Drinks sector, TDs object to report

 

REPRESENTATIVES OF the drinks industry have dissociated themselves from the main report of a Government-appointed group on the regulation of alcohol to be published this week.

The Alcohol Beverage Federation of Ireland and Mature Enjoyment of Alcohol in Society (Meas), an industry-sponsored initiative encouraging responsible consumption of drink, have submitted separate minority reports to Government.

At least four Government Ministers have also objected to recommendations in the report of the National Substance Misuse Steering Group, which Minister of State for Primary Care Róisín Shortall will publish tomorrow.

Meas has written to Ministers complaining about the exclusion of its minority report from the memo sent by Minister for Health James Reilly to other Ministers on the findings of the steering group.

The group’s majority report, endorsed by 31 of 33 members, recommends a ban on all alcohol sponsorship of sporting and large outdoor events, a ban on outdoor advertising of alcohol, higher excise duties on some alcohol products and the introduction of minimum pricing.

Ms Shortall plans to bring it to the Oireachtas health committee in an effort to secure cross-party support.

The report recommends the introduction of a “social responsibility levy” on the drinks industry which could be used to help fund communications on the dangers of alcohol, as well as a reduction in the weekly “safe” number of units of alcohol for men and women.

Ministers Pat Rabbitte, Leo Varadkar, Jimmy Deenihan and Simon Coveney have all expressed concerns about the proposed restrictions on the advertising of alcohol and the sponsorship of events by drinks companies.

The report has been discussed at Cabinet, where the four Ministers have raised concerns that the restrictions might have on sport, tourism and community events, a source confirmed yesterday. Many of the recommendations would require legislation, he pointed out.

Meas, in a letter to Ministers, claims it was marginalised and misrepresented on the steering group. Chief executive Fionnuala Sheehan says some members were biased against the organisation, and claims this bias was compounded by the decision not to circulate its minority report.

In the minority report, seen by The Irish Times, Meas calls the social responsibility levy proposal “yet another tax on the Irish consumer”.

The proposal “betrays a complete lack of awareness of the commercial realities that apply to all business in the private sector, not least the drinks industry”.

It says the group’s recommendations on regulation of alcohol will continue a “piecemeal and fragmented” approach and have unintended and adverse consequences.

A proposal to phase out alcohol industry sponsorship of sport by 2016 is described as misguided and unrealistic. “Bearing in mind the current financial crisis, it is naive to imagine that sporting organisations, from small parish clubs around the country to national sporting organisations, would be able to maintain their current level of activities without commercial sponsorship,” the report says.

The emphasis, it adds, “should be on controlling sponsorship activity to minimise any negative impacts”.

Meas also opposes reducing the recommended weekly alcohol guidelines from 21 to 17 units for men and 14 to 11 for women.

It says the recommendation is made without regard to scientific evidence and claims the current guidelines are not credible among consumers. “Particularly young adults, they are dismissed as too low and nannyish.”

The steering group was chaired by the State’s chief medical officer, Tony Holohan, and included a wide range of civil servants, medical representatives and alcohol-related organisations.