Dáil debates

Tuesday, 27 May 2008

Adjournment Debate

Proposed Legislation.

8:00 pm

Photo of Ulick BurkeUlick Burke (Galway East, Fine Gael)
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The matter I raise was referred to me recently by a concerned constituent. While he was attending a food and drinks fair in England, he was given a sample of what is termed a "shot pack". As a father and family man, it would frighten him, and likewise me, if this product were allowed into Ireland without strict controls.

The shot products are advertised as "shots without glass". The manner in which the product is promoted indicates it is intended for the teenage market. The product's brochure claims it has revolutionised the single serve alcohol category by introducing a single shot of premium liquor in a lightweight, durable plastic pouch. The 50 ml shot comes in a safe, break-resistant plastic pouch which makes it safer than a glass and has built-in spout making it easy to pour no matter where it is taken. The stand-up pouch, which is sustainable and earth-friendly compared to rigid containers, has a tear feature for an immediate, ready-to-drink shot anywhere. The brochure claims these shots are perfect for concerts, sporting events, holidays, cruise ships and planes. It boasts, "You name it, you can take it anywhere" and "No glass to break, no liquor to spill".

This product of Canadian whiskey has an alcohol proof of 80%. It can be hidden easily on one's person and brought into a nightclub without observation. The Minister of State as a publican knows that all liquor sales in the State must be licensed. I shudder to think what could happen if these products are allowed into this country. They originate in the United States, Mexico and the Virgin Islands. They are promoted by an English company. When I challenged the managing director of the company today, he said they had no products of 80% proof, despite the fact that I had one of them in my hands and he only admitted the fact then. They are out to increase the vulnerability of young people in this country. We decry the binge drinking of some teenagers but if this product is allowed in, where will it be sold? It certainly will not be sold in the usual outlets but rather in the forecourts of petrol stations and other places where there is easy access for young people on their way to the disco.

The Minister of State has an ideal opportunity to include an amendment in the forthcoming legislation to prevent the sale of these products in Ireland. The manager of this company said that he is in active and forward negotiations to find an agency for the sale and distribution of this product in Ireland.

I refer to the report by Dr. Ann Hope on alcohol-related harm in Ireland. It lists about 60 instances of the damage done by alcohol. The report highlights research which found that alcohol affects an adolescent brain differently from the adult brain. The damage from alcohol used during adolescence can have long-term, irreversible effects.

I ask the Minister of State to bring to this matter to the attention of the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, to ensure that something provision will be included in the forthcoming legislation to prevent added misery being heaped on the teenage population of Ireland, as demonstrated by the ease with which these products can be hidden on the person. Anywhere one goes, these products can go. We must prevent this situation.

Photo of John MoloneyJohn Moloney (Minister of State, Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment; Minister of State, Department of Education and Science; Minister of State, Department of Health and Children; Laois-Offaly, Fianna Fail)
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I thank Deputy Ulick Burke for bringing this information to the House and for his proactive involvement in researching the case.

I welcome this discussion of the alcohol-related harm which is so prevalent in our society and, in particular, the opportunity to mention the decisive action which the Government is taking to address the problem. Last year, the Health Research Board published its overview of health-related consequences of problem alcohol use in which it drew attention to the fact that alcohol consumption in Ireland has increased significantly over recent decades. We have one of the highest levels of alcohol consumption in the European Union. In 2006, alcohol consumption levels in this country were about 30% higher than the EU average. Moreover, we have a particular problem with binge drinking which is far more common here than in other EU countries. The 2007 Eurobarometer survey found that 34% of Irish drinkers consumed five or more alcoholic drinks in one sitting compared with the EU average of 10%. When asked about the frequency of consuming five or more drinks on one occasion, 54% of respondents in Ireland stated that they did so at least one a week. This was the highest figure recorded for any of the countries in the survey. Ireland emerges with the highest level of binge drinking.

The health-related consequences of excessive alcohol consumption are by now well known. They include an increased incidence of accidents, injuries, domestic violence and suicide. Adverse social and economic consequences include absenteeism and loss of productivity. I do not need to spell out the impact of excessive alcohol consumption on levels of crime, public disorder and anti-social behaviour.

I wish to detail the decisive action which the Government is taking to combat alcohol-related harm. The Government alcohol advisory group was established last January last to conduct an urgent examination of the public order aspects of the sale and consumption of alcohol. It submitted its report on 31 March 2008 which contains 31 recommendations for legislative and other reforms in areas covered by its terms of reference. On 22 April, the Government approved the drafting of the Intoxicating Liquor Bill 2008 which contains proposals for urgent reforms to licensing law and public order legislation in response to certain recommendations in the report. Both the report and details of the proposed legislation were subsequently published.

Drafting of the Intoxicating Liquor Bill 2008 is at an advanced stage and the Minister for Justice, Equality and law Reform intends to present it to the Dáil in the very near future. With the support of both Houses, he is confident that this legislation can be enacted before the summer recess.

On the specific subject matter of this discussion, the product in question appears to be a distilled spirit-based drink, originating in Mexico, Canada and other countries and marketed in lightweight plastic containers. Each container holds a single serving. These products have high alcohol content, typically of 35% to 40%, although Deputy Burke said it is close to 80%, which is alarming. While it is not clear at this stage that they are being promoted specifically with young people in mind, the fact that the containers are light, portable and easy to conceal means that they could be attractive to persons under the age of 18.

The Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform is currently in contact with the Department of Health and Children about this product and both Departments will explore the possibility of a statutory prohibition or controls on its marketing. However, where any product is in free circulation within the EU internal market, difficulties arise in prohibiting its circulation and consumption within a single country. The introduction of specific national controls or regulations is also problematic.

Some Members may recall that a similar problem arose in 2004 with regard to plastic sachets of vodka, known as Bullseye Baggies, which had been placed on the market and which appeared to be directed at young people. The then Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform sought and obtained the co-operation and agreement of the licensed trade, both the on-trade and off-trade, not to market the product and this strategy proved effective and successful.

The Minister would ask the drinks industry and the licensed trade for their support and co-operation in refusing to market and supply the product. There now is a high level of awareness of the extent of alcohol-related harm in our society and anything that is likely to exacerbate or add to existing problems should be avoided. I thank Deputy Burke for raising this issue and for providing the opportunity for this discussion.