Wednesday, 10 October 2018
Public Health (Alcohol) Bill 2015: [Seanad Bill amended by the Dáil] Report and Final Stages
This is a Seanad Bill which has been amended by the Dáil. In accordance with Standing Order 148, it is deemed to have passed its First, Second and Third Stages in the Seanad and placed on the Order Paper for Report Stage. On the question, "That the Bill be received for final consideration," the Minister may explain the purpose of the amendments made by the Dáil. This is looked upon as the report of the Dáil amendments to the Seanad. The only matters, therefore, which may be discussed are the amendments made by the Dáil. For Senators' convenience, the Cathaoirleach has arranged for the printing and circulation of the amendments. The Minister will deal separately with the subject matter of each related group of amendments. The Cathaoirleach has also circulated the proposed groupings. A Senator may contribute once on each grouping. I remind Senators that the only matters that may be discussed are the amendments made by the Dáil.
There is a typographical error on the cream list of amendments circulated on 8 October. Amendment No. 6 should read as follows: "In page 15, between lines 38 and 39", not between lines 37 and 38 as shown.
I welcome the Minister for Health, Deputy Simon Harris, and ask him to speak to the subject matter of the amendments in group 1.
I am very pleased to be back in the Seanad for what is the concluding stage of the most important piece of public health legislation that will be enacted this year. I welcome the opportunity to take Senators through the amendments made in the Dáil. Obviously, that is all we are doing at this stage because the Bill has been passed by both Seanad Éireann and Dáil Éireann. We are simply back in the Seanad today to seek its approval for the amendments made in the Dáil, rather than reinitiating the entire debate about this landmark legislation.
Amendment No. 1 concerns health data to be considered when amending the minimum price per gram of alcohol. Section 11(3) provides that the Minister for Health of the day may make an order to increase the minimum unit price per gram for the purposes of the Bill. Subsection (5) provides that the Minister for Health of the day may take into account relevant data as part of these considerations. The amendment tabled by Deputy Louise O'Reilly, for which I thank her, is sensible and a good addition to the Bill. It proposes that data from health services and alcohol related presentations at health facilities also be taken into account when determining changes to minimum unit pricing and that these data be included in the list of considerations in the section. As we know, alcohol and alcohol related disease constitute a massive burden on the health service. About 1,500 hospital beds are taken up each and every night as a result of alcohol related conditions. Much more importantly, it is a massive burden on families and communities across the country. This amendment is beneficial and I was pleased to be in a position to accept it in the Dáil. Consideration of such data could only assist the Minister of the day in making an informed decision in that regard.
I welcome the Minister and congratulate him on the passage of the Bill. It has been a number of years in progress and is very welcome. The Minister showed extraordinary goodwill in meeting objections, reservations and amendments and the lobbying, but, to a large degree, he stood firm and the Bill is a useful addition. However, I am a little confused because it is stated on the list of amendments that the page and line references are to the text of the Bill as passed by Seanad Éireann. What we have been provided with is the text of the Bill as passed by Dáil Éireann, or at least that was the version of the Bill available in the anteroom. It is not a problem and I have been able to work out where the amendments are to be made.
The amendment seems to be perfectly straightforward and reasonable. The more data that are available the better. This is a very important matter as it is not just legislation but attitudes in Ireland that need to change. It is absolutely outrageous that we are prepared to accept the equivalence of Irishness and drunkenness; it is one of our jolly little habits. One hears people on the wireless say they come to Ireland - if Members will excuse the vulgarity - to get "as pissed as newts." They think it is great and people makes jokes about it and think it is terribly funny, but I do not think it is funny at all. I find it is really unpleasant to see people drunk in public. Not only that, I scarcely take the slightest drop of alcohol nowadays since I had a liver transplant. I am very grateful that I was able to have one. The need for it was not related to alcohol, but in a situation where one is not drinking such as at a cocktail party or a reception I can say people become boring, monotonous, repetitive and self-obsessed after only a couple of drinks. I am like that without drink, but others seem to be encouraged by it.
