New alcohol policy research network launched across Ireland and UK

A new network for alcohol policy researchers in Ireland and the UK has officially launched today, led by Trinity’s Professor Joe Barry and the University of Stirling’s Professor Niamh Fitzgerald.

The Alcohol Research Network UK-Ireland (ACORN) will act as a forum and stimulus for an interdisciplinary approach to the cultural, social, political and economic challenges faced by Ireland and the UK in attempting to implement effective policies to reduce the harm caused by alcohol consumption.

The Irish Research Council and the Economic and Social Research Council in the UK has provided seed funding for ACORN activities for 2021-22.

The network aims to build capacity and drive innovation in alcohol policy research to support effective policy development, enactment, implementation and evaluation.

By harnessing the knowledge and expertise of a wide range of academics through the network, researchers hope to find synergies, create new collaborations and benefit from shared learning and capacity.

The group has identified four cross-cutting themes: the first three – alcohol availability, pricing, and marketing reflect the most effective approaches to reducing alcohol harms at a population level. The fourth theme focuses on the politics of alcohol policymaking.

Niamh Fitzgerald, Professor of Alcohol Policy at Stirling’s Institute for Social Marketing and Health, said:

“Despite historically being the domain of clinicians, alcohol is embedded in and affected by a range of cultural, social and societal influences that need to be considered if we’re to successfully reduce its harms among populations. This new network will be open to researchers from all disciplines, working across Scotland, England, Wales, Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.

“By developing new partnerships between areas of research and different countries, sharing ideas and identifying common priorities, we will be able to effectively grow and diversify the strength of the vital research in this area.”

Joe Barry, Adjunct Professor of Population Health Medicine at Trinity, said:

“Culture, norms and consumption patterns around alcohol in the UK and Ireland are very similar. In the globalised world of 2021 international collaboration on policy and research in relation to alcohol is essential. From this ACORN initiative we hope to build capacity in these islands and we will publish internationally to show the benefits of between-country collaboration. This way of engaging has been borne out by the COVID-19 pandemic. Ní neart go cur le chéile.”

The network will run a series of public events focused on its four themes including a research conference. Internal network activities will include capacity building events and small grants for selected early career researchers to visit experienced alcohol policy research teams in other nations for a short placement, when permitted under COVID-19 regulations.

The network’s steering group includes Dr Catherine Darker (Trinity), Professor Niamh Shortt (University of Edinburgh), Colin Angus (University of Sheffield), Dr Pat Kenny (Technological University Dublin) and Dr Helen McAvoy (Director of Policy at the Institute of Public Health in Ireland).

Founding members of the network come from five universities in Ireland and seven in the UK. The network is also supported by research users across the four nations of the UK including government and public health partners. For more information visit www.alcoholresearch-uk-irl.net