Thursday, 8 February 2018
Public Health (Alcohol) Bill 2015 [Seanad]: Second Stage (Resumed)
I have been thinking about this Bill for quite some time. Its slow passage to this point has not gone unnoticed. It has been so well documented that I have had ample time to consider the matter. The truth is that I remain unconvinced. I agree that we must tackle the issue of alcoholism and that we must tackle excess drinking. Who in this Chamber, were it fully attended, would not agree with those sentiments? However, I am unconvinced by the measures set out in this legislation. I am unconvinced by the provisions in the Bill in respect of advertising, labelling and, most of all, minimum unit pricing. I support the aims of the Bill, but I disagree with the detail. In short, I want to see action against alcoholism, but I feel these measures squeeze the people on the lowest incomes and the smallest producers.
I do not think there is anyone in this House who underestimates the turmoil, the toll and the cost that alcoholism visits individuals, their loved ones and on society at large. There is no one in this House who does not believe that we need to battle the causes and effects of alcoholism. However, we appear to differ on the interpretation of the data at our disposal and on the effectiveness of the measures that are proposed in this Bill. On the data, we can see that alcohol consumption in Ireland has plummeted since 2001.
We can also see that it is somewhat of a generational thing, with European teenagers 37% more likely than Irish teenagers to have consumed alcohol in the past 30 days and European teenagers on average 25% more likely to binge drink than Irish teenagers. In fact, Irish teenagers are the second most sober in the EU, a statistic we should be proud of.
My generation has a very different view from those who came before us when it comes to alcohol. Sitting in the Chamber yesterday and listening to the contributions, I was treated to some tremendously outdated views of youth, young adults and drinking. This view is not borne out by the data in the slightest. Nevertheless, it seems to stick and is commonly wheeled out.
In terms of the industry, the smallest producers are set to suffer most. When it comes to labelling, and when it comes to the impacts on producers, we need only look at the craft beer industry, which we often laud and celebrate in this House as a source of exports, jobs, regional development and tourism. We heard on "Prime Time" on Tuesday night from a Wicklow-based brewery, Wicklow Wolf, who testified that this makes their economies of scale more difficult, and that it may cause them to rethink their plans. This is the same for many craft breweries and is a direct consequence of the labelling issues. Each product will now need a domestic label and a foreign label, a domestic canning press and an export one. These are expensive pieces of equipment that affect the economies of scale. For craft brewers, canning procedures are a significant burden and expense. This has not been considered in the drafting of the Bill. Similarly, it strikes me as incongruous that we as a House supported craft breweries developing visitor centres in Deputy Alan Kelly’s Breweries and Distilleries Bill, yet do not make it clear if these same visitor centres will be included in an advertising ban. Fianna Fáil had an amendment in the Seanad in this regard, but withdrew it; I do not know why.
On minimum unit pricing, and this is perhaps my biggest issue with the Bill, I find it difficult to conclude that minimum unit pricing is born of anything but middle class guilt. It strikes me as being middle class guilt with working class consequences. Alcoholism and abuse of alcohol can happen just as easily to someone on a salary of €80,000, €90,000 or €100,000 as it can to someone on the average wage or below it. The aforementioned middle class guilt, combined with the desire to be seen to do something - anything - comes at the expense of those who work hard, already pay taxes in abundance and drink modestly.
It all strikes me as similar to "Upstairs, Downstairs". People can just as easily succumb to alcoholism on a high income as they can on a low one, and as we move upward through the income brackets, minimum unit pricing will clearly have a rapidly diminishing effect as a deterrent. Indeed, across my constituency among people I know, I can see how these measures will be welcomed in principle in a broad sense. Everybody agrees alcoholism is a bad thing, after all. When it comes to the actual implementation, among people I know in my constituency this will be keenly felt and coldly welcomed. For the woman who spends €35 a week on groceries and €5.50 on a bottle of wine, or for the man who buys four cans of beer on a Saturday night, this makes a big difference to their budget, to their week and to their lives. They suspect and expect that minimum unit pricing is something that will apply to other people. However, as the Minister of State and I know, that is not the case. That €5.50 bottle of wine will become €8 under minimum unit pricing. A difference of €2.50 might not mean much to me or the Minister of State, but it could mean an awful lot to an individual for whom it is a once-off treat as part of their groceries. It is a 63% price increase. The four cans of beer will go up by 50%, but to what end? My constituents will lose out, retailers will win, and normal people will lose.
To hone in on what I mean when I say that retailers win, one issue with the Bill that was not highlighted at all yesterday is that the introduction of minimum unit pricing of alcohol will actually put more money into the pockets of the likes of Tesco, a point outlined in the Oireachtas Library and Research digest of the Bill. Our local pubs will not benefit from the minimum unit pricing payment to the same extent as Tesco. Off-trade retailers are expected to benefit by €69 million while on-trade will benefit by €9.3 million. This gets to the nub of my issue with the Bill. This money does not go towards the health service or education in this field. In fact, incredibly, the research indicates that revenue to the Exchequer will reduce by €34 million per year as a consequence of the Bill.
Deputy Boyd Barrett railed yesterday against the retail and alcohol industry, saying he does not care about its profits, which is perhaps a good thing as this Bill looks certain to increase them. A better way for the Government to proceed would be to reintroduce the ban on below-cost selling, which was removed by the Fianna Fáil Government in 2006 when the then Minister for Enterprise, Deputy Micheál Martin, ended the old groceries order. Not only did this mean that retailers could sell alcohol below cost price, but it also led to a situation where supermarkets could recover the VAT on the difference between the sale and cost price, which is yet another cost to the Exchequer and the taxpayer. Alcohol NGOs were rightly critical of this move. The State lost out on revenue and low-cost alcohol became far more widely available as a result of this short-sighted policy by Fianna Fáil.
To my mind, there is an open question about the mechanism of minimum unit pricing. When people see these price rises, and presumably they will very much see them because otherwise what is the point of the disincentive, they will assume this is a tax. They will assume the Government benefits and that it is going towards a health, education or alcohol deterrence policy. That would be a better outcome but, incredibly, it is not the case. I am not sure my constituents, who enjoy an occasional weekend drink, will enjoy being lectured to and patronised, and having the privilege of paying for it, by politicians and anti-alcohol advocates who have never seen the inside of an Aldi or a Lidl.
There is also still a large open question about its effectiveness. It is said that this can only be brought in when Northern Ireland does the same, but while we might then both have minimum unit pricing, it is fair to say that alcohol in Northern Ireland will remain substantially cheaper, as the prices in both jurisdictions will increase in lock-step with each other, effectively preserving the status quo. Scandinavia has been mentioned quite often in this debate as an example to look towards and, surprisingly, it provides an example for my point also via Tony Connolly’s book on Brexit. It involves a shopping area called Nordby, where Norwegians have spent about €100 million euro every year of the last decade on cross-border shopping. Norway has a punitive sugar tax, so shopping centres in Nordby, which is just over the border in Sweden, have brilliantly lit outlets brimming with chocolate and sweets dotting the way across the border. Unsurprisingly, it is home to Scandinavia’s biggest shopping centre, yet the municipality in which it exists has a population of only 6,300. It strikes me that this Bill could push Newry towards being the new Nordby as people will go up North in search of alcohol at a reasonable price. That would not be a good outcome for us.
Many of my constituents work in Dublin Airport, as do those of the Minister of State, Deputy Finian McGrath. Normally, the airport is exempt from alcohol legislation. Those who have been through either of the terminals will be aware they have a fairly elaborate global whiskey shop. I am led to believe it has the largest selection in Europe. Some of these are extremely rare, with maybe only one bottle making it to Ireland, and perhaps as few as ten in existence globally. Incredibly, no exemption is given for these when it comes to labelling requirements. It would be expected that a custom label would have to be created. This simply will not happen, as anybody with common sense will realise. A small amendment could allow for even a minor exemption for airports whereby the labelling warning would be required to accompany the purchase. This would seem to be a fairly common sense solution.
Broadly speaking, and with those criticisms in mind, I agree with the thrust of this Bill and with the need to curb problem drinking, alcohol addiction and problems in our society caused by alcohol. This Bill will not achieve that, however. The most substantive thing it does is require one third of a label to be devoted to a warning, therefore tying one hand of our craft beer industry behind its back. It requires normal people to pay a minimum unit price, which arguably will not change consumption patterns in any respect but will simply mean people pay more. It will not fund the Exchequer or indeed fund any sort of health or education programme which could make a difference. Instead, it is a straight cash transfer from the citizen to the retailer while the Exchequer actually loses out.
There are improvements and amendments to be made and I would appreciate it were the Minister to convey to his colleagues in Cabinet that this Bill can be improved. We all agree that alcoholism is not a good thing for society and that we should all be doing our level best to prevent it.
Fianna Fáil broadly supports the provisions of the Public Health (Alcohol) Bill. Any legislative measures to curb alcohol abuse and excessive consumption are to be welcomed.
There is most certainly an issue with harmful drinking in Ireland. Evidence shows that this measure will reduce the burden of harm from alcohol. Its effects will be felt most keenly by high-risk drinkers. It is estimated that three people die every day in Ireland as a result of alcohol. That amounts to 88 deaths a month or more than 1,000 people who lose their lives every year. This Bill will prohibit the advertising or sale of alcohol products below a set minimum price. It is a targeted measure, designed to prevent the sale of alcohol at very cheap prices and is aimed at those who drink in a harmful and hazardous manner. Almost six out of ten people support a minimum price for alcohol products.
The price of alcohol is directly linked to consumption levels and the level of alcohol related harms. Increased costs, including price increases, lead to a decrease in consumption rates and harm. The University of Sheffield has estimated that this measure alone could save €1.7 billion over 20 years by reducing health care costs, in crime and policing, reduced absenteeism and improvements to quality of life. Minimum unit pricing will target cheaper alcohol relative to its strength, because the minimum price is determined by and is directly proportional to the amount of pure alcohol in drink. The University of Sheffield study supported the finding that the alcohol products most affected by this policy are those that are currently sold very cheaply, often at below-cost prices in off trades such as supermarkets and off licences.
Health labelling of alcohol products is a key element of this Bill. It provides for information on the label of an alcohol product such as a warning to inform the public of the danger of alcohol consumption, information on the danger of alcohol consumption when one is pregnant, the direct link between alcohol and fatal cancers, the quantity of grams of alcohol contained in the product and the number of calories it has. The details on the HSE website provide information on alcohol and related harms. Products sold in kegs or casks will have an accompanying document containing the above information. Licensed premises will have a notice on the warnings, and website information will confirm that a document noting the alcohol content and energy value of every product for sale in the premises is available on request. The above information will also be required on any websites that sell alcohol online. The aim is to provide consumers with information on alcohol products regardless of the manner of purchase; whether it is bought in a pub, shop or online.
The Health Research Board noted strong support from the public for more labelling on alcohol products with information on the alcohol strength, calories and alcohol-related harms. Mixed traders and retailers can store alcohol products in a storage unit behind the counter and can display and advertise alcohol products only. They will have to have an area in the shop which is separated by a physical barrier or enclosed storage units on the shop floor where the products are not visible. A maximum of three units of 1 m wide each and 2.2 m high will be permitted. The separation of alcohol products is intended to achieve several objectives. The access to alcohol products will be more controlled in these premises. Alcohol products will be less likely to be on display near grocery products, thereby discouraging their purchase as everyday household grocery shopping. Alcohol products also will be less visible to children.
The Bill provides for the drafting of regulations the Minister for Health to prohibit or restrict certain types of promotions, for example, buying one alcohol product and getting another one free or for student nights. The intention of the provision is to prohibit promotions that encourage risky drinking, that encourage individuals to purchase or drink more than they might intend or to drink faster than they might intend. The Bill provides for the restriction of the content, placement and volume of alcohol advertising. There is an aim in the provision to protect children from exposure to alcohol advertising and to address advertising that links alcohol with positive healthy lifestyles and social successes.
The Bill contains a requirement to include health warnings and details of HSE alcohol information websites on all advertisements of alcohol products. It will also restrict the content of alcohol advertising to facts about alcohol products. The advertising of such products will be prohibited within 200 m of the perimeters of schools, early years services such as crèches, and local authority playgrounds. Advertising on public transport vehicles and public transport stops and stations will also be prohibited.
