Varadkar says State will fight any challenge to alcohol laws

Minister says Government trying to discourage unhealthy relationship with drink


Minister for Health Leo Varadkar said the State is prepared to fight off any legal challenge against the new alcohol laws.

Mr Varadkar has published the Public Health Alcohol Bill which will introduce minimum pricing, restrictions on advertising and a ban on one-pitch advertising during sports game.

The Minister said this new legislation would reduce harmful drinking in Ireland and would discourage younger people from binge drinking.

Mr Varadkar said he knew there would be strong opposition to the legislation but the State was preparing its defence in any event.

He said the Department of Heath would be strong in court if necessary.

“I would hope the sports and drinks industry embrace this and see the common sense behind it but if we do they we will be prepared for it and we will fight it,” he said.

The legislation will introduce a new minimum pricing for alcohol at 10 cent per gram of alcohol. It will also introduce restrictions on advertising, including banning it near schools or on public transport.

Supermarkets will have to store alcohol away from their products.

The proposed legislation, which will be passed by the middle of next year, is to face considerable opposition from the drink industry. It could also face legal obstacles in the Irish and European courts, particularly in relation to minimum pricing.

Proposals by the Scottish government for minimum unit pricing for alcohol received a setback last September when a preliminary ruling by the European Court of Justice found the practice could be discriminatory and could also breach free trade rules.

Mr Varadkar said he was hopeful both the Republic and Northern Ireland would introduce minimum pricing at the same time. He said the Republic would introduce it as soon as possible.

The Minister for Health said it had taken five years of reports, working groups, Cabinet meetings and sub-committees to get to this point.

He said the aim was not to cancel Christmas or to stop people from drinking but to discourage an unhealthy relationship with alcohol.

He said people in Ireland like to believe binge drinking only affects a small number of people. However, the reality is most people drink too much, he said

Harmful effects

The Broadcasting Authority of Ireland code will include a broadcasting watershed of 9pm for alcohol-related advertisements.

The Broadcasting Act 2009 will be amended to ensure the Minister is consulted on all health-related aspects of the code, with alcohol being included in the list of products of public concern for the general health interests of children.

The Bill also requires advertisements to include warnings about the harmful effects of alcohol consumption in general and during pregnancy.

Luas stops

Among the places where a blanket ban on advertising will apply are schools and early-years services; local authority playgrounds; bus and train stations; and bus and Luas stops.

The Government has been promising a package of legislation to tackle alcohol abuse since 2011 but the measure was delayed for some years by disagreements between ministers over curbs to sports sponsorship by drinks companies. .