Fine Gael Senators say alcohol display plans ‘unworkable’

Minister has proposed Bill amendment to ease effect of changes on small, rural retailers

Simon Harris: the  Minister for Health is scheduled to meet his party’s Senators ahead of the debate to discuss some of their concerns. Photograph: Cyril Byrne

Simon Harris: the Minister for Health is scheduled to meet his party’s Senators ahead of the debate to discuss some of their concerns. Photograph: Cyril Byrne

 

Fine Gael Senators have criticised “unworkable” and “politically correct” plans to hide alcohol from display in small shops.

Minister for Health Simon Harris has proposed an amendment to the Public Health (Alcohol) Bill to ease the concerns of many of his party members about its effect on small, rural retailers.

Shops will now have the option of keeping alcohol products on display but must be confined to a maximum two storage units. The two units must be placed beside each other and cannot contain anything other than alcohol products.

Fine Gael Senator Michelle Mulherin said the proposal was “unworkable” and did not seem proportionate.

While stressing her commitment to the other elements of the Bill, Ms Mulherin insisted this measure would place a significant cost on small retailers who are already struggling to survive.

“I am pleased that it is acknowledged that the small shopkeeper is a totally different animal than the large supermarket,” she said.

“It is imperative the offering by Government by way of a concession needs to be workable and the feedback I am getting is that it is not. I would be hoping myself and a number of other colleagues in the Seanad would be listened to at this stage.”

Senator Ray Butler, from Meath, said he is also not happy with the proposal, claiming hiding alcohol makes it more tempting to children and makes them more inquisitive.

‘Gone overboard’

“I cannot see the sense in it. We are gone overboard here, too politically correct here. Loads of Senators and TDs are saying the same,” he said.

“I come from a business background. This is kicking small shops yet again.”

Cork Senator Tim Lombard said he has some concerns in particular with the proposal surrounding structural separation.

“I am worried these amendments do not go far enough. I still believe this is the main issue in the Bill.”

Waterford Senator Paudie Coffey said it was a move in the right direction to allay some of his concerns. However, he said he had been contacted by a number of small retailers who were concerned about the impact of the measures.

Mayo Senator Paddy Burke said he expected the amendments to bring balance to the matter and address the concerns of the small retailers.

The Bill was stalled in the Seanad last year due to concerns about the effect the measures it would have on small shop owners.

Concern

However, it appears the amendment proposed by Mr Harris has caused some frustration within the Fine Gael party. It is understood the concern spreads to TDs and a number of Ministers.

Retail Ireland and the Convenience Stores and Newsagents Association have insisted the measures are excessive.

In a submission to Oireachtas members, Retail Ireland said the State cannot discriminate against retailers based on their size.

It says reducing the visibility of alcohol in one part of a store will not meet the public health objective.

The Bill is due to be debated in the Seanad on Wednesday.

Mr Harris is scheduled to meet his party’s Senators ahead of the debate to discuss some of their concerns.