Consultant calls for Alcohol Bill to go through ‘as quickly as possible’

Government defers Bill to curb alcohol abuse until after Christmas due to FG divisions

The Government has deferred a Bill to curb alcohol abuse until after Christmas. File photograph: Eric Luke / The Irish Times

The Government has deferred a Bill to curb alcohol abuse until after Christmas. File photograph: Eric Luke / The Irish Times

 

Prof Frank Murray, President of the Royal College of Physicians of Ireland, has said the Public Health (Alcohol) Bill should go through as quickly as possible.

His comments come after the Government deferred the Bill to curb alcohol abuse until after Christmas in an effort to overcome internal divisions within Fine Gael.

Prof Murray, a consultant gastroenterologist at Beaumont Hospital, told RTE’s Morning Ireland: “we have a tidal wave of illness and death associated with alcohol use in Ireland”.

He said the bill needs to be implemented in a way that is robust and would withstand subsequent scrutiny if it is challenged through the courts.

“Alcohol is no ordinary commodity and it should not be sold with sweets, eggs and tomatoes in the supermarket and in many countries you cannot buy alcohol and food together in a general store.”

Prof Murray said that Ireland has very lax regulation in relation to where alcohol is sold.

“There has been a dramatic increase in the number of licenses to sell alcohol in the off-trade, mainly in shops.

“Alcohol should be treated differently to other products sold in shops as it is an addictive substance that causes about 1,000 deaths a year in Ireland. That’s the same as five plane crashes.”

Prof Murray says the legislation that includes product separation and product visibility is constructive and the right way to go and will reduce harm from alcohol.

The Public Health (Alcohol) Bill would require store owners to segregate alcohol and non-alcohol products.

The change is intended to ensure alcohol is not regarded by customers, especially children, as similar to other commodities.

The Bill has been subject to an extraordinary lobbying campaign on both sides of the debate, and has led to contentious debates in the Seanad, where it was introduced, and at meetings of the Fine Gael parliamentary party.

The legislation was scheduled for further debate in the Seanad next week but this has been deferred until after Christmas.

According to sources in Fine Gael, the delay will allow time for the party to find a resolution to the impasse between the Minister of State for Health Promotion, Marcella Corcoran-Kennedy, and her party colleagues who think some provisions are too restrictive.

These TDs are particularly exercised by section 20 of the Bill which requires owners to erect a physical separation between the alcohol section and all other sections. Senators and TDs from Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael have been heavily lobbied by the grocery trade. A number of Senators and TDs have indicated they will not support the section, arguing the costs for small grocers will be prohibitive.