Shortall and Gilmore bicker over alcohol abuse legislation

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By Michael Brennan Deputy Political Editor

Friday January 25 2013

FORMER Junior Minister Roisin Shortall has warned Tanaiste Eamon Gilmore to stop making “excuses” after he blamed her for the delay in introducing anti-alcohol abuse legislation.

Relations between the pair have worsened since she complained that he had failed to support her in a row with Health Minister Dr James Reilly, after two primary care centres were earmarked for Dr Reilly’s constituency. She resigned as junior minister for primary care, and from the Labour parliamentary party.

And in the latest signs of tension, Mr Gilmore hit back at Ms Shortall when she questioned why he had not kept a promise to publish a bill to tackle alcohol abuse by Christmas.

“Unfortunately there wasn’t as much preparatory work done on this bill as we had been led to believe,” he said. But Ms Shortall rejected Mr Gilmore’s Dail comments, saying that there had been a vast amount of work done on the alcohol bill before she stepped down last year.

“The time for excuses is over. What needs to happen now is for ministers to bite the bullet and take decisions on this,” she said.

Last summer, Ms Shortall drew up a memo for Cabinet which proposed minimum prices for alcohol products, health warnings and calorie counts on alcoholic drinks.

There was a recommendation to implement a legal ban on supermarkets putting crates of beer on sale alongside groceries. It also looked at the eventual phasing out of sports sponsorship by drinks companies.

But several ministers expressed opposition to the proposals, and the memo had not been brought to Cabinet by the time Ms Shortall resigned.

Ms Shortall said her memo had been designed to tackle the problem of Irish people drinking too much.

“There are hugely powerful forces at work. Obviously, the alcohol industry are going to fight tooth and nail to stop anything that will lead to a reduction in their sales,” she said.


But Junior Minister for Primary Care Alex White, who took over from Ms Shortall, insisted he would be bringing a memo about measures to tackle alcohol abuse to Cabinet next month. The new memo is due to cover much the same ground as the memo drawn up by Ms Shortall, although discussions are still ongoing about its contents.

The National Steering Group report on alcohol, published almost 12 months ago, found that 50,000 people were employed in pubs, off-licences and drinks factories.

But it warned that alcohol was associated with 2,000 beds being occupied every night in Irish hospitals. It also said that alcohol is a contributory factor in half of all suicides.

– Michael Brennan Deputy Political Editor