Ban on alcohol sponsorship a ‘risk to festivals’

A ban on alcohol sponsorship of major events would imperil several high-profile film and music festivals that generate significant economic returns, Arts Minister Jimmy Deenihan has warned.

He believes alternative sponsorship would be difficult to find and the State could be left having to fund the festivals or risk losing the economic returns associated with them.

In an interview with the Irish Examiner, Mr Deenihan said he had asked Health Minister James Reilly to “exercise caution” in considering an expert group’s recommendation to phase out such sponsorship.

“If it was taken away overnight, certainly I can’t identify where this funding would come from, unless alone the State would provide it,” he said. “The State would have to step in if no other sponsor would step in.”

Mr Deenihan cited the Jameson Dublin Film Festival and the Guinness Cork Jazz Festival as examples of events with drinks industry sponsorship that generated big returns for local economies.

He said he found it hard to see where alternative sponsors might come from for artistic and cultural festivals.

“Apart say from Ulster Bank and Bank of America and Merrill Lynch, certainly there are not too many obvious sponsors out there at the moment that sponsor the arts that I’ve come across.”

The report of the government-appointed national substance misuse strategy steering group recommends that “drinks industry sponsorship of sport and other large public events in Ireland should be phased out through legislation by 2016” as one of a suite of measures aimed at combating alcohol abuse.

Mr Deenihan said: “I can see where it’s coming from, because alcohol certainly is presenting a major threat to the health of this country — there is no doubt about it.

“The whole issue of sponsorship is only one element of trying to curb the misuse of alcohol in this country, but we must exercise caution.

“And if it’s removed, certainly I think that provision should be made to ensure that these festivals, which have a major knock-on effect for the local economy, would not be forced to wind down their programmes... or abandon altogether their festivals.”

Mr Deenihan is one of four ministers — the others are Leo Varadkar, Simon Coveney, and Pat Rabbitte — known to have expressed concerns about the possible implications of an alcohol sponsorship ban.

In a recent reply to a parliamentary question, Mr Varadkar said he had “serious concerns a legislative ban on sponsorship would have negative consequences for sport and tourism”.

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