Industry cool on proposals to restrict alcohol sales

 

THE DRINKS industry has expressed concern about new proposals to restrict the sale of alcohol which are emerging as part of the Government’s strategy for tackling substance abuse.

Draft proposals being examined by the steering group include minimum prices for alcoholic drinks, new charges on retailers selling large volumes and laws requiring alcohol to be sold separately from other products, The Irish Times understands.

The plans are being drawn up by the National Substance Misuse Strategy Steering Group, which the Government set up last year to draw up a new approach for dealing with alcohol misuse along the lines of actions being taken under the National Drugs Strategy.

The 33-person group, which includes representatives from Government departments, industry and health groups, has met four times and is due to report to Government next October. It is chaired jointly by officials of the Department of Health and the Department of Community, Equality and Gaeltacht Affairs.

However, the Alcohol Beverage Federation of Ireland, which is represented on the group, said yesterday other members were approaching the issue with “pre-conceived notions” about alcohol.

Federation director Rosemary Garth said it was crucial that the recommendations made by the steering group were based on evidence rather than perception.

“I am concerned that the group appears to be more concerned with reducing the average person’s level of consumption rather than specific actions targeted at those misusing alcohol,” she said.

With drink consumption down 21 per cent from a peak in 2001, she said there was an opportunity now to target efforts on people who misuse alcohol rather than “penalising” the overall population through further restrictions.

“A ban on advertising and sponsorship of alcohol would achieve nothing apart from costing jobs and damaging a vital industry,” she told a briefing in Dublin.

However, the National Youth Council of Ireland, which is also on the steering group, said the scientific evidence from the World Health Organisation was that restrictions on the number of outlets where alcohol can be sold, restrictions on days and hours of sale, controls on advertising and addressing the price of alcohol have a positive impact on reducing alcohol harm among children and young people.

“It is clear that the problem for the drinks industry is not the lack of evidence, but the strength of the evidence available which if acted upon would reduce their profits,” said NYCI spokesman James Doorley.

The steering group has received more than 60 submissions from interested groups.

The Irish Farmers’ Association has called for a ban on planning permissions for new supermarkets until a code of practice is put in place to regulate the retail sector.

The IFA says there are too many supermarkets in the country and farmers are being forced to pay for the over-capacity through lower returns. Small shops and convenience stores were struggling to compete as the multiples dominated and expand unabated, IFA president John Bryan told the joint Oireachtas committee on Enterprise, Trade and Employment yesterday.

“The Government and the EU Commission must accelerate their plans to regulate the sector as the multiples are sapping ever more profit out of the food supply chain. Farm families are being driven to the wall as a result,” he said.

For every new supermarket that opened, five or six local shops were forced to close, he added.