As the Minister is aware, I am probably in a minority in this House in that I have not been an enthusiastic supporter of most of the legislation, only parts of it. There are parts that I still think are misguided, inoperable and a waste of time and that come from an attitude which is a little intolerant. Senator David Norris complains-----
-----that he goes to parties where people consume alcohol and become boring, monotonous and self-obsessed. Some start like that at parties. I will not put it any further. There has been a good deal of public rhetoric about the Bill which I have found annoying in this respect. A load of Members have said lobbyists and lobby group have been lobbying Senators and Members of Dáil Éireann to support a particular point of view. First, there is nothing wrong with lobbying.
Second, the drinks industry in Ireland, taken at its broadest, is an important economic activity. It would be very strange if it did not organise to lobby for its interests. Third - this is the point I wish to make most strongly - the lobbying the other way by State-sponsored bodies which are fully funded by the taxpayer has been much more intense. I can say with certainty that the number of emails, the literature and the pressure on Members of this House to support the Bill have been much more intense and it has been paid for mostly from the Exchequer indirectly. Various groups that receive grants from the Department of Health have been hammering away at this issue and screaming protests that others are lobbyists. I do not accept that proposition. There is something very strange about the fact that a load of people who are paid from the Exchequer to lobby us scream when it is suggested they-----
There are a few other remarks I want to make, but I want to be orderly and speak to the amendment.Today I was listening to Radio 4 and looking at The Times, English edition. It is interesting to note that the number of people under the age of 25 in England who say they are non-drinkers has grown from one in five to one in three. Social attitudes to drink change. It is not just an uncontrolled mess.
People are making up their own minds. I presume there probably is a lag between Irish behaviour and English behaviour in some respects, but I do think that there is room to be optimistic that the worst days of binge drinking are over and that people are-----
It is not because of this Bill. The Bill is not law yet and large portions of it may never be commenced, so let us remember that.
I am concerned about the labelling of alcohol products. I did express my views before on this matter.
I welcome the Minister with open arms today. I have been looking forward to this day for a very long time but I will adhere to the rules.
I welcome the amendment. A key aspect of the legislation is the introduction of minimum unit pricing for alcohol products. The Bill instructs the Minister for Health to review the effectiveness of this measure three years after commencement and outlines a number of factors that should be accounted for in the review such as patterns of consumption. That is important as the impact of any policy proposed by these Houses must be closely monitored and measured. We have now added alcohol related presentations at health facilities to the list of factors that the Minister should consider. It is a very positive addition to the Bill and it will ensure that we keep up-to-date, accurate information on the scale of alcohol harm in society as well as the impact on health services. That will provide an important backdrop to our assessment of the Public Health (Alcohol) Bill as a whole. This amendment was first introduced in the Seanad by Senator Devine and me almost two years ago and I am delighted it was finally agreed in the Dáil. I thank Deputy Louise O'Reilly for pursuing the issue in the Lower House. I especially thank the Minister for agreeing to it and I thank Members of both Houses for giving it their support. I hope that people stick to the amendments today as best they can.
Senator Black took a crack at me even before I stood up. I will speak on group 1 amendments which relate to minimum unit pricing, which is a very important part of the legislation. The Minister has taken due consideration of the information he has received from the Department and what was originally proposed by other Senators. We need clarity on the issue and the Minister might endeavour to provide it to the Chamber here today.
Minimum unit pricing is one of the key pieces in this legislation. It is one of the key tools and teeth the Minister has to ensure-----
I seek clarity on when the implementation of minimum unit pricing will come into play. There was much talk that this could not happen until the Northern Ireland Executive would be reconvened. It now holds the record for the longest period for a Government not to sit. That is a significant issue. There are cross-Border implications for having minimum unit pricing on one side of the Border and not having it on the other side. How does the Minister propose to deal with the issue? The measure should be implemented.
If the Minister is not going to implement it, would he consider amending the groceries order? What happened in that regard should not have been allowed to happen when the then Minister, Deputy Micheál Martin, did it many years ago. Alcohol should never have been included in the groceries order. The day the then Minister, Deputy Micheál Martin, included it in the groceries order, it became a means for supermarkets to attract people into their stores, and that has been a big problem. If the Minister cannot introduce minimum unit pricing next week when the legislation is signed by the President, will he examine the groceries order and retail legislation? Will he ask the Cabinet to ensure we deal with the issue from that perspective because if we have to wait until a Northern Ireland Executive is set up or Brexit or whatever else, this important element of the legislation will never be implemented?
