Harris must be wary of ‘Big Booze’ lobby (Sunday Independent, 31/03/24)

Sir —Drinks Ireland is adept at distortion of facts. In its recent opinion piece (Sunday Independent, March 24), it points to a reduction in alcohol consumption in Ireland and notes how this compares favourably with a number of other countries. However, it ignores the regulatory factors in that change, such as minimum unit pricing, which are not in operation in the other jurisdictions named. It also neglects to mention that if all consumers heeded the lower-risk HSE guidelines, alcohol consumption would drop by around 37pc, representing a significant drop in industry profits.

Predictably, Drinks Ireland is now calling for a halt to any further regulation and is instead seeking a partnership approach with policy-makers with an emphasis on education. Provision of unbiased information for consumers has a necessary, though not sufficient, role in alcohol-harm reduction. It is ironic, then, that Drinks Ireland has fought and continues to vociferously object to the provision of health information labelling on alcohol products. Beyond common-sense statutory belling requirements, though, the World Health Organisation has made clear that the most effective measures to reduce harm from alcohol are controls on price, marketing and availability. With ongoing discussions on proposals to increase alcohol availability through extended licensing hours and more venues, it is no surprise that alcohol producers are keen to see regulatory relaxation.

Taoiseach-designate Simon Harris is more than familiar with alcohol industry tactics, given their ferocious lobbying against the Public Health (Alcohol) Act 2018, which provided for modest controls on pricing and promotion. Given his commendable role in steering through these regulations, which are now showing some fruit, he will hopefully not be conned by vested interests whose sole motive is to increase alcohol consumption at the expense of public health.

Dr. Sheila Gilheany
CEO, Alcohol Action Ireland