I see all of these measures as very positive. They will enable Irish society to discourage alcohol abuse and harmful drinking, and will redirect our attention to a more positive attitude to our health and perhaps change our drinking culture for generations to come.
I absolutely support the objectives of the Bill to tackle alcohol misuse and underage drinking. However, I have some concerns about the labelling and advertising provisions in the Bill, which I believe will not achieve their public policy objective but which will seriously hamstring a thriving indigenous rural-based sector and affect rural investment and jobs. Balance is a word lost in this case. These amendments include the introduction of mandatory cancer warnings on all alcohol products sold in the Republic of Ireland and a requirement that health warning labels must make up at least one third of dedicated labelling space of all alcohol products sold in the Republic of Ireland. I believe we need to balance the objective of the Bill with the need to protect the growing Irish craft beer, whiskey and gin industries, including associated tourism.
The drinks sector supports the employment of 204,000 people in this country. This includes brewers, distillery workers, suppliers, farmers, distributors and those working in the hospitality sector. The sector generates a national wage bill of €2.9 billion, purchases over €1.1 billion of Irish products annually, exports goods worth more than €1.25 billion and provides the State over €2.3 billion through excise and VAT income, as well as hundreds of millions in income tax, PRSI receipts and tax on profits every year. Ireland exports drinks products to 130 markets worldwide, reinforcing our reputation as a premium food and drinks producer. Four years ago there were four whiskey distilleries in Ireland.There are now 18, with an additional 16 in planning. There are also approximately 100 microbreweries operating in Ireland today.
The advertising and labelling measures are not supported by evidence in regard to decreasing misuse and will severely constrain the ability of small craft breweries and distillers entering the market. Before going into greater detail about the labelling and advertising provisions, I would like to refer to one distillery in particular. The Shed, owned by Mr. P.J. Rigney, is a handcraft distillery in the rural village of Drumshanbo, County Leitrim. Mr. Rigney's business was launched, as I understand it, by the Taoiseach, and he has sent me an email, which he has given me permission to read here today. It states:
I am deeply unhappy with [the Government's] approach to this bill, the lack of consultation & the propagation of outdated stereotypes & suspect research on alcohol consumption & its health affects provided by lobbyists in the health sector some of whom appear to have an extreme & narrow agenda. I am particularly concerned with the changes to advertising & labelling, some of which is pure nonsense & will affect our investment & jobs in Leitrim. We hope to achieve planning for the enhanced new visitors experience next week [for] Drumshanbo. I am considering cancelling the project & will have no choice but to put the cause of the cancellation at the foot of this bill unless [common] sense prevails and [the Bill] is balanced.
The Shed Distillery employs 18 people and will add 20 more if their visitors' experience centre goes ahead in Drumshanbo, where there is a need for jobs. The risk is a €2 million investment and 20 jobs at the very least in a rural area which needs these jobs badly.
The distillery will link with local hotels, the Shannon Blueway and Arigna to bring tourism to the area. All of that will be put at risk. Of the company's 18 employees, 16 were previously on the live register. Some of them were unemployed for up to eight years. They are wonderful staff and are keen to learn. In conjunction with its US distiller, the Shed has trained wonderful local staff with zero previous experience to become world-class distillers from a point of zero. All of this has happened in Drumshanbo. Why should the company invest if it is being undermined by the Government in the form of this extreme and unbalanced Bill?
In my home town of Ballymote, there is a micro-brewery which has been operating for approximately four years and which employs 20 people in an area where people have no real opportunity to gain employment. Another small micro-brewery in Sligo, Lissadell brewery, employs 18 people. Those are brave individuals who are trying to do something for their local areas by creating employment where previously there was none. In the plan for the period 2020 to 2040, there is no mention of the north west. Sligo, Donegal, Letterkenny, Cavan, Monaghan and Roscommon are totally ignored in that plan.
Section 12 of the Bill provides for the introduction of new labelling requirements in respect of alcohol products. Labels will include a warning on the danger of alcohol consumption, a warning on the danger of alcohol consumption when pregnant, a warning on the link between alcohol and fatal cancers and information on calorific content and the quantity of alcohol in grams. The Minister has complete discretion on the content, form, size, colour and prominence of these warnings, which he can unilaterally introduce without any consultation with the drinks industry or other relevant stakeholders. We are all human and we would all agree that people should be made aware of the dangers of alcohol. In addition, we all want people to drink less. Section 12(10) also states that at least one third of the printed materials will be given over to the health warnings and outer packaging as well.
The Minister accepted two Opposition amendments in the Seanad, one of which was to include cancer warnings on all alcohol products. We cannot disagree with that either but it is about achieving a balance. No other country in the world has mandatory cancer warnings on alcohol products. Such a measure applies a stigma to products produced in Ireland and gives a clear advantage to competitors abroad who are not required to carry such labels.
According to DKM Economic Consultants, who published a report, Socio-Economic Impacts of Proposed Regulations under the Public Health (Alcohol) Bill, specific Irish-only labelling will impose additional costs on producers and will result in significant additional costs and logistical difficulties for businesses operating in and importing to Ireland, which represent a barrier to trade in the European Union. Industry sources indicate that the cost of redesigning a single label for large-scale manufacturers is approximately €14,000 while the entire suite of labelling for a single product line, including front and back labels and outer packaging, is approximately €50,000. This is a cost that small brewers, micro-brewers and small distilleries trying to get off the ground cannot afford. Imposing Irish-only labels puts Ireland at regulatory divergence from everywhere else in the EU and constitutes a barrier to trade.
The Bill will make Ireland one of the most restrictive countries in the world for marketing alcohol products. The advertising restrictions will make it difficult for new distilleries and breweries to market their products and compete against established brands. The advertising restrictions will give an unfair advantage to products or brands that are well established within the Irish market. Small and new alcohol producers will be placed at a major disadvantage in terms of brands. The Bill will stop product innovation in Ireland, which will reduce consumer choice and competition. Furthermore, adverts for visitor centres that contain the name of the brand will be severely constrained. Over 2.5 million people visit breweries and distilleries here annually.
Section 13 imposes significant restrictions on what can appear in advertisements and section 14 imposes significant prohibitions on where advertising, particularly outdoor advertising, can be placed. These restrictions will severely constrain how new brands can be advertised and promoted and will give an unfair competitive advantage to established companies. Those restrictions will damage competition and have the potential to decimate whiskey and gin tourism in this country.
In section 2, advertising is defined as any form of commercial communication with the aim or direct or indirect effect of promoting an alcohol product and includes the name of any brand of alcohol. The Bill does not contain any exemption for Irish whiskey, gin, cream liqueur or distillery visitor centres. That is a mistake. All of that means that the section 13 and 14 restrictions will apply to any advertisement for any Irish whiskey distillery visitor centres that contain the name of the whiskey brand produced there. For example, visitor centre advertisements will not be able to contain images of people or a suggestion of a storyline relating to alcohol. Outdoor advertising will be severely limited and advertisements will be prohibited in train stations and at bus and Luas stops. The Bill will simply shift advertising revenue away from Irish media towards international, non-Irish regulated media organisations that broadcast freely in this country.
It is possible to balance the Bill without undermining the important objectives it seeks to achieve. We have already made significant
progress in the absence of such unbalanced measures. According to the World Health Organization, WHO, alcohol consumption in Ireland has fallen by 25% since 2005, during which time the alcohol industry has been operating to strict voluntary codes in the context of advertising. Furthermore, in October 2017, an iReach consumer poll of over 1,000 respondents found that only 27% of respondents believe the measures proposed in this Bill will be effective. We need to seriously examine it again.
Yes. I welcome the opportunity to speak on this very important legislation. I want to say at the outset that I am very disappointed at the length of time it took for this Bill to get to the floor of the Dáil for debate.
I am very aware of the intense lobbying of politicians on all sides in respect of this Bill, particularly by the drinks industry. The point of the Bill is to make it clear that alcohol is not like any other product. It is a Bill which has at its heart the best interests of our citizens.
Everybody in this Chamber is aware that we are in the middle of a health crisis. We only have to look at the increased numbers in accident and emergency departments every weekend to see the strain alcohol abuse is placing on our front-line services. Right now across the State, there are 1,500 people in hospital beds due to alcohol related health issues, and that is even before we get into the other areas like justice and social protection on which millions of euro have to be spent every year to deal with alcohol-related issues. This is an issue we need to get to grips with.
Other Deputies and Senators have spoken at length on the various issues relating to this Bill. I want to focus on young people. As I said earlier, alcohol is just not like any other product yet advertisements, which children see, constantly glamorise its use. As we know, young people will often behave in a learned way. In other words, they pick up traits and habits they see being used by people in authority, celebrities or their own parents.
The reality is that alcohol consumption has become totally interwoven into the fabric of our society. That is simply not a healthy development. Sports teams are sponsored by spirits and beer companies. Every time a foreign Head of State visits the country, a pint of stout is shoved into his or her hand in order that a photograph to be splashed across newspapers throughout Ireland and abroad. That is ridiculous.
We all remember when, a few years ago, a grocery chain in Dublin actually advertised, by means of leaflets and posters, a children’s allowance day deal that included, alongside groceries, an advertisement for slabs of beer at special reduced prices.
It was absolutely shameless and displayed an incredible lack of awareness and cop-on.
We need to ensure the dangers associated with alcohol abuse are taught to children from a young age. I used to smoke but have given it up. I remember how the issue used to come up with my children when they came from school asking "Mammy, why are you smoking? It's bad for you". That hits home with parents and shows how important educating young people is. Its effect is not just on those young people themselves; there is a ripple effect on the people around them. There should be more focus on educating younger people in school on the dangers associated with alcohol misuse.
The problems associated with alcohol misuse are broader than just health. In 2014, the Child Law Reporting Project found that alcohol misuse was a factor in almost one in eight cases in which a child was placed into care. It is clear that there is a close link between excessive parental drinking and child neglect and abuse. The ISPCC found that the life of one in every 11 children is being negatively affected by parental drinking. Some of the stories from children who took part in surveys on this issue are heartbreaking. The burden of problem drinking is not solely on the person who drinks. It is shared with family and friends and it is placed on our public services.
I also want to address an issue which has been brought up time and again, that is how minimum pricing will affect retailers. Below-cost selling by large supermarket chains to drive footfall and sales of more expensive grocery products is a long-running tactic. It is morally wrong. Not only that, it also squeezes responsible retailers such as the local off-licence which simply cannot compete with these supermarkets. I support this Bill fully. It is about taking a responsible approach to the scourge of alcohol misuse in the State. It is about protecting our young people, discouraging the glamorisation of alcohol and increasing public awareness of the health and social problems associated with alcohol misuse.
It is clear not only in its Title but, equally, in the shared intent of its promoters in both Houses of this Parliament, what exactly the Public Health (Alcohol) Bill 2015 is about. The Bill is about public health first and last. There is no other agenda. That its passage into law will have an impact across our communities is not disputed. This will be in evidence in all non-off-licence settings. My hope and indeed my expectation is that the impact will not be as severe for individual businesses as has been either feared or forecast. Once it is done, it is done. That is important. Whether we are retailers or consumers, we will find the new reality strange and challenging at first. As with other significant societal measures in the past, we will adapt. Whether one is a retailer or a consumer, there is a shared responsibility to contribute positively to and accept our role in any measure that can help reduce the simply dreadful impact that alcohol abuse has on the lives of so many with alcohol addiction, their families, their friends, their communities and on Irish society more broadly. We must face up to the facts and our shared duty to accept these statistics and the terrible realities that those statistics represent in the lives of so many, including people and families that we all know. Just as worrying are the effects on those we do not know because the hurt and pain is often hidden from everyone's view.
The following fact has already been recorded in the course of this Second Stage debate. Each day in Ireland, we are reliably informed, three people die in circumstances directly related to alcohol misuse. The passage of this Bill will not be a panacea for this frightening fact. People are still going to die and lives will still be blighted. We have a duty, however, to take a conscious stand and to do anything and everything we can to help address the carnage of lives lost to alcohol and the ruin of innocent lives, often as those affected suffer in silence. At a time when our hospitals are at breaking point, our accident and emergency units are filled to capacity and more every weekend with people suffering from the effects of alcohol. It is incomprehensible to me and to most people, I think, that there are voices among us that, for some reason, choose to ignore what our hospital staff, doctors, nurses, care attendants and others face week after week, not to mention the frightening impact this has on other patients of all ages, including children. These issues have been raised with me on many occasions over my years in public life, not only during my time as a spokesperson on health.
