Friday, 8 November 2013
Report of the Joint Committee on Transport and Communications: Motion
That Dáil Éireann notes the Report of the Joint Committee on Transport and Communications, entitled ‘Report on Sponsorship of Sports by the Alcohol Industry’, which was laid before Dáil Éireann on 2nd July, 2013.As Chairman of the Joint Committee on Transport and Communications, which also deals with energy, tourism and sport, I welcome the opportunity to debate the committee's report on sponsorship by alcohol drinks companies of sports organisations, which was launched earlier this year. I welcome the fact that the report is being debated in the Chamber. It is one of the benefits of recent reform in the House. In the past, reports were launched and left there but in this case we wanted it to feed into the wider Government strategy announced by the Minister of State, Deputy Alex White, some weeks ago. It is historic in that it is the first debate on a report and it is also appropriate and the timing is welcome.
We became aware that the Government was about to introduce legislation dealing with recommendations of the national substance misuse strategy. One of the recommendations related to the phasing out, and the eventual banning, of sports sponsorship by alcohol companies. As the remit of the committee covers sport and sporting organisations, we felt it was appropriate to examine the issue. We were also aware that the sporting organisations and the medical professionals hold strong but opposing views on the matter. We felt it was important to get a balance on the presentations and contributions.
Before coming to the conclusions and recommendations of the report, I welcome the extensive measures announced recently by the Minister of State, Deputy White, and the Minister for Health, Deputy Reilly, and I compliment them and their Cabinet colleagues on producing these measures. When we launched our report, it was alleged that nothing would be done but this demonstrates something will be done and I support it.
It is correctly acknowledged by all that there has been a problem with alcohol use and abuse in Ireland for many years. It is acknowledged that this problem needs to be tackled and addressed once and for all. It is my contention that the problem relates particularly to the pricing and availability, as well as advertising, marketing and sponsorship, of the product and I note that the recent package of measures addressed all of these issues. We have arrived at a stage in Ireland where doing nothing is not an option.
The committees took evidence from the GAA, the IRFU, the FAI, Horse Racing Ireland, Alcohol Action Ireland, the College of Psychiatrists of Ireland, the umbrella group the Federation of Irish Sports, representing over 100 sporting organisations, and the drinks industry. All of the sporting organisations accepted the dangers of misuse of alcohol to their members and all of them have educational programmes and activities that raise the awareness of the dangers of misuse and abuse of alcohol.
The committee was particularly impressed by the GAA alcohol and substance abuse prevention, ASAP, programme, which is supported by the HSE. It might be used as a template for programmes that should be considered by other sporting bodies. Sharing of programmes is taking place. The IRFU programme is called the alcohol code of ethics, ACE, and the FAI outlined its social inclusion measures, such as late night football leagues, as a tool to tackle important social issues including anti-social behaviour, which primarily relates to under age drinking.
The medical professionals outlined in stark terms the effect alcohol has on the people of Ireland. It kills 1,200 people per year in Ireland and each day there are 2,000 people in hospital beds due to the abuse of alcohol. Some 60,000 children will start drinking this year.
As well as the physical damage to the health of our young people, the medical professionals stated that alcohol marketing and advertising influences young people's behaviour. One of their key points is that people exposed to alcohol branding began drinking at an earlier age which can lead to subsequent alcohol dependence. The drinks industry stated that the misuse of alcohol was not in the interests of the industry. It said it would support any measures and work with government and sporting organisations in order to lead to a reduction in misuse. The industry is against what it has termed eye-catching but ineffectual bans, pointing out that alcohol consumption has fallen by more than 19% since 2001 and that the consumption of beers and lagers, which are the most actively sponsored, has reduced by 9%, whereas the consumption of wine, which is not involved in any sponsorship, has increased by 13%.
The key point made by all the sporting organisations, including Horse Racing Ireland and the Federation of Irish Sports, is that the banning or phasing out of sponsorship would lead to a significant gap in funding for sports and sporting organisations, particularly in the current climate, when Government and other funding streams has been reduced, year on year, because of the economic downturn. Government funding to the Irish Sports Council has decreased from €57.6 million in 2008 to €43 million this year and it will be reduced to €40 million in 2014.
I refer to the report's recommendations which have the majority agreement but not the unanimous approval of the members of the committee. I welcome the opportunity for the report to be debated in the House for all opinions on the effect of alcohol sponsorship to be heard. The committee recommended:
A. Sponsorship by the Alcohol Drinks Industry should remain in place until such time as it can be replaced by other identifiable streams of comparable funding.The first recommendation ties in with one of the measures recently announced by the Minister of State, Deputy Alex White as part of the Public Health (Alcohol) Bill, which provides for the setting up of a working group chaired by the Department of the Taoiseach to report within 12 months to consider the value, feasibility and the implications of regulating sponsorship of major sporting events by alcohol companies and to consider the financial implications and alternative sources of funding for sporting organisations to replace potential lost revenue arising from the ban. This important working group will deal with the issues which our committee also discussed.
B. A Code of Practice for the consumption of alcohol within stadia should be drawn-up by all sporting organisations.
C. A fixed percentage of all sponsorship received by each and every organisation (sporting, cultural, arts, music etc.) from the alcohol drinks industry, should be ring-fenced and paid into a central fund to be administered by an appropriate body. That fund should be used exclusively for Alcohol and Substance Abuse Prevention Programmes.
D. Sponsorship of sports and sporting events should be treated in the same way as sponsorship of the arts, music and other festivals.
E. A Code should be introduced to make it mandatory for all brand owners and rights-holders to provide responsible training in selling, advertising and marketing and to promote responsible drinking at all sponsored events.
F. All sporting organisations should be encouraged to support programmes which contribute to social inclusion in order to reduce the abuse of alcohol, particularly among young people.
G. A prohibition on sponsorship by the alcohol industry should only be considered if it is done on a pan-European basis in order to ensure that Irish sports and sporting organisations are not operating at a disadvantage relative to their international competitors.
There has been much reaction and comment about the report of the committee. The recommendation of a ban on alcohol sponsorship received the most headlines and this was also the case in the recommendations of the misuse of alcohol strategy report from the Department of Health. The recommendations should be regarded as an overall package rather than concentrating on one issue. The impression was abroad during the summer that if sports sponsorship was to be banned in the morning, all the problems associated with alcohol abuse and misuse in Ireland would be solved. This is not the case. The issues of the unit pricing of alcohol and its availability are more important than the question of sponsorship. I agree that the question of sponsorship must be dealt with and I welcome the fact this is happening.
I hope the working group will be cognisant of the financial pressures. It is unfortunate that this issue needs to be dealt with at a time when sporting bodies are under significant pressure. I hope the group can identify and secure replacement funding if alcohol sponsorship is to be removed as an option for sporting bodies.
Sporting bodies would have no issue with the ending of alcohol sponsorship if these alternative streams were secured and available. For example, the GAA has finished its sponsorship of the hurling championships by a drinks company. The GAA is making the effort to finish with sponsorship by a drinks company but many organisations feel unable to do in the current economic circumstances.
The committee report recommended a code of practice within stadia. Drink is consumed on the terraces at some sporting events. This is not the practice in Croke Park but it is seen at some rugby and soccer international matches. A code of practice should be drawn up to end that practice. A fixed percentage of alcohol sales should be ring-fenced for the treatment of alcohol and substance abuse. The report recommended that sponsorship of sports and sporting events should be treated in the same way as sponsorship of the arts, music and other festivals. A prohibition on sponsorship by the alcohol industry should only be considered if it is done on a pan-European basis in order to ensure that Irish sports and sporting organisations are not operating at a disadvantage relative to their international competitors. We do not want to see sponsorship moving to another jurisdiction while we are left with the problems. We cannot put a fence around Ireland in this digital age. We do not want the Gold Cup to be sponsored in Kempton Park rather than being held at the Curragh or Leopardstown, for example.
I am aware that the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Leo Varadkar fully supports the main aim of the national substance misuse strategy to reduce levels of alcohol consumption and binge-drinking in Ireland. However, I share his concern about the impact on sporting organisations of a ban on sponsorship by alcohol companies. There would be significant negative impacts on the development and availability of sport at grassroots level and on our efforts to increase sporting participation at local level. Major international sporting events create significant tourism benefits and a ban would make it much more difficult to attract very beneficial international events - the rugby World Cup was mentioned - to Ireland.
These issues must be addressed, but if there is to be a ban, it should be done in such a way as to allow for the replacement of the funding streams.
