Reilly says Noonan refused to sanction sugar tax


Minister for Finance Michael Noonan refused to sanction a sugar tax in the budget, Minister for Health James Reilly has said.

Dr Reilly told the Seanad last year he was in favour of a sugar tax on sweetened drinks that could raise €50 million a year and help combat rising levels of obesity in the State.

However, he said the move had been ruled out by Mr Noonan because sugary drinks already attracted VAT of 23 per cent while neither bottled water nor milk attract any VAT rating.

“There is already in place VAT of 23 per cent. That is something that should be noted,” he said, though he said the use of a sugar tax would be kept under review.

Speaking at the Irish College of Ophthalmologists conference yesterday, Dr Reilly said as a GP that half of the people attending his surgery who were obese did not recognise themselves as such.

He noted there was a strong correlation between diabetes, which often results from obesity, and loss of sight.

The National Council for the Blind in Ireland and Diabetes Ireland warned earlier this year that one person a week goes blind as a result of diabetes.

One in 10 people with diabetes develops diabetic retinopathy – damage to the blood vessels in the retina – which can be treated if caught in time.

Screening programme

The Minister said that a €4 million national diabetic retinopathy screening programme was due to start imminently. It would help detect the onset of the condition.

“It should have started by now, but it certainly should be starting early in the new year if it hasn’t started by then.”

Dr Reilly also spoke of the effects of blindness on his own family.

His father had a stroke at 66 and was totally blind for the last 14 years of his life. “The impact on our family will never leave our memory.”

Compounding the problem, he said his mother developed oesophageal cancer and lost her voice. His parents could only communicate through third parties.