Tuesday, 22 November 2005
The national alcohol policy, published in September 1996, provides that a dedicated national alcohol surveillance function be established by the Department of Health and Children. This function is performed on a contractual basis by Target Health. The principal duties of this function are to advise the health promotion unit on alcohol policy issues; collate and co-ordinate relevant data on alcohol policy issues, alcohol consumption, alcohol related health problems, indicators of alcohol related harm, alcohol related offences and expenditure on alcohol, including the establishment of a database of information; liaise with statutory and non-statutory organisations, either in association with or on behalf of the Department of Health and Children, to assess the extent to which agencies implement the national alcohol policy; conduct and advise on research projects; brief departmental officials on relevant international developments in the general area of alcohol policies and of strategies to promote moderation in alcohol consumption; advise the Department of international research and evidence of best practice on alcohol policy; and represent the Department on national and international expert groups on alcohol policy.
Will the Minister of State tell the House how much Target Health charges the Department of Health and Children for this? It seems to be quite a comprehensive list. Did Target Health advise the Minister of State to abandon the alcohol products Bill? Surely that was an integral part of the strategy to deal with alcohol abuse? Does the Minister of State agree that having alcohol advertising all the time, particularly at tea-time, influences people to consume more alcohol? It would be sensible to curtail such advertising if we are to deal with this serious health problem. At the very least, the previous Minister stood up to vested interests. Why has this Government capitulated completely to the alcohol industry?
I resent the comment that the Government has capitulated to the drinks industry. We appreciate the problem presented by alcohol here and there is no greater problem facing society than alcohol. We are all familiar with these difficulties and few families are not affected. The Government set up the strategic task force on alcohol that reported a short time ago. I presented that report to Cabinet and got approval to implement the recommendations under the remit of the Department of Health and Children.
Advertisers would not waste money placing advertisements on television if they did not work. This principle applies to the drinks industry. The Government was concerned about the number of advertisements that appear in media, concerning drinks and sexy campaigns aimed at young people. The Government approached the drinks industry and discussed the matter with it. The Government is conscious of the difficulty and realised the industry could be part of the solution rather than part of the problem. The Government has reached an agreement on the type of advertisements placed and the timing of these.
The result of this campaign is the same as if legislation were introduced. We have an independent committee to monitor this agreement and if it does not work legislation will be introduced if needed.
Government must make decisions and it is open to advice from a number of areas, including the Opposition. If the Deputy has something constructive to propose rather than criticism, we will listen to him.
Government decided to enter negotiations with the drinks industry on advertising and deal with it in the manner outlined. This will have the same effect as legislation and if it is not working we will resort to legislation. At present the drinks industry and the advertising industry are conscious of the difficulties alcohol creates and are prepared to take measures to deal with this. The Government is pleased to work with them to do so.
Deputy Gormley can choose his words but should not try to put words into my mouth. I did not state what Deputy Gormley suggests. A strategic task force on alcohol made certain recommendations. There are several ways of achieving a result and legislation is not necessarily needed.
——members. Nothing could be further from the truth than to suggest the Government is cosying up to the drinks industry. This was seen last year when the ban on smoking in the workplace was introduced.