I welcome the opportunity afforded by the presentation of this report to address the issue of alcohol misuse and expand on the Government's plans to address this problem. I thank the members of the Joint Committee on Transport and Communications for their work on the issue of sponsorship of sport by the alcohol drinks industry and their valuable contribution to the debate. I welcome the acceptance by the committee that actions must be taken to address the harm caused to individuals and broader Irish society by the misuse of alcohol. The committee was rightly cognisant of the devastating effects on communities and families of the misuse of alcohol and committee members were unanimous in their view that measures were required to be taken to deal with the problems caused by harmful alcohol consumption. They noted that the misuse of alcohol in general was increasingly being identified in the younger age cohort.
There is much common ground between the members of the committee, my Department and the Government on this pervasive problem which causes enormous harm and damage to the lives of children, families and communities. In line with the steering group's report on a national substance misuse strategy, I remain convinced that we must end the unhealthy association between sports and alcohol through sponsorship. I understand the committee's perspective in that it sees such a ban as "a worthwhile aspiration" rather than something which should be introduced as a priority. However, I respectfully maintain the view that ending sponsorship is an important element and accept Deputy John O'Mahony's contention that this is only one element of a combination of policy instruments we need to adopt if we are to make real progress in this area. I share the Deputy's regret that in much of the public debate in recent months there has been much concentration on the sponsorship aspect to the exclusion of many of the other instruments that arguably could have more of an impact on what we want to achieve than the issue of sponsorship. Nevertheless, I maintain the view that the question of sponsorship must be an important element of what we seek to do.
It is our view in the Department of Health that a close link between sport and alcohol undermines or risks undermining the very real and tangible benefits our society gains from sport. Having said that, it is understandable and perfectly legitimate that, given its remit, the Joint Committee on Transport and Communications would address this issue primarily from the perspective of sports organisations and sport. I acknowledge Deputy John O'Mahony's argument that although the committee concentrated on sports sponsorship, it did not exclude the importance of other instruments. I urge the House and the broader public to consider the issue in the round and give the highest possible priority and consideration to public health, which is my preoccupation in this debate. It is also the perspective adopted by the Government in its recent approval of the drafting of the first ever public health (alcohol) Bill in this jurisdiction.
It has been contended that there is a "lack of evidence" indicating that a ban on sponsorship would be effective in reducing alcohol consumption among young people. There are numerous peer-reviewed research reports and studies, conducted both domestically and internationally, that firmly demonstrate the effectiveness of integrated alcohol marketing communication strategies in which brand sponsorship is a key component. I am happy to make these studies and references available to colleagues at any stage. These strategies are particularly effective in the acquisition and retention of new market audiences, especially among the younger age cohort. Firm conclusions can be made from the research evidence that, for example, the age entry for first alcohol use among Irish children has fallen from 15 to 14 years old; marketing communications are highly effective in shaping attitudes, perceptions and expectancies among Irish youth; exposure to alcohol marketing increases the likelihood that teenagers will drink alcohol and that they will start drinking at an earlier age and in a more harmful manner; alcohol-branded sports sponsorship has a high recognition among young people; and exposure to alcohol marketing communications is cumulative and normalises the consumption and harmful use of alcohol.
Nobody can seriously expect to obtain, as it were, direct "cause and effect" evidence in this arena. Such a level of "proof' is simply not attainable, given that the behavioral impact of marketing communications, specifically branded sponsorship, is multilayered and quite complex. It is clear, however, that integrated marketing strategies constitute a highly developed business tactic effectively deployed by alcohol companies to retain, develop and increase product sales, especially among younger people. Sports sponsorship by alcohol brands is a key component of integrated marketing strategies. This enables alcohol marketers to reach and influence under-age future consumers in a way that advances brand relationships way beyond the traditional "above the line" channels such as television and radio.
The Government recognises the vital contribution of sports bodies in promoting and increasing participation rates in sport, which is why the three major national sports bodies receive significant public moneys through the Irish Sports Council for that specific purpose. Sports clubs encourage children and teenagers to see sporting performance and good health as incompatible with heavy alcohol consumption, as Deputy John O'Mahony mentioned. I am very strong in my praise of sports bodies and have seen some evidence in recently visiting Ennis which is in Deputy Timmy Dooley's constituency. I had the opportunity to hear about some terrific work being done by the GAA in that county - it has been a great year for Clare in hurling - as there is a genuine commitment in that county to address the issue of the harm arising from alcohol and seek to ensure alcohol abuse remains incompatible with the enjoyment of sport.
At the same time as this undoubted good work is being done, children's sporting heroes are fashioned in alcohol-branded sports gear. This is reflected in the stadiums where they play or the backdrops against which they are interviewed on television. They are emblazoned with the branding of alcohol drinks. That means that there is extremely good work being done, on the one hand, but impactful material is also seen by young people, particularly on television. One must ask about the message we intend children to receive. No less than anybody else, I appreciate the emotional attachment we all have to national, county and club sporting success, but can we reasonably say the needs of protecting public health are of lesser importance than the further professionalisation or the international successes of our sporting codes? This debate involves pitting different imperatives against one another and there is no possibility of us resolving this issue by saying we can have it every way. If we want to make decisions that will have an impact, we will have to face up to what may be difficult consequences.
Returning to the issue of evidence, IEG, one of the world's leading authorities on measuring high performance sponsorship programmes, defines effectiveness in measured returns, behavioural changes, results of emotional connections and psychological connectedness. These are applications of a highly sophisticated methodology where, globally, expenditure on sponsorship had reached $44 billion in 2009. In Ireland a specialist sports sponsorship firm, Halpin Sport, has estimated the value of the Irish market for total sports sponsorship at €96million in 2011. Equally, it confirms for its potential clients that "sports sponsorship offers the perfect platform for companies to engage and interact with a team's followers. It has the power to connect at a deep emotional level with fans and change the way they feel about products and brands". These known outcomes echo the committee's acknowledgment that the sponsorship of sports by alcohol brands is far from ideal. This recognition of an uncomfortable alliance perhaps shaped the recommendation of the committee that a fixed percentage of all sponsorship received by every organisation from the alcohol drinks industry should be ring-fenced and paid into a central fund for alcohol and substance abuse prevention programmes. This is a very interesting proposal that bears further scrutiny.
Ultimately, the Government has decided to put in place a process to deal with the differing perspectives on sports sponsorship by alcohol companies. This process will enable all views to be examined and analysed and I look forward to working with the Members of this House and the committee in this important debate and reaching positive solutions. I appreciate the case that has been made in respect of the funding gaps or difficulties that will be faced by sports organisations if a ban is imposed. As the House will be aware, the Government has approved the drafting of a public health (alcohol) Bill which details a package of measures to address this problem. This landmark initiative has come about following much consultation and dialogue between Ministers and Departments.
It is the first time the misuse of alcohol has been addressed as a public health issue. The public shares the concern of the health authorities on this issue. Research commissioned by my Department while preparing these measures showed that 78% of the public thinks that the Government has a responsibility to implement public health measures to address high alcohol consumption.
The key measure approved by the Government is the drafting of health-oriented legislation on alcohol – to be called the public health (alcohol) Bill. In summary, this Bill will provide for minimum unit pricing for retailing of alcohol products; regulation of marketing and advertising of alcohol in the media domains of television and radio, cinemas, outdoor and print as well as the content of such advertisements; regulation of sports sponsorship, specifically to place an existing voluntary code that governs sports sponsorship on a statutory footing; separation of alcohol from other products in retail outlets; enforcement powers for environmental health officers in relation to alcohol; and health labelling of alcohol products.
Minimum unit pricing for alcohol is one of the anchors of this package, and taken in conjunction with the other measures we are announcing, has the potential to have a real impact on the harmful and hazardous consumption of alcohol. Minimum unit pricing targets alcohol that is cheap relative to its strength. It is one of the instruments to be used to tackle the very low cost at which alcohol is sold in the off-trade sector – particularly in supermarkets. I said at the launch of this initiative that minimum unit pricing does not raise the price of every alcohol product; I wish to emphasise that again. The pint in the pub or the bottle of premium whiskey are already well above any price that would be set as a minimum price for their alcohol content. Almost all drinks in the pub are already sold well above any likely minimum price, so these drinks are unlikely to be affected.
What the Government wants is for everyone to feel the economic and social benefits of addressing alcohol misuse; we want our citizens to experience these benefits through healthier, happier, safer families and communities. We know that there is a profusion of alcohol products in our stores. We see the in-your-face presence that these alcohol products now hold in our supermarkets and convenience stores. In that regard, I am particularly pleased that the Departments of Justice and Equality and Health have agreed a three-step approach to provide for the structured separation of alcohol from other products in mixed trading outlets.
