FF health spokesman ‘unaware’ alcohol caused cancer

Dail debate set to continue on State’s first public health Bill on alcohol

Stephen Donnelly had questioned the proposal until he did some research and the results he got back ‘shook’ him. Photograph: Brenda Fitzsimons

Stephen Donnelly had questioned the proposal until he did some research and the results he got back ‘shook’ him. Photograph: Brenda Fitzsimons


Fianna Fáil health spokesman Stephen Donnelly has told the Dáil he was unaware of the link between alcohol and cancer when he first heard of the proposal to include cancer warnings on alcohol products.

Mr Donnelly had questioned the proposal until he did some research and “the results I got back shook me”.

He said 500 people a year die from alcohol-related cancers , which was “about three times the number of people who die on the roads and that’s a number that gets a huge amount of investment and warnings and rightly so”.

He said “the idea that we’re in the area of rashers and burnt toast or that you have to be drinking 10 pints a day (to get cancer) is not true”.

The Wicklow TD was speaking as the Dáil debated the controversial Public Health (Alcohol) Bill and retained the amendment agreed in the Seanad to put cancer warnings on all alcohol products. In the end there was no vote as fewer than 10 TDs, all Independents, pressed for a vote.

Four-hour debate

The Bill originally expected to be passed on Wednesday night is now set to continue after a longer than expected debate on cancer warnings.

The Dáil accepted an amendment that duty-free alcohol for sale at airports would be exempt from label warnings but poster warnings would be in place.

TDs also agreed a Sinn Féin amendment to collect data from hospitals on the number of beds taken up from alcohol-related illnesses, to inform public health policy.

And the House agreed that Irish language warnings would be included in advertising and on the HSE askaboutalcohol.ie website but not on alcohol product labels.

Minister for Health Simon Harris last week said he would introduce an amendment to remove specific cancer warnings on labels from the legislation because of the risk of an unfavourable EU commission ruling.

But he reviewed the decision when it became clear that both Fianna Fáil and Sinn Féin would not support removal of the cancer warnings.

In the Dáil on Wednesday he said the argument was whether it was better in primary legislation or regulation, amid concern that regulation might be less likely to be challenged by the EU Commission.

He said there was a “risk” with the cancer warning on labels because the EU Commission had said it would have a final say on the issue. But if accepted by the Commission, the labels will come into effect three years after the EU ruling.

Alcohol warnings

Mr Harris listed a series of organisations calling for alcohol warnings and said that 2,823 men and 1,821 women had died of alcohol-related cancer. He added that “it might be a good idea to put a warning on a little bit of a label that alcohol can cause cancer”.

Sinn Féin health spokeswoman Louise O’Reilly said “people may not be aware that alcohol is a group 1 carcinogenic because there is a proven causal link between alcohol and several types of cancer.

“Alcohol consumption can cause cancer of the mouth, the pharynx, the larynx, the oesophagus, the liver, the bowel and the female breast.

“The increase of cancer increases steadily in line with greater volumes of alcohol consumption.”

She said “in this State the proportion of alcohol-related death from cancer is higher than the European average and in fact that will suggest that we need to take more measures than other people in Europe, or indeed that maybe we should not be ashamed to take leadership on this issue.”

Three Fianna Fail TDs were among some 10 TDs who proposed to delete the warning on the grounds that the Irish alcohol industry would be damaged by the move.

None of the three however moved the amendment when it came to the House and it was moved in the end by Independent TD Michael Fitzmaurice. But when a vote was called fewer than 10 TDs stood.

Mr Fitzmaurice said “putting labels on the bottles that sell in Ireland but not elsewhere is going to be a fiasco”.

Independent TD Michael Collins opposed the warnings and said the House should set an example to the public by closing the Dáil bar.

Independent TD Danny Healy-Rae described the health warning as “a gimmick by this Government.

“This won’t stop underage drinking and it won’t stop excessive drinking.”

Fine Gael TD Peter Fitzpatrick spoke against the cancer warnings and said that people had to take responsibility for themselves and not blame others.