Drinks debate stirs in Ireland

Drinks debate stirs in Ireland

Ireland's alcoholic drinks industry faces an uphill struggle to prevent the introduction of a sports sponsorship ban and minimum pricing, after the measures were recommended by the Government's chief medical officer.

The steering group tasked by the Department of Health with devising recommendations for Ireland's National Substance Misuse Strategy has concluded that hard-hitting measures are needed to tackle excess drinking in the country. Alcohol-related diseases costs Ireland's health service EUR1.2bn (US$1.6bn) annually, it said today (7 February).

Among its key recommendations, the steering group wants ministers to phase out drinks industry sponsorship of sport and "large public events" by 2016. It also calls for minimum pricing, a "social responsibility" levy on industry and a 21:00 watershed for alcohol adverts on television.

Many of the group's recommended measures drew a strong rebuttal from the Alcohol Beverage Federation of Ireland (ABFI), which represents the drinks trade. It said that banning drinks from sponsoring sport will "starve" sports organisations of revenue.

It called minimum pricing "misguided", but said that it would accept a ban on selling alcohol below cost. "Given that we are drinking far less than we did ten years ago we do not need further restrictions, bans and legislation in order to address misuse," said the ABFI's director, Kathryn D'Arcy. 

"It is the culture of binge and underage drinking that needs to be addressed, not the entirely legitimate activities of a major industry," she added. "Many of the key measures in this report, if taken on board, will simply penalise the average consumer who enjoys alcohol sensibly and responsibly."

Ireland's chief medical officer and chair of the steering group, Dr Tony Holohan, said: “The World Health Organization (WHO) notes that alcohol interventions targeted at vulnerable groups can prevent alcohol harm but that policies targeted at the whole population, while having a protective effect on vulnerable populations, also reduce the overall level of alcohol problems."

For the full steering group report, click here.