The first step involves replacing the current voluntary code with a statutory code under section 17 of the Civil Law (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2011. This section empowers the Minister to establish a new code that sets standards for display, sale, supply, advertising, promotion and marketing of alcohol. Second, the new public health (alcohol) Bill will empower environmental health officers, EHOs, to enforce structural separation provisions contained within section 9 in the event that its commencement is required. Third, after two years both Departments will review the effectiveness of the new statutory code in achieving the separation of alcohol from other products, and control of access.
The results and findings of this review will inform the Government’s decision on whether it is necessary to proceed to commence section 9 of the Intoxicating Liquor Act 2008. The substance misuse steering group made recommendations about dealing with the advertising of alcohol and these will now be developed in our forthcoming public health (alcohol) Bill. Alcohol advertisements on television and radio will be restricted to evening hours, and my Department will work closely with the Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources to introduce this incrementally by 2016, through the statutory codes of the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland. Statutory codes of practice are also envisaged for the print media, cinemas and to cover the manner in which alcohol is portrayed in advertisements. The legislation will also cover billboard and other outdoor advertising media. Its purpose will be to restrict such advertising from 2018 with a statutory code of practice to govern it in the interim. We will work with other Departments on identifying the form, frequency and prevalence of outdoor media advertising that would come within the scope of the statutory restrictions.
As I said previously, but for the sake of completeness, on the question of sponsorship of sport by alcohol companies, the Government has decided that the existing voluntary code of practice governing sports sponsorship will be given statutory status. Meanwhile, a working group chaired by the Department of the Taoiseach will report within 12 months on the implications of regulating sponsorship by alcohol companies of major sporting events. New statutory provisions will also be introduced on the labelling of alcohol products. That is an important area for consumer information and will also cover warnings concerning the consumption of alcohol during pregnancy.
The Government has agreed that future public health messaging on alcohol will be based on grams of alcohol rather than a standard number of drinks and that the new low risk drinking guidelines for men and women should be 168g which is equivalent to 17 standard drinks and 112g which is equivalent to 11 standard drinks for men and women, respectively.
We know about the adverse effects of alcohol consumption on children, families and communities. It is a constant theme of public debate and comment. Meanwhile, there has been a strong public affairs campaign against a ban on sports sponsorship by alcohol companies. It is claimed, as the joint committee reported, that the link between sports sponsorship by alcohol companies and consumption of alcohol is not proven. That is somewhat perplexing for the reasons I have given, in view of the fact that there is evidence available and also the significant levels of money that are in truth committed to alcohol brand sponsorship campaigns. In any event, we now have Government approval for a process to deal with this challenging aspect of tackling alcohol misuse. I emphasise that is just one aspect of our suite of proposals. Meanwhile, we should advance the series of measures that have already been approved. The nature of the challenge we are addressing is to reduce Ireland’s overall consumption of alcohol. That requires a genuine public health response. That will happen and the landmark initiative announced by Government will gain the support of the broader community and society. In that regard and context I again commend and thank the committee and all its members for its important contribution to this debate.
I am somewhat confused about the new methodology of dealing with reports in which we are engaged today. It gives us an opportunity to discuss again something we have already discussed in committee. Yet again, it is part of the Government’s effort to present reform of the way in which the Dáil works when this is work that has already been discussed in committee. I accept we have not had an opportunity for the Minister to come to the committee on the issue just yet but I would have thought it could have been dealt with by the committee rather than taking up the time of the House. I say that in the context of reflecting on what has happened in recent days in terms of the local property tax. The Bill concerning the tax was rushed through the House in a matter of six or seven hours and as a result it has created some difficulty. I do not believe this is necessarily an appropriate use of the extended Dáil time but I am happy to engage in the debate.
It is an important subject, one which we thrashed out in the committee. I am sure it will be thrashed out again. What I am disappointed about is the Government’s response has been to create a working group to address the issue. I thought that if the Government was realistic about parliamentary reform it would have come back to the committee with a proposal to involve it in such a working group.
In fairness to Deputy O’Mahony, he said that a majority view was taken. Not everybody agreed with it. I do not wish to speak for other members of the committee but from my perspective and from observations of other members, they engaged in a non-partisan way. We had some very good hearings with people expressing views across the gamut, both for and against the proposal. The report was an accurate refection of the views we heard. The committee tried to bring together as best it could a consensus of views which is reflective of society. I am disappointed that the committee has not been formally tasked with the work that has now been passed on to a group of external advisers.
I understand Deputy Dooley’s point but in order for the Oireachtas to come back to this issue it would also have to comprehend the health issue. It seems to me that the Joint Committee on Transport and Communications has done hugely important work and it should be thanked for that and involved in the future but the Joint Committee on Health and Children would also have to find a way to deal with it because there are two imperatives involved, namely, health and funding, and we must find a way to bring it together. That is not a criticism of the committee; far from it. The committee has done great work. The purpose of the steering group is to try to comprehend all of the strands and not just one perspective.
That is welcome but it is worth putting on the record that while sport falls within the remit of the committee we did not confine the hearings to just the sporting organisations. We did bring various medical experts before the committee to hear their views on the harmful effects of alcohol. I would be happy if the Government comes forward with a proposal that says the working group should be a combination of the health and transport committees, the latter representing sport.
I just do not believe that while we have had an input, we will be part of the process.
It is well recognised that the abuse and over-consumption of alcohol are a huge cancer in Irish society. The problem spans the socioeconomic divide and features among all demographic groups. There is real concern over the capacity of alcohol companies to target young people. Many of the influences that attract new drinkers are exerted outside the sporting environment. People took up drinking through peer pressure long before alcohol companies were sponsoring sports to the current extent or before sports were televised to the current extent. In such times, there was still over-consumption and abuse of alcohol. It is a cultural issue and one we must try to change. While I accept the point that sponsorship and advertising comprise an important component of the problem, I believe banning sponsorship now would be more of a box-ticking exercise than a means of having a meaningful impact on addressing the over-consumption of alcohol.
It was rightly identified that pricing and display in the plethora of retail outlets probably constitute the most aggressive form of marketing. It is rare that young people who engage in over-consumption, which they call binge drinking, would be drinking the brands that are associated with the subject matter we are discussing. It is usually the cheapest products and those most freely available in retail outlets that are abused. Considerable work must be done in this regard. This work will have the greatest impact initially.
The approach I desire is a little like the approach we took to road safety. We did not introduce penalty points initially for not having a reflector on the back of one's bicycle, nor did we introduce points for what were considered the less serious offences. One will get buy-in from the public if one starts out with what will deliver the most, namely, addressing the control, supply and sale of cheap alcohol. Under the road safety strategy, it is now appropriate to receive two penalty points for what were considered relatively minor offences when the programme commenced. There is a lot to be learned in this regard.
We must also try to deal with the attitude towards the consumption of alcohol. It is still a practice of some coaches and team managers to bring an under age team, such as a team of players under ten, 11 or 12, for example, to a pub after a game. That has a much greater role in fostering the acceptance of the consumption of alcohol than having the local pub’s brands on a billboard in the playing field. To have more buy-in, we should at least try to put in place a programme that would establish a code of conduct for team managers and coaches of teams under 18 such that they would stay well clear of the pub, both before and after a game. The pub should not be the meeting point after a match. I am not suggesting that the coaches allow children to drink in the pub environment. They do not and they are mindful of the problem. However, it is the embracing of the acceptance of alcohol that leads to the continuation of a culture that needs to be addressed.
From the interaction the committee had with the main sporting organisations, it noted they are very mindful of the important role they play in ensuring young people steer clear of alcohol. They pointed out to us that much of the funding they are able to generate – they do not have alternative sources at present – is used by them to create programmes that get young people involved in the various sports. The Deputy is correct that the overall health impact of sport has the capacity, in itself, to attract people to a more active lifestyle. This has a definite benefit on public health, including on childhood obesity, which is talked about in the House from time to time. There is no correlation between the abuse of alcohol and childhood obesity but the latter is a very significant issue.
While there is talk about taxing fatty foods, nobody is suggesting one should limit the capacity of companies such as McDonald's or Burger King to advertise in the way they do. Our State would very much be considered a nanny state if it were to go down that road. I assume that, if similar reports were produced on obesity and alcohol, empirical data on the abuse of and over-indulgence in alcohol could be applied to overindulgence in fatty foods such that both reports would reach similar conclusions. We regard alcohol differently, as we should, not because of its negative impact on the individual consumer but because of its impact on society and families.
We must move very carefully and slowly and in a considered way. If an appropriate strategy were set down by the State with the objective of reducing the abuse of alcohol in a staged and controlled way, there would be buy-in not only from the sporting organisations but also from society in general. I hope this will be the case in seven, eight or ten years.
