Drinks industry accused of "ferocious lobbying" to dilute Public Health Alcohol Bill

Campaigners say industry should have "no role to play" in public health debate

A group of campaigners has accused the alcohol industry of “ferocious lobbying” in an attempt to water down the Public Health Bill on alcohol.

The bill will again be debated in the Seanad on Wednesday and the group is calling on politicians to “resist industry efforts to prevent meaningful change on what is perhaps one of Ireland's most pressing health and social issues.”

The group includes public health experts as well as the Union of Students in Ireland, and the Rape Crisis Network.

They said the alcohol industry is aggressively targeting young people and women who are viewed as “markets to prioritise and develop” and warned the industry should have “no place in public health campaigns or education.”

Campaigner Jillian van Turnhout said lobby groups are pressurising TDs and Senators on a number of issues:

“Their role in life is to make profits for their shareholders and they are entitled to do that,” said Ms van Turnhout.

“They should not be trying to dilute the measures of a Public Health (Alcohol) Bill which was debated by the Oireachtas Committee on Health and Children in the last Oireachtas and was fully supported across the board.

“They have no role to play in trying to dilute these measures.”

One of the main bones of contention in the upcoming bill will be the issue of structural separation.

Under the proposal retailers will only be allowed to sell alcohol in an area that is separated from the rest of a shop “by means of a physical barrier” and is “not readily visible” from outside the area.

A number of trade associations have voiced their concerns with the restrictions.

Vincent Jennings, CEO of The Convenience Stores & Newsagents Association (CSNA) said the proposals will have “extremely negative consequences” on small and medium-sized retailers.

He said the government has failed to undertake any “proper costing exercise” or provide specifics on what will be required with price estimates for refitting stores ranging from around €5,000 to €60,000.  

“No evidence exists to show that structural separation will make any difference in terms of achieving a reduction in harmful drinking,” he said.

“The Government is seeking to enact legislation that will not achieve its goal and pillage small shops in local communities around the country in the process.

“The repercussions for our sector will be negative, far-reaching and immediate.  Simply put, this is an anti-small business law.”