Drinks groups ‘undermine’ report

Monday, October 08, 2012

The Department of Justice accused two drinks ’ industry groups involved in a Government alcohol strategy committee of trying to “undermine” its final report.

But the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport defended one of the groups and issued a strongly-worded letter to the Department of Health ’s medical officer, who chaired the committee, regarding negative comments in a draft report about the body.

Mature Enjoyment of Alcohol in Society (MEAS), which is funded by the drinks industry, and the Alcohol Beverage Federation of Ireland (ABFI), a representative body for manufacturers and suppliers, were members of the National Substance Misuse Strategy Steering Group.

They objected to key elements of the final report and wrote their own minority reports. They requested the reports be included in the final report, but they were only published on the Department of Health website.

Documents released to the Irish Examiner under the Freedom of Information Act show the Department of Justice was strongly against the request to have the reports put in the final report.

“As regards the MEAS and ABFI reports, I am opposed to their inclusion as appendices in the Steering Group ’s report,” said Seamus S Carroll, head of the Department of Justice ’s Civil Law Reform Division.

In an email on Dec 12 last to other group members, he said: “Their purpose appears to be to undermine key recommendations of the Steering Group.”

Mr Carroll said “at most”, he was prepared to include one-page summaries of the reports in the appendix.

A month later, Tom O ’Mahony, secretary general of the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport issued a strongly-worded letter to Dr Tony Holohan, chairman of the steering group.

He took issue with a statement in a draft final report which said “the majority” of the group was concerned about the role of MEAS in promoting responsible drinking as it was funded by the drinks industry.

“I am quite concerned about this reference in view of this Department ’s direct experience with MEAS in relation to the critical area of road safety. MEAS has worked very constructively with the Road Safety Authority in the area of drink-driving and have been actively involved in road safety campaigns.”

He said MEAS backed the Responsible Serving of Alcohol Programme.

“I would have thought that the funding provided by the alcohol industry to promote responsible drinking should in fact be encouraged,” said Mr O ’Mahony.

He said if the statement was to remain in the report, he asked that a footnote be inserted indicating the department ’s dissent from it.

Access to a large amount of correspondence from departments was refused in the FoI request.