Drinks industry representatives extensively lobbied Government Ministers, TDs and Senators about controversial legislation to deal with Ireland’s alcohol crisis, according to the latest figures from the lobbying register.
It is estimated the drinks sector, led by Ibec’s umbrella group the Alcohol Beverage Federation of Ireland (ABFI), had meetings with 14 Government Ministers and Ministers of State and 10 special advisers about the Public Health (Alcohol) Bill.
The ABFI is the trade association for the drink industry’s manufacturers and distributors. The Bill is currently before the Upper House and due back for debate in the next few weeks. The drinks and retail sector has already secured concessions on the obligation to separate alcohol from other products.
Director of ABFI Patricia Callan lobbied six Cabinet Ministers, five Ministers of State, the Taoiseach's chief of staff Brian Murphy, six special advisers, assistant secretaries in the Department of Transport and Department of Agriculture, 15 TDs, 21 Senators, Fine Gael MEP Seán Kelly and three county councillors.
Ms Callan’s lobbying focused on the industry’s perspectives on public policy and the Bill, and included a reception, meetings, letters, emails and social media contacts.
All lobbyists had to list their contacts for the last three months of 2017 by Sunday. The State register (lobbying.ie) obliges lobbyists to list who they had contact with but not specifically whether it was a meeting, phone call, email or other informal contact.
Contacts also include lobbying of five Senators and Dublin City councillor Andrew Montague by ABFI’s Jonathan McDade, while former special adviser at the Department of Arts Lorraine Hall lobbied seven Senators, three special advisers and Fine Gael Clare TD Joe Carey on behalf of ABFI.
Former special adviser at the Department of Justice William Lavelle lobbied Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan, two Ministers of State, and two Fine Gael TDs, Colm Brophy and Tony McLoughlin, for ABFI.
PR firm Q4’s director, former Fianna Fáil general secretary and senator Martin Macken, and Ms Hall of ABFI, lobbied six Fianna Fáil TDs, four Senators and Stephen Lynam, special adviser to Minister for Finance Paschal Donohue.
In a business interview with The Irish Times last year, Ms Callan said she wanted the drinks industry to be allowed into the policymaking tent. "What's really unusual in this job is that, sometimes, people don't want to talk to you at all. But this is a booming sector, which supports over 200,000 jobs."
But a spokesman for Alcohol Action Ireland, which lobbies for full implementation of the Bill, said that Ibec and the ABFI had “never really been outside the tent”.
Other groups lobbying for the drinks industry included the Vintners’ Federation of Ireland, Retail Excellence Ireland, RGData, the Convenience Stores & Newsagents Association, Heineken, the Dublin Airport Authority, Slane Castle Irish Whiskey Ltd, and Responsible Retailers of Alcohol Ireland Ltd, chaired by former IDA chief executive Padraic White.
Health advocates who lobbied for the full implementation of the Bill also include children’s charity Barnardo’s, the Royal College of Physicians of Ireland, the Donegal-based Alcohol Forum, the Irish Heart Foundation and the Irish Cancer Society.