That is one of the biggest issues we must address here today. My view is that we must re-examine what the then Minister, Deputy Micheál Martin, did when he had responsibility for that area. Alcohol should never have been a part of the legislation. It made no sense. Alcohol became a loss leader for supermarkets and we have very much paid the price for that. Now we have an opportunity to do something about it. If the Minister cannot introduce minimum unit pricing next week, the following week or before Christmas, he should revert and look for major changes elsewhere.
On a point of order, it is 1,000 days since the Bill came into this House. We have an hour to discuss this Stage. I hope we will get the Bill through in that time. I implore colleagues to be mindful of that. This legislation is long overdue going through this House.
Senator Norris will appreciate that I indicated that the amendments were grouped by the Cathaoirleach and that information has been circulated to Members. We are discussing group 1 at the moment, which concerns health related data, so there is fairly limited scope.
We have spent 1,000 days and 1,000 nights waiting for this legislation. I will speak to the amendment. I am delighted the Minister sees fit to accept the amendment. It is prudent and makes sense. There is an impact on hospitals given that is where alcohol problems and the resulting ill health end up. The data are available so let us use them. Let us inform the Houses and citizens. Let us also inform the health service when we come to review and reassess treatment and care. I welcome the amendment.
As a former publican and a former president of the Vintners Federation of Ireland, I compliment Senator Black on bringing this Bill through today. I am in total support of it. I was with a bunch of publicans last night in Galway, old friends from around the country, and all of them are 100% in support of the Bill the Senator has brought forward. There are many restrictions on pub owners as well. I thank the Minister for bringing the Bill forward.
I will speak very briefly on minimum unit pricing. One of my colleagues in Galway is a taxi driver and former mayor of Galway city, and he was a neighbour of mine. He told me that on Friday and Saturday nights, he brings young people into discos and pubs in Galway city and they are out of it from the time when they leave home. That is because of under-cost selling and cheap bottles of vodka. We must cut that out.
I am also very much in support of stopping advertising. We must stop children binge drinking. We must also stop the big companies targeting children at a young age, which to be straight about it is what they are doing. I have been a publican for the past 41 years and I am still in the business in the United States, and I very much welcome the Bill. I thank Senator Black for it. I am in full support of the Bill.
On a point of clarification, this Bill was presented by Senator Maurice Cummins on behalf of the Minister for Health in December 2015. We have all had a lot of input into the Bill. It is important to make that clarification.
I welcome the Bill, which has now gone through the Lower House. I thank the Minister for staying with it.
One of the health issues that has been highlighted is that up to 30% of those attending any accident and emergency department on any night are there because of excessive use or abuse of alcohol. One of the problems that we must face up to is that while we are very quick to criticise the health services, we are not as quick to highlight the issue that 30% of admissions and of those requiring treatment are related, in one way or another, to alcohol. As we speak on this matter, 2,000 people are occupying hospital beds as a direct result of alcohol use, in many cases over a long number of years, and this is something of which we need to be mindful. We need to send out a message that while alcohol can be enjoyed, it must also be realised that excessive use causes problems for long-term healthcare.
I thank the Minister again for sticking with this and ensuring that we are now seeing it in its final Stages.
This is not related to the issue of labelling but only to the amendments that the Dáil made on labelling.
Amendments Nos. 2 and 3 propose that the health warnings and information required on notices in licensed premises and on websites where alcohol products are sold online should be both in Irish and in English. The health warnings and information required in section 12, which deals with the labelling of alcohol products and notices in licensed premises, provide a unique opportunity to communicate health promotion messages directly to consumers. I accept the importance of ensuring that the information, where possible and where it can benefit public health, should be communicated in both Irish and English. These appear to be two sensible amendments from Deputy Donnelly in the Dáil that I was happy to accept. The simple idea is that if the health notice and website are already agreed in the Bill, they should also be in Irish, which is a sensible thing to do.
Amendment No. 6 proposes that data from the health services and alcohol related presentations at health facilities should be taken into account when making regulations on the health warnings and information on labels. As Senator Norris has pointed out, this is the exact same policy point but it just refers this time to the label. Should we take into consideration the impact on our hospital beds and our health service when deciding what information should be on labels? It sounded to me like a sensible thing to do and we accepted that in the Dáil.
