Seanad debates

Thursday, 17 December 2015

Public Health (Alcohol) Bill 2015: Second Stage

 

Question proposed: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

10:30 am

Photo of Leo VaradkarLeo Varadkar (Minister, Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport; Dublin West, Fine Gael)
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I am pleased to introduce the Public Health (Alcohol) Bill to the House. The Bill is the most far-reaching proposed by any Irish Government, with alcohol being addressed for the first time as a public health measure. Ireland has a serious problem - we drink too much alcohol. The majority of people who drink do so in a harmful way. Our alcohol consumption is in the top five among the EU's 28 member states. The Healthy Ireland Survey reported that 76% of the Irish population drank alcohol, with 53% of drinkers doing so at least weekly.

Patterns of drinking, especially drinking to the point of intoxication, play an important role in causing alcohol-related harm. In Ireland when we drink, we tend to binge drink.The Healthy Ireland survey indicates that drinking to excess on a regular basis is commonplace throughout the population, with almost four in ten drinkers, or 39%, binge drinking on a typical drinking occasion and a quarter of them doing so at least once a week. This pattern of drinking is causing significant harm to individuals, their families and society. Alcohol was responsible for at least 83 deaths every month in 2011, is a contributory factor in half of all suicides and in deliberate self-harm, and is associated with a risk of developing health problems such as alcohol dependence, liver cirrhosis and cancer, as well as injuries.

The Government is committed to tackling the alcohol problem in Ireland and the widespread harm and pain it causes. The Public Health (Alcohol) Bill is one of a suite of measures recommended by the steering group report on a national substance misuse strategy in 2012. On 8 December last, the Government approved the publication of this Bill. It aims to reduce alcohol consumption to 9.1 litres of pure alcohol per annum per person by 2020 and to reduce the harms associated with alcohol. The Bill includes five main provisions: minimum unit pricing; health labelling of alcohol products; regulation of advertising and sponsorship of alcohol; structural separation of alcohol products in mixed trading outlets; and regulation of the sale and supply of alcohol in certain circumstances.

I will outline the Bill section by section to clarify its provisions. The Bill is divided into three parts. The first part, preliminary and general provisions, covers sections 1 to 9. Section 1makes standard provisions setting out the Short Title of the Bill and arrangements for its commencement. The Bill can be commenced on a phased basis. Section 2 deals with the interpretation of the Bill. It defines the meaning of some of the terms used for the purposes of the Bill, including "advertising", "container" and "sell". Section 3outlines that the Bill will apply to clubs registered under the Registration of Clubs Acts 1904 to 2008. Section 4 deals with regulations, allowing the Minister for Health to make regulations to bring the legislation into operation. Section 5 is a standard provision dealing with expenses. Section 6 is a standard provision dealing with the service of documents.

Section 7 sets out the offences under the legislation. A person who commits an offence under the legislation will be liable on summary conviction to a fine not exceeding €5,000 - a Class A fine - or imprisonment for a term of up to six months or both, and on conviction on indictment to a fine not exceeding €100,000 or €250,000 or imprisonment for a term of up to two or three years or both. A continuing fine of up to €2,000 per day is provided for where a person is convicted of specific offences and the contravention continues. Contraventions including the non-display of health information in licensed premises and online and the sale of children's clothing to which certain restrictions apply will be summary offences. The Bill provides for a defence if a person can show that he or she made all reasonable efforts to comply with the legislation. A person convicted of an offence may also be ordered to cover the prosecution costs and expenses. Summary proceedings under the Bill may be brought and prosecuted by the Health Service Executive, HSE. The section also sets out provisions relating to offences committed by bodies corporate and their directors, managers or officers.

Section 8 provides for the remote sale of alcohol products. This provision will ensure that if a person is sold an alcohol product from somewhere outside the Republic of Ireland that is dispatched from inside the Republic, the legislation governing the sale of alcohol products within the Republic will apply. Section 9repeals sections 20 and 23 of the Intoxicating Liquor Act 2003 and sections 9 and 16 of the Intoxicating Liquor Act 2008.

Part2 of the Bill, which deals with alcohol products, covers sections 10 to 21. Section 10deals with minimum unit pricing, MUP.The price is set at 10 cent per gram of alcohol. It will be an offence to sell or advertise alcohol for retail sale at a price below this set minimum price. The MUP can be increased by ministerial order three years after commencement and every 18 months thereafter following a review. Alcohol products sold in duty free shops in airports are exempt from MUP. When introduced, the minimum price for a can of beer with 5% alcohol by volume, ABV, will be €1.97, the minimum price for a bottle of wine with 12.5% ABV will be €7.40, and the minimum price of a bottle of whiskey with 40% ABV will be €22.09.

Section 11outlines the provisions for the labellingof alcohol products and notices in licensed premises. The aim is to provide information to consumers on alcohol products - that is, health and pregnancy warnings, quantities of alcohol in grams, energy values, and details of an alcohol public health website to be established by the HSE. The provisions aim to ensure that consumers are provided with health information on alcohol products regardless of the manner of purchase, be it in a shop, in a pub or online. Labels on alcohol products, websites where alcohol is sold online and documents with kegs or casks must contain the following information: health and pregnancy warnings, the quantity of alcohol in grams, the energy value, and details of an alcohol public health website to be provided by the HSE. On and off-licences must prominently display notices which include health and pregnancy warnings, details of an alcohol public health website to be provided by the HSE, and confirmation that a document is available on request for review which sets out the amount of alcohol and energy value for every poured or decanted alcohol product such as draught beer or a glass of wine or spirits. The Minister for Health can make regulations prescribing the information to be provided to the customer and the manner of its display, such as the form of the health warnings and where notices are to be displayed in licensed premises. My Department has commissioned research to inform the health labelling and ensure the clarity and efficacy of the message. These provisions will come into operation three years after the commencement of the section. The labelling provisions will not apply to alcohol products that are on the market prior to the coming into operation of the section.

Sections 12 to 18 provide for restrictions and prohibitions on the advertising and marketing of alcohol products. The aim is to protect children from over-exposure to alcohol advertising. A targeted consultation will take place shortly to inform the transitional periods for these provisions. Section 12 relates to the content of advertisements, including broadcast advertisements. The Bill provides that advertisements for alcohol products must incorporate health and pregnancy warnings and details of an alcohol public health website to be established by the HSE. Additionally, the alcohol advertisements can only contain any or all of the following: an image or reference to an alcohol product or alcohol products - the country and region of origin, the method of production, where the alcohol product was manufactured and information on whether the alcohol product is intended to be diluted with a non-alcoholic beverage, with an image of or reference to the non-alcoholic beverage; the price; a brand name, trade mark or emblem; a corporate name and corporate emblem; the name and address of the manufacturer; the ABV; quantity of alcohol in grams; and energy value. The Minister is empowered to make regulations prescribing, inter alia, the form of the warning and the prominence and duration of the warning in a broadcast advertisement. Alcohol products and alcohol use cannot be portrayed in an advertisement for any other product or service.

Section 13prohibits advertisements for alcohol products in certain places. Advertisements for alcohol are prohibited in or at local authority parks or open spaces, public service vehicles such as buses and taxis, trams or trains, trains or bus stations, bus stops, railway stops, schools, early years services such as crèches and local authority playgrounds. The advertising of alcohol products is also prohibited within 200 m of the perimeter of a school, including its grounds, early years services and local authority playgrounds. Licensed premises, premises where alcohol is produced or sold and alcohol company vehicles are exempt from this provision.