The road safety programme was dealt with in a non-partisan and very co-operate way in this House under successive Governments. It has been successful. The same can be done in the case of alcohol.
There are a number of facts that we accept about alcohol. Three people per day die of alcohol abuse in Ireland. We were discussing cannabis this week. There is no evidence of anyone having died from cannabis use over the past ten years in Ireland. Alcohol is a significant cause of many types of cancer and its consumption has strong links to suicide. We accept that alcohol advertising and promotion increase the likelihood that young people will start to use alcohol and drink more if they are already drinking it.
A big question should be asked as to whether the State should bear the cost of all alcohol abuse. Tax revenue from alcohol is currently €1.9 billion but we spend €3.7 billion dealing with alcohol abuse. This does not add up very well. Some €1.8 billion is missing. Should the taxpayer pay for that? If I run into someone's car and am found to be liable, I will be made pay for the damage. However, we have a funny approach to business. We have seen factories cause the death of trees close to their premises but they did not have to pay for them; the State picks up the tab. They are called externalities and the industry does not worry about them.
A big problem with selling many products at present is that the dominant political and economic philosophy, neoliberalism, values us only as consumers, not citizens. If there is a direct link between the alcohol industry and a Bill for the State, we must examine it. Right now, we are subsidising this harmful industry. I am as fond of a drink as anyone but I am talking not about the sensible use of alcohol but about its abuse.
We give sporting organisations approximately €40 million per year. Why do we not give them €200 million per year and send the bill to the alcohol industry? Does that make sense? Would it not deal with some of the issues? There should not be advertising of alcohol in sport, but sports organisations should not be denied the money they would otherwise receive. It is ridiculous how little money sports organisations are getting from the State. Is there anything more than sport that contributes positively to the development of good health in the State? I do not believe so.
The State is facing costs of €3.7 billion due to alcohol abuse, €1.5 billion due to tobacco use and over €1 billion - this figure is rising fast - due to obesity. Sport, however, which can do so much for us, will only get €40 million from the State. A young person cannot play with my Wexford Youths football team if he abuses alcohol badly, smokes or is obese. There are 450,000 people registered to play soccer, the biggest sport in the country. As it plays an incredible role in developing good health, we need to give it more direct State support rather than depending on sponsorship from a negative industry.
I am not interested in a nanny state. I would not ban McDonald’s or Coca Cola. However, if they cost the State as much as alcohol does, then those companies should be made to pick up the tab. It is not rocket science. We need joined-up thinking in this regard. It makes sense that those companies that cause damage are made to pay for it.
I tabled a Private Members’ motion on addiction and the wide range of issues related to it some months ago. Deputy Luke ‘Ming’ Flanagan opened up the debate on legalising cannabis this week and we are having a debate this morning on alcohol sponsorship of sports.
All Members acknowledge the unhealthy relationship that people have with alcohol. We know the costs to the health service and in terms of crime. Alcohol is a contributory factor in 90% of public order offences, for example. Alcohol and drugs are also linked to early school leaving, bad social conditions and crime. There are an increasing number of children in need of child protection services because of their families’ misuse and abuse of alcohol and drugs. It is the most common date-rape drug and is used in many cases to facilitate sexual assaults. There are really alarming figures on the increasing levels of liver disease, particularly among young people in their late teens and early 20s. Alcohol is also the gateway drug for so many people.
It is unfortunate that every event from the cradle to the grave in Ireland is associated with alcohol. We see its easy availability, cheapness and acceptance. More frighteningly, there is a social acceptance of drunkenness and at-home drinking. It must be acknowledged that the majority drink moderately, using it socially and for enjoyment. However, these are not the people who end up in accident and emergency departments or in prison cells at the weekend.
There is an unfortunate connection - I use that term loosely - between alcohol and certain figures in the artistic, literary and music worlds, in which alcohol use is seen as being acceptable. The Brendan Behans, the Ernest Hemingways, the Dylan Thomases, the Richard Harrises and the Richard Burtons did not contribute to the cause of moderation. We see this occurring again with certain figures in the music industry today. The media have a major role in not portraying this kind of behaviour as fun, acceptable and harmless.
I am involved with the prevention and education sub-committee of the north Dublin inner city drugs task force. Recently, we held two youth conventions with 110 secondary students from the north east of the city and 85 from the north west. We discussed the positives and the negatives of their usual night out, including alcohol promotion and the influences on what they drink, the media, minimum pricing and the age limit, along with the prevention and education strategies that worked and that did not. We listened to the young people without lecturing them. It is important when this topic is discussed that we listen to young people directly, not those in organisations that claim they are representing young people but whose members are long past their teens. I mean no disrespect to those involved, but there is much sense, wisdom and insight coming from young people.
There was a mixed response to the question about drinks companies' sponsorship of sports events. Some of the answers in support of such sponsorship were interesting. They pointed out that the organisations needed the money, that it did not influence their drinking because they buy the cheapest drink anyway, that it is the advertisements that encourage them to drink more rather than the sponsorship, that people will drink anyway and, finally, that it is just sponsorship and not promotion. What was interesting was that they were not fully aware of the harmful effects of alcohol. Those who were against it saw the contradiction in that sports are part of a healthy lifestyle, while alcohol is bad for one.
This debate is vital. I believe there should not be alcohol sponsorship of sporting events, but this must be part of a wider strategy. Why would the drinks companies spend so much money on sponsorship unless they were getting something from it? I have doubts about the ring-fencing provision. It is like saying one can drink as much as one likes but the alcohol companies will pick up the bill for alcohol-related diseases. We need to listen to young people because they have good insights and suggestions in this regard.
I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy White, to the House and compliment him on his work in this area. I also want to acknowledge the work of the former Minister of State, Deputy Shortall, in the preparation of the alcohol strategy and legislation. In fairness to the Minister, Deputy White, he has driven this in Cabinet with the Minister for Health, Deputy Reilly, and taken decisions on the forthcoming alcohol Bill that could easily have been set aside.
Alcohol is costing our society €3.5 billion per annum due to the costs associated with crime, damage to public health and loss of work. This taxpayers’ money could be better spent and used. I compliment the Chairman of the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Transport and Communications, Deputy O’Mahony, on this report, which has done the House a good service, as well as the debate on the relationship between sport and alcohol. I chair the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Health and Children, which produced a report in 2012 containing 13 recommendations, many of which are contained in the forthcoming Bill announced by the Minister of State, Deputy White.
In looking at the fight with alcohol abuse, we can see the glass as half full or half empty. We have gone so far but there is more to do. I see the glass as half full in that we have made much progress and we have more work to do. Our overriding concern must be to reduce the supply of cheap alcohol, control availability, prevent binge-drinking and drink-driving and protect our young people from the sale and marketing of alcohol, particularly thorough sports. We must use a holistic approach to this issue rather than singling out one aspect of the drinks industry and its relationship to sport. That just misses the point. As the Minister said, there is much common ground.
I compliment Cumann Lúthchleas Gael on moving its sponsorship from one single drinks company to several companies not involved in the alcohol industry. As a former chairman of my local GAA club, I recognise that alcohol sponsorship and our clubhouse bar were inextricably linked to the club, as it is an important source of revenue. While I would prefer to have no bar in the club, how it is managed is important. One size does not fit all.
There needs to be further discussion about the link between alcohol and sport. Reluctantly, I accept the economic argument that if we ban sports sponsorship now there will be a gargantuan deficit in the budgets of many sports clubs and organisations. We cannot allow that to happen because, as Deputy Dooley rightly said, sport plays an important role in our society. The State gives a huge amount of money not just to the big three sporting organisations but to all sports, and rightly so because sport has that great unifying effect and provides role models for many young people who are desperately seeking one. Sportspeople fit that bill.
We must continue to highlight our society's relationship with alcohol. Deputy Maureen O'Sullivan alluded to this in her remarks. Some television soap operas, such as "Fair City" and "Coronation Street", centre around the pub. Although I hardly dare to mention "Love/Hate" in the company of Deputy Eoghan Murphy, it, too, deals with the issue of drug and alcohol misuse, which has an implication for young people. Can we honestly continue the relationship between alcohol and sport in the broader interests of our society? As Members of this House and of the committees, be it the one Deputy O'Mahony chairs or the one I chair, we must come from the perspective of what is in the interest of public health. The promulgation, creation and implementation of policies places on us a duty and responsibility with regard to the public health of our nation and the individuals who comprise our society.
The misuse of alcohol is a challenge for all of us. Although this debate has probably been going on since time began, we have reached a point at which we see severe implications for our public health infrastructure in terms of the accident and emergency services and beds that are used every weekend and night. That is why this House must make a realistic and serious attempt to reduce alcohol consumption and educate young people about how they should use alcohol.
