Alcohol Action Ireland expresses its deep frustration over government senators’ undermining of the Public Health (Alcohol) Bill

Recent media reporting (IT, 04.11.17) has highlighted the undermining of the Public Health (Alcohol) Bill by a small number of Fine Gael senators who, yet again, are demanding that the complaints of business owners take priority over modest public health measures that has overwhelming public support.

Commenting on the reports, Eunan McKinney, Head of Communications and Advocacy at Alcohol Action Ireland said:

 “As we understand the proposed amendments, unfortunately Minister Harris has had to move a considerable distance from the original proposals to accommodate the private interests of a small group of business owners. 

To enact effective public health measures our legislators cannot continually seek some degree of special derogation of responsibility for private interests, while the wider society grapples with the impact of a significant public health crisis and the related harms.”

The Public Health Alcohol Bill has a set of reasonable and pragmatic measures that will, over time, and if introduced in full, reduce our high-risk consumption of alcohol. This is not prohibition or some trial of new economies but modest, workable steps to de-normalise an all-pervasive alcohol fuelled culture that feeds an utterly avoidable crisis of alcohol related harms.

The target of the Public Health (Alcohol) Bill when first agreed by government (2013), was to reduce our overall consumption by 22% to 9.1 litres, that is a 3.25% reduction per annum for seven years (2020), which by any standard is an extremely modest objective. 

 With the evidence of increasing consumption, this is one a series of balanced measures that will affect a much needed reduction in our consumption of alcohol.

Elaborating further, Eunan McKinney, said: 

“Are we to believe the hyperbole of the same retailers who decried and objected to every single retailing measure introduced to curb tobacco promotion in stores? Is it credible that their profits must come first? 

The state grants a licence for a modest annual fee to each of these enterprises, which come with regulations and responsibilities. But after many years of unlimited market freedoms and now better understanding of the pervasiveness of in-store marketing techniques that stimulate impulsive purchasing, those conditions are being modestly amended to favour public health outcomes over continued private revenues.” 

The Public Health (Alcohol) Bill has languished before the Oireachtas now for over 700 days since first introduced. Over the duration of this delay to enactment, a further 2,000 lives have been lost to alcohol related illnesses, over 100,000 children have commenced drinking alcohol. Alcohol continues to be a factor in approximately half of all suicides in Ireland.

Alcohol Action Ireland applauds An Taoiseach, Leo Varadkar and the Minister for Health, Simon Harris, for their steadfast commitment to the Bill, and their determination, along with other political figures – past and present, to take this historic opportunity to ensure that Ireland’s harmful relationship with alcohol will be addressed as a public health concern.