Controversial alcohol legislation ‘not gathering dust on any shelf’

Flanagan tells Seanad Public Health Bill will proceed in the next session of the Oireachtas

Minister Charlie Flanagan  said the Bill was ‘not gathering dust on any shelf anywhere’. Photograph: Eric Luke/The Irish Times

Minister Charlie Flanagan said the Bill was ‘not gathering dust on any shelf anywhere’. Photograph: Eric Luke/The Irish Times

 

Controversial legislation on the sale of alcohol is “not gathering dust on any shelf anywhere,” Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan has told the Seanad.

The Seanad passed legislation on Thursday allowing pubs to open on Good Friday, but there was criticism of the Government’s failure to make similar progress on the Public Health (Alcohol) Bill.

It introduces minimum unit pricing on alcohol, separates it from other products in shops, restricts sponsorship and advertising and provides for detailed labelling on alcohol products, including ingredients and calorie content.

The legislation has been stalled in the Seanad since October 2015 following an intense lobbying campaign by the drinks industry and retailers.

The Bill allowing pub opening on Good Friday will have to go through the Dáil in the autumn before it is enacted.

In the Seanad it had overwhelming support, including from Independent Senator Frances Black who works with people with addiction problems.

But Ms Black hit out at the failure to deal with the Public Health (Alcohol) Bill. “There is a genuine disbelief around the country that public representative are not in favour of a Bill that will save lives”, she said.

Stressing that “lobbying by the alcohol industry must not be allowed to shape Government policy”, she said “the health of the nation must be put before the wealth of the alcohol industry”.

Sinn Féin Senator Paul Gavan said vintners told him an offer had been made to include the Good Friday provision with the Public Health (Alcohol) Bill but they had rejected that because “they didn’t believe that Bill would see the light of day again”.

Sinn Féin Senator Niall Ó Donnghaile, who backed the Good Friday opening legislation, said:

“I don’t get why this Bill could be brought forward, yet the Public Health (Alcohol) Bill remains gathering dust on the shelf”.

Mr Flanagan said the Bill was “not gathering dust on any shelf anywhere. It is proceeding and will proceed in the next session of the Oireachtas”.

He added, however: “There is further work to be done and it’s unlikely to be enacted in its current state and like all pieces of legislation it will be subject to rigorous and robust debate.”

Former minister of state for health Marcella Corcoran Kennedy, who attempted to steer the legislation through the Upper House, warned last week that the alcohol lobby was attempting to unpick the Bill “bit by bit”.

Ms Corcoran Kennedy, who lost her job in the Government reshuffle after Leo Varadkar became Taoiseach, said the alcohol lobby was doing exactly the same as “big tobacco” - the tobacco lobby - did to delay anti-smoking public health measures.