Senators debate long-delayed alcohol bill

The Public Health (Alcohol) Bill has drawn both strong support and staunch opposition

Senators debate long-delayed alcohol bill

Picture by: Gareth Fuller/PA Wire/PA Images

Updated: 17.00

The Seanad is debating amendments to the Public Health Alcohol Bill, which seeks to introduce a minimum price for alcohol.

Senators have told the chamber they have been lobbied by shopkeepers, who argue that they will be disproportionately affected by rules on segregating drink.

The Seanad has also heard pleas that the bill be delayed until a minimum price is introduced in Northern Ireland too.

The bill would also put health warnings on products and also tackle drink promotions.

James Reilly pictured in 2016 | Image: Sam Boal/Rollingnews.ie

But Senator James Reilly, the former Health Minister, says we should not wait.

"There's a time to follow and there's a time to lead - let us lead on this.

"Let our friends in the North of Ireland, when they do get their executive back together - as we all hope they will - let them follow then.

"But let us not use a possibility of something happening or not happening as an excuse for us not doing what we know we should do".

Groups such as Alcohol Action Ireland are strongly in favour of the bill, saying it is an opportunity to begin "‘de-normalising’ our cultural affair with alcohol".

Applauding Health Minister Simon Harris for his 'steadfast support' of the bill, Alcohol Action Ireland's Eunan McKinny said: "We remain confident that this progressive piece of legislation can significantly and positively alter Ireland’s harmful relationship with alcohol.

"This legislation is the most far-reaching proposed by any Irish Government, with alcohol being addressed for the first time as a public health issue."

The alcohol industry, meanwhile, has lobbied against the bill - and claims the data being provided by the Department of Health is 'fake news'.

Patricia Callan, director of Alcohol Beverage Federation of Ireland, insists the industry supports measures to tackle alcohol misuse and underage drinking - but believes that some of the measures in the bill "are not targeted or evidence-based."

She argued: "The implications of the Alcohol Bill haven’t been fully considered due to the lack of consultation with the drinks industry.

"It shows not only a lack of balance in this debate, but that the Department of Health is trying to influence Senators with misleading information and spin."

She added that education initiatives are 'entirely missing' from the bill:

But Senator David Norris told the Seanad not to be swayed by the alcohol lobby.

"And I hope that the main political parties will have the guts, at last, to stand up to the drinks lobby - which is very effective, very powerful and very economically strong".

Senator David Norris pictured in 2011 | Image: Leon Farrell/RollingNews.ie

The bill has also seen opposition from some Fine Gael TDs and senators - in particular over the proposal that would force retailers to separate alcohol from other products.

Fine Gael TD Marcellla Corcoran-Kennedy, however, says the bill will save lives.

In a statement, she claimed: "Despite claims by the alcohol industry to the contrary, it was widely consulted on the legislation.

"Pre-legislative scrutiny of the Bill saw extensive engagement with a wide range of stakeholders including the Alcohol Beverage Federation of Ireland (ABFI)."

Additional reporting: Juliette Gash and Jack Quann