Amendment No. 7 is a change. It proposes to exempt alcohol products in tax-free shops and airports from the product labelling requirement. It also provides that the same health warnings and information should be on notices in duty free shops, which means they will have to have those notices, and that the additional information on each product should also be available on a document for the consumer. The purpose of this amendment is to ensure that there is a level playing field for Irish alcohol products that are leaving the country and other products that might be for sale in duty free shops and that they will be treated in a similar way to export products. That is sensible. It is duty free, they are likely to be leaving the country, and we should treat them the same as the way we treat the rest of export products in this Bill.
Amendments Nos. 2 and 3 are fairly obvious in light of the fact that according to the Constitution, the Irish language is the first national language. Constitutional measures have to be assessed in terms of the Irish language version in any kind of court case. They are obviously a very good idea.
Amendment No. 6 is the same, as we have agreed, as the amendment we have already discussed.
Amendment No. 7 defines a tax free shop and exempts it from certain measures but says they have to put up a notice, and that notice specifies the quantity in grams of alcohol, the energy value and so on.That is unexceptional. I accept the Minister's argument that we do not want to put Irish products at a disadvantage with regard to products from other parts of the world.
I am happy to support all of these amendments.
-----for upholding the status of the Irish language in this legislation.
One thing that is possibly a little bit tangential to what we are talking about is that I notice the power to make a regulation under the Bill can apply to different types of containers. This amendment does not apply to this. If one sells wine by the case, will the case have to be broken open? Is that the intention or will a label-----
-----on the outside of the case be enough? If a person buys six or 12 bottles of wine in a container, which some people, including myself, do on occasion, will the person in the off-licence have to open up the container and start sticking labels on everything inside it, or will it be sufficient to put the label on the outside of the case?
I am conscious of the time and I accept the amendments which are prudent. The tax free shop amendment might help some exports but the overall impetus of this Bill is to reduce consumption, and to make people aware of what they are drinking and what it can do to their physical and mental health.
While this is not related to any of the amendments, but to address the point Senator McDowell made, in recognition of his help with the Irish language piece earlier, my understanding is that each bottle as opposed to just the box will need to be labelled. That will be a matter for environmental health officers.
I thank colleagues for their assistance and advice on whether something is relevant, but if they will please listen to me, we will get through this a lot more quickly. I thank the Members.
We are moving now to group 3, which is amendment No. 5, which concerns the size of labelling, so we might be clear on this point.
This relates only to size. Amendment No. 5 removes the requirement for evidence-based and health-based warnings to take up at least one third of the size of printed material on alcohol bottles. This was something that the Seanad debated and decided it would like the label to be like this. This requirement was an amendment to the Bill that was accepted on Report Stage in this House and I acknowledge that fact.
Following the inclusion of this requirement in the Bill, it was notified to and assessed by the European Commission which advised that this requirement was not proportionate. The European Commission advised that the objective of the protection of health through providing health warnings on alcohol products could be met by a lesser restriction such as requiring that the health warnings be of a smaller yet visible size. Not wanting to delay the passage of this Bill following the advice of the European Commission, I believe it was prudent to remove that requirement, and that is what this amendment is doing.
As the Minister does not wish to add anything at this point, we will move on to the subject matter of amendments in group 4, amendments No. 4 and Nos. 8 to 14, inclusive. These are technical amendments relating to publications and result from the insertion of the cancer warnings.
These are all entirely technical consequential amendments arising from the insertion of the warning on the link between alcohol and fatal cancers, so the amendments do not relate to that debate, which was settled in this House and revisited in the other House.We had a debate on how best to address the matter and whether it should be done by regulations or primary legislation. Senators had clear views on this. Senators Nash and Black, among others, showed leadership and introduced amendments to the Bill on Committee and Report Stages that were accepted. We debated the matter again in the Dáil. That link remains in the primary legislation. As a result, several technical amendments are necessary. The amendments ensure that the warnings are included with other labelling warnings on health and the environment.