The Government's launch of the recent Public Health (Alcohol) Bill showed that the average per-capita consumption of pure alcohol for everyone over the age of 15 is 11.63 litres a year. That is the equivalent of a bottle of vodka per week per person. That is an extraordinary amount of alcohol being consumed when one allows for the fact that 19% of the population do not drink. At the same time we have seen a 161% increase in the number of off-licences and a 19% decrease in the number of pubs.
I am glad this nation will tackle the issue of cheap alcohol and availability because we have a major issue with binge drinking. We must strongly tackle the promotion of alcohol. I have never been afraid to express my viewpoint on this, although perhaps I am in a minority and unpopular in some quarters. The way Arthur's day has been turned around as a quasi-national alcohol day and the way we allow the Guinness Storehouse to be used in iconic visits to our country by President Obama or Queen Elizabeth II must stop. We have far better scenery along the coasts - in County Clare, where Deputy Dooley is from, with the Cliffs of Moher, in my own county of Cork or at the lakes of Killarney - where we can bring these dignitaries and show them a real view of the quality of the Irish landscape and people.
If we want those on the television, those in the press and people of other nations to continue thinking we are a nation of beer-swigging alcoholics we can keep that going, but we should aspire to more than that, because we are much more than that. I challenge any foreign journalist to come to our country and see the catastrophic effects of the consumption and misuse of alcohol in our accident and emergency and outpatients' departments. I take a pint; I binge drink, and I am ashamed of that. Collectively, as a nation, we must change our attitude to alcohol or we will continue to pay the price. There is a duty on us in this House to do that.
I very much welcome the Government's approach and acknowledge that no single measure in itself will tackle the problem. Sport is a key aspect of our nation. It unifies us, brings us joy and lifts us from the doldrums. However, sporting organisations have a duty to reflect on their relationship with alcohol and consider how we can collectively, as the Minister rightly said, build on the common ground to ensure we have a proper footing for sports sponsorship and a proper platform to eliminate the harmful effects of alcohol misuse in our society. We can do that. The time has come for us to do that. We have a duty and we cannot fail.
We often sit late into the evening in this House and when we finish our work I like to go home and have a few beers and look at my iPad. I am watching the American version of "The Office" at the moment. Invariably, because we get out of here so late, there are no beers in my fridge and I cannot go to the off-licence to get any. Are people trying to tell me that if the off-licence were open for an extra half hour, one hour or even two hours the serious drinking problem we have in this country would be worse? That is why that law was enacted.
Two years ago I was invited to see the Manic Street Preachers. The Acting Chairman, Deputy John Lyons, is also a fan. It was a great acoustic set of 12 songs. Over the course of the evening I had a couple of pints of Guinness. It was Arthur's day. This year people tried to tell me I could not do that again - that I could not be trusted to drink responsibly because there would be a crowd of people down in Temple Bar getting hammered. There is a crowd of people down in Temple Bar getting hammered every night of the week. Let us say I am going to a Leinster v. London Irish rugby match. I have mates from London or from Ireland coming to the game, and we have a few pints and get drunk. Are people trying to tell me we got drunk because the word "Heineken" was visible on the ticket, the poster at the end of the pitch or in the pub where we were drinking?
We have a problem with our attitude to alcohol in this culture. It is historical and cultural and is best addressed through education and example, not through policies that, although well-intentioned, are not evidence-based and serve only to frustrate responsible and law-abiding citizens. Action must be taken, but it is about the right kind of action. If there is an unhealthy association between sport and alcohol in this country, it is not because of sponsorship. The sponsorship has followed the culture. There is a problem with young people accessing alcohol because our society - parents, gardaí, sports clubs, pubs, local events, even I myself - turn a blind eye. I often chat to my younger cousins who are under age about their drinking habits and we have a laugh about it. We are all responsible for the way in which we perpetuate our attitude to drink through the generations.
There is a problem with advertising that targets young people and tries to make an essential link between good times and alcohol. We see that in particular with alcopops. Some of the television advertisements should not be allowed because they are irresponsible. Deputy Wallace raised an interesting question of whether the State should be liable for the health expenses incurred by individuals who are knowingly and wilfully abusing alcohol in their daily lives. We cannot seem to talk properly about alcohol in this country despite everything that has happened and everything we know. We saw another demonstration of that during the week when we discussed Deputy Luke 'Ming' Flanagan's cannabis Bill. The context for such a discussion should be about acceptable levels of intoxication in our society. That discussion must happen hand-in-hand with one about alcohol. Cannabis and alcohol must be discussed together in that context, and why not?
I commend Deputy O'Mahony and his committee, who have done some excellent work in compiling this report, listening to the different interest groups and debating this. It is very important that they brought it here to the Dáil for debate because it is a serious issue and because many people, myself included, do not sit on the committee and did not have an opportunity to contribute to the debate because we were involved in our own committee work. We have that opportunity here and it is an important part of the reforms we have brought in.
I also congratulate the Minister of State, Deputy Alex White, on all the work he has done, particularly on pricing. As others speakers have said, that is an issue that must be addressed.
I support the sensible proposals made in the report.
I welcome the opportunity to contribute to the debate on this issue. I acknowledge the work done by the Minister of State and Deputy John O'Mahony and his committee on it. This is a valuable debate in tackling a long-outstanding issue. We are here because the Government is it head-on.
I will begin where Deputy Mick Wallace left off. He referred to the need for joined-up thinking. I could not agree more. Significant work is being done at local level by many people, particularly in the area of sport. I speak as someone with an interest in this issue and who worked for a number of years in the sports and fitness industry as a fitness instructor. I have taken an active interest in sport during the years and seen at first hand people at local level dedicated to supporting and enhancing the overall well-being of young people, children, teenagers and young adults. Not a day goes by without my seeing evidence of this. For example, I left Lucan this morning with great pride because this weekend the village is celebrating participating in its first ever senior county hurling final and the nomination of Peter Kelly, the Dublin hurling full-back, as an All-Star. I mention this because it is an example of how young people are nurtured from an early age. They are coached, advised and cared for and this is something we see every day in the different sports codes.
A few weeks ago I attended a karate exhibition in Clondalkin. I know little about this sport, but I was invited to attend. I was amazed by the level of participation of young children and adults in that sport. Some of the mentors said to me afterwards that it was about keeping kids off the streets. What this says to me is that those working in the interests of these sports and the well-being of children are concerned about keeping children out of the way of temptation. That is where the issue of alcohol comes in. We all know about the binge drinking and the excesses referred to by Deputies Eoghan Murphy and Jerry Buttimer. They are right that it is about excessive drinking.
I attended a conference yesterday held by the Clondalkin drug task force. I was raging it had not been held a day or two previously because although I have a strong view on the use of cannabis, I was stunned to hear some of the evidence produced about its harmful effects. Deputy Mick Wallace alluded to this issue also.
A comment in the report is that the committee accepts that binge drinking and the misuse of alcohol generally are societal problems and on the increase. That is true. On abuse or abuse of alcohol, I cannot remember who it was who said example was not the best way of teaching others but the only way. There is a great deal of truth in that comment. Many would say the societal problem of binge drinking among young people is due to the abuse of alcohol by adults. We are who we learn from. Our society sends too many mixed messages on alcohol. For example, look at the practice at different sports events. I know from experience that a particular sports body allows the consumption of alcohol in the vicinity of the stadium and at the event, while another does not. I have been to our national stadium and heard people say they remembered being there on previous occasions and being able to get a drink but now the bar was closed. There are mixed messages being sent. We must deal with this issue.
Deputy Jerry Buttimer stole my thunder when he spoke so eloquently about our reputation. How many of the people who come to Ireland see us as a nation of drinkers and drunks? We need to find a way to change this image. I do not travel to France often, but I wonder how effective its policy is of not referring to the Heineken Cup except as the H Cup. I am sure it adopted this policy for a good reason, but I do not know what the effect has been in France. However, I am sure that France has made a determined effort to change the message sent.
The Government is serious about dealing with this issue. I acknowledge that a working group has been established, working under the Department of the Taoiseach, and agree that is the right way to go about dealing with the issue. Anybody who thinks it can be resolved by the introduction of a single measure is greatly mistaken. It will take time to resolve it. It will also take a determined effort over time to examine all relevant issues and come up with a solution. We must find a way to fill the gaps mentioned in the debate, but we must send the clearest message on alcohol promotion and continue to support the voluntary and sports bodies that are so keen on supporting young people compassionately. We must nurture the talent of young people such that they can become the Katie Taylors of their sport at national level. We are proud of Peter Kelly from Lucan this morning on receiving his All-Star award. We can enable people to achieve their full potential, but to do this we need to tackle the abuse of alcohol in society.
