Centra withdraws ‘irresponsible’ beer deals linked to child benefit

BRIAN O’CONNELL in The Irish Times

CENTRA APOLOGISED yesterday for a promotion run in four of its outlets which targeted child benefit recipients with offers of low-price alcohol.

The company has instructed the shops involved to withdraw the promotion.

The offer, entitled “Children’s Allowance Day Deals” featured a variety of products on offer including cheese, biscuits and pizza. Two alcohol products were included in the offer: a case of Miller beer was promoted for €15, or 75 cent a bottle, while two cases of Budweiser beer were on offer for €25.

The promotion ran in Courtney’s Centra in Fairview and East Wall, Aherne’s Centra in Kilcoole and Leavy’s Centra in Tullamore.

Centra said the “promotion is not part of a national marketing plan or promotional strategy” and instructed the retailers to immediately withdraw the offer.

“The promotion undermines our genuine  commitment to take our social responsibilities regarding alcohol extremely seriously,” the company said.

Minister for Justice Alan Shatter called the campaign “irresponsible and reprehensible. It suggests that some retailers are more concerned with boosting their turnover and profits than selling alcohol responsibly.

“I am disappointed that some licensees appear to be unaware of their responsibilities in this regard.

“I am also shocked at the suggestion that allowances paid by the State for the benefit of children should be targeted in such a cynical manner by the retailers concerned,” Mr Shatter added.

Minister of State Róisín Shortall, who has in the past said she is in favour of introducing a minimum price for alcohol products sold in supermarkets and shops, was also strongly critical of the promotion.

“It is deeply disturbing that a retailer would promote alcohol in this way. Alcohol causes almost 90 deaths every month, is responsible for a quarter of injuries presenting to our emergency departments and is a trigger in one-third of domestic abuse cases,” she said, adding the Department of Health was developing an action plan on alcohol which was to be brought to Government in weeks to come.

Children’s charity Barnardos expressed shock at the promotion, calling it “irresponsible marketing” which “sends out the wrong message to families on what child benefit is designed to do – assist with the costs of raising children”.

Barnardos’ chief executive, Fergus Finlay, said the “promotion is insulting to parents and families all over Ireland who are already struggling to provide for their children and often forced to choose between putting food on the table, buying school books or bringing a sick child to visit the doctor”.

The promotion also drew criticism from Fiona Ryan, chief executive of Alcohol Action Ireland. “Considering one in 11 children in Ireland is living with a parent with problematic alcohol use, and that children’s lives are negatively impacted, then any link between parenting and buying cut-price alcohol is totally irresponsible,” she said.

Ms Ryan drew attention to the fact that the Government was currently examining legislation separating the sale of alcohol and food. She said promotions like this underlined the need for tighter regulation. “If we continue to sell alcohol like a grocery in supermarkets and not treat it as a licensed product, then in one way I’m not surprised a retailer would put alcohol in with groceries.”

Fine Gael Meath East TD Regina Doherty, who is a member of the Joint Committee on Health and Children, also expressed concern at the promotion.

“Child Benefit payments are for children, and to blatantly advertise alcohol like this contravenes moral standards – not alone advertising ones. I think this is a prime example of how self-regulation of the industry is absolutely not working.”