Amendment No. 4 inserted a reference to the warnings in section 12(10)(a) and this allows the Minister of Health to make regulations specifying the form of the warnings. Amendments Nos. 8 and 9, which moved the word "and" from subsection 2(b) to subsection 2(c), are genuinely technical. Amendments Nos. 10 to 12, inclusive, inserted a reference to the warning into sections 13(4) and 13(5). These provisions relate to the powers of the Minister for Health to make regulations. Amendment No. 13 inserted a reference to the warnings into section 13(7). Amendment No. 14 amends section 18(6) to correct numbering errors and to align the subsection with the policy intention behind it.
These amendments are completely acceptable, as they are technical, but I wish to comment on the wording of three of them. Amendment No. 4 states:
In page 15, line 13, "paragraphs (i) and (ii)" deleted and "paragraphs (i), (ii) and (iii)" substituted.
Would it not have been much neater to have added in paragraph (iii)? Why do we have to delete the whole bloody thing and then put in "paragraphs (i), (ii) and (iii)"? It is the same with amendments Nos. 10 and 11. Amendment No. 10 states:
In page 17, line 20, "paragraphs (a) and (b)" deleted and "paragraphs (a), (b) and (c)" substituted.
It would have been much easier to simply add paragraph (c).
I will be brief. I welcome the passage of this landmark legislation. I congratulate the Minister. I have no problems with any of the amendments brought forward tonight. I compliment Senator Black on her steadfastness through the whole process. The Minister confirmed a point to my colleague on 3 October in the Dáil regarding section 22. He gave a commitment to liaise with retailers on entry and exit of the segregated areas and to reconsider the exemption to a liberalised definition of stand-alone off licences as against the current narrow definition. Will the Minister and his officials give a commitment in this regard and meet the retailers during the transition period?
I thank the Minister, his staff and the Department for staying with this matter. The Bill was introduced in the Seanad on 11 December 2015. The third anniversary of its introduction is approaching and there has been a long series of debates in both Houses. The legislation is welcome but I accept what my colleague, Senator Lombard, said about Northern Ireland and the important point of co-ordination on minimum unit pricing. We need to be aware of the risks of introducing minimum unit pricing and it is important the issue is worked on together with Northern Ireland.
We have a great deal of work to do on the education of young people. We still need to ensure we get the message out at an early stage. This is welcome legislation. Obviously, regulation will be introduced over a period and the Minister will introduce regulations when the time is right. I thank the Minister, his staff and all the parties involved, including all the political parties, the Independent Senators and Deputies and Members from the various political parties in both Houses.
Heaven knows that public representatives of all descriptions can sometimes be accused validly of hyperbole and exaggeration, but it is no exaggeration to say that today is momentous and historic. I first engaged on this issue as chairperson of an informal cross-party Oireachtas group on alcohol misuse in 2012. That was one year after the Labour Party and Fine Gael ensured a programme for Government commitment to deal once and for all with alcohol misuse and use in this country in the context of public health. On that note, it would be remiss of me and the House not to acknowledge the contribution made by successive Ministers. The former Minister for Health, Senator James Reilly, led the charge on this in the first instance and stuck with it. The then Minister of State, Deputy Róisín Shortall, worked on this for a period, followed by her successor, Alex White. I engaged closely with him on this legislation and he showed considerable commitment to it. He is no longer in either House but his commitment should be recognised and acknowledged. The Minister for Health from 2014 to 2016 was the Taoiseach and I thank him and the current Minister for ensuring the job has been completed.
Many of us have been criticised for introducing the provisions on labelling. We need to acknowledge that we have an important role as legislators to protect the interest of everyone in the country. We need to protect the health of everyone and to use every weapon and tool available to us in our armoury to protect the health of the people. That is what the labelling provision is about.
It is true that we have all been lobbied. I agree with Senator McDowell in this regard. We live in a democracy and I have no difficulty whatsoever being lobbied by anyone who is trying to persuade me of the merits of his or her argument. We are all mature sensible and responsible individuals and legislators. We weigh up and balance the arguments made from both sides and we come down on either side. We make an informed decision. Thankfully, in this country lobbying is regulated and is supposed to happen behind a pane of glass. It is transparent and accountable, as it should be, and we need to put that on record. Everyone is entitled to lobby even if we do not agree with the position. I have no difficulty with that in this democracy.
I thank the Minister and his officials for their steadfast effort and Trojan work in sticking with this over a period of seven or eight years. Today we can say with some certainty that we have acted to save people's lives.
