Cantillon: Leo Varadkar’s big bet on the demon drink

Minister for Health accused by Ibec of promoting a ‘nanny state gone mad’

Minister for Health Leo Varadkar: the restrictions contained in his Public Health (Alcohol) Bill will make the activation of sports sponsorships much less efficient and will affect the value of sports sponsorships over time. Photograph: Cathal Noonan/Inpho

Minister for Health Leo Varadkar: the restrictions contained in his Public Health (Alcohol) Bill will make the activation of sports sponsorships much less efficient and will affect the value of sports sponsorships over time. Photograph: Cathal Noonan/Inpho

 

Two years ago, when Leo Varadkar was Minister for Tourism and Sport, he was among the most vociferous voices in the Cabinet against plans to restrict sponsorship of sport by alcohol companies.

At the time, the main sports organisations were whispering in his ear that a ban would cut off a major funding stream. Varadkar argued at Cabinet meetings that unless alternative sports funding could be arranged, sponsorship should be allowed.

“I’ve a general difficulty with the nanny state in general, which is a state telling people what they can and can’t do,” he said. “My view has always been that I just don’t like the idea of the nanny state moving into those areas [banning sports sponsorships].”

That row over sponsorships held up the Government’s Bill to tackle drink, pricing, promotion and advertising. The proposed law was published on Wednesday by Varadkar, now the Minister for Health.

The road to Damascus must run close to his department. Varadkar was accused on Wednesday by the alcohol division of Ibec of promoting a “nanny-state gone mad” with the tough new restrictions announced by the Government. “Sports funding will be hugely diminished as this is in essence a sponsorship ban by the back door. Our bid for the Rugby World Cup will be wholly undermined,” said the Alcohol Beverage Federation of Ireland.

An outright ban on drinks companies sponsoring sports events was dropped. But every marketer will tell you that for every euro a brand spends on sponsorship, it spends three or four times as much activating that sponsorship through advertising and promotion.

The restrictions contained in the Public Health (Alcohol) Bill will make the activation of sports sponsorships much less efficient and will affect the value of sports sponsorships over time.

Meanwhile, the package of measures – no glamorisation of drinking, minimum pricing, no drink ads on public transport or near schools – is relatively tough, which is why the industry is up in arms.

If Wednesday’s Bill fails, Ministers may yet end up feeling like drowning their sorrows.

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