Section 14 provides that advertisements for alcohol products are prohibited in or on sports areas when a sports event is taking place, at events aimed particularly at children or at events where the majority of individuals taking part are children. The Bill provides that individuals can wear alcohol-branded clothing in a sports area during a sporting event. The sports area is defined as the playing area - for example, a playing pitch, swimming pool or athletics track.

Section 15 provides that an alcohol company cannot sponsor an event where the majority of individuals taking part are children, an event aimed particularly at children or an event that involves driving or racing cars or bicycles. However, licensed premises such as pubs and mixed-trade retailers can sponsor an event provided alcohol products or brands are not advertised or promoted therein.

Section 16 provides that children's clothing, including footwear, that is branded with an alcohol product or promotes alcohol consumption cannot be manufactured, sold or imported for sale in the State. Children's clothing placed on the market up to a year after the commencement of this provision is exempt from the provision.

Section 17 outlines restrictions on alcohol advertising in publications with regard to the volume and type of publication, including foreign publications. The advertising space permitted for alcohol products in publications is restricted to 20%. Advertisements for alcohol products are not permitted in publications aimed particularly at children, in publications or pages of a publication whose readership by children is likely to exceed 20%, or on the front or back cover or any wrapper, envelope or covering of a publication. There is an exemption for publications that are intended for sale and distribution outside the State and for alcohol trade publications that are not aimed at the general public. Publications published by or on behalf of specialist off-licences are exempted from some of these restrictions.

Section 18restricts advertisements for alcohol products in cinemas to films with an age 18 classification and licensed premises.Section 19 provides that the advertising provisions must be reviewed within three years of commencement. Section 20 provides for restrictions on the display and advertisement of alcohol products in mixed trade retail outlets. It sets out that mixed-trade retailers can only display and advertise alcohol products in either a separate area of the shop or in closed storage units. In addition, to these two options, alcohol products can also be held behind the counter in a closed storage unit, as is often currently done for security reasons.

The alcohol display areamust be separated from the rest of the premises by a barrier. Alcohol products and advertisements for alcohol products should not be easily visible from outside the area and the public should not have to pass through the alcohol area in order to access or buy other products. In addition, the alcohol display area can only display alcohol products and products related with alcohol, for example, glasses, corkscrews, mixers and alcohol-related products must also be available to buy elsewhere in the shop. If the option chosen is that of closed storage units, these can only contain alcohol products and must be located adjacent to each other. Alcohol products and advertisements for alcohol products cannot be visible from the storage units when closed and the storage units must remain closed when not in use. Specialist off-licences and airports are exempt from these provisions. These provisions will come into effect one year after the commencement of the section.

Section 21 empowers the Minister for Health to make regulations to prohibit or restrict a person from providing, by sale or supply, an alcohol product at a reduced price or free of charge on the purchase of another alcohol product or another product or service, for example: buy-one-get-one-free offers; providing, by sale or supply, alcohol products at a reduced price for a period equal to or less than three days - I refer here to happy hours, happy days or messy Mondays; doing or permitting anything that is intended or likely to encourage the people present to drink alcohol harmfully. This includes: anything done to promote a business or an event or activity taking place somewhere other than an occupied private residence; selling or causing to be sold alcohol at a reduced price or free of charge to a particular class of person, for example, students night offers; and advertising or causing to be advertised the sale, supply or consumption of alcohol products in the manner outlined.

The award directly or indirectly of bonus points, loyalty card points or similar on the purchase of alcohol products is also prohibited, as is the use of any points to obtain alcohol products or any other product or service at a reduced price or free of charge. These provisions do not apply to alcohol products sold by wholesale.

Part 3of the Bill provides for enforcement and compliance and covers sections 22 to 29, inclusive. Section22 provides for the appointment of officers by the HSE and for the circumstances in which such appointments may cease. Authorised officers will be required to produce the warrant of appointment if so requested when exercising any power conferred on him or her under the Bill. Section23 sets out the powers of authorised officers in enforcing the legislation. Section 24sets out the arrangements for sampling of alcohol products, substances or articles by authorised officers. Section25 provides for the Minister for Health to designate, by notice in writing in Iris Oifigiúil, a laboratory and an analyst for the purposes of analysis of samples under the Bill. Section 26sets out the evidence required in proceedings for an offence and provides for the Minister for Health to prescribe in regulations the form of a certificate of analysis. Section27 provides that an authorised officer of the HSE who has reasonable grounds for believing that a person is committing, or has committed, an offence under certain labelling and merchandising provisions, may serve a fixed payment notice in the prescribed form on that person. Section28 makes provision for the use of compliance notices to promote higher levels of compliance with the legislation. Section 29 provides that the HSE may publish an alcohol non-compliance list of the names and addresses of persons where a fine or other penalty has been imposed by a court.

As Members have heard, this is a very comprehensive Bill dealing with a number of different aspects of alcohol consumption, from pricing to advertisement to labelling. I am confident that this multifaceted approach is both necessary and likely to bring significant improvement to our consumption levels and patterns. I, therefore, commend the Public Health (Alcohol) Bill 2015 to the House.

Photo of Caít KeaneCaít Keane (Fine Gael)
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I thank the Minister. I call Senator Marc MacSharry who has eight minutes. All the lead speakers have eight minutes while all other Senators have five minutes.

Photo of Marc MacSharryMarc MacSharry (Fianna Fail)
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I welcome the Minister. I am glad to have an opportunity to make a few points on the Bill. We would welcome anything that can assist in changing our culture of binge drinking, as the Minister has rightly pointed out. I take a drink myself and enjoy it. As a nation, as the Minister said, we all drink too much and it is very much a cultural thing. Many administrations have wrestled with what is the correct approach in legislation to help change the culture. There is no question that the Bill is an honest and good effort in trying to achieve that objective. I am not sure whether much in the legislative world can change that culture. Ultimately, we need to face up to it as individuals, as people and as a society and begin, through education, parenting, guardianship and peer caring, to address this issue and bring the great social life we all enjoy and want in Irish society to a different level of interaction where it is not dependent on alcohol, binge drinking and so on.

I welcome most of the provisions in the Bill. There is one particular issue I want to mention and I also wish to outline a few thoughts on other approaches we might try. Section 20 provides for the segregation of alcohol at points of sale. This issue arose in 2008 and 2009 when a former Minister, Mr. Dermot Ahern, dealt with it. There was a strong lobby in this area, particularly from small retailers. I am not that concerned about the larger businesses that may have greater resources to deal with it but I understand the type of barriers envisaged can give rise to problems. There are approximately 1,500 smaller retailers - such as small Centra outlets and so on - and 1,100 larger ones which are all subscribers to Responsible Retailers of Alcohol in Ireland, a body which was established in 2008 or 2009 and which has an independent chairman, Mr. Padraic White. On an annual basis, the body carries out its own auditing and makes reports available to the Minister for Justice and Equality to show the level of compliance of those 2,600 retailers with a code of conduct relating to responsible retailing and merchandising which ensures that alcohol is not displayed in incorrect places in stores. etc. My understanding is that there has been a 95% compliance rate in that regard. When the heads of the Bill were being drawn up in February, the Minister, Deputy Fitzgerald, met representatives from Responsible Retailers of Alcohol in Ireland, which supports the legislation, but there was no mention of segregation at that point. Segregation means that shop owners will have to erect barriers on their premises. I presume that such barriers would have to be a minimum of 6 ft. in height in order to minimise the chance of people seeing what is on sale behind them or to prevent them entering that particular part of the shop. I see that heads are being shaken. That is great. I am glad I am wrong. Perhaps the Minister will enlighten us as to the way in which the barriers will manifest themselves and how the smaller 1,500 retailers will deal with this issue.

