Sale of Alcohol bill – who will carry the burden of the increased harms from more alcohol sales in Ireland? 

16 November 2023 

Despite public health risks highlighted, correspondence received under FOI shows no communication between Departments of Health and Justice in relation to public health concerns around Sale of Alcohol Bill 

Alcohol Action Ireland (AAI) welcomes today’s launch of the pre-legislative scrutiny report by the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Justice in relation to the Sale of Alcohol Bill and calls on the Minister for Justice to detail how she has responded to recommendations. 

The committee has made a series of very important recommendations including: 

  • that a health impact assessment of the bill be carried out 
  • that outstanding provisions within the Public Health (Alcohol) Act 2018 (PHAA)are introduced as a priority, to ensure alcohol-related harms are reduced 
  • that consideration be given to the introduction of a levy on the alcohol industry to contribute towards the costs of alcohol-related harms to the State 


CEO of AAI Sheila Gilheany said:  

Reports that Minister McEntee is pushing ahead with this legislation in such a fast-paced manner and without carrying out a health impact assessment of the bill are very concerning. AAI has been working to ensure that in particular a health impact assessment of the bill is carried out and have sought to have PQs asked as to the ongoing dialogue between the departments of health and justice in relation to the bill, to ensure health measures were understood and taken into account. According to PQs, one as late as Oct 2023, the Minister for Justice said: “the Department of Justice continues to engage with the Department of Health on the development of the Bill and will fully consider its assessment of the health implications.” Therefore, we were somewhat shocked to discover through documents received under FOI that there has in fact been very little interdepartmental discussions about the bill over the past year.” 

The General Scheme of the Sale of Alcohol bill was published in October 2022 and Documents AAI received from the department of Justice under FOI show: 

  • In searching for all records and correspondence including briefing notes, minutes of meetings, letters, emails, consultations and any other documentation relating to this issue during the time period,  using the following key phrases: “Sale of Alcohol Bill”, “Minister for Health”, “Department of Health”, there was no evidence of any correspondence between the two departments in relation to public health implications of the bill. 

Dr Gilheany added: “AAI was surprised, given assurances that the department of health was engaging with the department of justice on an ongoing basis, that the only documents received under FOI were an initial document sent by justice officials alerting health officials to the publication of the bill and a briefing note prepared by the department of justice for Minister Hildegarde Naughton in respect of a meeting with Deputy Premier and Minister of Public Safety and Solicitor General of British Columbia, Canada. In that briefing note there was no mention of any potential health impacts of the bill, any concerns around public health or issues as raised by public health bodies over the course of 2023. 

Given the apparent dearth of discussion between the departments, even though the joint Oireachtas Justice Committee heard from a range of experts on issues that will arise in terms of public order, emergency services, health of children and families, it raises some serious questions as to the consideration of public health within this bill.”  

Additionally, AAI carried out a review of the lobbying register from Jan 2022 re the Sale of Alcohol bill and discovered that industry representatives have met with/phoned the Minister for Justice or senior DOJ officials 8 times in relation to the bill. For comparison, AAI has had one meeting with senior DOJ officials in this time re the bill. No other public health advocate has had meetings with either the Minister or senior officials. 


Dr Owen Keane, Honorary Secretary of the Irish Association for Emergency Medicine said:

“In times of severely limited acute hospital bed capacity, and ever-increasing attendances to already dangerously overcrowded Irish Emergency Departments (EDs), it is imperative that every effort is targeted towards avoiding any additional strain being placed on emergency care services and its providers. Increasing the availability of alcohol risks adding significant and avoidable demands on already overstretched EDs. It is vital that a thorough and comprehensive Health Impact Assessment is carried out to ensure that any potential impacts of the measures proposed in this Bill on emergency care services are identified and fully costed for.”

Dr Gilheany added:  

“As highlighted by Dr Keane, we already have a crisis in healthcare bed capacity – approximately 1,500 hospital beds are used every day for alcohol related illnesses. ED departments, currently at breaking point, are also hugely impacted by alcohol use. A study in 29 emergency departments in Ireland found that alcohol accounted for placed a very significant burden on ambulance services and EDs, particularly at weekends. For example, in the early hours of Sunday morning, alcohol-related illnesses and injuries accounted for 29% of all presentations to ED.  

This Bill is an example of shocking policy incoherence across government. On the one hand the Dept of Health is seeking a reduction in alcohol use and has legislation to bring this about – the Public Health (Alcohol) Act 2018 which has measures such as controls on alcohol advertising. However, these have still not been introduced, 5 years after the law was passed. Meanwhile the Minister for Justice is rushing to increase alcohol consumption.  

In this landscape of alcohol harms and deaths, it is very clear who will carry the burden of the unintended – but very real and not unforeseen, consequences of this bill.” 




Notes to editor: 

For media enquiries and interview requests, please contact:   

Dr Sheila Gilheany   

 +353 (0) 86-2600903   


Other useful resources:  

Information and creative assets re the Sale of Alcohol bill 

Media guide re non-stigmatising language