I am pleased to be able to say a few words in support of the Minister of State, the joint committee and the Government that are dealing with this issue. We have a long way to go, but we have the support of people and groups like the karate club I visited in Clondalkin, as well as Lucan Sarsfields. We are all aware of local, voluntary and sports organisations, youth clubs and other arts and music groups that are working with young people. I would like to think that in the time left in the 31st Dáil we will send these groups and organisations the clear message that their work is not in vain, has not gone unnoticed and will not go unrewarded because the Government will support them. I hope we will get to the day when we can be proud of the many wonderful examples of Irishness and what it is to be Irish, rather than being defined or known as a nation of drinkers or drunks or a nation associated with a particular alcohol beverage.
Tá áthas orm labhairt ar an ábhar seo. I acknowledge the contributions made by the Minister of State, Deputy Alex White, and Deputy Róisín Shortall to the debate on this report, with the contributions of my fellow committee members.
Alcohol abuse is a massive problem. We all accept this, but do we accept what it means? Unfortunately, the issue is not just that we have large numbers of people addicted to alcohol or who have an unhealthy relationship with alcohol but also that we have a negative and unhealthy drink culture.
This means that, at some point in their lives, the majority of those who drink alcohol in Ireland do so in an unhealthy and even abusive manner. We have accepted that alcohol is part of our society and that it is a socially acceptable drug. We have been responsible in recognising that there is a line between using something and abusing it. We must move forward with a policy which in all circumstances discourages abuse and promotes responsible behaviour and a positive public health culture. The report before the House seeks to do this in a cautious manner and I welcome it. The two major issues which marked the process of its compilation were the idea of minimum pricing and alcohol sponsorship. Minimum pricing is a good idea in principle, but its success would depend on how it was implemented. Likewise, a ban on alcohol sponsorship would be a good idea in principle, but, again, implementation would be key.
I wish to briefly outline Sinn Féin's position on the policies to which I refer and which could represent very good steps on the road towards addressing our unhealthy drink culture. Minimum pricing would adequately address both low level and widespread abuse of alcohol, which is a major problem. It would help to re-engineer the way we approach drinking and reduce the quantities of alcohol we consume. These quantities are, on the whole, alarming, especially when one considers that a large number of people in Ireland do not drink at all. The problem with some models of minimum pricing is that they act as a money-making operation for the drinks industry which has wilfully engaged in the development of our unhealthy drink culture. Minimum pricing should not cause publicans, off-licence operators or drinks companies to rub their hands in anticipation of greater profits. It should be put in place by means of the introduction of further duties on drink. That would mean that the price of alcohol could not fall below a certain level. The revenue that would accrue could be ring-fenced for community and public health projects that address alcoholism and alcohol abuse and the many problems which spring from them. This measure would address the effects of a problem for which there is no panacea and which will not be solved over night. It would also do something to offset the negative effect minimum pricing could have on the lives of some families who live in poverty. The alcohol abuse of members of such families exacerbates the problem of deprivation. Poverty and inequality are major causes of unhealthy behaviour and substance abuse. We should not shy away from the systemic problems in our horrendously unequal society, particularly as these, in turn, feed the substance abuse problem.
Many people have been very critical of the Government's refusal to impose an outright and immediate ban on alcohol sponsorship of sports events and organisations. I can certainly understand such criticism, but this is a delicate matter and no new system should be put in place lightly. That said, the Government has certainly had sufficient time to consider the possibilities in addressing the funding shortfall to which a ban would give rise. The reality is that sports in Ireland were under-funded in the times of plenty and that continues to be the case. I do not believe there can be any doubt about this at a time when an Olympic gold medalist is obliged to train in a gym which has no female toilets. Teams in the area in which I live were so desperate to obtain improved facilities that they went into massive and unsustainable debt. The Government does not just have a role in deciding who can fund sports projects, it also has a responsibility to do so itself. We are talking about community and public health investment. Investment in sport gives rise to savings in respect of spending on health, policing and even prisons. Sport is an investment in a better society. It helps to build communities and encourages the people who make up these communities. In budget 2014 the allocation for sport was cut by €5.7 million. This was on top of a 6% cut last year and means that the funding available for sport in 2014 will be a mere €68.9 million. The Government has a very real responsibility in getting the funding models for sport right in order that the positive move of banning alcohol sponsorship will not be damaging to the point of being counter-productive. I urge the Government through its new interdepartmental committee to set about devising new funding models for sport as soon as possible and putting in place a real State investment package for sport. The Cabinet would do well to look north, where the Executive is making a real investment in supporting sport as an essential part of the community.
Overall, what is proposed is positive, but it must be done carefully in order to achieve the best results in terms of really tackling alcohol abuse and promoting healthy living. While care must be taken, reform is also needed. The delay in making a move in respect of sponsorship should not be used to kick the can down the road but rather as a space in which to ensure we get the measures right and change things for the better. As previous speakers indicated, the Government has agreed to a ban on the advertising of alcohol after certain times. That is a positive step. It has also agreed to proceed with minimum pricing. As stated, we must be careful in how we proceed in that respect. These are but two steps in an entire series that will be taken.
The CEOs of the three main sports organisations - the GAA, the FAI and the IRFU - came before the joint committee. Apart from being in charge of their organisations, these individuals fully understand the effects of alcohol. They deal with tens of thousands of people and their families on a daily basis. They outlined to the committee the fact that the ending of sponsorship by drinks companies would have a massive effect on their organisations. Much of the funding which emanates from such sponsorship is invested in community projects, etc., within their organisations. How would the shortfall that would result from a ban on sponsorship be made up? That is a major issue. Sports clubs use their local pubs for the purposes of holding raffles and other fund-raising events. The money they make from selling tickets and so on provides many of them with their lifeblood. Some public houses even sponsor team kits and their names appear on players' jerseys. Are we going to bring an end to this type of activity? There is a need for a debate on this serious issue, particularly as a ban in this regard could have massive repercussions at grassroots level.
I have been involved in sport for many years. A previous speaker referred to karate, a sport in which I have been involved all my life. I also played soccer and the teams with which I was involved used to go to the pub after matches and some players would have a few drinks. However, this was all done in a spirit of camaraderie. It was not the case that people went out and abused alcohol, although I accept that the odd individual might have done so. However, we cannot educate for these individuals. That is the way it is with most sports clubs.
Everyone accepts that in an ideal world sports clubs and organisations would not be obliged to seek sponsorship from alcohol drinks companies. I am a member of the Finglas-Cabra drugs task force and have also been involved with the Ballymun drugs task force, both of which made suggestions in respect of the advertising of alcohol. I do not believe anyone has any doubt about the health implications of drinking alcohol. The joint committee considered this matter from the point of view of health and sport. However, it mainly concentrated on the issue of advertising. As stated, the problem is that there will be major repercussions if funding from advertising is cut. A plan must, therefore, be put in place in order that we might deal with this matter. There were those who suggested people should not be visiting the Guinness factory, etc., or holding events there. Some of the companies involved in the drinks industry have a long history here. They provide a service and are an advertisement for the country. We need to be very careful in how we deal with them.
I welcome the opportunity to contribute to this debate. It is a pity it is being held on a Friday when there are not so many Members present. This debate should take centre stage. During the joint committee's hearings and the preparation of the report, the dreadful problems Irish society faces as a result of the misuse of alcohol were spelled out in very stark terms.
Without alcohol at the centre of Irish life, we would have fewer premature deaths, road fatalities, injuries and cases of vandalism, assault, rape, domestic violence, child abuse and suicide. The number of babies born with a dependence on alcohol would fall and we would have a reduced incidence of cancer, lower rates of absenteeism, higher productivity, better health outcomes and lower expenditure commitments. If these are not strong arguments for taking serious action on our unhealthy relationship with alcohol, I do not know what arguments one could make for doing so. I regret, therefore, that the committee's response was not more adequate.
Public representatives regularly see at first hand the awful consequences of the misuse of alcohol in the lives of people we represent. We all know how vital it is that we respond to the challenges presented by alcohol misuse with an appropriate, credible and holistic strategy. Alcohol permeates so many aspects of Irish life that there is no silver bullet response. What is required is a comprehensive strategy that addresses all aspects of our unhealthy relationship with alcohol. We cannot afford to delay further in responding to this national issue.
