The drinks industry will soon find out whose side Varadkar is on
Cantillon: will the new Taoiseach be cruel or kind to the booze lobby?
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar: The conventional wisdom is that Varadkar, as a former minister for health, may look to beef up the rules for the marketing and pricing of alcohol. Photograph: Stephen Collins/Collins Photos
The elevation of Leo Varadkar, a former minister for health, to the role of Taoiseach may yet have consequences for the mired attempt by the government to bring in new rules for the marketing and pricing of alcohol.
But which way will he go on the matter?
Varadkar was also previously the minister with responsibility for transport and tourism, and proposed the 9 per cent special Vat rate that the industry still clings to like a limpet.
Tourism felt it had a dog in the fight in the Fine Gael leadership election, and its dog won. When Varadkar was promoted to the Government top job earlier this month, the tourism industry trumpeted his past links to the sector.
Varadkar, they said, “gets” tourism, the implication being that his elevation to the Taoiseach’s chair would be good for the industry.
When he was minister for health two and a half years ago, Varadkar published the Public Health (Alcohol) Bill, which has since sparked a furious round of lobbying by the drinks industry and other vested interests.
The Bill’s proposals included minimum unit pricing, and it originally also intended to bring in rules requiring the physical separation of alcohol from other products within shops, the so-called “booze burka” that sparked the ire of Fine Gael backbenchers.
The industry lobbying has had the desired effect, and the Bill has since been watered down, and is bogged down. Drink regulation has been on the agenda for years. Will it come to a vote later this year? Who knows. The current Dáil appears to be allergic to legislating.
The conventional wisdom is that as a former minister for health, Varadkar may look to beef up the regulations, and that he could even seek to reinstate the offending booze burka proposal.
Yet, when he was minister for transport, people forget that Varadkar also had responsibility for sport. Then, he was far less enthused about regulating the drinks industry that funds much of the sports sector through its sponsorship.
In the interminable fight between the drinks industry and health groups over alcohol regulation, whose side will Varadkar choose?