I understand that, at a meeting in October at the hand-over of the legislation from the Department of Justice and Equality to the Department of Health of this particular issue, the Minister, or his officials, met Responsible Retailers of Alcohol in Ireland and an agreement was reached in respect of consultation. However, no such consultation took place. Effectively, the provision relating to barriers is new and it only emerged this week. I am aware the industry is particularly concerned about it and the cost implications for smaller retailers throughout the country. Clearly, there is time to deal with this issue on Committee Stage. Given that we have a 95% compliance rate in terms of responsible retailing of alcohol, what is the problem, particularly if we want alcohol to be moved away from sweets, confectionary and other products in shops? I am not opposed to the spirit of the legislation because we all want the same result. However, this is an issue that has re-emerged since 2009 and I am not so sure whether about the science being used to back it up. I am concerned with regard to the implications for the 1,500 smaller retailers throughout the country. I ask the Minister to take a closer look at the issue. I also ask that his officials make contact with Responsible Retailers of Alcohol in Ireland in order that it might give him the benefit of its research. Its independent chair, Mr. Padraic White, oversees the auditing of compliance in this regard.We may achieve the same or better outcomes without the necessity for expense. I ask the Minister to contact that organisation.

The minimum pricing, advertising controls and health warnings the Minister proposes to introduce are all very important. Successful and welcome changes to the regulations governing the advertising of smoking have benefited all of us and helped many, including me, to cut back on smoking or give up the habit. The culture surrounding alcohol consumption worsened when people started to drink more at home and outside controlled drinking environments such as pubs and dances. While some people like to have a drink at home rather than going out, I do not consider it a healthy practice. When I was growing up alcohol was not as accessible as it is today, especially in terms of price. Last Christmas, I bought a case of 20 bottles of premium lager for €15 or €16. I thought it was fine at the time because I was 42 years old and I still had a substantial number of bottles left in June this year. However, for those aged 18 years who are in a position to buy a case of alcohol for €16, the 20 bottles may not last the rest of the evening because at that age one does not have the necessary maturity.

My friends who retail alcohol responsibly may not be happy to hear my view that alcohol is sold much too cheaply in the retail and off-licence sectors. We would be served better if alcohol was more expensive. If people wish to drink alcohol, I would prefer if they did so in a controlled environment, especially younger people because responsible bar staff would be able to advise them that, for example, a triple vodka may not be the correct drink or they may have had enough and would be welcome back in the pub the following weekend. This is preferable to drinking in uncontrolled environments.

The Suicide Prevention and Mental Health Fund Bill I introduced in the House some time ago was voted down by the Government side. The concept behind the Bill was to impose an additional levy on off-sales, including supermarket sales of alcohol, and ring-fence income from the levy for mental health and suicide prevention efforts. As the Minister is aware, when the health service faces financial challenges, the mental health budget is all too often the first budget to be raided. This has been done several times, including when an allocation of €30 million for mental health services was swiped. The issue of off-sales versus on-sales of alcohol must be addressed, notwithstanding the measures in the Bill before us.

I welcome the Bill and beseech the Minister to tease out with the industry the issue of segregation. There are many ways to skin a cat. We do not want to increase costs for smaller struggling retailers if they are avoidable. Some consultation would be beneficial in this regard. Perhaps amendments will be introduced on Committee Stage.

Photo of Colm BurkeColm Burke (Fine Gael)
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I welcome the Minister and thank him for publishing the Bill. I am a member of the Joint Committee on Health and Children which examined the heads of the Bill. We engaged in a consultation process and a number of groups made submissions on the legislation. Members of the medical profession, the drinks industry and advertising and sport bodies made their views known. This Bill is the best way to deal with the issues we face.

It has been alleged that the measures will cause difficulties for people on lower incomes. It is recommended that people should limit the number of units of alcohol they drink weekly to 17 for men and 11 for women. Minimum pricing would result in a weekly increase in costs for a person adhering to this recommendation of approximately 30 cent per week or €1.20 per month. These figures refer to people who are buying alcohol in off-licences.

The issue we must consider is the impact of alcohol on health in the past 20 years. As the Minister noted, four in ten drinkers binge drink in Ireland. A goal has been set of reducing annual alcohol consumption in Ireland from 11 litres per person to 9.1 litres per person. Professor Frank Murray pointed out that excessive drinking is costing taxpayers approximately €3.7 billion per annum. It is estimated that an 8.8% reduction in consumption would save 100 lives per annum, result in 6,000 fewer hospital admissions and reduce by 100,000 the number of daily absences from work caused by excessive drinking.

One of the frightening figures produced by the medical profession is that one in four deaths among people aged under 50 years is directly related to excessive use of alcohol. We are all aware of the figures on the number of deaths in road traffic accidents. Road safety has been comprehensively addressed in the past ten or 15 years, although work remains to be done in this area. However, we have not dealt with alcohol consumption. This Bill marks the first step in doing so. It covers a wide range of areas and includes a long-term plan for alcohol advertising and labelling. It addresses all the areas that need to be addressed to make people more aware of the risks they take when they use alcohol excessively. For example, alcohol poses risks to pregnant women and the child they are carrying. It took a long time to sell the message that drink-driving poses major risks. Likewise, it will take many years to change attitudes to alcohol.

As someone who lives close to a university, it is interesting to note how the behaviour of young people has changed in the past 15 or 20 years. Four pubs within a half-mile radius of University College Cork have closed in recent years, whereas the number of off-licences increased dramatically in the same period. People who drink in a pub know exactly what amount they have consumed because it is provided in measures. When one buys alcohol in an off-licence and drinks it at home, there are no measures or limits, which results in people taking serious risks.

It is interesting to speak to members of the medical profession about this issue. They highlight a major increase in cases of liver and kidney disease in the past 20 years, especially among women. The increase in health problems among women caused by excessive drinking is the result of a change in culture in the past 20 or 25 years. This long overdue Bill addresses these issues in a comprehensive manner.There has been extensive consultation in all of the various areas that will be affected by the legislation. We are speaking about setting out a timeframe for its implementation. The Minister is approaching it in the right way. It is about making sure that we progress the legislation and carefully implement it step by step to ensure we get across the message that people can drink but they do not have to drink to excess. Health issues are extremely important as there is a huge cost to the health service. As we speak, 2,000 beds are occupied in hospitals because of excess use of alcohol. This area is a priority and the Minister is right to bring forward the legislation, which deserves our full support.

Photo of Jillian van TurnhoutJillian van Turnhout (Independent)
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I welcome the Minister to the House on this, our penultimate day of term. I heartily welcomed the initiation of the Public Health (Alcohol) Bill. As did Senator Burke, I participated in the hearings of Oireachtas Joint Committee on Health and Children on the scrutiny of the heads of the Bill. We covered the aspects of the Bill and I thank the Minister for taking on many of the committee's recommendations in what we see today. It does show pre-legislative scrutiny works. The Bill is about reducing alcohol-related harm, improving people's health and, ultimately, saving children's lives. From my reading, a children's rights focus is evident throughout the Bill.

I acknowledge and thank the Alcohol Health Alliance Ireland, which is spearheaded by the Royal College of Physicians of Ireland and Alcohol Action Ireland, for its work and advice to me in this area. In all of our debates on alcohol, even those on reducing the alcohol-related harm which we all agree is extensive and needs tackling, we feel we need to clarify that we are not anti-alcohol. This is because our relationship with alcohol is so twisted into our culture and psyche we do not wish to be portrayed as judgmental and anti-fun. I have been rapporteur for two EU reports on the issue of alcohol-related harm. I have seen the drinks industry in action first-hand so I have no doubt of the pressure it must have put on the Minister. At EU level, I was on the European Economic and Social Committee, which was small, and the industry tried to silence me and discredit me and undermine the work of the NGO for which I worked. Thankfully, the majority of my colleagues on the committee were willing to stand with me and face down the vested interests and defend the public good. This is what we are trying to do with the Bill.

