Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees

Thursday, 23 April 2015

Joint Oireachtas Committee on Health and Children

General Scheme of Public Health (Alcohol) Bill 2015: Discussion (Resumed)

9:30 am

Photo of Caoimhghín Ó CaoláinCaoimhghín Ó Caoláin (Cavan-Monaghan, Sinn Fein) | Oireachtas source

I am of the view that every one of us as legislators has a common goal in addressing this issue, namely, to secure a significant reduction in the use of alcohol across the population and want every effort to be employed to create a greater knowledge and awareness, particularly among the younger cohort in the population, of the dangers that alcohol abuse presents in the life of any citizen. The Minister referred to the fact that some of us are arguing for this or for that. I just want to state that the difference in terms of approach and ideas does not indicate on any of our parts, the Minister's included, any lack of resolve. It is about what we think may work best.

I give the Minister the assurance that, even without sight of the legislation, which the Minister has yet to publish, I am not going to be an obstacle to the passage of this legislation, although I am not sold on the certainty of the introduction of minimum unit pricing. As legislators, we have a job of work to do on this matter, and my colleagues and I will be full participants in seeking to arrive at the best position. We will not be an obstacle to any address going forward.

The Minister spoke about different studies and figures. He mentioned the 20.6% of the population who abstain, but are not included in the Health Research Board's figures which show that more than half of adult drinkers in the population are classified as harmful drinkers. Can the Minister indicate whether the consumption figures of 10.6 litres per adult in 2013 and 11 litres per adult in 2014 include abstainers, and that the figures are for the general adult population? It is my observation as a citizen that figures for average consumption fall far short of the reality for so many of our people. I believe it would be staggering for many if the real picture was exposed. It is way up the scale from 11 litres per person, for those who are using alcohol as part of their weekly practices. Just to be absolutely clear, I include myself in that. Could the Minister comment on that? It is important to point out that Irish drinkers underestimate their alcohol intake and it would be helpful if we could all be exposed to the true facts. It might also be of help in winning greater public acceptance of the need to address this very serious matter. The Minister makes the point that drinkers underestimate their alcohol intake by 61%. That may be, and it may be much more than that.

The Minister said the Bill would be ready before the summer recess. Will the Minister clarify whether individual Members will have sight of it, and does "ready" mean "published"? He talks about the Bill being addressed in the Houses in the autumn, but will Members have sight of it before the recess? The Bill includes provisions for minimum unit pricing, structural separation in shops, health labelling on alcohol products, restrictions on advertising, regulations on sports sponsorship and enforcement powers for environmental health officers. There are other views, but I am concerned that the minimum unit pricing approach is not the panacea. I know it is one of a number of items, and of course there has to be a package - I fully support that - but when the Minister makes the point-----


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