I am delighted that we have got to this stage. It is great when we come to something final and it is agreeable. It is also great that we are all being pleasant to each other.
This legislation is a no-brainer. If something hurts or does damage we need to tell people what it is. That is our job as legislators. Chemical harm can result from alcohol and abuse of alcohol. The harm can be physical and mental. It is our duty to inform our families, individuals and society. Then, hopefully, they will be able to inform themselves about their choices.
This Bill will help with the labelling and the data from our hospitals. It will help to inform us about our policies and whether they are working or whether some anomalies arise and we need to treat the matter differently. I am delighted the Bill came back to the Seanad. I was thrilled to co-sign it with Senator Frances Black. I thank everyone who has been a Trojan supporter. I have been a little snarly at times but we reached an agreement. This is an example of the House at its best.
I heard the Acting Chairman's comment and I will not give a Second Stage speech or repeat all the known harm that alcohol causes when it is abused. This is a good day for public health. I commend the Minister and all those who participated. I commend Senator Ged Nash and all those he mentioned who have gone before. I imagine it was only an oversight but I wish to mention Deputy Marcella Corcoran Kennedy, who carried out major work on the Bill as well.
This shows how difficult some public health legislation can be. Yet, as I have stated previously, good public health legislation will save many more lives over many years than any hospital wing, computed tomography scan or other politically attractive action that gives immediate gratification. Long after those facilities have waned and gone, health policy stays on. I look forward to protecting our young people from alcohol and informing our adult population of its dangers. They are aware of some of the dangers but many would not have accepted that alcohol is a carcinogen, as defined by the World Health Organization, in the same way as tobacco and that it kills people.Well done to the Minister and well done to the Seanad.
I want to voice my delight that this Bill has passed all Stages. As I said earlier, it is 1,000 days since the Bill was first presented to this House by former Senator Maurice Cummins. I join others in acknowledging those who worked on this in the past. The passage of this legislation illustrates how things move on in politics given the number of people who have been mentioned but who are no longer in the Oireachtas. In particular, I wish to acknowledge the work of Deputy Marcella Corcoran Kennedy on the Bill. Many of us have received much criticism and the full armoury of the libertarians and contrarians has been unleashed on us in the past few years. I am very proud to be part of a Government that has stood its ground. I compliment the Minister for Health for standing his ground, especially in respect of some of the more difficult issues, such as Senator Black's amendment on cancer warnings. It is really important that we stood up to the vested interests and I am really proud that we did so. As a legislator, it is great when one gets to have an input into something that will really affect people's lives. A lot of financial legislation goes through this House and it is all very important. However, this legislation will actually protect our children and their vitality and protect adults. We talk about the fiscal space but it will be a lot larger if we sort out our very dangerous relationship with alcohol. We are not trying to make those who drink alcohol pariahs. Alcohol can be enjoyed and people are free to indulge and enjoy their lives. This Bill will have a hugely positive effect on people's lives and I compliment all of those involved with its passage. As Senator Devine stated, this is the Seanad at its best, when we can all stand up at the conclusion of a Bill and acknowledge that, whether by hook or by crook, we got there.
I will try to be brief but it is so important to mark the passage of this vital, life-saving legislation. I feel very emotional, mainly because I was so emotionally involved in the working through of this Bill. My heart and soul was in this. I came into this House to work on this legislation and it has been my passion for the past two and a half years. Apologies for the confusion but I know that this is the Minister's day. This Bill has been a huge priority for me, both as a legislator and as someone who works at the coal face. I work with the RISE Foundation. I receive letters from families constantly and I would love to show some of them to the Minister and to some of my colleagues, including Senator Noone, who have worked so hard on the legislation. To receive letters from people who are living in circumstances where alcohol is a problem in their families is very rewarding.
I thank the departmental officials who worked relentlessly on this Bill. I receive the letters to which I refer, I see the benefit to families and I know that this legislation will be life-changing and life-saving. I am so proud to have played a part in securing its passage, despite the efforts of the lobbyists. I agree with Senator Nash that we live in a democracy but I was surprised, if not shocked, by the amount of lobbying. That surprise may be because I was not involved in politics previously. I am so grateful to those on the other side of the alcohol lobby, including the amazing team of health specialists, community leaders and public health advocates who worked tirelessly to get this Bill through.