My entry point to the issue is the impact of alcohol-related harm on children. Four in ten children in Ireland are at risk of being adversely affected by alcohol misuse. Four in ten child protection cases are associated with alcohol misuse. It is a significant contributor to the neglect and abuse of children, to domestic and sexual violence and family breakdown. I welcome the support for the Bill and its harm reduction measures from several sectors of the industry in Ireland, including the vintners' associations, the majority of publicans, the National Off-Licence Association and the C&C Group.

I use the term "drinks industry" but I speak more about the giants who see Ireland as a small pawn in the global drinks industry. The drinks industry speaks about responsible drinking, but the way we drink in Ireland is only responsible for the huge profits the industry makes here every year. As soon as the Minister launched the Bill I could almost hear the smoke machine of the drinks industry spluttering into action and, through its puppet drinkaware.ie, a soon to be launched rebranding of MEAS, talk about the importance of education. We see drinks industry initiatives all the time and the involvement of the drinks industry in public health campaigns despite clear and definitive statements from the World Health Organization that it should have no role in public health initiatives.

Drinkaware.ieis funded by Diageo, Heineken and Irish Distillers. Earlier this year we saw it advertise for an education programme manager to head up an education programme targeting young people, parents and teachers. This is completely inappropriate. If I put it this way, who would entertain the idea of an education programme about the dangers of smoking being designed and delivered by an organisation that is funded by tobacco companies? We cannot let the drinks industry in whatever guise it manifests itself to go into schools and purport to educate our children about the usage of a substance on which its entire profit is made. I hope the Department of Education and Skills takes a firm stance. I have tried to raise this issue several times in the Seanad. There is no safe level of alcohol consumption for children and this is the clear message we must send. We know education informs our behaviour, but it does not influence our behaviour. It is the actions contained in the Bill which will change and reduce alcohol consumption.

I have no doubt that, as has happened in Scotland, the industry will go to court if it feels it can delay or frustrate the implementation of the Bill. In my opinion, this tells us the Minister is on the right track. With regard to sponsorship and sport, the drinks industry spends £800 million a year in the UK on advertising, and research has shown that children there as young as ten are familiar with, and can readily identify, alcohol brands, logos and characters from television. In many instances, recognition was greater for alcohol brands than for non-alcoholic products targeted at children. This tells me a lot. The study also provided new evidence that many children are familiar with the link between alcohol brands and the sports teams and tournaments they sponsor. This is why I welcomed the initiatives the Minister is taking. He knows my position, which is I would love to see a full ban, but I welcome what he is doing in this area to try to reduce the impact on children.

It was very interesting that in the days after the Bill was launched we saw a headline stating it would undermine the rugby World Cup. I cannot see the evidence for this. We have seen the rugby World Cup successfully held in France, which has a ban, and it made a profit. It made me think of FIFA, because it has influenced legislation in Brazil. Brazil has a law whereby alcohol is not sold in stadia, but a change will be made to enshrine the right to sell beer. Surprise, surprise, Budweiser is a big sponsor of FIFA. When the ban on tobacco sponsorship of sport was introduced we were told it would be the end of golf championships, and we would never see again championships such as the Carrolls Irish open. This has been disproved. It can still happen.

With regard to minimum unit pricing, over the past several years the alcohol strength of drinks has increased greatly. The alcohol strength of beers and wine has increased. The pricing the Minister will introduce is within the power of the drinks industry. If it reduces the alcohol strength we will not see price increases. It is simple because it has the power. The introduction of minimum unit pricing will not have an impact on people who drink alcohol in pubs, clubs and restaurants. We are speaking about off sales. People who drink alcohol purchased in supermarkets and consume it within the safe limits will pay 30 cent a week more, which is €15.70 over a full year, with minimum unit pricing. The difficulty is that people drinking cheap high-strength alcohol purchased in supermarkets and other retailers will notice, but we know this is what causes the most deaths, injuries, accidents and incidents. I recommend as reading the University of Sheffield report, which the committee dealt with during its hearings. We know minimum unit pricing works because we have seen it work in Canada.

I welcome what the Minister is doing with labelling. We very much see the importance of people having information. After we discussed it at the committee, we started looking more at labelling on bottles and we can see the misinformation, deliberate or not. It is very difficult to make informed decisions. For the first time, labels on alcohol products will include information which will tell consumers what they are consuming and the impact on their health and weight. More than 90% of Irish adults do not know what is meant by a standard drink. I must look it up and I am involved in the area. A total of 95% of people have said they support the labelling initiatives. The Minister knows I have raised with him the issue of cancer, and we know that alcohol is associated with 900 new cancer cases every year and 500 cancer deaths.

There is an issue with regard to structural separation, which the committee considered and brought to the Minister. I have read the explanatory memorandum which comes with the Bill. The Minister is taking a very pragmatic and easily implemented approach and I commend him for it. We have seen seepage in supermarkets with meal deals which normalise drinking wine every day. I commend the Minister on the pragmatic approach being taken. We will get to tease out each aspect of the report on Committee Stage and I say "Well done" to the Minister in respect of the children's clothing issue also. We see the seepage on that matter throughout department stores. The Minister has my full support.

Photo of John GilroyJohn Gilroy (Labour)
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I welcome the Minister. I am glad the Bill has at last come into the Chamber. It is very far reaching and the Minister is to be commended for his diligence and doggedness in pursuing the measures proposed in the Bill.

To discover that Ireland is in the top five countries in Europe for alcohol consumption is no surprise. The other four share a commonality with us in that we are all northern countries. What is it about the psyche of those of us who live in northern Europe in particular that gives rise to a different type of relationship with alcohol than that of people who live in the Mediterranean region?

Photo of Leo VaradkarLeo Varadkar (Minister, Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport; Dublin West, Fine Gael)
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They have sunshine to keep them happy.

Photo of John GilroyJohn Gilroy (Labour)
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Reference was made to young people being harmful drinkers but I suspect if one was to visit hostelries in Dublin or any part of the country, one would find that most of those who indulge in harmful drinking are not in the first flush of youth. The problem is not exclusive to any age group, class or cohort of people.

I am interested in the relationship between mental health and alcohol. In the late 1990s and the early 2000s there was a clear correlation between high levels of drinking and high rates of suicide and self-harm. During the years from 2002 to 2008 when the sale of alcohol and consumption dropped from 13 litres to 11 litres per person per annum there was a corresponding decrease in the rate of suicide. The connection between the two is very well established. As the Minister said in his statement, alcohol is related in some way to nearly 50% of suicides. These figures are alarming. There is not a family or a community in the country that has not been affected in some way by this. If the legislation achieves only a reduction in the rates of suicide and self-harm, then it will have definitely served its purpose. However, it goes further. Apart from the public health benefits of the legislation in the context of addictions and illnesses it will also help to address concerns around alcohol in the incidents of public order, loss of work days and the personal tragedies of people who are married or related to those addicted to alcohol and the children who are exposed to violent behaviour and domestic abuse. The lists of negatives related to the harmful use of alcohol is nearly endless.

Could the Minister indicate who will receive the profit when the minimum unit price is created? Does it accrue to the publican, the industry or the Government? It works out at only €15 per year per person if one drinks only within non-harmful ranges. It is still a substantial amount of money.

