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Diageo steps down from board of Stop Out of Control Drinking campaign

The initiative has been marred by the controversy over the drinking giant’s involvement.

Image: Out of Control Drinking via Facebook

DIAGEO HAS ANNOUNCED it is to step down from the board of ‘responsible drinking’ group ‘Stop Out-Of-Control Drinking’.

Making the announcement on RTÉ Radio One’s Today with Seán O’Rourke, country director David Smith said that the campaign started a “great debate” and wished the board luck.

He said he was “acting today to make sure that any question about the lack of independence is being removed”.

The decision will not impact Diageo’s substantial funding of the project, he added. Smith said that most of the money has already been spent but there will be funds available until the publication of the report, which is due in about six weeks.

Pressed by presenter Keelin Shanley about whether he should have taken the board seat from the beginning, he said: “I’m not sure [if I would have done anything differently]

Certainly if I thought all of that pressure wouldn’t have been there, if I hadn’t have been on the board, then maybe we wouldn’t have been on the board to start with.

However, he defended his company’s claim that it is “committed to tackling” issues around alcohol misuse. He said he was proud of the campaign, citing the 12,000 people who have signed up.

“The whole campaign has not been a mistake,” he said. “I’m glad we got involved in the campaign. I may not have sat on the board if I’d known it was going to cause so much controversy.

Tackling alcohol misuse in Ireland and this campaign are far more important than whether Diageo is on the board or not.

“As we step away, I wish the board luck and good luck to anything going on in Ireland to tackle alcohol misuse. It is really important for the country.”

The move comes after a number of setbacks for the two-month old campaign, which included the resignation of three board members – psychologist Krystian Fikert of MyMind, GP and radio presenter Dr Ciara Kelly and St Patrick’s Mental Health Services.

The group was also been criticised for its ties to Diageo in an open letter signed by the likes of comedian Des Bishop, folk singer Christy Moore and TD Róisín Shortall.

In a separate statement, the Stop Out of Control Drinking campaign said Smith’s decision to leave is “another assertion of his determination that this board will act in an entirely independent way”.

“It is also a reiteration of our total independence to produce a national debate, and a strategy that will seek to change the drinking culture within Ireland,” the statement continued.

Finally, it is an opportunity for reasonable and fair-minded people to reassess any initial scepticism about the motives of this campaign. 

The campaign intends to deliver its plan this summer and has welcomed Diageo’s funding commitment.

“We encourage others to join with us, to challenge us in open debate, and to get stuck in to a determined campaign to stop out of control drinking in Ireland,” the board concluded.

Speaking after the announcement today, Minister for Health Leo Varadkar said he welcomed it because he doesn’t think it’s “appropriate the drinks industry should be actively involved” in that kind of campaign.

But he also wanted to clear up any suggestions that it tried to influence the government on alcohol policy, saying there was “no attempt by the group” to contact his department or himself in an attempt to get him to “water down our plan on alcohol”.

Yesterday: Alcohol companies may have learned some lessons from the fight against Big Tobacco

More: Another blow for Diageo ‘careful drinking’ group – as second board member quits

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