Campaigners will not support ban on alcohol sponsorship

Anti-binge drinking group says it will not back restrictions for sports and live events

(From left) Fergus Finlay, Joanna Fortune, Kieran Mulvey and Aine Lynch of the Stop Out-of-Control Drinking campaign. Photograph: Brenda Fitzsimons/The Irish Times

(From left) Fergus Finlay, Joanna Fortune, Kieran Mulvey and Aine Lynch of the Stop Out-of-Control Drinking campaign. Photograph: Brenda Fitzsimons/The Irish Times

 

A controversial campaign group funded by drinks giant Diageo which aims to tackle binge drinking has opted not to support a ban on alcohol sponsorship of sports and other live events.

The Stop Out-of-Control Drinking campaign, established earlier this year, was at the centre of controversy when Diageo’s Ireland country director, David Smith, stood down from the board amid allegations of a conflict of interest.

Fergus Finlay, the group’s chair, said remaining board members had no links to the alcohol industry and did not receive payment for their work.

There was no interference from Diageo in the group’s final report, due to be published today, he added.

The 80-page document, based on public consultation and a review of available research, expresses broad support for the Government’s draft Public Alcohol Bill, which seeks to tackle the availability of cheap alcohol.

However, the report points out that research indicates that such a move is likely to have a limited impact on binge drinking.

The bulk of the report calls for a range of educational and enforcement measures to achieve a “generational shift” in Ireland’s drinking culture by delivering a 30 per cent drop in alcohol misuse over the next decade.

It proposes a new State-funded foundation to tackle alcohol misuse, along with education about the dangers of binge drinking for students aged between 10 and 18 .

In an interview, Mr Finlay acknowledged that publicity about funding by Diageo had led many to question the group’s independence, but he insisted the members acted in good faith to come up with ideas to change the country’s relationship with alcohol.

“I would ask people to read it,” he said. “None of us had any contact with the alcohol industry.

“The literature reviews were academically done. I’d ask people to come to their own judgment.”

Mr Finlay said the group took a decision early on to throw its weight behind the Government’s planned measures to introduce minimum unit pricing, regulate the marketing and advertising of alcohol and provide health labelling for alcohol products.

Many of these measures are opposed by the drinks industry, including Diageo.

‘Dearth of evidence’

When asked why the group did not support a ban on alcohol sponsorship, Mr Finlay said there was a dearth of evidence about the effectiveness of such a move.

“There are a few - including me - who are sports followers and don’t want to see sponsorship being taken out of sport and replaced with nothing.”

Other board members on the campaign group include Kieran Mulvey of the Labour Relations Commission; Prof Brian MacCraith, president of Dublin City University; Áine Lynch, chief executive of the National Parents Council Primary; Gavin Duffy, entrepreneur and broadcaster; and Charlie O’Connor, Fianna Fáil councillor and former TD.

Mr Finlay said the group found there was no magic bullet - such as pricing or taxation, for instance - which had been found to tackle binge drinking effectively.

“This is a deeply complex issue that has its roots in attitudes and excessive behaviours that have been passed from generation to generation,” he said.

Instead, he said, a cross-department and society-wide approach was needed, which combined stronger regulation with measures to change attitudes and behaviour over a long period of time.

The report also contains statistics from a survey conducted by the campaign, which found most Irish people (69 per cent) were concerned about irresponsible drinking.

However, only a small minority (13 per cent) regarded drinking above Government guidelines as irresponsible.