There is incontrovertible evidence that alcohol consumption is sensitive to price increase. This is especially true for people who indulge in harmful drinking. A reference was made to a recent deal of 20 bottles of beer for €16. There is also a promotion of 24 cans of beer for €19. That is 48 units of alcohol at 50 cent a go, which is within the price range of even the youngest children. If they put their pocket money together, they would certainly be able to afford it. The proposal for minimum pricing is very welcome.

Senator MacSharry raised concerns about the segregation of alcohol sales. I believe he overstated the case. In most shops, segregation is not done by means of six foot walls or electric fences, it is done very reasonably. Any cost implication for the retailer is probably offset by the increased profits, if the profit does accrue to the retailer.

I was glad to hear Senator van Turnhout's comments about education. I heard a doctor speaking on radio recently following the publication of the Bill. He said the drinks industry was bemoaning the fact that a greater emphasis was not placed on education in the legislation. He said that the reason the drinks industry would be so focused on education is because education is probably the least effective measure in controlling alcohol abuse.

I look forward to debating this in greater detail on Committee Stage. I have much more to say about it and I commend the Minister on his pursuit of this important public health initiative.

Photo of David NorrisDavid Norris (Independent)
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I very much welcome the Minister and I wish him and his a very happy Christmas. It has been a triumphant year for him in many ways, even though, as a former politician observed, he is in Uganda.

Photo of Leo VaradkarLeo Varadkar (Minister, Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport; Dublin West, Fine Gael)
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I think the Senator means Angola.

Photo of David NorrisDavid Norris (Independent)
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Angola, yes. They are all the bloody same, they are all in a mess. The timing of the legislation is rather curious and the smile on the Minster's face suggests he is not actually screwed in introducing alcohol control legislation in the run-up to Christmas.

I am not a pioneer but I support the pioneers. If they were needed in the 19th century, they are very much more needed now. I live in the north inner city of Dublin and I see the devastating impact of alcohol on people who really cannot afford it. The minimum price proposals are welcome. Does fortified wine as sold in chemist shops come under the price proposals? It always amused me to see the derelicts drinking Marie Celeste sherry - with the image of the haunted, sinking ship on its label - as they collapsed on the ground. In the explanatory memorandum, it is correctly stated that alcohol is no ordinary product. It certainly is not. It is unlike any other product. It has major public health implications and is responsible for a considerable burden of health, social and economic harm to individuals and families across social levels. This is absolutely true.

I received a briefing - as have many other Senators - from the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland. They say that alcohol-related disorders accounted for one in ten first admissions to psychiatric hospitals in 2011 and that alcohol is the leading cause of cancer in this State. Many people do not realise there is such a link between alcohol and cancer. I had a liver transplant about 18 months ago. I asked if my condition was related to alcohol because I used to sometimes go off on a skite and I wondered if it could have had any effect. I was told that it was related to an earlier incidence of hepatitis from water I drank while visiting Budapest. However, it could have been related to alcohol and many people who were in my post-op ward were there with alcohol-related conditions. Some 25% of all injuries among those presenting at accident and emergency departments are alcohol related. Alcohol is a factor in suicide, domestic abuse and accidents. There is also evidence that alcohol has a reinforcing effect on poverty. The accident and emergency departments in hospitals are absolutely jammed with people who have overindulged, principally on alcohol but also with drugs and they clog up the whole area for the legitimate victims of accidents. The Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland gave an unequivocal welcome to this Bill. It believes it sets a strong precedent for further changes in the Bill.

Alcohol abuse costs the State an estimated €3.7 billion per year. Imagine what could be done with the health service or schools with this amount of money? Alcohol abuse is causing colossal damage and yet it is ferociously unpopular to attack alcohol - drink is a little tin god. I got the most unspeakable abuse - but I do not give a damn as I am elected to this House to be an independent voice - when I suggested that splurging social welfare payments on drink was not the intended use of that money and that tax dollars were being spent on drink. Some people thought I did not know the currency we use but the term "tax dollars" is a cliché.However, I believe it is obscene to spend money that is generated from the tax of elderly people on drink. Moreover, I object to my tax dollars being used. If I want to buy somebody a drink, I will do so but I do not want my tax money going to buy them drinks. That is not what it is for and I said it again to great unpopularity ten years ago, when the Union of Students in Ireland, in producing its scheme for student grants, included €50 per month for drink. Why should old age pensioners pay for students to drink? I have never understood it but, of course, I got well walloped.

The Minister has also been rather walloped not by the kind of cranks I encountered, but by the drinks industry. The way in which the drinks industry seeks to impose pressure on the Government is rather like the tobacco companies. I have a headline to hand that states: "Diageo's threat to scale back its Irish operations highlights the potential of proposed measures to improve health." All I can say to the Minister is that if Diageo is threatening him, he is doing the right thing because he has got the company a little bit rattled. Then there are those rather dreary people, the anti-alcohol groups who, when one sees a huge advertisement suggesting one will be sexually potent, socially gregarious and intellectually powerful if one drinks a couple of bottles of wine, add to it a little insipid message saying one should remember to enjoy alcohol sensibly. That is not what the drinks industry wants; it wants people to be guzzling it down as hard as they can to increase the industry's profits. While my colleague, Senator Barrett, will challenge this, the Minister stated that Ireland is in the top five in Europe for alcohol consumption. We certainly are very high but it is also about the way in which we drink. In continental Europe, people take drinks with meals. If one looks at the way in which young people approach it, nowadays they go out and buy a couple of cheap bottles of wine, guzzle them down and then go to the nightclubs already plastered, which is terribly unhealthy. A total of 76% of Irish people drink alcohol, which is a very high figure and at least 53% do so at least weekly. However, the worst figure is that 39% of people binge-drink, which is a really frightening statistic.

I greatly welcome the introduction of minimum unit pricing. It is a good idea that will also deal to a certain extent with below-cost selling, which is a real cancer on the subject. The Bill also provides for the labelling of alcohol in order that one knows what is its strength, what goes into it and so on. Some people have urged that as in the smoking legislation, one should put up photographs of damaged livers and so on to deter people. I am not sure what the Minister thinks about that. The Bill also deals with restrictions and prohibitions on advertising of alcohol. In particular, I am glad to see the first beginnings of an attack on sport. It is dreadful that drink should be used to advertise sport and drinks sponsorship of sport is completely and absolutely wrong. I welcome the restrictions on advertising of alcohol near schools and crèches, on trams and trains, at bus and railway stops and so on, as well as in sports areas. However, I noticed what appears to be a contradiction, albeit it may be about timing. I understand this is part of an incremental approach and the Minister intends to withdraw eventually alcohol sponsorship from sports pretty well across the board. However, I note the Bill provides that individuals can wear alcohol-branded clothing on a sports area during a sporting event. However, the explanatory memorandum states further down that section 16 provides that children's clothing, including footwear, that is branded an alcohol product or promotes alcohol consumption cannot be manufactured, sold or imported for sale in the State. I assume that a ban on wearing these kinds of sponsorship garments will gradually come into effect as the ban on the manufacture, sale or importing bikes, because I do not understand how somebody could wear these kinds of materials otherwise. I am intrigued by the ban on racing cars and bicycles and am not sure why they are singled out in particular. I would suggest banning drink advertising in cinemas altogether, right across the board. As for provisions to prohibit providing alcohol at reduced price, that is very good but what about happy hours?

I note the consumption of alcohol in Ireland in 2014 was 11 litres per person, which was an increase. Although people have been saying all over the place there was no increase, there has been an increase. A systematic review published in 2009 concluded that exposure to alcohol marketing can reduce the age at which young people start to drink. Consequently, young people are being targeted. I will conclude by noting the science committee of the European Health and Alcohol Forum stated it can be concluded from the studies reviewed that "alcohol marketing increases the likelihood that adolescents will start to use alcohol, and to drink more if they are already using alcohol". There one has it; young people being targeted. No wonder Diageo is in a tizzy. I say "well done" to the Minister.

