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 Michael CreedMichael Creed (Cork North West, Fine Gael) | Oireachtas source

I am not a member of the committee but I did not want to miss the opportunity to comment on the proposed legislation. I commend the Minister on what is probably one of the most progressive pieces of public health legislation, certainly in the lifetime of the Government. In conjunction with the Public Health (Standardised Packaging of Tobacco) Act 2015, it is up there with the previous legislation on the smoking ban in public houses. In years to come, we will be able to measure the public health dividend from legislation such as this. We are certainly trespassing on powerful commercial vested interests in the drinks sector and retail outlets for alcohol.

I wanted to raise specifically the issue of sports sponsorship to which Deputy Healy and others have alluded. I have spoken to the Minister about this and written to him on it as well after the Government decision to proceed with the legislation. Is there something slightly contradictory in the proposed legislation as envisaged not dealing with the issue of sports sponsorship? In his speech the Minister stated, "There is a compelling body of research which shows that exposure to alcohol marketing, whether it is on TV, in movies, in public places or alcohol branded sponsorship, predicts future youth drinking." There is a lot of funding in advertising. Senator van Turnhout referred to the online marketing budget making up 21% of Diageo's total marketing budget. I have heard the Minister rail against the criticism of one specific aspect, which criticism blindly ignores the many progressive areas the legislation deals with. Is there a danger that as we close off a number of avenues for advertising in particular areas, the closing off of which is welcome, this budget will find its way in greater volumes into sports sponsorship? If the Minister closes off advertising in cinemas, on billboards and on television at particular times, this money will seek an outlet elsewhere. It is like the laws of gravity. It will find an outlet somewhere else. There is a danger that greater sums of money will be poured into sports sponsorship. It is not a benevolent gesture by the drinks sector to sponsor sports. It does it because it recognises there is a return on such investment. This is the Achilles heel of this progressive legislation. I would like the Minister to consider that, and while I do not expect a definitive answer on it now, I am aware he is open to further consideration of the issue.

On the argument of minimum unit pricing versus below-cost selling, Senator Colm Burke referred to the fact that with the best will in the world, passing the proposed legislation through the Houses of the Oireachtas and producing the various regulations that will follow mean it is likely to be two years before we will have some gain from it. Is there a case to be made for banning below-cost selling of alcohol under the groceries order or the legislation that banned below-cost selling as an interim measure while we await legal clarity from the European courts on minimum unit pricing, the concept of which I support? It would be quite easy for us to take such an interim measure.


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