Action plan on alcohol put back until September

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

The Cabinet has put the much-anticipated action plan on alcohol back until September, the Irish Examiner understands.

Fiona Ryan of Alcohol Action Ireland last night said she was “shocked and disappointed” and said it was time the Government “prioritised national interests”.

The move comes amid a war of words between senior members of Fine Gael and Labour over the plan, with Justice Minister Alan Shatter accusing Labour chairman Colm Keaveney of living in “fantasy land”.

Mr Shatter made the attack after Mr Keaveney claimed the Cabinet had been “influenced” by lobbying from the alcohol industry against the plan, drafted by drugs strategy minister Roisín Shortall.

Several sources confirmed the action plan will not be discussed at the last cabinet meeting before the summer recess next week. Sources said the Cabinet decided at its meeting yesterday to defer the document until September.

The move will be seen as a significant setback for Ms Shortall, who on Monday publicly said the Cabinet was going to decide yesterday whether or not to back her plan.

Both Mr Shatter and Taoiseach Enda Kenny yesterday said it had not been on the cabinet agenda for Tuesday’s meeting.

Ms Shortall said on Monday that “now is the time for action” and said if the green light was given she would hope to have legislation in place in September to start implementing the plan.

Speaking on RTÉ radio yesterday, Mr Keaveney expressed concerns that the drinks industry had managed to affect decisions at the highest levels of the Government.

“It would appear to me that corporate representations on the role of alcohol is having an influence in Cabinet. That’s my personal view.”

Asked to comment on this, Mr Shatter said: “I’m afraid the chairman of the Labour Party is somewhere lost in fantasy land on that particular issue. I certainly haven’t, and none of my colleagues have, been taken over by the drinks industry. This is all a piece of fantasy and fiction.”

Responding last night, Mr Keaveney said: “I think the minister should take a rest from things. Over the course of the summer, he should drop into A&E units and realise the number of public beds taken up by alcohol related issues. His choice of words is regrettable, in light of the devastation families are dealing with day to day.”

Public health specialist Dr Joe Barry said he was disappointed the plan was not agreed by the Cabinet.