Photo of Imelda HenryImelda Henry (Fine Gael)
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I welcome the Minister to the House and will not repeat the points made by many Members. I have spent the past four years in this House seeking this legislation in particular and I am very pleased. I congratulate the Minister on his commitment to this legislation and congratulate the Government because Members have been waiting a long time for this legislation. I refer to one aspect Senator MacSharry mentioned regarding a code of practice. That is a thing of the past and one must legislate. It will not be particularly expensive to put a barrier in a shop to segregate alcohol from other products. I do not believe it is an issue and I do not want to hear that suggestion again in the House because in this legislation, the Minister has covered every angle.

Members are aware that the availability of alcohol and cheap alcohol in particular has caused many problems in Ireland. Last Sunday, perhaps after the publication of the Bill on 8 December, I noticed in particular the advertisements in the Sunday Independent.I was actually quite shocked at the slabs of drink and the price at which they were being sold. However, I wish to mention one point about which I overheard two ladies speak at the weekend. They were giving out about how the price of wine was about to rise in the supermarket and one lady stated she would be going up North again. When the Minister published the Bill, he stated the legislation in Northern Ireland would happen at the same time and that is very important. I live in a Border county and many years ago, many people went up to the North to shop not just for alcohol, and it had a huge impact on businesses in Border towns. In any event, I reiterate how pleased I am and I thank the Minister for his genuine commitment to this legislation.

Photo of Susan O'KeeffeSusan O'Keeffe (Labour)
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The Minister is welcome to the House and as my colleague, Senator Henry, has just stated, his commitment to this Bill also is welcome. I believe this really should be a day that Members recognise as marking the beginning of a change in people's entire attitude and culture of praising alcohol, welcoming alcohol, encouraging people to have another drink and of encouraging people to celebrate with alcohol. While this culture must be changed, that will take an incredibly long time and consequently, anything that can be done that begins to reframe the manner in which people talk and think about alcohol and in which they treat alcohol is welcome.

I reiterate the Minister cannot change entirely the manner in which people view alcohol, which will take a long time as cultural change is slow. However, some aspects of this Bill should contribute to that change. I refer in particular to sponsorship where alcohol is used with regard to sport and musical events. These are two large areas in people's lives where they go out to enjoy themselves and have a good time, to compete and pay money for tickets for events and to then have this associated always with alcohol is a dangerous thing indeed. I remember conducting some research quite a number of years ago when the French authorities decided to ban advertising in sports grounds around the pitch. The authorities there had done their research and believed this was the beginning of something different where one was taking the emphasis away from alcohol. I remember having a conversation with a key marketing person from one of the big drinks companies, who stated I did not understand because they reinvested a lot of their profits in supporting sport. That was the reason the drinks companies gave, that is, it is a good thing that clubs receive sponsorship from alcohol. I could not have disagreed with him more and we had a serious argument at what should have been a social event because I vehemently do not believe that such events should be sponsored by alcohol. Sports organisations and groups must find other spaces and places, as well as other sponsors and it simply is not appropriate. This is particularly the case when, as parents, we ask our children not to drink and then they go off to a match and all they can see around them is alcohol.It is extremely confusing if one is a young person. On one hand, alcohol is being celebrated and lauded while, on the other, one’s parents, teachers and everybody else are telling one not to drink.

Clearly, we still have a problem with young people binge drinking. The quality of what they are seeking is such that they will always go to the lowest shelf in the supermarket and look for the bottle that costs €5, €6 or €7. I am not sure they care what is in it; their decision is driven purely by price. I shudder to think of what is actually in the bottles of spirits some young people are drinking. I do not know whether there is an opportunity for a body such as the Food Safety Authority of Ireland to check the quality and standard of some of the alcohol being sold. I do not know whether such matters fall within the brief of the authority. I have genuine concerns, particularly with regard to cheaper spirits and the damage they do.

We have had public health campaigns and we need more because the cohort between the ages of 13 and 17 is very vulnerable. I have children of my own and I have noted the pressure on them and have seen what happens. The Minister will have heard this point umpteen times in the preparation of the legislation. Perhaps we need to invest at school level in a direct approach to the education of young people rather than relying on a more subliminal approach. If we are to start putting in place this kind of legislation, it needs to be accompanied by some information for young people.

Senator Henry raised the issue of living in a Border county, namely, County Sligo. In this regard, I am concerned about alcohol being smuggled in from other countries and sold cheaply on the black market. The Minister may have observed that already.

I am aware that many small companies throughout the country are investing in craft beer production, and also in Irish whiskey production based on the international standing of the product. It is always very difficult to balance their needs with our culture and the culture of over-drinking. I do not wish the companies ill and believe they have a place. After all, as grown-ups we are supposed to be able to choose what we do with our lives. I do not want to see their industry impinged upon by this legislation and I do not believe it will be. This legislation is important in helping to change the culture to improve the way in which we treat alcohol and address the fact that, as a nation, we are still drinking too much.

Photo of Sean BarrettSean Barrett (Independent)
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I welcome the Minister. I second what Senator Norris said about the splendid year the Minister had and his great celebrations because of the result of the constitutional referendum.

This debate might belatedly be informed by some of the facts. The Sheffield study is simulated on page 32 of the Library and Research Service documentation supplied to members. It states that if one implements minimum pricing, overall revenue to the Exchequer will be reduced by €34.4 million and retailers will gain €69 million in the off-licence trade and €9.3 million in the pub trade. Therefore, we are talking about changing retailing. I did not come to this House to make off-licence traders €69 million better off and pub owners €9.3 million better off or to take €34.4 million from the Exchequer. Therefore, let us read what is in the legislation and examine what we are doing. We are making a commodity dearer and the industry gets to keep the money. How does that advance anything?

The legislation is premised on Irish society being some kind of Fr. Jack society. In fact, according to Alcohol Action Ireland, one of the lobby groups against the misuse of alcohol, alcohol consumption in the State has fallen from 14 litres per head per annum to just under 11 since 1994. We are, therefore, actually addressing a reality in Ireland that is approximately 20 years out of date. The was a significant reduction in drink-related crimes, and offences for being drunk and disorderly have reduced by 36% since 2009. The problem of drink driving is much less serious. If we managed to get Irish consumption down to 9 litres per head per annum, it would be the lowest of any country in the European Union. The rate of 11.9 litres per head per annum is approximately half way down the list. I could list many countries where the rate is in excess of ours. The figure is 16.2% in Lithuania, 12.9% in Romania, 12.4% in Hungary, 14.1% in the Czech Republic, 12.5% in Slovakia, 12.5% in Portugal, 11.5% in Poland, 12% in the United Kingdom, 11.6% in France, and 10.9% in Germany, which is the same rate as in Ireland.

We have built up a stereotype in this country, not taking into account what has actually been happening. We have ignored the analysis of what happens when one introduces minimum pricing. People will go across the Border and, of course, the industry is absolutely delighted because, instead of giving the money to the Minister for Health, Minister for Finance and Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform by increasing excise taxes, we are giving the money back to the sector that caused this problem. I do not know how one solves a problem by making the producers richer.

We have got to get away from all the language we use in respect of this matter. One of the words used is “binge”. A “binge” is defined by the World Health Organisation as three drinks. On looking up the practice in the dictionary, I saw references to the words “binge” and “spree”. Imagine a shopping spree where somebody came back with three items. Wow, a really good spree. Let us get the facts right on this.

