Six years after the Public Health (Alcohol) Bill was first mooted and 34 months after it was introduced in the Dáil, the legislation has finally been passed by the Oireachtas.
The Bill, which includes provisions for minimum unit pricing, passed all stages in the Seanad on Wednesday evening. Its passage was greeted with applause.
It passed all stages in the Dáil last week.
Minister for Health Simon Harris has said he intends to implement the provisions of the legislation as quickly as possible to "address the harmful effects of alcohol consumption and to improve the health and wellbeing of all of us".
He said that "Ireland has an unhealthy relationship with alcohol that damages health and harms many families". The Bill aims "to address that and save thousands of lives".
He said he expected to introduce minimum unit pricing – a floor price below which alcohol cannot be sold – following approval by the Cabinet.
The Government had originally agreed to introduce minimum unit pricing simultaneously with Northern Ireland, but Mr Harris said the Assembly and Executive were still not functioning and "I don't believe we can wait forever".
The Bill, subject to intense debate and lobbying over the past three years, includes provisions for minimum unit pricing; labelling of alcohol products with cancer and other health warnings, as well as details of ingredients and calories; the segregation and reduced visibility of alcohol products in supermarkets and other retail outlets, and a broadcasting watershed of 9pm before which no alcohol advertising can be aired.
The Minister said the clock would start ticking immediately for the one-year lead-in to the prohibition under the Bill of advertising in certain places, including within 200m of schools and playgrounds, as well as the banning of alcohol adverts on children’s clothing and in cinemas.
There will be a two-year lead-in time for the separation and reduced visibility of alcohol products and advertisements for alcohol products in licensed premises, and a three-year lead-in time for bans on alcohol advertising during certain events, and restrictions on sponsorship.
The most contentious provision, on the cancer and other health warnings, will have a three-year lead-in from the time it is notified to the European Commission. Work on drafting the regulations will start immediately.
During the final stage debate in the Seanad, Independent Senator Michael McDowell said that public health advocates had lobbied just as intensely on the Bill as drinks industry representatives, and the former were “fully funded by the State”.
But Mr Harris disagreed, saying that the advocates were not lobbyists and they had done the State a huge service.
Independent Senator Frances Black, who had championed the legislation, expressed her delight at the passage of the Bill.
She was “a little surprised and shocked at the amount of lobbying” involved, but she said the Bill would be “life-changing and lifesaving”.
The Royal College of Physicians in Ireland welcomed the passage of the Bill. President Mary Horgan said that "we know that there are three deaths per day due to alcohol use in Ireland, that affects too many families and communities".
She said her institute had a long-standing mission “to advocate for the health of the nation and we can be proud of our doctors’ role in this landmark legislation”.