Law on minimum alcohol pricing may pass in next session

Politicians should listen to experts more than to vested interests, says Simon Harris

Kenneth Egan: said being sober for seven years beat any silver medal. Above, Egan at the 2008 Olympics. Photograph: Morgan Treacy/Inpho

Kenneth Egan: said being sober for seven years beat any silver medal. Above, Egan at the 2008 Olympics. Photograph: Morgan Treacy/Inpho

 

Legislation to introduce minimum pricing for alcohol could pass all stages of both Houses of the Oireachtas in the coming session, Minister for Health Simon Harris has said.

Speaking in Dublin at the launch of Recovery Month, an initiative being championed by the Rutland Centre for addiction treatment, Mr Harris called on all political parties and Independents to “step up to the plate” and support the Public Health (Alcohol) Bill.

As well as minimum unit pricing, the Bill includes provisions to regulate advertising and sponsorship of alcohol, to provide health labelling on products and to ensure structural separation of alcohol in shops.

The Minister said he had taken on board concerns raised in the Seanad that the requirements would place an undue financial burden on small business owners and he would reflect that in amendments to the legislation in October.

He pointed out that the Rutland Centre had found alcohol was still the biggest addiction they were coming across.

“I suggest we listen to medics and to clinical experts perhaps an awful lot more than we listen to some vested interests in this regard,” he said. “I believe you can make every ‘Trojan horse’ argument that you wish to dilute this legislation, but at the end of the day if we are serious about showing political leadership on alcohol, rather than political platitudes, we need to get on with delivering this legislation.”

Number one drug

Figures released on Monday from the Rutland Centre, which treats more than 400 people a year, show alcohol was the “number one drug of choice” in 91 per cent of presentations there last year, up from 87 per cent in 2015.

The numbers of people seeking treatment for gambling, all men, were also up from 13.5 per cent of the total in 2015 to 15 per cent last year, while drugs issues fell from 67 per cent to 49 per cent.

Maebh Leahy, chief executive of the centre, also urged support for the legislation, as well as for the proposed Gambling Control Bill. She said one of the key messages of Recovery Month would be that “addiction can and does affect all types of families and communities”.

“If we can open up the conversation about addiction and let people know there is no judgment and that recovery is possible, then it may help more families who are currently living in situations from which they see no escape,” she said.

Recovery Month, which involves a series of free events throughout September looking at varied aspects of recovery in specific communities, was also supported by Olympic silver medallist Kenneth Egan.

The former boxer said he was seven years sober last week, which beat any silver medal.

“Alcohol was the biggest fight I’ve had, but accepting I was an alcoholic, I came out the winner,” he said. “There is no shame in looking to get well.”