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Varadkar says state will fight legal challenges to sugar tax

Minister Varadkar has been calling for a sugar tax for some time now, but other powers that be appear to be stalling on the tax.

Image: Shutterstock/nednapa

THE MINISTER FOR Social Protection Leo Varadkar is not giving up on the idea of a sugar tax.

Last year, the former Minister for Health Leo Varadkar wrote to the Finance Minister Michael Noonan asking for a 20% tax on sugar-sweetened drinks in an effort to tackle obesity.

However, his calls fell on deaf ears, much to the dislike of many organisations like the Irish Heart Foundation (IHF), who have argued that it should be introduced.

Drinks industry push back 

Today he was asked about reports that the drinks industry are considering legal action if such a tax was introduced.

Varadkar said: “When you introduce any change or any new tax or any change to the law there is always a risk that it will be challenged legally by those that don’t agree with it.”

9/7/2017. Battle of the Somme Commemorations. Source: Eamonn Farrell

However, he said it was the job of government to ensure that any legislation introduced to tax sugar drinks would be “robust”.

And the job of Government of course is to make sure that any legislation we bring in is robust and there’s a particular role for the Attorney General in doing that and making sure that any legislation that we do put before the Dáil and Seanad is scrutinised… and made foolproof.

He said he still agrees with the tax as it will help tackle Ireland’s obesity problem.

Tackling obesity 

“Yeah. I think a sugar tax is a good idea. I don’t think it’s the solution to obesity. A lot of different measures are going to be required to get on top of obesity,” he said.

There is a commitment in the Programme for Government for the tax, with the document stating that the Department of Health will pursue a levy on “sugar-sweetened drinks”, though it doesn’t say how much that levy will be.

Last year, the IHF Head of Advocacy, Chris Macey hit out against the government for the delay.

They have the evidence, they have the public support and still they refuse to take decisive action to tackle the obesity problem.

Stalling 

It appears the government may be stalling on the issue once again.

Earlier this month, the Minister for Finance Michael Noonan warned the tax may be delayed because a similar tax in the UK is not due to be implemented in full until 2018.

The UK announced its tax in March 2016 but promised a two-year consultation process with the industry and other stakeholders before it is actually imposed.

Responding to a recent parliamentary question, Noonan explained:

Given the border that is shared between Ireland the UK, and the supermarket chains which operate and supply sugar-sweetened drinks in both jurisdictions, it is important that we examine carefully how the UK tax will operate, and consider the effects that the design and timing of the introduction of the UK tax may have on an Irish tax on [fizzy drinks].

A sugar tax was introduced in Mexico, leading to a 10% decline in sales of soft drinks.

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