Fears for future of Shortall’s alcohol strategy

From The Irish Times

ALCOHOL ABUSE: CAMPAIGNERS AGAINST alcohol abuse say there is  “huge concern ” for the future of the Government ’s plan to tackle the issue following the resignation of Róisín Shortall.

Separately, the Oireachtas Committee on Health yesterday passed an emergency motion calling on the Government to bring the Sale of Alcohol Bill before the House  “as quickly as possible ”.

Ms Shortall, in her role as minister of state for primary care, championed radical measures to address alcohol abuse, including minimum pricing, an end to alcohol sponsorship of sports and other cultural events by 2016, and tough regulations on advertising.

Her memo on progress on the plan is to be discussed by the Cabinet subcommittee on social policy in the next fortnight.

A spokeswoman for the Department of Health said Ms Shortall ’s departure would have no bearing on the plan or the Sale of Alcohol Bill.

However, Ms Shortall had faced stiff opposition to her plans since they were outlined in February in the Report from the Steering Group on a National Substance Misuse Strategy.

Fergus McCabe of the steering group, a veteran campaigner against drugs, said he and colleagues had  “all along recognised Róisín Shortall was doing her very best to get things changed ”.

He was  “very concerned and disappointed ” over her resignation and said it appeared the alcohol issue was not being taken seriously by Government.

Fiona Ryan, of Alcohol Action Ireland, said:  “We finally had a Minister who really understood the need for prevention, who said to vested interests:  ‘You ’ve had your day and now we ’re going to do what ’s good for public health ’.

 “I am concerned now. I am concerned this will be shelved, there will be more delays. ”

Jean Doyle, acting director of the Alcohol and Beverage Federation of Ireland, said the former minister had refused to meet the drinks industry.  “We were disappointed at that. Absolutely, yes, we are very available to discuss moving forward on strategies to reduce alcohol abuse, including education programmes. ”

Sports and arts groups said their opposition to a ban on alcohol sponsorship of events remained.