Departments query alcohol sports ban

A Department of Health proposal to ban alcohol companies’ sponsorship of sports events has been questioned by other departments in their formal responses.

From The Irish Times

A draft memorandum drawn up by the department and Minister of State for Primary Care Alex White was circulated to other departments last month. The draft proposed a gradual phasing out of the drinks industry being involved in the sponsorship of sports. However, it did not propose to extend the ban to arts, cultural or musical events.

Other departments were expected to send in their responses by the middle of this month ahead of the formal memorandum going to Cabinet at the end of this month.

It is understood that several Ministers, including Minister for Transport and Sport Leo Varadkar, and Minister for Arts and Culture Jimmy Deenihan, set out detailed arguments against the measure. A number of other Ministers, mainly from Fine Gael, are also said to be cool on the idea.

A senior Government source with knowledge of the process said yesterday that Ministers set out a number of grounds as to why a ban might not achieve the desired effect.

One of the arguments was that a similar ban in France had not worked.

A second posed a question about where sports and festivals would find alternative sponsors and would there be compensation if they failed to find alternatives, especially if the envisaged savings in the health budget materialised.

The international dimension was also cited, with questions posed about Ireland’s participation in international tournaments, where a ban would have little impact and perhaps put the country in a disadvantageous position.

While the memo was due to go to Cabinet by the end of this month, it may be held back to allow the all-party Oireachtas Committee on Transport and Sport to publish its report and recommendations on the issue. A draft of the report leaked over the weekend showed the majority oppose the proposed ban. Acting chairman John O’Mahony has written to Mr White asking that its recommendations be taken into consideration before a final proposal is made to Government. That would push back the final decision until early July.

Conor Cullen of Alcohol Action Ireland said: “We need to break the close links that exist between some of our healthiest activities and these unhealthy products that take such a toll on our society.”

A spokeswoman for the Alcohol Beverage Federation of Ireland contended the ban would not address alcohol misuse. “Evidence shows that the principal influencers on youth drinking are parents and peers,” she said.

The ban was one of the recommendations in the National Substance Misuse Strategy. It is estimated abuse of alcohol and its associated health and social problems cost the State €3 billion each year.