I really want to thank the Minister and his officials for their fantastic work and determination. I also thank Deputy Marcella Corcoran Kennedy who brought this legislation into the Seanad in 2016 and who fought so hard for it when it really was not the popular thing to do. She had to fight tooth and nail. She was and still is incredible. I also want to thank Deputy Róisín Shortall who did fantastic work in the Department of Health to develop and promote an evidence-based, impactful Bill. I also want to mention former Senator Jillian van Turnhout, who is in the House today and who advocated so strongly for this Bill in the previous Seanad. She was a huge help to me when I was first elected and did not have a clue how the whole process works. I have been proud to work with the health spokespeople from the various political parties, particularly Deputy Louise O'Reilly from Sinn Féin, Deputy Stephen Donnelly from Fianna Fáil. They both showed great courage in standing up to industry lobbying in the last few weeks. I also thank my own group, the Civil Engagement Group, who have supported me. Special thanks are due to Conor O'Neill and Emma Quearney who work with me in my office and who have put their heart and soul into this legislation.
I want to thank the incredible groups and individuals across civil society who mobilised behind the Bill and refused to let industry profit come before public health. I refer to Eunan McKinney, Susan Costello, Catherine Keane and Conor Cullen from Alcohol Action Ireland, all of whom are in the Public Gallery. Today is a very special day for them too. I also thank Professor Frank Murray and Ms Siobhán Creighton from the Royal College of Physicians and Professor Joe Barry from Trinity College. I also thank the huge number of organisations that made up the Alcohol Health Alliance. It was testament to the broad level of support for this Bill that such a variety of groups, including the Irish Cancer Society, the National Women's Council of Ireland, the Union of Students in Ireland and Mental Health Reform, backed it. I also thank the GPs, doctors and emergency service personnel who brought their expertise and experience to the Bill, particularly those in Cork University Hospital who were hugely supportive of an event I ran down there. We cannot forget the drug and alcohol task forces around the country who do amazing work where it is most needed and who really rallied behind this legislation. In particular, I thank Hugh Greaves and Maria Lawless in Ballymun as well as David Lane, Kate Gibney, Joe Kirby and all of the gang in Cork, who were a real inspiration. I also want to say a very special thank you to John and Ann Higgins, who tragically lost their beautiful son to alcohol. They showed incredible courage and bravery in pushing for change and advocating for public health in his memory. If they are listening, I want to tell them that they are both an inspiration.
Ireland has a harmful relationship with alcohol but I firmly believe that this is the beginning of change. If we are dedicated and committed in our communities and in this Parliament, we can break the cycle of alcohol harm. We can change and save many lives and this Bill is an historic step in doing that. I am so happy to see this day. I never thought I would see it and am so grateful to the Minister for Health. I swear to God, this is an amazing day. I feel so, so happy and I thank the Minister from the bottom of my heart. Go raibh míle, míle maith agat.
Just before I call on the Minister to wrap up, I want to take the opportunity to welcome our former colleague, Jillian van Turnhout, to the House. She is very welcome. I understand that she is only taking a short respite. I hope to see her back on official duty, not too soon, but certainly in the next year or two. I now call the Minister.
This is a very special day. People in these Houses work very hard on a daily basis but every now and then, we reach a moment in time when a huge body of work comes to finalisation and today is one of those days. Senator Black raised the question as to whose day this is; this is a day for the next generation of citizens in our country, for the young people growing up in Ireland today. They will grow up in a country with public health legislation that will, over time, change our behaviour, attitudes and culture when it comes to our relationship with drink. That is really what this legislation is about. There is no magic wand or silver bullet. This is about putting in place a number of measures for the first time ever, from a public health perspective, to try to change the corrosive alcohol culture that we currently have in Ireland. The Seanad and the Lower House have done some really good work, on a bipartisan basis, for young boys and girls currently growing up in our country. That is really what today is about. People have been at this for such a long time. I have the honour of the being Minister for Health when this comes to fruition. We have had a difficult enough battle to get to this point ourselves, but people have been working on this since 2009. The chief medical officer, Dr. Tony Holohan, has done huge work and shown huge leadership in working on this. My officials, including Claire Gordon, Denise Keogh and Siobhán McNamara, have worked on this tirelessly for so long. I thank them for their dedication and patience. They have seen the political system in operation and experienced the frustrations which accompany that from time to time.