I will certainly be tabling many amendments. What I see in the Bill is outdated and based on numbers that very often do not stand up to appraisal. We await the decision of the European court on this on 23 December. There is to be an advocate general’s balanced judgment, probably slightly favouring the Minister's decision to proceed with his proposals but other people would interpret it differently. If the objective of this legislation is simply to change retailing from one place to another, through moving from low-cost alcohol to high-cost alcohol, the proposal may well be turned down by the European court. We will see on 23 December.

Suggesting people are eloquent and sober and perform brilliantly in pubs and suddenly go nuts when they go home is a bizarre way to defend drinking in pubs. One could make the opposite case, namely, that most people are more sober in their own houses than in pubs. However, if people want to make this case, pleading on behalf of pubs and off-licences, they may do so but it is not what I am in this House for.

There is a great deal of material provided by the research service, dated 16 December last, that could be usefully studied. The previous document, No. 5 of 2009, in which year this issue also arose, would cast doubt on many of the other measures in this legislation. Zero effectiveness is attributed to voluntary codes of bar practice, promoting alcohol-free activities, promoting alcohol education in schools and colleges, issuing public service messages and printing warning labels. Therefore, we must ask what problem we are addressing. There are aggrieved off-licences and public houses because people have changed the retail pattern, and the industry is aggrieved because we have cut our consumption from 14 litres of alcohol per head per annum to 10.9, which is approximately the European average. I certainly feel aggrieved that the Fr. Jack image of Ireland is promoted in this debate. Let us have the facts. I have lived in a number of countries and do not regard Ireland as one in which people consume alcohol excessively. We should be trying to live down that reputation rather than reinforcing it.

We will see what happens in the court case on 23 December. We could get carried away on a wave of irrationality in regard to this. What we are doing is giving a substantial transfer from supermarkets to off-licences; I have no interest in that. Let the retailers fight it out themselves. The same applies to public houses. There will be less money in the Exchequer if this legislation works, as mentioned in page 32 of the recent evaluation by the Oireachtas Library and Research Service. I caution the Government and ask it to be careful because we could end up spending a lot of money and accomplishing absolutely nothing. The younger generation in the State has already moved substantially away from the world of 1994, as confirmed by the international data.

Photo of Michael MullinsMichael Mullins (Fine Gael)
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I welcome the Minister to the House. It is a very significant day when the Public Health (Alcohol) Bill comes into Seanad Éireann for discussion.Senator Barrett is a man whom I admire a lot. He usually speaks a lot of sense and has very good figures and statistics. However, I have to disagree with him fundamentally on this issue. He is probably right about elements of the revenue shift but it has long been recognised that, as a country, we have an unhealthy relationship with alcohol. This is an opportunity for major discussion outside and within this House. It is a wake-up call for us all.

There are figures in the public domain. I acknowledge the wonderful work that has been done already in bringing this Bill to fruition. Much work has been done by the Minister, the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Health and Children, the Alcohol Health Alliance, the president of the Royal College of Physicians, Professor Frank Murray, and Alcohol Action Ireland under the leadership of Suzanne Costello and Catherine Keane. They have highlighted very significant areas about which we as legislators should be concerned. Around a thousand people per year lose their lives as a result of alcohol abuse. That is five times the number killed on the roads, although we speak very often here about the serious problem of road deaths. Some 2,000 hospital beds are occupied as a result of the abuse of alcohol. It is putting a huge strain on our health services. Four out of ten children are reputedly abused as a result of alcohol abuse within families. I met with the Samaritans yesterday and they told me that a very significant number of the calls they will get over Christmas will concern children abused as a result of alcohol abuse within the family. There is little doubt that alcohol contributes very significantly to depression and to increased suicide levels.

The Bill contains very important measures that I feel will make a positive contribution to reducing alcohol consumption. The establishment of the minimum unit price will target cheap, high-strength alcohol, which is consumed in high volumes by those who are most at risk, namely young people and harmful drinkers. Regarding the alcohol that is consumed in controlled environments such as restaurants and local pubs, those businesses have nothing to fear from this legislation.

The curbing of alcohol advertising is long overdue, as indeed is the curbing of sponsorship of events at which children make up the majority of participants. The banning of advertising near schools, playgrounds and public transport, along with the nine o'clock watershed, are very much to be welcomed.

Labelling has been referred to by other speakers. It is critical that meaningful information be easily accessible and readable on product labels. The issue of separating alcohol products from other products is also critical. I have spoken of the need to have separation in supermarkets on many occasions. It will make it that bit more difficult for vulnerable people to access alcohol. While there will be a cost involved, it will not be prohibitive.

Others have spoken about the increased cancer levels as a result of alcohol. While today is a start, we cannot underestimate the power of the drinks companies and how they will try to counteract this legislation. We need to invest further in education to highlight the harm being caused to young people by alcohol.

Photo of David CullinaneDavid Cullinane (Sinn Fein)
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I welcome the Minister to the House and will be supporting the Bill. We are all aware of the devastating impact of alcohol abuse and misuse on families, individuals, employers and the State. It is estimated that it costs the State about €1.2 billion a year in health care costs. Any measures that can be put in place to reduce alcohol consumption will reduce that burden, as well as all of the other hurt caused by alcohol abuse and misuse, and are to be welcomed.

I sat on the Oireachtas health committee for two years when I first came into the Seanad. One of the Minister's predecessors had set up a working group - I think it was an expert review group - to look at these issues and make recommendations. There was also an Oireachtas report of which I was part. There was a sub-committee of Oireachtas Members who put a lot of work into making recommendations. There was consensus on many of the issues and it is interesting that we now have a Bill that broadly reflects that consensus. The broad support the Bill is receiving also shows this. It is not often that the Minister, Deputy Varadkar, has come into the Dáil or Seanad to be praised or have a Bill welcomed. This is certainly one of those occasions.

According to Alcohol Action Ireland, alcohol-related harm costs each taxpayer in Ireland an estimated €3,318 per year, which is incredible. Research into alcohol has found the following: 88 deaths every month in Ireland are linked to alcohol; one in 11 children says parental alcohol use has a negative effect on their lives; there are 1,200 cases of cancer each year caused by alcohol; one in four deaths of young men aged between 15 and 39 are due to alcohol; and one in three road deaths are alcohol-related. I am sure there are many more facts that have been or could be put on the record of the House.

As a party, we have repeatedly called for the early introduction of a public health (alcohol) Bill. I welcome the introduction of this Bill, which marks the first time alcohol has been designated as a public health issue. This is to be warmly welcomed. The Bill also includes measures on minimum unit pricing, health labelling on alcohol products and the restriction and regulation of advertising relating to sports, young people and broadcasting. I and my party had some concerns about minimum pricing, which we expressed during committee hearings at the time. While I am not at all opposed to using pricing to influence people's behaviour and reduce consumption, I would have taken the view that increasing excise duty was the best way to do that. Any increase in revenue would then go directly to the Exchequer and not into the pockets of those who sell alcohol. That is not really what we should be doing and may be an unintended consequence of minimum unit pricing. With an increase in excise duty, if we got any extra revenue, it could be ring-fenced for prevention, education and all the stuff that the Minister would welcome. I would have preferred to see that, but we will not refuse to back the Bill because of it. We are prepared to see how the Government's plan is going to work out in practice, give it a fair wind and evaluate it over the next months and years. We will certainly support the Minister in that regard.

It is also important that it is an overarching policy and a package of measures. We had very lengthy discussions on advertising, and Sinn Féin supported the watershed of 9 p.m. for alcohol advertising. We saw it as a pragmatic measure. While we have to be pragmatic and sensible in dealing with these issues, we also need to take really strong, proactive, robust and positive measures. There is no point in having half-baked measures. They have to be genuine and must have an impact. There is no point in doing this otherwise.