The warnings that will now be placed on alcohol products are welcome. They have their own difficulties and will, of course, have an impact in lots of ways. Nevertheless, they are welcome. Just because they are not already in use in other jurisdictions does not mean we cannot take the lead. Restrictions on the placing of advertisements and the times at which they can be broadcast are welcome. They are very important measures. Notwithstanding all of the many specific provisions the Bill entails, the main positive the public will take from it is that people will at last realise that alcohol is a product of choice. Up to this point, marketing gurus in the major drinks companies may as well have been opening a drink in front of us and pouring it down our throats. There was no getting away from it. That is the current situation. The Bill will certainly make alcohol a product of conscious purchasing choice, which I welcome. I look forward to a point in the future when we will be able to look back on the passage of this Bill and say it was worth it. If the health of our nation is significantly improved and our relationship with alcohol becomes mature and much more respectful, it surely will have been worth it. Only time will tell.
Ba mhaith liom a rá ar dtús go dtógaim deoch. Is maith liom é. Is maith liom dul isteach i dtithe tábhairne, is áiteanna sóisialta iad, agus is maith liom fíon le béilí. I take a drink, I enjoy it and I also enjoy going into many of the pubs because there is a very good atmosphere. I know the numbers employed in the drinks industry and I know the interest in the growing market in craft beers we have seen recently. Some areas of the country are producing their own spirits and this is having a positive impact on employment and the spirit in rural Ireland. I also know the numbers who visit the breweries and distilleries around the country, and the spin-off merchandising industry from that, as well as the visitors who come to enjoy the pub atmosphere and the music. However, there is no doubt but that we have a very unhealthy relationship with alcohol in Ireland. We know the damage it is doing to individuals, families and communities the length and breadth of Ireland. That damage is physical, mental and emotional, and it is because of the misuse and abuse of alcohol.
Apart from that physical and psychological cost, there is also a very serious financial cost to both individuals and society. We know figures of €1 billion to €3 billion have been quoted between health and justice because of the abuse of alcohol, which is a serious contributing factor in assaults, domestic violence and sexual assaults, as well as in self-harm, suicide and attempts at suicide. Child welfare concerns have also been articulated for those who are living in families with alcohol issues. Even for those young children who do not come to the attention of the child welfare agencies, the evidence is strong of the damage done to children and young people through living with excessive drinking. We also have figures on absenteeism from school and from the workplace. From my knowledge of prison and those in prison, I would venture to suggest that at least 50% of those who are in prison are there because of alcohol or drug issues. Into that mix come the illegal substances and drugs, and we see poly-drug use with alcohol, which is a lethal mix.
That is the damage from the misuse and abuse of alcohol that has been going on for generations. There is also the association of alcohol with every occasion from birth, when we have to wet the baby's head, to death and on all the occasions in between. There is a drink for every occasion and for every mood or feeling, whether one is sad, happy, lonely, depressed or celebrating. There is now a culture of normalising alcohol with everything that goes on in our lives. Another normalising aspect is that it is almost acceptable, if that is not too strong a word, to be drunk, to be over the limit or to have one too many. It is disheartening that, as a society, we are not shocked enough when we see such examples of excessive drinking.
We know the reports, the statistics and the surveys. I have looked at one from the Health Research Board on the per capitaalcohol consumption compared with other countries, and Ireland scores highly. The board then makes the point that if one fifth of the adult population is not taking alcohol, that puts the per capitafigures even higher.
When I was speaking on the Bill on removing the Good Friday ban, I made a point about St. Patrick's Day. I acknowledge what many cities and towns are trying to do to make it more family-friendly but there is no doubt that St. Patrick's Day - a public holiday as well as a day of religious significance - is a drinking day and, unfortunately, it is a drinking to excess day; it is drowning the shamrock. In parts of our cities, the late-night streets are just rivers of broken glass, urine and vomit and that is not just confined to St. Patrick's night but is also a feature on many weekends in the cities. Gardaí, members of the ambulance services and staff in accident and emergency are the ones who bear the brunt of that excessive drinking and drug taking.
That is an overview of the reality, the damage and the negatives from abuse and misuse of alcohol. If one turns to the new strategy, Reducing Harm, Supporting Recovery, I note the expert panel conducted a review of the previous drugs strategy and characterised alcohol as the elephant in the room. The question is how we are dealing with that elephant in the room, that is, with the damage, devastation and harm that is caused by abuse and misuse. This Bill is being presented as a way forward in addressing that and in responding to the damage. It is doing that through a new system of labelling, restrictions on advertising, structural separation of alcohol and measures on promotions and minimum pricing. I have to ask what difference those measures will make to the problem drinkers, to those who misuse and abuse. What difference will they make to excessive drinking and the drinking culture? Will this Bill have the effect it is claimed it will have? I have my doubts, in spite of the statements of welcome and optimism as to what it will do in raising awareness of the risks associated with alcohol and in reducing consumption. To me, this Bill is only a small part of a much bigger conversation. Although it has taken so much time and work, I feel the Bill is just scratching the surface of the issue. While it is about alcohol, the new strategy, Reducing Harm, Supporting Recovery, covers drug and alcohol use in Ireland, which is the much broader conversation we need to have.
When we look at the drug situation, we have legal and illegal drugs. There are frightening statistics on the increase in prescription drugs, such as oxycodone, fentanyl and codeine, with the numbers doubling, trebling and quadrupling. We also have the statistics on the increase in the use of sleeping tablets and antidepressants. These are statistics for medical cardholders, so we do not have the other statistics on drugs bought privately. Then there are the illegal drugs such as heroin, ecstasy and cocaine, as well as the proliferation of tablets on sale. I have to ask whether we are having the right conversation and how serious we are when it comes to tackling the misuse and abuse of alcohol and drugs.
There is a lot of dishonesty, contradiction and hypocrisy in the whole debate we have about alcohol. I see a positive move in the small craft beer cottage industry that is developing in rural Ireland and the employment it is bringing, and Deputy Catherine Connolly particularly wanted that point to be made. While it is a small but growing export business, however, the labels are now required to have health warnings, although this is not an EU regulation. That will be a serious cost for the small brewer but it will not be anything for the multinationals and the big companies which are producing other forms of alcohol. It will hit the small producer because those products will be on a shelf in European supermarkets with this health warning that if anyone drinks the beer, all these terrible things will happen, but they are side by side with beers from other countries with no health warning at all although they contain the same ingredients. That has to be looked at further.
We could put health warnings on so many things in our supermarkets and shops because most things we eat should carry a health warning in some way. There was a dishonesty in the previous debate on the Good Friday ban. Leaving aside the tradition and religious aspect of it, we were told it was all about tourists but we were not telling the truth. It was not about tourists; it was really about the vintners and what they were losing because of the Good Friday ban.
Part of this Bill relates to young people. The Minister wants to create an environment in which our children are not exposed to alcohol products or advertising of such products daily. Short of putting all the children in Ireland on a desert island with no alcohol, I really have to ask about the practicality of this. I accept the arguments being made about advertising but, to my mind, it is about education and awareness-raising among young people on how to cope and deal with alcohol. It is also about raising their critical awareness of what the advertising industry is about, the work it does in targeting an audience's fears and expectations, the hopes it plays on in order to sell a product, as well as the techniques and the strategies. Whether it is a caption or a jingle, using a famous person or using a whole psychology of colour, young people need to understand that. Such critical awareness would be much more beneficial and effective.
There are mixed views among young people when it comes to advertising being an incentive to drink. I refer to work I did with transition year and fifth year students in second level schools in the north-east and north-west inner city, where we got them to look at the advertising around alcohol and drugs. They made the point forcefully that the lifestyle that was being portrayed was a partying one, with money and celebrations. However, they found the lifestyle portrayed in the advertisements to be totally unrealistic in the context of their lives and they did not see it as portraying something they would achieve because they knew what life was about and they knew what having too much drink was about. They also saw the irony in banning alcohol sponsorship of sports when the pub is often the norm as the place to watch these sports. They were not into who exactly was the sponsor. They also saw the irony in the contradiction of sport and alcohol in the same advertisement because they know that sport is about a healthy lifestyle whereas too much alcohol can be unhealthy. They were very aware of what the advertisements were doing.
They discussed their reasons for drinking.
It was to boost confidence and help them relax and have fun. How do we address that? How do we give them the opportunities to celebrate, relax and have fun that do not involve alcohol and drugs? We know confidence comes from a sense of self and self-esteem. That requires joined-up thinking between schools and the communities which have the programmes to work with young people.
I know the argument that the advertising and drinks companies would not spend so much on advertising if it did not have an effect. The 400 young people who were asked over four different events were not taken in by advertising. We need to go beyond that debate and look at the advertising and marketing that encourages young people to stop and think. I want to make the point strongly that the voices of young people should be heard. The work must be done with them, rather than assume that we know what is affecting them, or what works or does not in relation to them. They would be empowered to make the informed choices when they make decisions on alcohol and drugs.
On pricing, no doubt others will have been to supermarkets and hypermarkets in France, Spain, Italy and Portugal where alcohol is often cheaper than alcohol here in Ireland. While those countries have problem drinkers, they do not have the same visible, excessive, out of control drinking that we have here. I am not sure this Bill will make a difference to that excessive drinking. Similarly, regarding on-street drinking, while it can be very nice to sit in the sun at an outdoor café or pub with a drink, whether alcoholic or otherwise, the problem lies where it gets out of hand and that happens because of the culture we have. While each of us is responsible for our drinking, there are irresponsible owners and workers in pubs and clubs who serve those who are clearly drunk. Pubs provide a social atmosphere but they are affected by cheap alcohol and the offers which encourage people to drink at home, where they drink more than they would if they were out. The other side of that is that if no one goes to the pubs, particularly on Monday, they will come up with offers and promotions. I can imagine the offers that we will see this Good Friday.
Another important part of the conversation that we are not having is the services available in Ireland for problem drinkers and drug users, especially for those who do not have private health insurance. We know of the chaos in emergency departments when those presenting with alcohol and drug issues are in the same space as those presenting with coronaries, broken limbs or strokes, for instance. While they are all health matters, there is a need for a separate space. That is not to stigmatise those who are coming in with alcohol and drug issues, but rather a practical suggestion.
I am very struck by all the work that went into the Bill by so many organisations and the Oireachtas staff who were involved in its drafting, along with the extensive lobbying. However, I feel it skirts the real issues. I think of those who are working on the front line in the addiction area and the many projects which have faced so many cuts in recent years but are there for those who want to start a recovery journey, a person in addiction and those affected by the addiction who have a different expectation of what we mean by a public health alcohol Bill. That is the debate we really need.
If one goes to the emergency department drunk, there is an opportunity to sober up before being put out, but at least one project I know takes referrals from emergency departments which gives people the option of recovery. That saves lives. That project has no guarantee of continued funding. There is a lack of residential places for those who do not have private health insurance. I acknowledge the work of Sister Consilio and the opportunities her centres give to those who do not have private health insurance. I also acknowledge the 12-step programmes and the voluntary and community organisations throughout the country which struggle between cuts and the uncertainty of continued funding.
Many people go into prison and get sober and drug-free while they are inside, yet they are then released into the chaos which got them into addiction in the first place. We do not seem to care about that and the revolving door continues to operate.
I also refer to the work of the Recovery Academy Ireland and the number of recovery coaches and the work they do in raising awareness of recovery and providing training and support. They make the point that recovery is possible and achievable.
Overall, I support the Bill and what it is trying to do but there are areas that need further scrutiny, particularly with the unintended consequences of some of its measures. It is disappointing that having taken so long, it only deals with a small part of the problem and what is needed to resolve it.
We need up-to-date, reliable, evidence-based reports. Too many contradictory reports are being published. We also need the same space to be given to young people and those who work directly in areas affected by this in discussing this issue as has been given to the lobbying groups for the drinks industry by Ministers and their officials.
I am glad to have the opportunity to speak on this much debated and much discussed Public Health Alcohol Bill, which is before us. It is a Bill which I know very well. It had a turbulent time in the Seanad last year and is legislation about which many industry and commercial organisations have contacted me since it was published regarding its worrying measures.
