Alcohol Bill passes Dáil after more than 1,000 days

Controversial legislationbringingmore stringent rules around the sale of alcohol has passed all stages in the Dáil, pavingthe way for the introduction of measures such as minimum unit pricing andcancer warnings on alcohol products.

The Public Health (Alcohol) Bill, which has been before the Oireachtas since 2015, seeks to reduce alcohol consumption in Ireland - writes

The bill will pave the way formeasures such as minimum unit pricing, cancer warnings, and segregation of alcohol sales in shopsto be introduced.

The legislation has had a lengthy journey through the Oireachtas, as it took two years to pass through the Seanad.

There was a round of applause after the bill passed.

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Minister for Health Simon Harris said: "This is the first time in the history of our State we have endeavoured to use public health legislation to address issues in relation to alcohol. It is therefore a groundbreaking measure.

"For the very first time in our history we are legislating for alcohol as it affects our health and it is right and proper that we do that.

"We know that we have a relationship with alcohol in this country that is not good, that damages our health, harms our communities, and harms many families," he said.

"The measures in this bill will make a real difference to change the culture of drinking in Ireland."

It is now more than1,000 days since the bill was first introduced and it will return to the Seanad before it goes to the President to be signed into law.

Following the summer recess, a number of TDs have tabled amendments to the legislation and they were accused of being influenced bysignificant lobbying from the alcohol industry.

Minister Harris paid tribute to Fine Gael TD Marcella Corcoran Kennedy, Social Democrats TD Róisín Shortall and Senator Frances Black for their work in passing the bill.

Earlier anumber of opposition politicians hadexpressed concern over alcohol advertising not being allowed in some public places as the Dáil debated thebill.

Those areas include parks, open spaces and within 200m of schools, creches and playgrounds.

MinisterHarrisassured TDs, including Independent Michael Healy-Rae and Fianna Fáil’s Kevin O'Keeffe, that he sought legal advice regarding directional signs - directing people to visitor centres for example - which was of concern.

Mr Harris described as "untrue" claims that tourists would not find their way to visitor centres and said directional signs are not considered as advertising under the bill.

The minister pointed out that the particular part of the bill was about protecting children and young people.

Sinn Féin's health spokesperson Louise O'Reilly spoke in favour of phasing out alcohol sponsorship in Irish sport during the debate.

She said: "Unfortunately our sporting organisations are now one of the primary vehicles through which the alcohol industry markets its unhealthy products. Sport should be inspiring and encouraging good health and active participation, not alcohol consumption."

She added: "Pairing a healthy activity such as sport with a potentially unhealthy product such as alcohol is inappropriate and ultimately makes that product seem less unhealthy. It creates a culture where children and young people perceive alcohol consumption as something closely associated with sporting success and with celebration.

"We need to break the link between sport and this unhealthy product as we previously did with tobacco."

However Mr Healy-Rae said he was "totally in opposition" to the proposal because "you can't take young people and wrap them up in cotton wool and say that they will never see something that we don't want them to see."

He said that every young person has a mobile phone in their pocket and they can "see everything whether it is to do with alcohol, smoking or many other things."

The Kerry politician said it is wrong to demonise GAA clubs as if people participate in a game and then want to go to the local pub, there is nothing wrong with it.

Mr Healy-Rae also accused the Government of wanting to break up the rural community by stopping the local publican from giving "a few bob" to the local GAA club.

Deputy Shortall, said the proposed ban on sports sponsorship was identified by the original steering group report.

She said the alcohol industry had been successful in lobbying the previous minister for sport.

Ms Shortall said there would be no difficulty in clubs finding replacement sponsors and she said it was a reasonable proposition.

Labour TD Alan Kelly described the drinks industry as unscrupulous, sayingits behaviour is concerning in many different ways.

However, he said Labour would oppose the amendment because when it came to the sponsorship of small clubs across Ireland, it would be negative.

"Some of the clubs I know that get advertising for bars and restaurants and are doing some healthy promoting of sport and businesses," he said.

The minister said he did not accept instinctively that there were not alternative ways of sport being funded.

He proposed that a start be made in the provisions in the bill regarding protecting children in sport.

He noted that there is a review built in to the legislation within three years of commencement and sports sponsorship could be looked at as part of that review.
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