Alcohol bill to be published during summer, Varadkar says

Legislation will put in place minimum pricing and will regulate advertising

 Minister for Health Leo Varadkar has announced that the  Public Health (Alcohol) Bill will be published this summer.  File photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill/The Irish Times

Minister for Health Leo Varadkar has announced that the Public Health (Alcohol) Bill will be published this summer. File photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill/The Irish Times

 

The Public Health (Alcohol) Bill will be published this summer with a view to being made law by the end of the year, Minister for Health Leo Varadkar has said.

The bill will put in place minimum pricing for alcohol, and will regulate alcohol advertising and sponsorship targeted at young people, including a broadcast watershed.

However, the Public Health (Alcohol) Bill does not propose an outright ban on sports sponsorship by drinks companies, despite pledging to review the issue in three years time.

Fine Gael TD Michael Creed said that while the legislation was far reaching, the continuation of sports sponsorship by alcohol companies is its “Achilles heel”.

Independent TD Séamus Healy said it was time for the Government to “grasp the nettle” and put an end to the relationship between alcohol and sports sponsorship.

Alcohol legislation

Mr Varadkar said he expects the bill to be published before the Dáil summer recess.

“This legislation has been bandied around for 3-4 years and it wasn’t possible to get agreement on this. We’re in year four of the parliament and I want to get good stuff done,” Mr Varadkar told the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Health and Children.

Mr Varadkar said minimum unit pricing would be based on the number of grams of alcohol in a drink but no price had been agreed yet.

“It needs to be low enough so that it eliminates very cheap alcohol but not so high that it affects the price of a glass of wine in the pizzeria.

“The price of alcohol remains very affordable, particularly in supermarkets. A woman can reach her low risk drinking limit for €6.30 while a man can reach his limit for less than €10.”

Mr Varadkar said he would not consider raising excise duty on alcohol as it would make premium drinks more expensive and it would not target high volume drinkers.

Lower incomes

Sinn Féin spokesman for health Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin said minimum unit pricing is not “the panacea” and that it disproportionately targets those on lower incomes.

Mr Ó Caoláin said people who could afford more expensive alcohol were also a risk to themselves and others and that it isn’t just an issue for those on low incomes.

Mr Varadkar said there is a corollary between poverty and alcohol consumption: “People who are on low incomes are more likely to abuse alcohol. There is a correlation between social class and alcohol abuse. Those who are poorer are more likely to abuse alcohol. In many ways, alcohol perhaps contributes to poverty and poverty contributes to alcohol.

“The research does show those in low income groups spend more on alcohol and drink more heavily. It’s not an issue of visibility or that there’s large numbers of wealthy people secretly drinking expensive alcohol.”

Mr Varadkar said statistics for 2014 show pure alcohol consumption increased from 10.6 litres to 11 litres.

He said the figures were worrying because it indicated that economic recovery will see a rise in alcohol consumption.