Health warnings about alcohol, its ingredients, calories and links to cancer will take up one third of the space for labels on bottles and cans after Minister for Health Simon Harris accepted amendments to drinks legislation.
The controversial Public Health (Alcohol) Bill, which tightens down on the sale of alcohol, initially provided for labelling through regulation but Mr Harris accepted amendments from Independent Senator Frances Black. The label warnings will be in both Irish and English.
He also accepted a proposal from Labour Senator Ged Nash that all alcohol advertising must include health warnings about the link between drink and cancer.
Mr Harris also changed provisions so that alcohol can be imported without the labels but an offence will be committed if alcohol is sold anywhere in Ireland, including airports, without the health warning labels.
The Minister also agreed a compromise with small retailers to allow alcohol be displayed in three storage units or placed behind a barricade up to 1.5 metres high as part of provisions of the Bill.
A number of Fine Gael Senators had opposed the original provisions, expressing concern about the financial implications and the unfair costs on small shops.
The long-delayed legislation to deal with Ireland’s alcohol crisis was finally passed by the Seanad and goes to the Dáil to be dealt with in the new year. It also includes a provision preventing billboard advertising of alcohol within 200 metres of a school, creche or playground.
Independent Senator Michael Michael McDowell described this as “pathetic, stupid legislation”. He said that if somebody opened a creche within 200 metres of O’Connell Bridge House in Dublin the Heineken advertisement would have to come down.
He said “you can have McDonald’s and advertising for Smarties and sweets but children going into a creche will be influenced by a Coors ad and softened up psychologically to alcohol when they become a teenager”. He said laws have to be practical.
But the Minister said it was a common sense measure to reduce the visibility of outdoor advertising promoting alcohol where children are located. Mr Harris cited figures which showed more children were able to identify alcohol branding than to recognise a Ben & Jerry’s ice-cream or Mr Kipling brand.
Ms Black later appealed to the Minister not to give in on any further elements of the controversial alcohol legislation after the segregation concessions were made.
She said: “I know you had to give in on this but please try and stay strong for the rest of this legislation.” Ms Black claimed that lobbyists had succeeded in taking apart one of the four main measures of the Bill.
“Alcohol can be displayed exactly as it is now on the shelve: two metres high and three metres wide. It means that the wall of alcohol in a grocery shop will still be there.”
But Mr Harris described the Bill as “landmark legislation, the first ever piece of public health legislation on alcohol”.
Rejecting claims that it had been watered down or diluted, he said it would “radically deal with how alcohol is displayed”. He said they had moved from a voluntary code to clear law with penalties and enforcement. He said nobody would enter a shop again and “slip over a slab of beer”. Everything would have to be in a separate area or behind a barricade.