As the joint committee was aware from its work on road safety and the significant success of the road safety strategy, no strategy can be successful unless it tackles every aspect of the problem and ensures every Department and sector plays its part. In terms of a strategy on alcohol, this includes measures on pricing, licensing, enforcement, availability, etc., as well as action to deal with the promotion of alcohol. This is where the issue of sports sponsorship enters the equation.
The promotion of alcohol takes many forms, but sports sponsorship is a significant component of it. While representatives of the three main participation sports in Ireland were reluctant to divulge to the joint committee all information on how much they received in sponsorship from the alcohol industry, the testimony of witnesses indicated that these sports gained between €10 million and €20 million in funding each year from this source. The dependence on alcohol sponsorship is heavier in the case of soccer and rugby, especially the latter, than it is for the GAA where alcohol funding is relatively minor and, thankfully, declining. As the drinks industry representative admitted to the committee, such sponsorship is not done for philanthropic reasons. The alcohol industry clearly stands to make a substantial commercial gain if it is willing to spend such large amounts on the promotion of its products.
Three key issues arise from the joint committee's proceedings, none of which was adequately addressed in its final report. The first question to be asked is whether there is evidence that sports sponsorship by the alcohol industry contributes to a harmful relationship with alcohol. On the issue of evidence, the committee heard that there was substantial evidence linking the promotion of alcohol with harmful outcomes from alcohol. In addition to the evidence heard by the committee, there are many Irish sources of research that provide very strong evidence in this regard. If Members have any doubt that this is the case, I encourage them to listen to a 15 minute lecture presented by DIT lecturer Pat Kenny on the evidence that links alcohol promotion and sports sponsorship with harmful drinking. I also invite them to examine a study carried out by Mr. Peter Anderson et al, which makes a highly persuasive case.
Curbing the promotion of alcohol is supported by, among others, the Chief Medical Officer, the Royal College of Physicians of Ireland, the British Medical Association and the World Health Organization. I am not sure if the joint committee examined undeniable evidence contained in an analysis conducted by Professor Gerard Hastings of the sponsorship of sports and music events by the alcohol industry in the United Kingdom. Internal industry documentation was sourced as part of an investigation into the conduct of the UK alcohol industry by the House of Commons Health Select Committee. The Chairman of the Joint Committee on Health and Children, Deputy Jerry Buttimer, was in the Chamber earlier. I ask him to carry out a similar investigation and examine the stark evidence that has become available on this issue. Even without local evidence, the committee will find that the evidence presented to the House of Commons committee makes an undeniable case for taking action. The work done by the UK committee entitled, "They'll drink bucket loads of the stuff", is available on the Internet. I ask those who have not read the report to do so.
The House of Commons committee's analysis highlighted a very deliberate use of sports and music sponsorship to recruit young drinkers, particularly young male drinkers. Internal documents from Carling concluded that the point of the company's sponsorship was to "[b]uild the image of the brand and recruit young male drinkers". The document pointed to the attractiveness of being able to "piggy back" on the heroes of young people and made the following conclusion: "They [young men] think about 4 things, we brew 1 and sponsor 2 of them". Having read this evidence, it is impossible to conclude anything other than that the promotion of alcohol, including sports sponsorship, leads to earlier initiation of drinking, higher levels of consumption and greater health risks than would be the case without such promotion.
The second vital question the joint committee failed to address was the extent to which a sponsorship ban should be applied, if one were to be phased in. It has never been suggested sponsorship of clubs by local pubs would be ruled out. The issue concerns big name sponsorship of major events and national organisations.
The third question the joint committee failed to answer was what steps could be taken to offset the reduction in funding to sport as a result of the phasing out of sponsorship. I regret that the committee did not make a serious attempt to address this question. I also regret that some of the big names in sport, for example, Tom McGurk, Dr. Mick Loftus and Colm O'Rourke, were not invited before the committee. These are individuals who love their respective sports but are very conscious of the problems associated with alcohol sponsorship.
Concern was rightly expressed at the joint committee about the need to support and sustain sport, given its important contribution to our identity, health and communities. While I welcome the committee's attempt to explore ways in which lost funding could be replaced, much more could have been done. It is important to properly quantify how much funding could be lost because conflicting estimates of the amount involved were given to the committee. One estimate indicated that sport could suffer a loss of between €35 million and €40 million if alcohol sponsorship were banned. However, the vast bulk of this funding would be replaced and the true figure would be probably closer to €5 million. There are also proposals on the table for plugging the hole left by this loss in income. One of the many recommendations made by the steering group on substance misuse was on the introduction of a social responsibility levy. Such a levy would go a long way towards making up the shortfall. What is the status of this proposal? I have not seen any reference to it in the Government's recent announcement of its plans in this area. I hope it has not slipped off the table.
The introduction of minimum pricing and a ban on below cost selling would offer further potential to raise additional funding for sport. Under the current system, large supermarket retailers which sell alcohol at below cost may claim a refund of VAT from the Revenue Commissioners. This means that the State is subsidising low cost selling of alcohol. Industry sources estimate that ending this arrangement for claiming VAT refunds could save the State as much as €20 million per annum. This sum would go a long way in supporting sport and would more than compensate for any loss arising from a ban on alcohol sponsorship.
Let this not be another Government that has ignored this serious problem. I would urge all Ministers to take their courage in their hands to finally address this problem and lend their full support to the Minister of State, Deputy Alex White, to tackle, for once and for all, this serious national problem, in terms of public health and public order. He deserves the support of the Cabinet and I certainly hope that such will be forthcoming.
I thank the Leas-Cheann Comhairle for letting me in on this important issue. I thank the committee and all the members, and, indeed, the Vice Chairman, for bringing this before the House today. I also thank the Minister of State, Deputy Alex White, for taking this issue.
The report is based on recommendations made by all the invited stakeholders, and looking at the many stakeholders, including the Irish Rugby Union, the Gaelic Athletic Association, the Football Association of Ireland, Alcohol Action Ireland, it is wide-ranging and encompassing.
We have had a significant problem due to the glorifying of alcohol through sport. In the 1980s, when I was playing soccer and Gaelic football, when one finished training it was not uncommon to head to the pub and drink pints of Bulmers, pints of Smithwicks, a shandy or something. Even before or after matches, it was part of the routine. No wonder we did not win anything. When I see young sportsmen, especially at local level, but even at county and national level, I am enthralled by their approach in that alcohol does not seem to be as much a part of their participation in sport as it used to be. The standard of competitiveness and fitness has increased immensely, and I welcome that. I used to run a five-a-side competition in Boyle in Roscommon every year. When one thinks about how far we have come, the first prize, in what was quite a serious competition, was a barrel of beer in the local pub. Today, it would not be correct, but this was the prize. We have come a long way.
Before matches, even among supporters, it was quite acceptable for everybody to go to the pub. It was quite acceptable for everybody to go to the pub afterwards. That is not a part of the scene. It is affecting publicans, but, thankfully, we can participate in support, watch and enjoy sport, but alcohol does not have to be a part of that enjoyment as much - I am not saying that it does not happen.
I note a few of the recommendations. I agree that the sponsorship by the alcoholic drinks sector should remain in place until such time as it can be replaced by other identifiable streams of comparable funding. Many of these sports clubs and organisations fear that such funding would dry up and they would not be able to replace it. Deputy Shortall probably outlined a few areas where we should be a little more innovative in looking at how we can get that funding addressed. Needs must. If the Government had not stated that this is coming down the track fairly fast, sporting organisations would have carried on in the belief that the funding is there from the alcohol sector and they did not have to look for funding. Many of the organisations are beginning to look at another stream of funding.
I note the lotto is being taken over by a new organisation and there is considerable competition for the proceeds of the national lottery. I have seen in clubs around the country where there is nearly not a bad pitch in the country or a dressing room that does not seem to be in need, but some sports, such as boxing, are the poor relation. The provision of €20,000 to such minority supports would go much further than €300,000 in sponsorship elsewhere.
Maybe we over-elaborate. In my own town, there is a soccer pitch with lights and dressing rooms, there is a training pitch and an all-weather pitch. There is also a Gaelic football ground, which has two pitches and dressing rooms, and has lights and everything, and there are tennis clubs. I am going back on old ground, but this is something that should have been done. These should have been community pitches. It is not only the amount of funding that has gone into them, but the amount of maintenance. The fact is that somebody - this happens in every town and village - can tell you: "That is the GAA pitch, that is the soccer pitch and that is the rugby pitch, and there are the tennis clubs, we have a small swimming pool here and a small swimming pool there." That is the way it is.
I listened carefully to all of the contributions made by Deputies here this afternoon. It has been a good debate, Friday or otherwise. There have been some excellent contributions and insights from all sides of the House and I recognise that.
