Stop Out-of-Control Drinking campaign criticised over Diageo link
Multinational drinks group’s role is to ‘pay the bill’ says campaign chair Fergus Finlay
Fergus Finlay (far left), chairman of the board for the new campaign to stop out of control drinking, with clinical psychotherapist Joanna Fortune, Labour Relations Commission chief executive Kieran Mulvey, and Áine Lynch from the National Parents Council, at the campaign’s launch. Photograph: Brenda Fitzsimons/The Irish Times
A new campaign to stop “out-of-control” drinking in Ireland funded by drinks giant Diageo came under strong criticism over the Diageo link at its launch on Thursday.
Fergus Finlay, chief executive of Barnardos and chair of the Stop Out-of-Control Drinking campaign, said he too was sceptical when first approached by the drinks company, but now accepted the company had “genuine concern” over out-of-control drinking.
“It’s the largest drinks company in Ireland offering to fund a campaign that could affect their sales. But we’ve accepted it’s in good faith.
“Diageo’s role is to pay the bill. The campaign is independent. It’s a people’s campaign.
“There’s a board involved who wouldn’t have any interest in being involved if it wasn’t upfront and honest.”
Mr Finlay said the drinks giant had given the campaign no ceiling on the amount that could be spent.
However, he expected in the first year at least €1 million would be spent on digital and broadcast advertising, aimed at the 30-plus demographic.
Eight public debates on the issue are to be held in Dublin, Galway, Limerick and Cork through March.
People will also be able to submit their experiences and ideas online.
Mr Finlay said the responses will shape what action to take in the five-year plan, which will be published in summer this year.
It was time, he added, for Ireland ended its “toxic and corrosive relationship” with alcohol.
“Over generations we’ve glamorised it into a romantic relationship. We want to hear from people living with the issues, what it’s like, and ideas for solutions.
“We’re not saying all or nothing. It’s control of drinking. It’s crept in that excessive drinking is a normal part of society.
“We want to start by holding up a mirror to something we should not be proud of in Ireland.”
Mr Finlay told The Irish Times he supported all of Minister for Health Leo Varadkar’s initiatives on tighter regulations on alcohol.
Social campaigner Ruairi McKiernan, who was present at the launch, said the campaign lacked credibility because of Diageo’s backing.
Mr McKiernan said other Diageo-backed initiatives, such as drinkaware.ie and Arthur’s Day, had failed to help with the problem.
Diageo is a multinational plc behind major spirits, beer and wine brands.
The company was accused of promoting excessive drinking through its Arthur’s Day global drinks promotion.
The event had been run for one day each September as of 2009, but it was discontinued last year.
Members of the campaign board include Labour Relations Commission chief executive Kieran Mulvey, St Patrick’s Hospital chief executive Paul Gilligan, GP and health commentator Dr Ciara Kelly, National Parents Council chief Aine Lynch and Simon Keogh of the Irish Rugby Union Players’ Association (Irupa).
A campaign spokesman said everyone involved on the board did so on a pro-bono basis, and there were no fees or payments involved.
David Smith, director of Diageo, also sits on the board. A Diageo spokeswoman said members were independent and expressed their views freely.
“We are committed to funding the campaign as much as is necessary to complete its work,” she said.
“We are willing to work with any individual and organisation with an interest in reducing alcohol misuse.”
The campaign is backed by a host of well known names in Ireland including Eoghan McDermott, presenter of The Voice of Ireland, who said drinking to excess was a “huge” problem in Ireland.
“Any Friday night you can see how much of a problem it is. People are absolutely ossified. Girls put themselves in dangerous positions and guys end up going around looking for a fight,” he said.
“We have a strange attitude towards drinking. We think it is normal to lose control of ourselves. Even stranger, we tolerate people who lose control of themselves when drinking, no matter what the consequences. We don’t need to change altogether but we do need to cop on.”