I support the overall principles of the Bill and its ultimate policy objective, the Minister for Health's efforts to reduce alcohol consumption. If this Bill was simply about reducing the consumption of alcohol and about reducing the harm caused by the misuse of alcohol in our society, as its listed objectives advise, I do not believe there would be any major cause for concern. However, it is not limited to these aims and features several areas which deeply concern me as an elected representative for Sligo-Leitrim, which I will highlight.
It seems as though, yet again, the hands of the un-named and unaccountable Government officials are all over this Bill and that we as public representatives are expected to run with it, despite its flaws. It is unfair. I speak here as a life-long pioneer and as a person who has never taken a drink of alcohol in my life. As far as I am concerned there is no vested interest on my part.
I strongly believe this Bill goes too far when attempting to address the real problems with excessive drinking in this country and will have many unintended consequences on a wide range of sectors throughout Irish society. These are consequences which could be avoided while still ensuring the Bill's overall aims are met. These are aims which I fully support and Ireland is already on its way to addressing them judging by the fall in consumption levels since 2002.
Whether it is in agriculture, employment, tourism or the economy, this Bill will have many unintended consequences across the country and many jobs will be lost as a result. My colleague, Deputy Eamon Scanlon, highlighted this earlier but I will give an example of how it will affect people in my area. Some years ago, a man named Pat Rigney invested in a small food hub facility in Drumshanbo, County Leitrim with the help of local activists. I have known him since he started in Drumshanbo. This location, since expanded, has become known as the Shed Distillery. This is a small village in the north west with limited industry. However, over the last two years Pat Rigney has hired 14 local staff and gone on to develop a unique, award winning Irish gin that has taken the world by storm from this rural village. The success of Drumshanbo Gunpowder Gin proves just what a success rural Ireland can be for investment. The product’s incredible growth has meant that further expansion and jobs are planned in Drumshanbo. It is expanding its product range having just received planning permission for a site for a multi-million euro whiskey visitor experience and tourist attraction, which if developed will create a further 20 jobs in the area. It is a wonderful success story for County Leitrim and is something which the local community in Drumshanbo is very proud off. A small start-up company, with limited market share to date, has grown in size as a result of its premium quality and being able to tell the unique story of its production and its humble origins.
It is a premium, high quality product that is clearly not being abused in the same way that other cheaper and low-cost spirits are, and as such, causing real damage, yet the consequences of this Bill, particularly sections 12 to 14, inclusive, will ultimately put this greater product's future in doubt. It has already put the new visitor attraction in Drumshanbo in doubt and it will also put all of these potential new jobs in County Leitrim in doubt. It and the high quality premium Irish products just like it are being damaged by this Bill. I believe this is deeply unfair as they are not the root cause of or even associated with the problems we are trying to address.
Moving away from Drumshanbo for a moment, I am firmly of the opinion that the key way to tackle the real abuse of alcohol in this country is to ensure that the below-cost selling of alcohol is tackled hard and that dangerous advertising campaigns and unsafe drink offers aimed at young people are curtailed. It is clear that this is where the real damage is being done and I believe this may have been the original intention of this proposal. However, we are now in a situation whereby this minimum pricing aspect of the Bill is totally reliant on the Government of Northern Ireland passing a similar Bill on pricing to avoid large-scale excursions across the Border and yet there are no guarantees that Northern Ireland will even have a Government in place at Stormont between now and 2020, let alone that it will bring in a Bill to this effect. Let us be clear, the one key area of this Bill which will ultimately have the greatest effect against harmful and dangerous alcohol consumption is simply not guaranteed as we stand here today. This is quite alarming.
The key areas of this Bill which, I believe, are causing the most alarm are the proposed new measures on labelling and the advertising of alcohol products. These dramatic and, in my opinion, unnecessary measures are somewhat excessive and when considered along with the fact that Ireland's alcohol consumption levels are already rapidly declining, can be seen as extreme.
With regards to labelling in particular, whilst I support the concept of any product on sale in Ireland displaying the content and calories contained within for health reasons and also the grams of alcohol along with the written warning, the proposals contained in section 12 will, amongst other things, ultimately lead to unfair stigmatisation of many Irish produced products abroad as many locally produced, as such, by smaller-scale alcohol producers will not be able to afford to have different labels for different countries due to the cost implications involved. This will lead to the stigmatisation of many Irish products internationally and as a result lead to damaging consequences for Irish businesses.
On this basis, I cannot see why the Government has accepted two amendments in the Seanad from Senators Nash and Black which, if retained, will require the introduction of mandatory cancer warnings on all alcohol products sold in the Republic of Ireland and a requirement that health warning labels must make up at least one third of dedicated labelling space. These amendments, in my opinion, have damaged the distinct labelling of premium Irish products, which are not being abused like cheaper products, and damage the reputation of these brands internationally. I must ask where has the Department of Health presented real scientific or evidence-based argument to justify the introduction of these specific cancer and 30% labels. Are the officials suggesting here that we will soon be putting cancer labels to the tune of 30% of the packaging on labels for bacon, sausages, red meat, butter, smoked salmon etc. for cancer risk also? What will be next? What will these cancer warnings look like? Will they be the same as those on the cigarette packages? As of yet, we do not know as this function will be decided solely by the Minister for Health. I do not doubt the Minister's good intentions here, but can one imagine a bottle of premium Irish whiskey, gin or whatever with such huge labels and images on it and the effect it will have on the potential to sell this product abroad? Who will this benefit when our producers are exporting? It is unworkable and it will greatly damage local business in Ireland and internationally.
The other key area in the Bill I have a major problem with is the way it will introduce advertising restrictions on products almost like a blanket ban. As well as having unintended consequences for the work of agencies such as Drinkaware Ireland, a NGO set up to limit alcohol abuse in the country, this Bill will ensure that the key players in the alcohol market will remain as the kingpins, as new companies and smaller producers will not be able to advertise their product to the market as the larger companies were able to do and as such will not be able to grow to the same extent. How can the Minister seek to compensate for the damage this Bill's measures will do on the rapidly growing craft beer industry, the new local distilleries and the tourism sector as a result?
Section 13 imposes significant restrictions on what can appear in advertisements and section 14 imposes significant prohibitions on where advertising, particularly outdoor advertising, can be placed. These restrictions will severely constrain how new brands can be advertised and promoted and they will clearly give an unfair competitive advantage to established companies. Without doubt, these restrictions will ultimately damage competition.
More critically, these restrictions have the potential to decimate the rapidly growing whiskey tourism sector. This worries me greatly as, aside from Drumshanbo, we have a major new whiskey distillery visitor centre being developed at Hazelwood in Sligo and I fear that any limit on advertising the tourism attraction would bring this major project into doubt.
Under section 2 of the Bill “advertising” is defined as "any form of commercial communication with the aim or direct or indirect effect of promoting an alcohol product and includes...the name of any brand of alcohol product". The Bill, as it stands, does not contain any exemption for Irish whiskey distillery visitor centres. Does the Department for Health really think that the whiskey tourism industry, with all its potential benefits to the economy, is causing the problems which below-cost selling of alcohol is causing? We need to get real.
Sections 13 and 14 restrictions will apply to any advertisement for an Irish whiskey distillery visitor centre that contains the name of the whiskey brand produced there. For example, visitor centre advertisements will not be able to contain images of persons or a suggestion of a storyline. Outdoor advertising will be severely limited and advertisements will be prohibited from train stations, bus stops and Luas stops. This is crazy and it will certainly have a major effect on tourism and jobs in many rural areas of the country.
I reiterate my firm commitment to the overall aim of this Bill, which is to reduce alcohol consumption in Ireland, to limit advertising to children and to prevent alcohol-related harm in the future. However, I am afraid that for me, personally, as a non-drinker, many of the changes contained within this Bill are a step to far and need to be addressed. We are throwing the baby out with the bath water in our excessive attempts to tackle a problem which, I believe, does not need to damage Irish tourism, jobs and industry whilst successfully achieving its aim.
In my view, the advertising and labelling restrictions contained within the Bill are poorly targeted, are not backed by evidence and will unfairly impact on local industry if left unchallenged. The Bill, as it is, stigmatises Irish products and does not focus on cheaper imports and below-cost selling in supermarkets. It will increase production costs to Irish businesses. It will introduce barriers to trade and will ultimately cost us local jobs.
I believe that we have taken-----
I welcome the opportunity to speak, in the few minutes I have left, on this long-awaited legislation. It is the first time alcohol has been dealt with by the Department of Health as public health policy rather than by the Department of Justice and Equality. This demonstrates how central the Bill is to the Healthy Ireland agenda being pursued by the Government, which some people in this House do not seem to understand.
Previous generations understood clearly that alcohol is not an ordinary, everyday commodity like eggs, milk or bread. Medical evidence tells us that it causes cancer just like tobacco and is a psychoactive drug. Alcohol is the biggest drug problem we have in our country. People die every day because of alcohol consumption. Governments the world over recognise that alcohol is not an ordinary product and, as with tobacco, have in each generation attempted to minimise alcohol harm to children, youths and adults in different ways. Governments know that getting their people to reduce alcohol consumption without being prohibitionist about it will improve each person's quality of life. They will have better mental health and physical health; they will manage their weight more easily; they will reduce their risks of alcohol-related liver disease and failure as well as various cancers; there will be reductions in domestic violence, physical assaults, including sexual assaults, and the number of children in care; and there will be less pressure on our emergency services. All this can be expected and should be welcomed by everyone.
Why all the fuss from industry about the Public Health (Alcohol) Bill? The answer is easy: it is all about profit. The global drinks industry wants us all to keep drinking alcohol, just like the tobacco companies want us to keep smoking. The alcohol companies and supermarket chains want our children to be introduced to alcohol as an ordinary product from the time they accompany their parents to buy food or fuel. There it is sitting beside the bread, the milk and the frozen food, usually at heavily discounted prices, so should this be a surprise to any of us? I do not think so. Like any business, profit is the drinks industry's aim. It will do all it can to protect and increase its profits, as is to be expected, including attempting to influence our laws by lobbying all public representatives from the Taoiseach's office to our local councillors. The Standards in Public Office Commission quarterly published register of lobbyists proves this point. The drinks industry will argue it is only doing its job, and one would have to agree. The job of Government and the role of Ministers, Deputies, Senators and councillors should be protecting the common good, and a duty of care for our people. The common good should always trump vested interests. Recognising that a product can cause well-documented harm to our people and our society means that public representatives have a responsibility to inform our people and to encourage behavioural change.
A consistent message from those representing the alcohol industry is that they were not consulted on this legislation. The facts do not bear this out. The genesis of the Public Health (Alcohol) Bill is to be found in Steering Group Report on a National Substance Misuse Strategy, published in 2012. The alcohol industry was represented on this group by the Alcohol Beverage Federation of Ireland and Mature Enjoyment of Alcohol in Society. Based on this report, in October 2013 the Government approved a comprehensive suite of measures to reduce excessive patterns of alcohol consumption. The Bill also has support from the public. A Health Research Board report, entitled Alcohol: Public Knowledge, Attitudes and Behaviours, noted that three quarters of the people surveyed believe the Government has a responsibility to implement public health measures to address high alcohol consumption. Pre-legislative scrutiny by the Joint Committee on Health and Children followed the publication of the heads of the Public Health (Alcohol) Bill 2015 and brought extensive engagement with a wide range of stakeholders. Again, the alcohol industry and its representatives had their opportunity to be heard both in person and by making written submissions. Subsequently, the Public Health (Alcohol) Bill was introduced to Seanad Éireann in December 2015 by the then Minister for Health, Deputy Leo Varadkar. A commitment to the Public Health (Alcohol) Bill is included in the programme for Government negotiated with the Independent Alliance and which forms the basis of the confidence-and-supply agreement with Fianna Fáil. Enacting the Public Health (Alcohol) Bill is Government policy.
The resistance that emerged in the Seanad, when I reintroduced the Bill in October 2016, was unexpected as the transcripts from December 2015 gave no indication that a furore would erupt. The effect of the lobbying on the part of the drinks industry and supermarket chains in the intervening year was clear to be seen. Most of the arguments made against the Bill were the same ones I had already heard from the industry when its representatives met me. Many members of the Vintners' Federation of Ireland in Offaly and nationally as well as the National Off-Licence Association, NOffLA, fully support the Bill but they did not seem to get much of a hearing in the debate. Many of those who argued in favour of the Bill were drowned out by the frenzy to sneer at simple, low-cost suggestions for retailers to screen alcohol from view. This measure is simply to convey the message, most especially to our children and young people, that alcohol is no ordinary product.
