Industry-led alcohol awareness campaign criticised
Senator says most people will think ‘Stop out of Control Drinking’ doesn’t apply to them
Fergus Finlay (far left), chairman of the board for the new campaign to stop out of control drinking, with clinical psychotherapist Joanna Fortune, Labour Relations Commission chief executive Kieran Mulvey, and Áine Lynch from the National Parents Council, at the campaign’s launch. Photograph: Brenda Fitzsimons/The Irish Times
Allowing a drinks company to fund a public health campaign on alcohol and to “frame the debate” is wrong, a children’s rights campaigner has said.
Independent Senator Jillian van Turnhout said the Diageo-funded campaign “Stop Out of Control Drinking” had many good people associated with it.
But she added that she had carried out two reports for the European Economic and Social Committee on alcohol-related harm and “I saw at first-hand how the industry will try to influence, orchestrate and campaign to ensure that any effective reports one is trying to do are diluted”.
Drinks conglomerate Diageo launched the campaign, which is chaired by Barnardo’s chief executive Fergus Finlay.
Members of the campaign board include Labour Relations Commission chief executive Kieran Mulvey, St Patrick’s Hospital chief executive Paul Gilligan, GP and health commentator Dr Ciara Kelly, National Parents Council chief Áine Lynch and Simon Keogh of the Irish Rugby Union Players’ Association.
Ms van Turnout said most people in Ireland would think the Stop Out of Control drinking was not directed at them and instead “we should be talking about alcohol-related harm”.
She told the Upper House: “Allowing a drinks company to frame a debate and put major money behind a public health campaign is wrong.”
The Independent Senator pointed to the World Health Organisation, which had indicated that “it would be inappropriate for the industry to have a role in the formulation of alcohol policies either nationally or locally”.
She said the alcohol industry’s involvement in the campaign was wrong. “Those involved with the campaign would say it is independent but let us remember that Diageo, the drinks company involved with this, exists to sell alcohol and to make profits for its shareholders.”
That is the reason for the business and she did not argue with that, “but it is not a public health company”.
She warned Senators that it was “unacceptable that any of us would support a campaign that is so clearly the narrative of the drinks company.
“That is what it wants us to talk about, the out of control drinking, not the effect drink has on family households”
She reminded the House: “We cannot have an ambivalent response to alcohol, we need to look at it seriously. It is having a destructive effect in many households.”
Calling for a Seanad debate on alcohol-related harm, she said “let us take the lead on the issue and not put it in the hands of any drinks company”.
Independent Senator Paul Bradford supported her comments and said the drinks industry “has sensed a certain degree of weakness on the Government’s part following the decision not to pursue a ban on advertising by drinks companies in the context of sports events”.
He believed it was a “fundamental error” not to ban alcohol-related sponsorship of sport.
“There is now a view in certain sectors of the drinks industry that they will be able to browbeat the Government further”.
Mr Bradford said the excessive consumption of alcohol was Ireland’s “greatest social problem” and it stretched into criminal behaviour, societal and family breakdown.
A national debate was necessary but should not be led by the drinks industry but “by the Department (of Health), the Government, politicians and community leaders”.