I thank Deputy O'Mahony for being the initiator of this debate, and thank his committee. That has been extremely helpful. I thank the members of that committee, those who have responded here today, my predecessor, Deputy Shortall, for her remarks and for her support, and everybody who has contributed to this debate. Everybody has had something important to say of substance from whichever side of the discussion on sponsorship he or she comes, and everybody is on the same side in respect of the need to address the matter in a way that has an impact on the manifest problem of alcohol misuse in society. We have talked about it so long that the time has long come for us to address it in a way that is likely to have some effect. It has been an important and interesting discussion and I thank everybody for their contribution.
Of course, the issue of sports sponsorship was the principle one that was addressed in the report of the committee. For that reason, we have been concentrating on that this afternoon. Most have acknowledged that whereas it is important, and I regard it as extremely important, it is one element of a package of measures that is required. The word "holistic" was the one that was used by Deputy Buttimer and picked up by others. It is undeniable that it is a necessary and an indispensable element of any package of measures that is likely to have any positive effect.
There has been much discussion. In fact, I thought there would be more disagreement on the issue of evidence than there has been. A number of Deputies raised the issue of where is the evidence. It seems almost that, as the months or even the years progress, people are becoming more persuaded of the fact that there is evidence. If Members wish, I can distribute 17 different studies, that I collated for the purpose of the discussion in recent months in Government, in respect of the impact of sports sponsorship.
The longer the discussion goes on, the more people accept that although this evidence is there, the character of the evidence is a little different from the kind of evidence that one would reasonably look for in other areas of public policy, say, in scientific areas such as we were discussing earlier on fluoridation, because one cannot demonstrate a direct cause and effect. Deputy Eoghan Murphy made an excellent contribution, but I must take issue with the suggestion that in order to defend that the phasing out of sports sponsorship would be effective, one would have to accept that the fact the Heineken logo was printed on a beer mat would prompt somebody to purchase and drink a pint of Heineken. Nobody is saying that. I certainly would not accuse Deputy Eoghan Murphy of trivialising an issue - far from it. His contributions here are always insightful.
Nobody is suggesting for one minute that there is a direct cause-and-effect link between seeing a logo in a sports stadium or on a beer mat and immediate consumption of alcohol. It is vastly more sophisticated than that in terms of what is at play. Deputy Shortall went through much of the material that is available to us to demonstrate the level of sophistication in integrated marketing strategies and the kind of impact they have. We have to be prepared to examine the subtleties of these issues, particularly in the area of sponsorship, if we are to do justice to this debate. I referred earlier to the effectiveness of marketing strategies in sustaining market share and recruiting new markets among younger cohorts. Integrated marketing strategies are a highly developed business tactic deployed by alcohol companies to maintain and increase product sales, especially among younger people. Arguably, they are replacing traditional forms of advertising. One can see a move away from the traditional above-the-line advertising, with which we are all familiar, and towards sponsorship. People sometimes regard sponsorship simply as a benign wish to be associated with a particular product for some unspecified reason, but it is in fact a vastly more effective form of advertising than the traditional forms.
We need to take action on all fronts, including the vexed issue of sports sponsorship by alcohol companies. We have moved on from the question of whether the evidence supports our concerns to a debate on how to find replacement funding. That demonstrates real progress in this debate, because instead of arguing whether it is a good idea we are now discussing how, in practical terms, we will address the funding gaps that will undoubtedly emerge in the event of a ban or prohibition. That is a good thing to be debating. The committee has outlined legitimate concerns and I welcome the context in which these concerns have been addressed. This is one of the reasons the process to which the Government has agreed will be valuable. It will address not only the evidence for and the value of phasing out sports sponsorship, particularly with regard to its impact on young people, but also the legitimate concerns of sporting bodies regarding a rapid move towards banning sports sponsorship.
In regard to Deputy Shortall's points on replacement sources of income, the Government decided to establish this working group in order to assess the value, evidence, feasibility and implications, including public health consequences for children and young people, of regulating sponsorship of major sporting events by alcohol companies. It will also consider the financial implications and alternative sources of funding for sporting organisations to replace potential lost revenue from any such regulation. This will include a careful analysis of the alternative sources of funding, including the prospect of a social responsibility levy.
Deputy Ellis raised the issue of co-operation with Northern Ireland. That is one element of what we are doing, particularly in regard to minimum unit pricing. We have a land border and we have to move in tandem with our colleagues in the North. We are interested in working closely with them on a suite of measures in this area. A study that we commissioned with Northern Ireland is well under way and its final outcome will be ready for us in April 2014 to allow us to discuss not only the principle of minimum unit pricing but also the level at which it should be set. In respect of minimum unit pricing, it has been agreed that the Ministers for Finance and Health will explore how any financial benefits in the form of additional profits accruing to retailers of alcohol can flow back to the Exchequer.
The social responsibility levy approach is likely to be considered in the contexts of minimum unit pricing and the phasing out of sports sponsorship. I have argued that we should take that course, but this is a process of persuasion, not least within the Government. There is no reason to deny that differing views exist in the Government, because Ministers are required to have regard to different imperatives, among which is the protection of funding for sport. I have discussed this issue on many occasions with the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, who agrees with the thrust of my policy proposals but would not be doing his job if he did not express concerns about them. I am heartened by the support I have seen in today's debate.
I thank the Minister of State and other Deputies for their contributions to this valuable debate. All sides had an opportunity to express their opinions. I agree with most of what was said over the last two hours. One of the things I have learned from a lifelong involvement in sport as a player, manager and administrator is that teamwork is very important. Nobody is 100% right in any argument or report and nobody is 100% wrong. We should not expect to have 100% of our views included in anything we do. That is part of the discipline of sport and it also applies in this case. All of us want to end the abuse of alcohol, binge drinking and anti-social behaviour that is part of the culture of drinking. However, it is clear from Deputies' comments that some of us would travel a slightly different journey to achieve that end.
The question that must be asked of the measures we propose to implement is whether sporting organisations and participation in sport can thrive at elite and grassroots level so that young people can be disciplined and healthy and develop high self-esteem. Thousands of young people are not achieving high self-esteem from other activities, whether in academia or anywhere else. Sports provide the vehicle for them to develop those qualities. That is the end result that we all want. Evidence, reports and statistics have been mentioned. In my opening contribution I tried to summarise in stark outline the evidence from physicians and the alcohol action groups.
The key point they made was on the link between brand awareness and abuse.
All kinds of statistics can be used. I am not a mathematician, but it is possible to prove anything with statistics. There has been an increase in drinking in France in recent years, even though there is a ban on alcohol sponsorship. The ideal solution is to end alcohol sponsorship, but I am pointing to a statistic used in this debate.
My experience in sport, as a participant, manager and someone responsible for teams, is of sports organisations managing to change the drink culture of team participants. When I began my team management role, the Tuesday night training session for intercounty teams was used to sweat out the effects of the revelry on the Sunday night after a match, particularly during the winter months. That has totally changed and it is now difficult to get players to have a meal after a national league game because they must catch buses to go back to college. The sports organisations have attacked the culture of drinking in their sports and been successful in doing so.
I welcome this debate and all of the contributions to it. Deputy Timmy Dooley suggested we had dealt with the matter at the joint committee, but the committee comprises a small number of members and many other Deputies have contributed today, which is valuable. The Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Leo Varadkar, has offered to attend a committee meeting after this or any other report within his remit to provide reasons certain recommendations can or cannot be implemented. Every report is about provoking debate and feeding into the decisions made by Ministers at the Cabinet table. That is how democracy works and I have no problem with it.
Deputy Róisín Shortall referred to the joint committee's failure to identify streams of sponsorship that could replace the funding lost and close the deficit that would emerge if alcohol sponsorship was to be banned. I did not see this as being the role of the committee. I would love to spend the whole year dealing with the issue, but we do not have the time to do so in the system we operate. I think the Deputy and I agree that it is vital that this should happen in the group set up under the aegis of the Minister of State, Deputy Alex White. The ideal solution is for sport and alcohol sponsorship to be divided, but let us obtain the funding to replace what will be lost. Deputy Mick Wallace had a simplistic idea that the Government pay €200 million to sports organisations. I would love for that to happen, but it is not realistic in current circumstances.
I agree with the point made by Deputy Jerry Buttimer on the imagery portrayed when US Presidents come to Ireland. That has nothing to do with sports sponsorship, but it needs to stop. Similarly, a range of issues must be addressed; sports sponsorship is just one part of the package. If alternative streams of funding are identified and secured, I will welcome this and be delighted to move on in a world where sports can thrive and everyone involved in sport can be healthier, disciplined and learn good practices within it.