Those coping with alcohol addiction and recovering alcoholics would also benefit from the Bill, but not much attention was paid to this fact either. The noise created a perfect distraction from the fact that almost 1,100 people die every day because of their consumption of alcohol. This figure equals the entire population of many villages in rural Ireland. There has been much larger public outcry for a lot less in recent years.
The tactics of the alcohol industry to thwart and delay this legislation are exactly those that the tobacco industry has used the world over. It is no surprise, then, that the Alcohol Beverage Federation of Ireland flat-out denied that alcohol causes cancer, despite the fact that the International Agency for Research on Cancer of the World Health Organization has classified alcohol as a group 1 carcinogen, similar to tobacco, arsenic and asbestos. It is no surprise that the industry is trying to cause confusion and doubt over the fact that alcohol is a carcinogen, or that the alcohol industry has fought Scotland through the courts and delayed its intention to introduce minimum unit pricing for five years. It is no surprise that it is fighting the labelling provisions, because then the consumer would be empowered by knowing about the alcohol content, the calorie content and the nutritional breakdown and by the health warnings, and it is no surprise that it rejects the provisions to control alcohol marketing, because our children and young people are alcohol drinkers of the future. It is also no surprise that it rejects efforts to control sports sponsorship intended to protect children and young people. These are the very same tactics used by the tobacco industry in the past.
Of course, public health is not the responsibility of the drinks industry, but the facts cannot be avoided. Alcohol is a factor in half of all suicides and one in three self-harm cases. The rate of alcohol-related liver disease trebled between 1995 and 2013. One in ten breast cancers is caused by alcohol. A total of 167,170 people have suffered an alcohol-related assault. One in four deaths of young men is alcohol-related, which is twice as many deaths as those due to all other drugs combined. Alcohol is a factor in a third of all drownings. One in four people attending accident and emergency departments have alcohol-related injuries. Half of these are people aged under 30. One in four traumatic brain injuries is alcohol-related. Two in five road deaths are caused by excessive drinking. There is mounting international evidence of foetal alcohol disorders in children whose mothers drank during pregnancy. Alcohol-related dementia is on the rise.
I had the privilege of launching the HSE's Ask About Alcohol website last year. It is a trusted educational resource for anyone who wants to learn about the effects of alcohol consumption or who feels he or she might be having a little too much to drink a little too often. I pay tribute to those who have campaigned tirelessly with little funding, especially the Alcohol Health Alliance. I also acknowledge the parents of young people who died by suicide as a result of alcohol, in particular John Higgins. Professor Frank Murray, one of our leading liver specialists, has played an important part in their campaign to bring hard evidence informed by his own work experience to the debate. I commend the Minister, Deputy Harris, the chief medical officer, Tony Holohan, and their team on the fantastic work they have done on the Bill to date. We must get the Public Health (Alcohol) Bill 2015 enacted without delay because it will save lives. I thank the Leas-Cheann Comhairle for his indulgence.
I am pleased to speak in support of the provisions of the Public Health (Alcohol) Bill. It is clear this country has a real problem with drink, and the numbers speak for themselves. Twenty-one people will die from alcohol-related illnesses this week and every other week this year. This means that five times more people die as a result of alcohol than from road deaths, and this does not take into account the correct statistics Deputy Marcella Corcoran Kennedy mentioned regarding the contributory factor of road deaths. Alcohol-related illnesses cost Irish taxpayers €2.35 billion each year. Some 1,500 hospital beds are occupied right now by alcohol-related admissions. Some 1.4 million people in Ireland have a harmful relationship with alcohol. We consume 25% above the OECD average. In 2016, some 280,000 workdays were lost to alcohol-related absenteeism. Alcohol features as a factor in half of all suicides in Ireland, and this does not take into account self-harm and admissions in the acute psychiatric setting. It is in the context of all this devastation and heartbreak, the ruined lives and broken relationships, and the huge expense and needless waste, that this legislation is so desperately and urgently needed.
The aim of the Bill is to reduce alcohol consumption nationally, and I believe this can be achieved if the legislation is properly implemented. The Bill targets four key areas. First, the price of alcohol is a major factor in consumption levels. My party and I support the introduction of minimum unit pricing, which is an evidence-based approach to reduce alcohol harm. The price of a can or bottle is directly linked to consumption levels. There is a clear correlation between price increases and reductions in consumption and it is estimated that minimum unit pricing could save the Exchequer as much as €1.7 billion over 20 years.
These savings involve a combination of cost benefits, including health care costs, a reduction in crime levels and policing costs, and improved quality of life generally. It is also proven to be effective at proportionately targeting the type of alcohol causing the most harm, that is, the cheapest alcohol available. This is often sold in bulk and below cost price. Those who disagree need only look to the volume of evidence available, including a recent study by the University of Sheffield which supports the contention.
Developments at European level have also brought more clarity to the legal landscape in which minimum unit pricing, specifically, and the Bill, generally, are being introduced. Moves to introduce minimum unit pricing in Scotland were resisted by the drinks industry in a long, drawn-out process that went all the way to the European Court of Justice. In December last year, that court ruled that minimum unit pricing can be introduced as a proportionate measure where its aim is to protect the health of the population and there are no alternatives measures that could be introduced instead. The situation regarding Ireland's drinking problem is so stark that, unfortunately, there is no better viable option here. Minimum unit pricing has proven to positively change behaviour, particularly among the groups most at risk. It is the only show in town as far as I am concerned.
Another important area the Bill addresses is health information marketing. In a world of fake news this is an industry that is particularly susceptible to well resourced and highly financed multinational conglomerates that aim to obfuscate and confuse consumers with false claims and half-truths. It is regrettable that this legislation has made such slow progress through the Oireachtas. Glaciers have moved faster than the Bill, particularly if we consider its pace through the Seanad and the Dáil. Its slow rate of progress is a national disgrace. The delaying is a direct result of the drinks industry, which has chipped away and eroded the legislation line by line, lobby by lobby, with remarkable persistence and dedication. Only in the past week, for example, we saw the comparison of the link between alcohol and cancer with that relating to toast. I researched the British Medical Journaltoday and did a search for alcohol and cancer. I did not bother researching toast and cancer. There were tens of thousands of references to alcohol and cancer. It is an irrefutable fact that alcohol is a carcinogen that is a contributing factor in tens of thousands of deaths and to significant morbidity development in this country on a daily basis. For the industry to try to confuse this and to inject doubt in the debate is a disgrace. What has happened can be compared with the position regarding smoking and tobacco industry many years ago, when the latter tried to frustrate every public health initiative and bury the evidence. This should not be allowed to go on any more.
These vested interest groups would have us believe that consumption rates here are decreasing. This is more fake news. It is intentionally misleading. While our intake levels may be down when examined over a particular timeframe, the latest figures from Revenue show that Ireland's consumption of alcohol rose by almost 5%, to 11.46 litres of pure alcohol per capita, in 2016. This is the equivalent of 46 bottles of vodka, 130 bottles of wine or 498 pints of beer. Since 1960, Ireland's consumption has increased threefold. Since 2010, our average consumption has been 11.25 litres per capita. The EU average is 9 litres, the OECD average is 9.1 litres and the global WHO average is 6.2 litres. Ireland's problems with alcohol are well documented and it is important that we see our consumption in the true statistical frameworks provided by the OECD and the WHO.
In this environment, clear and accurate information is vital. This is about giving people all of the information so they can make a well-informed decision. I support in principle the proposal to print public health warnings on alcohol products so that people are fully aware of the harm alcohol can do. Some technical changes may be required in terms of the export industry. As far as I am concerned, however, there should be warnings for people about cancer and other issues on the labels of products sold on the Irish market. It is important that the Department and the Minister provide clarity on who is responsible for this in order that there will be no uncertainty in the industry. There must also be clarity in the context of EU law.
The multibillion euro drinks firms have argued tirelessly that this is a waste of time and that it will not reduce consumption levels one iota. I completely disagree with that view. Many in the drinks industry, who emailed all Deputies this week, complain about costs of up to €50,000 for designing these labels. They have multimillion euro profits and they want us to have sympathy over a few thousand euro added to their balance sheet, which would give people factual information about the effects of alcohol on their lives. It is important there are facts on products so people can make an informed decision about their consumption. Their argument is self-defeating. There is a reason that companies invest hundreds of billions of euro in advertising and marketing. It is because advertising works. If it did not, the industry simply would not exist. Exist it does, and it is an industry that is growing.
The advertising of alcohol is now believed to be worth almost €1 billion. That is an awful lot of money for something that drinks firms would have us believe does not work. They say restricting advertising has no impact on consumption. Why then do they advertise? Why do they try to link to events such as those relating to sport? I remarked earlier today that in Dublin city at present there is the advert with the black and white sock, which is a subtle reinforcement for young people about the Six Nations. People saw Sexton's kick and an hour later if they were getting a bus, driving their car or were in a taxi all they would have seen was the Diageo advertisement with the black and white sock, linking Guinness to rugby and participation in sport. This needs to end in our communities. We cannot have alcohol companies profiteering on the back of good sports results. It is important we put public health above the profits of industries that will continue to thrive regardless of whether we have a Public Health (Alcohol) Bill. They can take a pinch in their profits for the benefit of lives and the reduction of cancer.
It is scarcely believable we require a law to prevent these huge firms from sponsoring events where the majority of participants involved are children, but, in 2018, this is where matters stand. There are areas where people have genuine concerns about some proposals, and my party is seeking clarity on some of these areas. It is important that we do not dilute the legislation. Rather, we must ensure that it is fair, capable of being implemented and delivers what is intended. I am aware of issues and concerns expressed by the drinkaware.iewebsite, which has evidence on consumption and the effects of alcohol on people's health. It is important it is not restricted from providing factual information to people. This needs to be clarified in the context of public awareness campaigns. An area where there is confusion is whether the new rules on labelling will mean reference to drinkaware.iewill be removed. The Minister needs to clarify this. It is important that we do not restrict people from making informed decisions in the context of public awareness.
I acknowledge that more clarity is required on who is responsible for these rules. The legislation cannot be successful unless there is a cultural shift in our attitude towards alcohol. The statistics I outlined at the beginning clearly show the problems we have. Education is crucial to properly tackling this. Those who have alcohol problems often begin to drink in their early teens or younger, before they have been informed on the dangers of alcohol by parents or at home. A review of how children are taught in this regard is required. In the past, there has been reluctance by the Government to tackle this country's alcohol problem, and this goes back decades and through multiple Governments.
I am a spokesperson on drugs. Alcohol has been included in the title of the new national drug strategy in recognition that alcohol is as harmful as any illegal substance out there. Unfortunately, there was no funding increase when alcohol was added to the latest strategy. Alcohol was, shamefully, relegated to a footnote and we are now playing catch up as a result.
I welcome the opportunity to contribute to the debate. I acknowledge the huge work done on the Bill by Deputy Corcoran Kennedy. It is unfortunate that she was not allowed to complete the job, for whatever reason. The Bill is hugely important. Deputies Chambers and Corcoran Kennedy have given statistics on the impact of alcohol on our daily lives. To those who compared alcohol to burnt toast - it was not just toast but burnt toast - I encourage them to go to an accident and emergency department on a Friday, Saturday or Sunday night and see the real impact of alcohol. Gardaí, nurses and emergency personnel have been assaulted while doing their jobs by people with too much alcohol on board. People cannot take too much burnt toast but they can take an awful lot of alcohol and do a huge amount of damage to themselves, their families and their communities.
Deputy Corcoran Kennedy was right, and I also want to acknowledge the huge courage shown during the passage of this legislation by John and Anne Higgins from my home town of Ballina, who lost their son in 2011.
Since then they have dedicated their lives to highlighting the impact of alcohol on people's lives and families. They have shown huge courage. Over that time they have been enormously frustrated and brokenhearted. I refer not just to the loss of their son but at the slow pace of this legislation and that as a country we cannot seem to comprehend we have a bad relationship with alcohol. It is important that we pass this Bill quickly but also that we enforce it as well. The Food Safety Authority of Ireland every month publishes a list of places that have been closed down. I notice in the last number of months its public relations material has gotten much more graphic with pictures of rodents.