The Minister has done a very good job in listening to all of the stakeholders, in the Oireachtas and elsewhere, and the advocacy groups. I am sure there was pressure coming from other groups as well. This is a very welcome Bill and I commend the Minister on it. I very much hope that in a couple of years the statistics will look different and we will be able to say that the passage of this Bill played a part in making it happen.

Photo of John CrownJohn Crown (Independent)
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I welcome the Minister to the House. I am sure the points I make will be duplicative. I have been asked by the Royal College of Physicians in Ireland and others who are the experts in the area to make a few points. The following is the fantasy scenario that would happen if everybody in Ireland stopped drinking alcohol completely tomorrow. There would be a colossal decline in the incidence of liver disease, although there would still be some non-alcoholic liver disease. There would be a major decrease in the incidence of cancers of the head, neck, throat, oesophagus, pancreas and breast, as well as cancer of the liver. There would also be a decrease in domestic violence and violence in general. There would be a decrease in child neglect. There would be an increase in the disposable income available to families to spend on their children's food, clothing, shelter, health care, education and other requirements. There would be a major decrease in assaults of all kinds and a decrease in rape. There would be a decrease in unwanted pregnancies and a decrease in foetal abnormalities. Road deaths would decline and the burden faced by accident and emergency departments would go down. Waiting lists in our hospitals would decline quite dramatically. In addition, we would have increased productivity at work and decreased absenteeism. These are all the things which would happen if everybody stopped drinking completely tomorrow morning. Obviously, that is not going to happen.

Most of us here, myself included, enjoy a drink. It is part of our culture, part of the personal reward we give ourselves and part of our social system. In trying to formulate policy, however, it is important to realise what would happen if everybody simply stopped. One often hears the argument advanced that a certain amount of alcohol is better than no alcohol in terms of cardiovascular risk and, of course, both are substantially worse than excessive alcohol. While that is all well and good, the minute one has that first drink, one does not know whether one will be the person who is a moderate, temperate, non-addicted drinker. The problem is that a substantial percentage of those who start to drink will become unhealthy drinkers. I am afraid that the proportion in Ireland is relatively high. It may be true that if everybody in the country had one glass of nice red wine a day and no one had more and no one had less, we would be healthier than if we had none. It is an interesting hypothesis but it would be difficult to test in the context of a prospective random assignment trial. In practical terms, however, it is a fantasy. When one has that first drink, one does not know what is going to happen.

I must join in the praise most of us have for Senator Barrett, who has been, over the course of my single term in Seanad Éireann, one of the most consistently effective and serious legislators in the House. As an individual, he has contributed more to enriching and improving the Bills that have come from the Dáil than any other Senator or indeed most of us put together. However, I disagree with him on this. I also disagree with some of his facts. In reality, there has been something of a downward blip in alcohol consumption over the last few years, which related to economic forces. If one actually looks at alcohol consumption in Ireland in terms of litres of pure alcohol per adult per year, one can see the trend. In 1965, we consumed fewer than 5 litres each. At the peak of our economic activity, we got up to approximately 13 to 14 litres. While the amount has since decreased somewhat, it is still two and a half times higher per person than it was in the 1960s. If one compares the recession we had in 1982 to the one that some would argue we are still in - I do not know, and I will not go into it today - one finds that alcohol consumption in the latter period was still one and three quarter times higher than in 1982. Thus, the relentless pressure appears to be upwards. As such, it is important for us to understand that while asking everyone to completely stop drinking alcohol, myself included, would be unwelcome, it is our national goal.

Our ambition for the tobacco industry is bankruptcy. We want it either to stop selling tobacco or to become bankrupt. We have no other ambition for it. Our ambition for alcohol consumption is a substantial decline in the unit consumption of alcohol per head of population. If anyone thinks that any part of the alcohol industry is our partner in this, that person is deluded. The industry has one ambition, which is to sell more alcohol. From retailers to manufacturers to distributors, the industry is not our partner in public health on this. It should not be part of the equation whatsoever. The measures the Minister and his predecessors have put forward will have the support of most who worry about the consumption of alcohol in this country.

Photo of Caít KeaneCaít Keane (Fine Gael)
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In accordance with the Order of Business, we must adjourn the debate at 2.15 p.m. and I cannot call the Minister back in again. We have to move to No. 5.

Photo of Jillian van TurnhoutJillian van Turnhout (Independent)
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I propose that we extend the time by five minutes to complete Second Stage.

Photo of Caít KeaneCaít Keane (Fine Gael)
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I am advised that my hands are tied.

Photo of Jillian van TurnhoutJillian van Turnhout (Independent)
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There are no other speakers.

Photo of Caít KeaneCaít Keane (Fine Gael)
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I am advised that unless the Leader comes in and changes it, we cannot do that.

Photo of Jillian van TurnhoutJillian van Turnhout (Independent)
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Could the acting Leader deal with it?

Photo of Marc MacSharryMarc MacSharry (Fianna Fail)
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The acting Leader should propose an extension of five minutes to allow the Minister to respond.

Photo of Caít KeaneCaít Keane (Fine Gael)
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As the acting Leader, can Senator Mullins propose that the Minister take one minute to respond, and we can conclude?

Photo of Michael MullinsMichael Mullins (Fine Gael)
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In fairness, I think the Minister would need more than one minute. I ask for an extension of time so that he is given his five minutes.

Photo of Caít KeaneCaít Keane (Fine Gael)
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The acting Leader, Senator Michael Mullins, seeks an extension of time of five minutes. Is that agreed? Agreed.

Photo of Leo VaradkarLeo Varadkar (Minister, Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport; Dublin West, Fine Gael)
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That will be more than enough, because my brief requires me to be in the Dáil for Topical Issues in less than one hour. I must sign off on three Topical Issues that I have not even seen yet. I can be very quick.

I welcome the broad support in the House for the Bill. It took five years to get to this point. It is really great that we got it into the Seanad within a week or two and it will be even better if we can complete Second Stage today. It will be enormous progress. I welcome sincerely the broad support in the House for the Bill. Senator Crown is absolutely right. The consumption of alcohol, which had gone down, has started to go up again. As the economy has recovered, guess what? People have more money and are spending more on alcohol all over again. We drink much more than we did 20 or 30 years ago.

I very much welcome the support from Sinn Féin, which had concerns about the new unit pricing. I welcome the Sinn Féin Members' support for it at this time.

When it comes to structural separation in stores, we did not go ahead with the original proposals introduced in 2009 by the then Minister, Dermot Ahern, because they were probably too onerous. They required separate entrances, separate tills and large physical barriers. We are not going that far, but we want alcohol to be separated in stores. It will not bankrupt any small to medium shop to put in a partition. I am sure they do that type of work all the time as part of their general trade.

While we are not writing it into the Bill, it is our intention to go ahead with minimum pricing at the same time as Northern Ireland. We have an agreement with the Northern Ireland Executive that it will also introduce minimum unit pricing. We intend to do it at the same time for all the obvious reasons. It would be totally counterproductive if people just went North of the Border. While it is not written into the legislation, as we do not want to totally tie our hands, it is certainly the intention.

Somebody asked where the additional profits would go. If this works, there will not be additional profits. The whole point is to reduce consumption. If consumption is reduced, less alcohol will be sold and there should not be more profits or more money for the Exchequer. Obviously, that is entirely contingent on the legislation working. Once again, I thank the Seanad for its support for this very important measure.

Question put and agreed to.

Photo of Caít KeaneCaít Keane (Fine Gael)
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When is it proposed to take Committee Stage?

Committee Stage ordered for Friday, 18 December 2015.