I thank all of my predecessors in the Department of Health who have worked on this, the Ministers and Ministers of State. They have all been named by Senator Nash. I share that view absolutely. I hope the House will forgive me if I pay particular tribute to Senator Reilly, who is with us today. His tenure in the Department of Health will be remembered for his leadership on public health issues in respect of tobacco, alcohol, obesity, etc. It does save lives, so I thank him for his work on this. I pay particular tribute to my friend and colleague, Deputy Marcella Corcoran-Kennedy, who got a very hard time and was treated very unfairly when she tried to push the Bill in this House. She was the subject of very intense criticism which I felt was often unwarranted. She worked extraordinarily hard. We are also doing this for Deputy Corcoran-Kennedy out of respect for the legacy she brought in the role she played.
Senator Black mentioned John and Ann Higgins. I have never met them, but I feel I know them. Only today I got a chance to watch their video on Alcohol Action Ireland's Twitter feed. I thank them for sharing with us intimate moments of their own lives in respect of the passing of their son and highlighting to us the importance of passing this legislation. I thank Senator Black. She has been a pleasure to work with. I am sure I have driven her crazy at times as we have tried to get the legislation to this point. She has been a champion and I really want to thank her for that. I thank colleagues on all sides of the House - all of the health spokespersons and all of the Senators who have taken a particular interest in this - for the way we have worked together in a bipartisan fashion.
This Bill has had very lengthy consideration in the Seanad and the Lower House. While that can be frustrating at times, it is perhaps not unexpected because this is the first time we have ever had public health legislation in this area. Up to this point, the only time the Dáil or Seanad discussed alcohol has been in the context of deciding excise rates. We have now used a very successful tool, public health legislation, in respect of alcohol. That was always going to be a problem because groundbreaking measures are difficult.
I thank the civil society groups including Alcohol Action Ireland. I would say this if Senator McDowell were here, I am not just saying it because he is not here, but I fundamentally disagree with his point. The people who have been lobbying in favour of this Bill have done this country a huge service in my view.
Many of them have given their own time and put their own professional and medical expertise out there in order to benefit and inform us. They are not lobbyists, they are advocates and patriots. They have made a real difference and I thank them for their leadership. Anybody in this country has a right to lobby on any side of any argument. I do not think we would have gotten to this point were it not for the support we have had from public health advocates, some of whom are joining us today, and many of whom have soldiered on in respect of this Bill for quite a period.
I wish to inform the Seanad and the people of this country of what I intend to do now. This Bill will now go to the President to be signed into law. Once that happens, I intend to move very quickly - in fact, immediately - to commence a number of its provisions. On enactment, I intend to immediately propose commencement of section 14 on the prohibition of advertising in certain places, section 17 on children's clothing, section 20 on advertising in cinemas and section 22 on separation and visibility of alcohol products and advertising for alcohol products in specified licensed premises. To reply to Senator Swanick, I will indeed have officials engaged with retailers on the practicalities of that in order that they can be prepared. I also intend to immediately commence section 15 on advertising during events and section 16 on sponsorship. I also intend to commence the regulation-making power in section 12 on labelling and section 13 on the content of advertising immediately. This will enable the necessary regulations for these sections to be drafted and notified at an EU level. So while some of these provisions have lead-in times, I intend to commence them immediately so that the clock starts ticking.
On the issue of minimum unit pricing, Government approval was originally given for this on the basis that it would be introduced simultaneously in Northern Ireland. Great progress has been made in Northern Ireland in that regard. Obviously, we do not currently have an Northern Ireland Executive with which to interact. As a result, I intend to return to Government to seek approval for this measure. I do not believe we can wait for ever in respect of this issue. I know that Wales is introducing this next year. One would generally go to the Government on such issues and introduce a starting date. I intend to do that shortly.
Alcohol damages our health, it harms our communities and it hurts many families. The measures in this Bill are designed to change that relationship. I look forward to the measures in the Bill leading to a lasting improvement in the health and well-being of our families, friends and country. I thank all Senators and Deputies for their contribution to the debate and for their constructive engagement. It is a great pleasure for me to see this Bill finally passing through the Oireachtas.