That is what we need here. Every month supermarkets not complying with the law on minimum pricing need to be named and shamed. Any group that refuses to comply with this Bill needs to be named and shamed every month. The alcohol industry, as Deputy Chambers has said, is conscious of its reputation and image. Let us start chipping away at that image and use this Bill to chip away at the notion that alcohol is a product. The concerns about advertising are completely misplaced. Advertising alcohol is there to make it look cool and as something needed in life. It is not being advertised at 5 p.m. because of a cheap slot. It is because younger people are watching television at that time.
It is so sophisticated that, as Deputy Chambers said, within minutes of any major occurrence the alcohol industry tags advertisements on social media, television and other forms of media to try to link any kind of achievement to alcohol. I refer to needing a drink or alcohol to celebrate a communion, a confirmation or Johnny Sexton winning a rugby match. I saw it in my own county last September when we qualified for the All-Ireland again. I want to come back to the whole area of supermarkets. However, I refer to multiple supermarkets putting on incentives and offers around the weekend of an All-Ireland to encourage people to buy more drink. It worked. That kind of thing has to stop.
The big multiple supermarkets that do not give two damns about people need to be tackled even harder than is laid out in this legislation. I refer to selling slabs of beer as well as bringing in minimum unit pricing. Does anyone need a slab of beer? We need to look at controlling further the volumes that can be sold as well as the cost. We need further controls on the promotion of alcohol within these major multiples as well. They are the factor driving people to drink at home. People are leaving the controlled atmosphere of the local pub and drinking at home. There is no control and no concept of that. Alcohol is seen now as a daily product as opposed to a drug, as Deputy Chambers said.
The legislation also needs to be practical. There are areas around labelling that need to be defined and dealt with. It would be ridiculous if all this effort and goodwill that is there for this legislation was to be wasted in a challenge to the legislation from one of these industries because of some weakness within the legislation. We have to look at specific areas as well. Nobody goes into a craft brewery or distillery to bulk buy alcohol. They go in because they have an appreciation and understanding of the damage alcohol will do to them. We need to ensure we do not crucify them with the same kind of regulations that are needed in multiple supermarkets and drink sellers.
There needs to be caution in terms of the impact labelling may have on small operators in this sector. I welcome the changes made in the Seanad in respect of the display of alcohol within supermarkets. However, they need to be enforced. That enforcement should be a job given to the local authority because the Department of Health does not have the resources to do that. If this legislation is to be successful, it must be enforced. We need to be imaginative in using every avenue of State, the Department of Health, local authorities and the Revenue Commissioners to ensure this legislation hits home and has the success we need it to have.
It is unfortunate the debate on this became obsessed today with a call to close the Dáil bar. That does not do this House, the debate and the seriousness required around it any service. We have a serious problem as a nation. We woke up in respect of smoking. We need to wake up in regard to alcohol. For those very highly paid people living around here for a while, and for those highly paid company executives who compare alcohol to toast, I finish as I started. Come with me any weekend and visit families that have lost a loved one to alcohol or an illness as a consequence of alcohol. Go and meet a nurse, a garda, an ambulance driver or a paramedic. Talk to a security officer who has been beaten up while doing his or her job because of alcohol. Do not immediately link it into sport or family celebration. Talk to the people for whom alcohol abuse and this country's warped relationship with alcohol is impacting upon on a daily, weekly and often nightly basis.
Absolutely. I am glad to have an opportunity to speak on this legislation. I agree with the concept of the Bill and what it attempts to do. I refer to introducing a recognition of the danger of alcohol and to control it to some extend. A few years ago we had numerous examples of violence breaking out outside pubs, nightclubs and in the streets of our towns and cities, sometimes with fatal consequences. Irresponsible use of alcohol led to altercations and sometimes death. There was then and still remains an urgent need for legislation and for a change in attitudes generally to enlighten the general public and young people in particular. I refer to the dangers of the irresponsible use of alcohol, drinking of alcohol and relying on alcohol. In comparison with other European countries we do not come too well out of the league, although many other countries do not come out too well either.
We need to recognise that there will always be exceptions in particular places. I do not think it is true to claim that all of our ills and ailments are down to alcohol. People go into a supermarket and buy a slab or two of beer and have it delivered, by motor vehicle in some cases, to a party being held in a private location, before going out for a night's entertainment. I cannot understand that. It is dangerous and irresponsible. The sale of alcohol in those circumstances below cost has done an awful lot of damage. It has probably created a dependency on alcohol among a certain part of our population. That is worrying.
Another issue we should not let pass is the increased incidence of drinking and private parties. I refer to recognising that is the way things have gone for a variety of reasons. There is no single reason why that has happened. There is, for example, no barman to tell people they have had enough and should go home. There is no barman to control the levels and measures that go into the glass and to call order. There is nobody to control what is happening there at all, other than the appetites of the people concerned.
We have had lots of incidents and instances where alcohol use went wrong throughout the length and breadth of this country over the last number of years. There have been tragic consequences but there have also been very far reaching social consequences. The problem that has arisen is that a part of a generation has become dependent and reliant on alcohol as part and parcel of its daily fix. That is extremely dangerous.
It can lead to accidents and altercations, as I mentioned, as well as deaths. That has happened, and it cannot continue. Deputy Corcoran Kennedy in particular, as well as others, went to a great deal of trouble researching for this legislation in the first instance, to determine all the things that were wrong and had to be dealt with. The objective was more to reverse the trend than to contain it, and that takes time. There is a recognition that irresponsible advertising in association with various sports is not useful. It does not lead to the responsible use of alcohol. There is also a growing awareness within the industry as well. The Drinkaware Ireland organisation is a classic example. The industry recognises that there must be some type of order in the way alcohol is consumed, how people are educated on its use and how warning signs must be taken on board.
Other speakers have referred to the use of alcohol and other drugs. It is often the case that more than one substance is used at the same time. This leads to dysfunctionality and the result is a serious problem for society. Over the years all Members of the House have regularly dealt with cases where people have become reliant on drugs, including alcohol, to such an extent as to make their lives miserable. Occasionally we have had to advise people to seek treatment for their own benefit and the benefit of their families. There is an urgent need for people in such circumstances, for the sake of the stabilisation of family homes and peace within families, to seek medical aid and counselling to deal with it. Some people can drink with moderation. They know they cannot abuse it and that the body cannot withstand it. Others do not, unfortunately. Some people do not recognise the point beyond which there is no return. There is medical advice on the indiscriminate consumption of any substance. We all know that if we do not take account of the advice there will be consequences.
That does not mean everybody who takes a drink will automatically become an alcoholic or will carry out some depredation such as break into a premises to feed the habit. That does not happen, and it should not happen that way. The Drinkaware organisation has been important in making sure that people realise it is a dangerous route to take. Recognition should be given to the work done by Drinkaware Ireland and other groups that have, from the inside as it were, helped to control the indiscriminate consumption of alcohol and have brought it home to consumers that they must take account of certain situations for the sake of their own health and benefit and the health of their families. Given the situation we have now, it is a good time to do so.
We are in the international arena. The legislation controls all drink imported into the country as well. Other speakers have referred to the fact that the drinks industry employs many people here. That is correct. However, I do not believe that the responsible use of a product necessarily means that we will stop its use. Responsible use of the product can mean that everybody's requirements are met in so far as possible. There might be a clash over advertising, as we saw with the tobacco business. I used to be a smoker. I did not give up smoking for health reasons. I just gave it up; there was no reason for it.
No. In fact, I gave it up because I found it a nuisance and unnecessary. It was baggage to have to light up and all the nonsense that goes with it. I just gave it up. Some people, including my wife, said that I was an addict and I would never give it up. I remember saying at the time, "Let us see what happens". I simply stopped and did not smoke anymore. It was the original cold turkey. I have not felt a need to return to it since, even though I smoked for 27 years. The odd thing is that I have not noticed any great difference in my health in the meantime. Perhaps there was. However, it was the thing to do.
I have not made up my mind about it yet. I always enjoyed a smoke even though it was not good for me, especially when I was driving on a long journey. Obviously, one could not have a drink on a long journey. That might upset the entire theory.
We must have balance. What if Ireland became a dry country? That happened in the United States in the 1920s and 1930s with Prohibition. The industry went underground. I hope we do not take that route as a consequence of what we want to do. There was an element of that in this country in the 1940s and 1950s when the homemade brew called poitín became an instant prop to society. It caused a great deal of trouble and many difficulties in homes. It caused friction and rows at parties and among groups throughout the country. The newspapers at the time were full of court reports and reports of what happened as a result of the indiscriminate use of that drink. Of course, "indiscriminate" is the operative word. There was nobody to control it. When it was available people drank it until it was gone. When it was gone there was a dry house until the next time it was available. In the United States the underground industry became huge, with massive consequences. When Prohibition was lifted, and this applies to other drugs as well, drink usage increased by 4,500%. It is a sobering thought - no pun intended. People tell us today with regard to other drugs that if the ban was lifted and all drugs were readily available, people would feel better as a result. That is not true. They also say that consumption would stabilise. That is not true either. The American experience after Prohibition was that the use of alcohol increased by 4,500%.
Other speakers have referred to the consequences of alcohol abuse for accident and emergency departments in our hospitals, particularly over weekends. I agree. It is the result of the abuse of a product. If we were educated properly, we should be able to recognise that it is not necessary to be tanked out of our minds and to fall over witless onto the pavement before we realise that we have had enough. There is an urgent necessity for that education. It must be done in the primary and secondary schools. As a result we might learn to moderate our consumption. There is a similarity with alternative energy and a reduction in our carbon footprint. Some people think that the only way to reduce our carbon footprint is to close down the smoking sectors - every car and truck in the country, the beef sector and everything in the country should be closed down. That will definitely reduce the footprint, but it will not necessarily improve people's quality of life. In fact, it will do the opposite and will do all sorts of peculiar things to the economy.
"Responsibility" is the word that comes to mind, that is, the recognition of the need to apply responsibility to the consumption of alcohol and the circumstances in which it is consumed.
We need to recognise and emphasise that the most dangerous misuse of alcohol occurs during private parties when groupings of people get together and, without logic, consume alcohol to excess and very often break down into argument, dispute and acrimony, which sometimes has tragic consequences. That must be addressed by educating people about alcohol.
As has been discussed many times in the House, publicans believe their biggest competitors are supermarkets, which sell alcohol massively below cost price in order to get a share of the market. There is no need for that to continue. While the Bill makes provision for restrictions on the packaging and display of alcohol, if alcohol continues to be available for purchase at far below cost price, we will not solve the problem. It will continue in private circumstances no matter what else we do.
I do not blame young people in regard to alcohol misuse because they do not have the experience to know what is likely to happen. They can say that people have been drinking for years and if alcohol was so harmful, such people would all be dead. However, that is not how one should look at it. What they and we must do is recognise that if everybody abuses alcohol, there will be sharp consequences for those concerned and we will not be able to reverse that at a later stage. Ultimately, people will end up in accident and emergency departments and possibly in long-stay accommodation in our hospitals as a result of the need to take action on alcohol misuse.
One could speak on this issue for a long time. Some people believe that pubs in rural Ireland have been ruined. There is no doubt that, for many reasons, it is difficult for pubs to exist in rural Ireland. One such reason is the issue of transport and drink-driving. As I have stated previously, it is possible to manage that by having nominated drivers and we must get used to that, although not everybody agrees with me in that regard. It is possible to have a level of community transport that will ensure that at a minimum, people have transport of a reliable nature in rural parts of the country that have no public transport, which is the issue. Nobody wants to face up to the fact that the footfall in rural Ireland has diminished. That is so for a variety of reasons, such as emigration from some parts of the country, people moving to towns and cities from others or both. That contributes to a decline in population and the diminution of the social life in those areas.
There are reasons for the Bill and it is up to each Member to recognise them. The Bill must and does recognise that groups such as Drinkaware have done a great deal of work to tackle alcohol misuse. They may have done so with the support of the alcohol industry but the industry itself recognises the need for moderation, education and responsible use. If the Bill is successful in achieving its objective, there will be recognition of responsible drinking, that we must have rules and that the abuse of drink and the wholesale abuse involved in alcohol being available at a low price to people of a vulnerable age will have all kinds of consequences, some immediate and some over the longer term.
