'Children's Allowance' drink deal slated


Centra has today apologised for a promotion run in four of its stores, which targeted Child Benefit recipients with offers of low price alcohol.

The company has instructed the stores to withdraw the promotion.

The offer entitled ‘Children’s Allowance Day Deals’, prompted widespread criticism and had led to calls for the company to make an apology.

Courtney’s Centra in Fairview and East Wall, along with Aherne’s Centra in Kilcoole, Co Wicklow, and Leavy’s Centra in Tullamore, Co Offaly,  produced flyers entitled ‘Children’s Allowance Day Deals’ and featuring a variety of products on offer including cheese, biscuits and pizza.

Two alcohol products were also included in the offer. A case of Miller beer was promoted for €15, or 75 cents a bottle, while two cases of Budweiser beer were on offer for €25.

In a statement, Centra said the promotion is not part of a national marketing plan or promotional strategy.

“Centra fully understands that the abuse of alcohol is a serious issue in Irish society and apologises for the promotion, which although isolated to four stores, is contrary to Centra’s belief that retailers have a critical role to play in ensuring that alcohol is promoted and sold responsibly,” it said.

The firm said its 462 retailers across the country have been reminded to follow strict guidelines which are in place regarding the responsible promotion of alcohol.

"As a community brand, we are acutely conscious of our corporate and social responsibilities. We accept that there is a problem with alcohol consumption, binge drinking and alcohol-related health and public order problems. We invest in the training of our staff, comply with the RRAI code and are very vigilant in ensuring compliance with the law," it said.

“The promotion undermines our genuine commitment to take our social responsibilities regarding alcohol extremely seriously.”

Minister for Justice Alan Shatter said the inclusion of such alcohol products in the promotion was irresponsible and reprehensible, "It suggests that some retailers are more concerned with boosting their turnover and profits than selling alcohol responsibly. I am disappointed that some licensees appear to be unaware of their responsibilities in this regard,” he said. “ I am also shocked at the suggestion that allowances paid by the State for the benefit of children should be targeted in such a cynical manner by the retailers concerned.”

Fairview local Ciaran McCausland noticed the flyer included in his weekly shopping, and took issue with the promotion. “I was shocked. Regardless of how people choose to spend their child benefit, Centra is one of the largest brands in the country and for them to cynically put in a flyer that payment for children should be spent on beer, I find it was very cynical and wrong," he said.

Mr McCausland called on the Centra store to make an apology and commit to responsible advertising in future. “I think this is extremely bad taste and I believe they should make an apology or admit it was inappropriate because Child Benefit is a state payment for the benefit for children. To suggest it should be spent on alcohol is appalling.”

The promotion also drew criticism from Fiona Ryan, chief executive of Alcohol Action Ireland. “Considering one in 11 children in Ireland are living with a parent with problematic alcohol use, and that children’s lives are negatively impacted, then any link between parenting and buying cut price alcohol is totally irresponsible," she said. "It doesn’t serve the retailer or the family well.”

Ms Ryan drew attention to the fact that Government is currently examining legislation separating the sale of alcohol and food. She said promotions like this underline the need for tighter regulation. “If we continue to sell alcohol like a grocery in supermarkets and not treat it as a licensed product, then in one way I’m not surprised a retailer would put alcohol in with groceries.”

Children’s charity Barnardos said it was shocked by the promotion. Chief executive Fergus Finlay said it is “insulting” to parents and families all over Ireland “who are already struggling to provide for their children and often forced to choose between putting food on the table, buying school books or bringing a sick child to visit the doctor”.

Fine Gael Meath East TD Regina Doherty, who is a member of the Joint Committee on Health and Children, said the promotion is a "blatant abuse "of the standards and codes that the we are using for responsible promotion of alcohol. "Child benefit payments are for children and to blatantly advertise alcohol like this contravenes moral standards not alone advertising ones," she said. "I think this is a prime example of how self-regulation of the industry is absolutely not working.”

Fianna Fáil Senator Averil Power called on Centra to withdraw the promotion and indicated she would pursue the issue further.

“Retailers have a duty to ensure alcohol is marketed in a responsible fashion,” she said. “I am calling on Centra Head Office to intervene immediately to pull this promotion and ensure that none of its stores are engaging in this ploy. I am also writing to the Office of the Director of Consumer Affairs, the Advertising Standards Authority of Ireland, the Minister for Health, the Minister for Social Protection and business representative groups to ask them to intervene.”

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