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1,000 days and counting but long-awaited public alcohol bill faces further delays

Lobbyists warn delay to alcohol bill will risk lives.

AFTER THE LONG summer break politicians return to Leinster House this week, and attention is once again turning to the long-discussed tightening of Ireland’s alcohol legislation. 

The Public Health Alcohol Bill has now been before the Oireachtas since 2015, or for about 1,000 days, and is set to enter the final stages on Wednesday. However a cross-party group of 13 TDs has submitted a number of amendments to the advertising and health sections of the legislation which Alcohol Action Ireland said could delay the enactment of the legislation further. 

The lobby group has warned the delay will risk lives. In a statement spokesperson Eunan McKinney said:

Their actions are encouraging more alcohol sales – not less – because they place a greater value on the thriving commercial interests of the alcohol industry rather than the lives of those who today, and into the future, will be impacted by harmful alcohol consumption.

One of the most contentious items in the bill is a cancer warning which would be placed on all products. The drinks industry says it would make Ireland unique, as no other country in the world has similar labelling. 

In a statement for the Alcohol Beverage Federation of Ireland (ABFI) this morning, director Patricia Callan said:

The amendments that have been submitted are required to protect the reputation of Ireland’s quality drinks brands, to allow continued innovation in the drinks sector, to ensure brewery and distillery visitor centres can grow and to safeguard rural jobs and the economy.

Health Minister Simon Harris has already rolled back on the so-called booze curtain for smaller retailers, a measure which he hoped would reduce visibility of alcoholic beverages for younger shoppers.

Concerns, however, remain about the impact on jobs of restrictions on how alcohol is sold with ABFI criticising what it calls Alcohol Action Ireland’s disingenuous claim that TDs are putting the industry ahead of public health. 

The claim is one McKinney denied: 

At its (the bill’s) heart is a simple logic – if we are to tackle the harms of alcohol across our communities, we must reduce rising alcohol consumption, and so less alcohol products must be sold; if we are to slow future consumption, our children must be protected from early enrolment.

The bill, as stands, will prevent advertising on public transport of alcohol products. 

The 13 TDs who have submitted amendments are; Bobby Aylward (FF), Peter Burke(FG), Declan Breathnach (FF), Pat Deering (FG), Micheal Collins (Ind), Michael Fitzmaurice (Ind), Peter Fitzpatrick (FG), Noel Grealish (Ind), Tony McLoughlin (FG), Carol Nolan (Ind), Kevin O’Keeffe (FF), Eamon Scanlon (FF) and Sean Sherlock (Lab). 

The variety of submissions include a reduction in the size of the cancer warning on packaging to a requirement for all cautions to be written in Irish as well as English.

In a statement Minister Simon Harris’ office says  it is a “Government priority that the Public Health (Alcohol) Bill be enacted as soon as possible”. The final stages of the bill are due to commence on Wednesday. 

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