What was once referred to as uisce beatha, the water of life, now seems to be demoted to being uisce an bháis. I welcome the opportunity to speak on the Bill. There is an issue of harmful drinking in Ireland, as all Members are aware. We are told that up to three people die every day in this country as a result of the abuse of alcohol. The Bill introduces minimum unit pricing and the structural segregation of alcohol from other products in supermarkets and other retail outlets, provides for detailed health warnings, including information on links between alcohol and cancer, on labels and imposes restrictions, including a 9 p.m. broadcasting watershed before which alcohol advertisements cannot be aired. I welcome any measures to tackle alcohol abuse, change our drinking culture and discourage the scourge of underage drinking.
As the Acting Chairman knows, I am from Dundalk, which is very close to the Border. I agree with the intent behind the introduction of minimum unit pricing. However, as I have said previously in the House, it will send thousands of people across the Border to purchase alcohol more cheaply. A collaborative approach with the Northern Ireland authorities should be taken in an attempt to introduce minimum pricing here, which should be matched with a similar regime in Northern Ireland.
As regards the separation of alcohol products, I welcome its objective of restricting access to alcohol products by making them less visible. However, the many businesses that will be affected and which are struggling at the best of times should not be unduly required to provide additional finance or staff in order to implement the measure.
On the labelling and advertising aspects of the Bill, although I understand that the aim is to provide consumers with health information on alcohol products, I have grave concerns, which have been voiced to me by craft brewers and distillers in my constituency. There is broad agreement on the inclusion on labelling of nutritional information and a health warning regarding the consumption of alcohol when pregnant. However, no country has introduced a mandatory cancer warning on alcohol products and in this respect the Bill goes too far. It will have a huge impact on the smaller producers, distilleries and craft brewers of Ireland. The Cooley Distillery is a very successful distilling operation in my constituency that directly employs more than 70 people and indirectly employs many more across the county. It has invested €14 million in its site since purchasing it in mid-2012. This investment has increased productivity, promoted sustainability and has protected and increased jobs. The impact on the Cooley Distillery and similar enterprises is that there will be a perception that Scotch or American whiskey is less harmful to a person than Irish whiskey and our exports will, therefore, be affected if the cancer labelling measure is not restricted. There are huge opportunities to export to Asia and the Middle East but our product will suffer compared with products from other jurisdictions if the proposed labelling requirements are implemented. A focus on one health issue alone, namely, cancer, does not give a full or accurate picture to help consumers make an informed choice about their drinking. What about the many processed foods and meats that have been proven to be carcinogenic but are not so labelled? Will there be cancer health warnings on such products or only on alcohol? The restrictions will damage smaller producers, which will not have the capacity of huge producers such as Diageo that will be quite capable of meeting the ensuing demands.
It is possible to go too far. The Radiological Protection Institute of Ireland has stated that radon gas is the major carcinogen in this country.
Are we going to tell people who are experiencing problems with radon gas and having to take remediation measures that it is time to put a sign on the door warning people that they could be entering a carcinogenic environment? I draw this comparison because I believe we can go too far.
In my constituency, the Teeling Whiskey Company operates out of what was the old Harp brewery in Dundalk. We also have the Carlingford Brewing Company, the Listoke Distillery and Gin School, Jack Cody's Brewery and the Dundalk Bay Brewing Company. All of these small breweries and distilleries bring great benefits to the community, not just in the context of the sale and export of alcohol but also in terms of visitors who like understand how the product is made. With the labelling restrictions being proposed here and with the severe restrictions on advertising, I believe that these businesses will be disproportionately impacted upon. Some of them may not survive. This is the context in which we need to ensure a balanced approach in supporting the Bill.
I want to put on record my support for this Bill. It is very important legislation. The facts regarding our relationship with drink are borne out by evidence published by Revenue's statistics and economic research branch recently to the effect that Ireland's alcohol consumption per capitahas increased by nearly 5% year on year up to 2016. Per head, people in Ireland are drinking 11.46 litres of pure alcohol per annum. This is equivalent to nearly 500 pints of beer, 46 bottles of vodka or 130 bottles of wine per year. We have a problem and there is an issue with alcohol consumption and our relationship with alcohol. This does not mean it is all negative but the measures within the Bill to protect the most vulnerable, especially children, from the normalisation of alcohol consumption through advertising are very much welcome. Deputy Breathnach referred to some very valid concerns regarding jobs in the industry, but they can be managed.
I want to talk about my own position as the chairperson of the north Dublin regional drugs and alcohol task force, a position I have held for nearly five years. The Government has a lot of focus and commitment in respect of this matter and has put a lot of effort into the legislation, and rightly so. The Bill is welcome but it is not a silver bullet. I do not see increased supports, such as those necessary on the ground, being provided in tandem with this. Under the new drugs and alcohol strategy published by the Minister of State, Deputy Catherine Byrne, the community action on alcohol has been put in place. It has asked each of the 14 local drugs task forces and the ten regional drugs and alcohol task forces to implement the community actions on alcohol. That is a really good idea because this is how each community deals with alcohol, not by banning, shunning or parking the issue but by members of communities taking a role in respect of how alcohol is perceived and through events. In my area in Fingal, we got the local authority and the sports clubs involved. Each of the areas needs an extra €45,000, at a minimum, to implement these. If the House will excuse the pun, that is small beer. We do not have that money. I ask the Minister of State, Deputy Griffin, and his colleagues to look at how these areas are resourced to implement the community action on alcohol. We need to do that.
In the context of the task forces areas, my area in north Dublin has a catchment of 330,000 people and has not received an increase in funding in eight years. Our funding for the entire service is €777,000 per annum. That is for more than 300,000 people. We do not even have an education and prevention worker in the area. We can talk about the legislation, which I welcome, but we must also talk about what is happening on the ground. In the area in which I live, Swords, we set up a community care team because there was no such team for the whole of the north County Dublin area. We had to pull funding from other projects to employ people directly. More than 1,000 people have been treated by the service, which is based in Swords and which provides outreach services to places such as Rush, Malahide and many other locations throughout the north of the county. We did not get one extra cent for that. We did it ourselves. When the Government talks of the need to legislate to protect people against the ills of alcohol or to at least redress the balance, it is absolutely right. However, let it put its money where its mouth is in order that we might deal with education, treatment and rehabilitation, which are simply not available across large swathes of the country. That needs to be discussed as part of this debate and as the Bill proceeds to Committee Stage.
As the chair of the regional drugs and alcohol task force, I wholeheartedly support the Bill. There will be issues for the industry to deal with but these will have to be worked through. I would love to see the same commitment from Government and for it to say that while a good job is being done on the ground by the community sector and the HSE, they are wholly under-resourced. If we want to stop people falling into problematic drinking in particular - and I am focusing on drinking as an example - then we must provide resources. How is that the case when we publish a new national drugs and alcohol strategy - which I welcome - but do not offer additional resources? The community action on alcohol project has not received any additional resources. We need those resources and I ask the Minister of State to consider the position in this regard. I will also be asking the Minister of State, Deputy Catherine Byrne, about this because I believe a meeting is scheduled for 28 February. We need Government support.
I am certain - and also from the perspective of the Fianna Fáil spokesperson, Deputy Jack Chambers - that we can effect real change from the ground up. Legislation is about setting the rules. If we do not change how we operate within our communities, the Bill, upon enactment, will not protect people or change their lives. We can only do that through our communities. This is why the community action on alcohol project is a really important part of the strategy. Let us resource it and let us properly resource our regional and local drugs and alcohol task forces. That is where we are making real interventions and real strides with this.
I ask the Minister of State to take those points on board. I look forward to seeing this Bill proceeding through Committee Stage. Let us resource the people on the ground who are doing the real work to protect our kids against alcohol and drug abuse.
It is a pity we have a Minister of State at the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport in the Chamber. I want to acknowledge that we were one of the first to propose the abolition of drink advertising at sports grounds and at sport-related events. It has been progressive. When we see the way our sportsmen and sportswomen travel abroad to attend major functions, even having taken a drink, Irish fans can be the best and most well-behaved in comparison with their counterparts from other countries.
We know the Bill is needed because there are problems with excessive drinking. The big question is how to control it. The thrust of the Bill is welcome. It was going fine until a few amendments were added. These have given rise to serious concerns on my part. Are we jumping the gun with this Bill? We are proud members of the EU and I am led to believe that the Commission is putting together some proposals regarding labelling. Why do we not wait for those proposals? The Government and those which preceded it have always been very good at enforcing EU directives. In those circumstances, why not wait to see what the Commission says in respect of labelling?
I very much support the section on below-cost selling. As was stated in the debate on this issue last night, one of the former Ministers of State in the previous Government, Deputy Róisín Shortall, acknowledged that when below-cost selling was brought in, we could see an increase in alcohol consumption. We should give the proposed measure in respect of below-cost selling a chance to take effect. One can walk down some Dublin streets and see some people who are homeless or dropouts and they are drinking cheap beer and liquor. I welcome that measure and I hope it will be a hindrance to people drinking.
I am from an agricultural background. Anything that prohibits the promotion or selling of drink would have an impact on the agricultural and industrial sectors. I shall give an overview. Members are throwing around figures regarding hospitals and the excess burden of costs. I acknowledge that there are costs and that these can be avoided, but we must consider what we are attempting to do. The alcohol beverage sector makes a significant contribution to the economy. The drinks sector supports the employment of more than 200,000 people.
This includes brewers, distillery workers, suppliers, farmers, distributors and those working in the hospitality sector. Each year, the alcohol beverage sector generates wages of €2.9 billion and purchases of Irish produce worth over €1.1 billion. It exports goods worth over €1.25 billion and provides the State with over €2.3 billion through excise and VAT income. It generates hundreds of millions of euro in income tax, PRSI receipts and tax on profits annually. Ireland exports drink products to 130 markets worldwide. This reinforces our reputation as a premium food and drinks producer.
We are proposing to send Ministers abroad on expeditions to various countries. The Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine does a good job when he goes abroad to promote Ireland as a centre for the production of food and drink. What is going to happen now when the Minister goes to China to promote Irish drinks and obtain a share of the Chinese market? Ireland is not the major exporter or producer of drinks. We are competing with Scotland. It is a contradiction that the Minister will be promoting our products in China even though, back home in Ireland, we almost decided to require drinks to be put behind black curtains. I would not say it is like a form of prohibition, but it is something akin to what is happening with drugs. The biggest exporter of illegal drugs is Colombia, which foists its problems on other countries. Are we telling people elsewhere in the world to take our products because we do not want them here? That is what we are saying. It will portray a bad image of this country.
As I said earlier, farmers and others involved in agriculture are the main benefactors of our drinks industry. The Irish Distillers facility in Midleton is a major employer in my own backyard. It is expanding every day to increase its markets, create jobs and thereby benefit tillage farmers. Tillage farming is under fierce pressure. The only way tillage farmers can make a proper income is by selling premium malt. The Eight Degrees micro-brewery in Mitchelstown is expanding on a daily basis, including through export sales. It is ironic in the context of this legislation that one of our colleagues in the Labour Party has proposed a Bill which seeks to allow drink to be purchased on site at breweries. I am in favour of the Bill in question because there is no point in going to taste a product if one cannot buy it there and then.
There is another contradiction from the Government with regard to tourism. Two weeks ago, we made it more accessible for people to get drink by permitting pubs to open on Good Friday. I am not against it, but I think it is another example of people talking out of both sides of their mouths. If we are saying we need pubs to be open to keep tourist numbers up, where are we going with that kind of talk?
Enforcement is one of the big problems with this country's alcohol policy. Not enough is being done to restrict underage drinking. I could attack another member of the Labour Party, who proposed a Bill earlier this week that would criminalise parents who do not ensure that their children attend school for a specified number of days, on the basis that I do not see any proposal to criminalise parents who allow their children to engage in underage drinking. I am not looking for a nanny state, but I am saying that people who make proposals should be balanced when they come forward with initiatives. Binge drinking is happening on back streets and in parks, alleys and derelict buildings. We need proper enforcement to monitor this activity, which is associated with drug use. I have heard of people coming out late, after drinking behind closed doors where there are no controls, and arriving into nightclubs where they have just one drink. When such people end up totally intoxicated, it is suggested that the staff of the nightclub must have been irresponsible. Maybe they should be more observant when these people are going in the door. I suppose they do their best.
There is a need for balance when it comes to drink. There are health experts and professionals who tell us that one or two drinks can be good for us from a health perspective. This is another contradiction that needs to be considered when people quote figures.
