The Oireachtas makes history by passing the Public Health Alcohol Bill

This evening, Seanad Éireann, in a historic development, agreed the amended Public Health Alcohol Bill, passed by Dáil Éireann last week. The Bill will now go to the President, Michael D Higgins, for signing and enactment.

This is the first time in our history that Ireland’s problem alcohol misuse and its harmful impact on our families, communities and workplace will be addressed coherently in public health legislation.

The principal objective of the measures passed is to reduce our overall alcohol consumption to levels close to low-risk norms and to begin a generational shift that will recalibrate our destructive relationship with alcohol.

The four central policy pillars to be commenced from the Bill aim to curb the drivers of demand for alcohol across our society, targeting:

·     the affordable price of cheap, strong alcohol products,

·     the marketing and promotion of alcohol to children and young adults,

·     the intrusive availability and visibility of alcohol products in small shops, convenience stores and supermarkets, and

·     the presence on all alcohol products, and its promotion, of adequate health information, so that citizens can be accurately informed of the risks of consumption.

Commenting on this truly historic development, Dr Joe Barry, Professor of Population Health Medicine (TCD) and Board Member of Alcohol Action Ireland, said:

“This marks the end of a very long and arduous process that essentially had its origins as far back as 2002. Today, with alcohol consumption again consistently on the rise, and health related outcomes continuing to deteriorate, the implementation of the Public Health Alcohol Bill has never been so important.”

Dr Bobby Smyth, Consultant Child and Adolescent Psychiatrist, and Board Member of Alcohol Action Ireland, said:

“Throughout this campaign, public opinion has demonstrated its support for firm action on alcohol marketing especially that aimed at children.

Evidence based research shows that alcohol marketing including advertising increases the likelihood that children will start to drink alcohol, and of increased drinking amongst baseline drinkers. We know from detailed studies of school-going children that at least 60,000 children will begin drinking this year and that a further 80,000 will experience being really drunk.

Thankfully, the Public Health Alcohol Bill does contain a modest set of regulations that will limit the appeal of alcohol advertising, particularly to children in the future.”

Suzanne Costello, CEO, Alcohol Action Ireland, said:

“Today’s success has been a slow in the making but it testimony will stand as credit to those people who have contributed their time and energy, many on the whole voluntarily, to bring about this innovative and progressive piece of public health legislation.

The Bill will not be a panacea to all our entrenched societal difficulties with alcohol. However, it is a very significant start and over time, perhaps a generation – just as we did with tobacco – with sustained leadership, we can begin the forge a new relationship with alcohol, one that appreciates the potency and risk to both our mental and physical wellbeing.

Over 3,000 people have died from alcohol related illness and incident in the period that this legislation was before the Oireachtas; that’s three people yesterday, and today but our tomorrows can be better.”

Looking to the immediate future Ms. Costello added:

“Enacting the Bill is very significant step however, the cohesive and coherent implementation is equally as crucial, for the measures to be effective. We will be seeking advice from Minister Harris and his officials, at the earliest opportunity, to ascertain his timeframe for completing the regulations and commencing necessary sections at the earliest opportunity like Minimum Unit Pricing.”