Varadkar hits back at Shortall over claims FG blocked alcohol reforms

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From the Irish Independent

TRANSPORT Minister Leo Varadkar has taken a sideswipe at former junior health minister Roisin Shortall after she claimed Fine Gael blocked her attempted reforms of alcohol sponsorship.

Ms Shortall also attacked her former Labour colleagues, saying their performance in Government was “embarrassing”.

But she blamed Fine Gael ministers  – such as Mr Varadkar, who is also the Minister for Sport, Health Minister James Reilly, Arts Minister Jimmy Deenihan and Agriculture Minister Simon Coveney  – for blocking her plans to tackle alcohol abuse.

Ms Shortall had proposed minimum pricing, an end to alcohol sponsorship of sports and other cultural events by 2016, and tough regulations on advertising.

But she told Ray D’Arcy on ‘Today FM‘ the Fine Gael ministers thwarted her efforts, saying Mr Coveney “works very closely with the alcohol industry”.

Mr Varadkar denied the claims.

He said: “I’ve never even once had a formal meeting with the drinks industry lobby so really that just isn’t the case. I do have a particular interest in sport, and protecting funding for sport.”

D’Arcy asked how details of the Budget could be read in the Irish Independent before they are officially announced.

Ms Shortall replied: “Because a minister will take Fionnan aside, whisper in his hear and then Fionnan gives the minister a boost, or whatever, the following week and they’re all part of that game of politics but it’s not a game and we know hundreds of thousands of people’s lives depend on it.”

Ms Shortall also said she is saddened by Labour, and described the Budget as “desperately unfair”.

“I think it’s desperate. I find it kind of embarrassing, I must say and I find it hard to understand how a lot of ex-colleagues of mine are able to vote for these measures.

“If I hadn’t left the Parliamentary Labour Party over what happened in the Department of Health I would certainly be leaving it on the basis of the Budget.”

– Fiach Kelly Political Correspondent