My final point relates to the proposed restrictions on advertising and labelling. When clubs and organisations organise fundraisers and get-togethers in local villages, they often look for spot prizes. What is going to happen now when they go into local pubs, which tend to be the most obliging suppliers of sponsorship? Will local pubs be thanked for offering a bottle of whiskey as a spot prize?
I thank the Chair. I am happy to contribute to this debate on an issue which is pretty close to my heart. The aim of this Bill is to tackle Ireland's ongoing unhealthy relationship with alcohol misuse. It is not just about the consumption of alcohol. I agree with Deputy O'Keeffe that everything should be taken in moderation. In this Bill, we are tackling the misuse of alcohol and seeking to reduce this country's overall level alcohol consumption, which is far too high. The Department of Health has a modest target of reducing alcohol consumption in Ireland from 11 litres to 9 litres per person per year over the coming years.
We are not talking about not drinking - we are talking about controlling the misuse of alcohol. Any measure that helps to reduce alcohol consumption has to be welcomed. This Bill is the first step in that regard. The intention behind the legislation is to ensure that the supply and pricing of alcohol are regulated and controlled. The Bill is designed to delay the initiation of the use of alcohol in our younger population. This is critically important because young people are starting to drink at a much younger age. Those who drink before the end of their teenage years are much more susceptible to the effects of alcohol.
The power of the alcohol industry has been evident throughout this legislative process. It took two years for this Bill to pass through the Seanad. The power of the alcohol industry and related industries is quite awesome. The alcohol industry is fighting with the health sector on this issue. It is important for us to highlight the health issues in relation to the misuse of alcohol. Strong and subtle lobbying has challenged the medical evidence of the harm that alcohol causes. It has also challenged the evidence of the effects on alcohol consumption of advertising, of the public display and availability of alcohol in small and large supermarkets and shops, and of alcohol being closely aligned with food. The industry has also challenged the placement of the warnings that need to be placed on alcohol products. It is very important that people know what they are consuming, what the safe levels of consumption are and what harm can arise if those limits are exceeded.
We need to embrace the opportunity that this House has been given to agree legislation that can save lives, just as the legislation that introduced the smoking ban over a decade ago saved a number of lives. This Bill is the first step in reducing alcohol consumption. It will move us away from the existing system of self-regulation. The problem with the consumption of alcohol is that it involves self-regulation in areas like marketing and pricing. We need to introduce legislation that will control those two areas.
We need to consider alcohol as a drug rather than a commodity. Unfortunately, the way alcohol is sold and displayed in shops and supermarkets makes it seem just like any other food or drink product. Alcohol is a drug and we have to see it as such, not just as a food commodity.
The safe limits of alcohol consumption are 17 units for males and 11 units for females per week. A standard glass of wine is one unit and a standard pint is two units. If a female drinks six pints every week, she will exceed the limit and if a male drinks nine pints, he will exceed it. Everything in moderation - we are not trying to stop people drinking but we are trying to bring to people the safe amounts that they can consume.
Three people die every day and 1,000 people die every year of alcohol-related illnesses. We now have a phenomenon whereby people are going into liver failure in their third and fourth decades of life. Liver failure was something that happened to people in their 60s and 70s but now it is happening at a much younger age. The incidence of head and neck cancer, breast cancer, bowel cancer, heart disease and stroke increases as people exceed the safe limits relating to alcohol. This tends to hide the psychological and social destruction that alcohol can bring about in our society. Depression and suicide are increasing and one in ten psychiatric admissions is related to excessive alcohol use. There is social, physical and psychological destruction of our society because of the adverse effects of alcohol.
Some 1,500 beds are occupied in our hospitals every day by people who have alcohol-related diseases. This equates to three large regional hospitals. If we could build three large regional hospitals, we would solve many of the problems in our health service yet here we have 1,500 beds occupied by alcohol-related illness.
There is a problem with crime. Others have spoken about the destruction that alcohol causes at weekends and the problems that spill over into our casualty and emergency departments. Anybody who has visited or worked in a casualty department will say that alcohol is a huge problem at weekends and not necessarily just then.
The Bill can achieve a great deal. It will not achieve it overnight but over the years it will certainly provide a huge health dividend to our society. The difficulty can be encapsulated by the fact that it is as easy to buy a bottle of alcohol as it is to buy a bottle of milk. That must change. We have to change our attitudes towards alcohol; it is not a food. This can be done through a number of means which are referred to in the Bill. Minimum unit pricing, the visibility and advertising of alcohol and the labelling of alcohol to include health information. Minimum unit pricing is core to the Bill. The aim behind it is to tackle the cheap availability of alcohol. There is well-established international evidence that consumption decreases as price increases. This can be achieved by raising taxes, as we do every year, by means of increasing the excise duty on alcohol. That in itself is not effective because we have to introduce minimum unit pricing. Putting a tax on the alcohol can be negated by below-cost selling. That is what supermarkets do. If there is a minimum unit price, they cannot do that. The Bill proposes that there would be a 10 cent per gram of alcohol minimum unit price, which would be enforced and highly regulated. This will have the effect of reducing the amount of alcohol consumed and consequently the health issues in respect of our association with alcohol in this country.
A female can exceed her safe limits by spending just €7 a week and a male can exceed his by spending just €10 a week, which is within the reach of every member of this society. We have to increase the price to reduce our alcohol consumption. That would translate into a bottle of wine costing €9. Some Deputies referred to buying bottles of wine for €30. They would be able to buy three bottles of wine if that was to be the case. Certainly, a bottle of wine costing €9 is not outlandish. A pint of beer or cider would be a minimum of €2.50 and a bottle of spirits €28.
We also have to address the issue of advertising, particularly as advertising is addressed towards children. We need to reduce the exposure of children to alcohol through advertising and by seeing it freely available in supermarkets. TV advertising needs to be limited, as does online advertising. The latter can be targeted at younger age groups and children and young adults are spending increasing amounts of time online. Alcohol companies will certainly direct advertising towards them in that regard. We also have to limit the advertising of alcohol at sporting events. We know children who are exposed to alcohol at a very young age are at an increased risk of being damaged later in life.
Finally, I wish to address the structural separation of alcohol in supermarkets. It is extremely important that alcohol is not visible in supermarkets. We talk about the "supermarket burka". This is going to be an imposition on small supermarkets and shops that will have to make changes to how they sell alcohol. However, it is not going to be an insurmountable challenge. It is extremely important that the close association in a supermarket between alcohol and food, milk and all the other commodities is restricted.
This is a very important debate. There are differing views on either side of the House. I would like to share my thoughts with those who are concerned about this issue. One of the saddest images of how alcohol affects people is the road safety advertisement which shows a mother looking at a picture of her child after the latter was killed in a road traffic accident because somebody was over the limit. This Bill is about trying to make sure that the person who drinks and drives does not drink over the limit and controls the amount of alcohol he or she takes. Preferably, someone who is drinking should not drive at all. We have hundreds of road deaths every year, a very significant number of which are due to alcohol abuse. That is unacceptable.
We all sadly know people who have died from suicide. I know one family whose son spent the whole night drinking spirits before, sadly, killing himself. He can never come back. His family remains deeply distressed. He had other underlying problems, as many people do, but alcohol was a very significant factor in his death. I wish we could help people in that situation who suffer from depression and have other issues, emotional problems and so on to drink less and get help sooner, and wish there was better help available as Deputy Darragh O'Brien pointed out about the drugs task forces. We need assist more people who are in deep emotional and personal distress, who abuse alcohol and sadly in many cases pass away.
I also think of somebody I knew quite well. I used to have a drink with him occasionally. When I would meet him in the pub at about 10 o'clock at night or whatever, he would have a glass of clear liquid which I thought was soda water or water. When he got cancer, I was told in fact that it was a half pint of neat vodka that he had every night in the pub. That is what happened to him. He cannot come back either. His family would love to still have him. They believe that the alcohol caused the cancer that killed him. To my mind, the Bill is about ensuring that we abuse alcohol less and provide more help to those who do abuse it. One of the key issues relates to education and support.
I happened to be in Nice on Bastille Day some years ago.
There were tens of thousands of people present. The city was chock-a-block. My family and I walked up and down the promenade that evening. Nobody was drinking at all, either on the promenade or on the beach. The French, on that night anyway, had an entirely different attitude to alcohol than that which might be seen after an all-Ireland celebration. Unfortunately, we do not have those types of celebrations very often in Louth, but perhaps I can refer to other counties. The question of using alcohol on days of national celebration arises. St. Patrick's Day in some towns is awful.People drink themselves sick and silly and go out on the streets at 4 p.m. or 5 p.m.. All sorts of court cases arise as a result.
We have to educate for change but we also have to reach out and support people who have significant problems. The Red Door project in Drogheda, in my constituency, does not have enough support. It has outreach workers who help people with drug and alcohol abuse problems. It needs support. Deputy Darragh O'Brien is absolutely right that we must reach out, support and financially resource community organisations that help to deal with alcohol abuse. That is key to dealing with the problem.
The question of educating and supporting young people in relationship formation and dealing with relationships that break down naturally arises. As they go through life - particularly early in life - people experience relationships that do not work out. That is just as well for most of us, and for the other party as well. The point is that young people in particular are often not able to deal with a breakdown in a personal relationship or they may not have the confidence to actually develop a relationship with a person without alcohol being present. It is hugely important, particularly in schools and as people move up through secondary level in schools, that people are educated so that they can deal with relationships, disappointments, sadness and the sticks and arrows in all of our lives. Turning to alcohol is a key difficulty which causes problems. We can educate, inform, support and nurture people so that when those tough times come - and they come to everybody - they are able to deal with it in a mature, responsible way.
One of the key things about this legislation is that it particularly targets young people and protects them even more. It is appalling that 61% of children surveyed by the Health Promotion Research Centre at NUI Galway owned alcohol-branded merchandise. Alcohol is ubiquitous and present in the items owned by 61% of young people. We are talking about children here. That is utterly unacceptable. I welcome and support the strong language in this Bill, which seeks to penalise and ban the sale in Ireland of imported children's clothing that promotes alcohol products. It is absolutely insidious and must be stopped. It must stop now and that is why I support this Bill.
There are tens of thousands of people working in the alcohol industry in Ireland, in our pubs and restaurants among other places. These people provide an excellent service, but it is critical to note that society is changing. When people went out to the pub years ago, there was nothing other than the demon alcohol available. Now, people go out for meals and social evenings. Pubs and places which do not change the services they provide or add value to them will go to the wall because many people nowadays do not just want the seat and the glass; they want a meal and they want to have a different type of life. Many pubs and restaurants are changing very significantly. I welcome that. We talk about European culture, coffee culture and the coffee bar where one can have a coffee or a drink and socialise in a new and different way. This is now becoming available in Ireland. I welcome all of the changes in our culture in that respect.
The core of the Bill for me is the protection of young people and the support of young people in relationships. We need to educate and inform people and support them in how they manage in relationships as they grow older. We need to help them to deal with tough times, the loss of people they care about, family breakdowns and all of those issues.
The question of the insidious presence of alcohol in sport is hugely important. We speak about the Heineken Cup and the Guinness All-Ireland. That is not acceptable any more. Sports sponsorship from alcohol companies, in my view, should be significantly reduced. I am aware that it takes time to phase it out. There is also a quid pro quofor that. We must acknowledge that we either require greater taxation on alcohol to fund other activities or the taxpayer will fund other activities themselves. It is not acceptable that lives are destroyed by what happens. The familiarisation of people with alcohol in social and sporting occasions plays a part in that. This legislation is hugely important.
As is the case with Deputy Breathnach's county, companies that produce alcohol have operations in my county and they provide many jobs. I want to sustain and nurture them. In many ways, the alcohol industry is a specialist industry. There are craft breweries, special new brands of whiskey or gins, such as that produced by Listoke Distillery, for example. That market is a different place. It is about a unique and special product that is unique and special to the town or the location. I am not saying that it is never abused, but I believe that these are different products that are branded differently and they are not part of the abuse of alcohol which happens elsewhere. I obviously support those businesses.
I listened to the comments made in this Chamber earlier. I hope this legislation is passed. If there are good and enlightened amendments put in the next stage that is fine, but I believe that the drive, energy and support from our community to avoid alcohol abuse must be absolutely paramount. That is the most important aspect for any of us. Nobody wants to lose a family member to alcohol abuse. I believe the intention of this legislative assembly is to ensure that does not happen and that we have fair but firm laws on this issue.