wristbands and really put our work out there.

Michaela Kinsella, Hidden Harm Support Worker with Divert, spends her time working with children and young people who are affected by parental alcohol and substance abuse.

She’s particularly concerned about the impact St Patrick’s Day can have on children who are unsupervised while their parents or guardians spend long hours in local pubs.

“St Patrick’s Day is one of the days of the year when people get very drunk,” says Michaela.

“Unfortunately, we’re seeing situations where parents take their children to pubs and they end up staying there for five or six hours while the children are often left to their own devices.

“The message we want to get out there is not that parents can’t or shouldn’t go and have a drink. It’s about being responsible while doing that, especially when there are young children involved.”

Unfortunately, for many children in the North West the problems associated with liv,ing with alcohol aren’t always restricted to major social events, as Michaela explains.

“A lot of the young people we work with have grown accustomed to their parents drinking. It’s normal behaviour to them and it isn’t just one or two days of the year. Within our Hidden Harm programme we work with these children and take them on trips where they get to experience life without alcohol.

“We also educate teachers and youth workers to look out for the signals that a child may be living in a home environment where there is drug or alcohol misuse. Some of these children are forced to take on very adult roles and often if they’re turning up late for school or don’t have homework done, that can be why.

“It’s obviously difficult for any young person living in that kind of environment.”

Divert are keen to make a big difference locally as they continue to tackle issues like alcohol abuse within the family and peer pressure faced by young people who socialise in big groups. They hope that as many young people as possible will attend their St Patrick’s Eve event in the Nerve Centre and are working with a number of other agencies to place the focus on responsible and safe alcohol use throughout the coming week.