By Daniel McConnell and Elaine Loughlin
After more than 1,000 days of debate, new laws to place health warnings on alcohol labels have passed all stages of the Dáil.
There was applause and hugs as the Public Health Alcohol Bill, which Health Minister Simon Harris described as “groundbreaking”, passed last night almost three years after it was first introduced.
"It is … a groundbreaking measure" – Minister for Health welcomes passing of Public Health (Alcohol) Bill pic.twitter.com/t5vzltvCut— RTÉ News (@rtenews) October 3, 2018
A small group of rural TDs engaged in further filibustering last night to hold up the passage of the much-delayed alcohol bill.
Despite repeated warnings from Leas Ceann Comhairle Pat The Cope Gallagher to refrain from straying off topic when discussing amendments, rural deputies spoke at length in opposition to the bill.
Rural TDs repeatedly called for votes on amendments to the bill during the debate, despite not having enough to force a full vote.
Mr Harris was accused of “talking down” to a rural TD opposed to his bill, which will add cancer warnings to bottles of alcohol.
Cork South West TD Michael Collins took the minister to task and accused him of being high-handed in his commentary when he was dismissing amendments from rural TDs.
Kerry TDs Michael and Danny Healy-Rae were rounded on by other TDs for seeking to delay the bill.
Sinn Féin’s Jonathan O’Brien intervened in frustration: “Why are we debating this again? Well, I know why. Can we not get on with this... this bill is going to pass.
The bill was first introduced by then health minister Leo Varadkar in December 2015. Since then, the bill has face multiple delays and amendments.
Danny Healy-Rae said an amendment to phase out sponsorship by drinks companies of sporting events by the end of December 2023 was “deplorable”.
He claimed this would deny the local GAA club from getting “a few bob” off its local publican.
Social Democrats TD Róisín Shortall said it is clear such sponsorship is not paid for philanthropic reasons and there is “substantial commercial gain for the drinks industry” when they sponsor sporting events.
“We know that we can protect, in particular, our young people in banning it.”
She said other sponsors would step in to take the place of the drinks industry, dismissing concerns that such a ban would financially impact sporting organisations.
Mr Harris said it “doesn’t sit well” with him that sport, which is a healthy activity, would be “contaminated” with something that is bad for a person’s health.
We did it! For the first time in our history, we are introducing a public health law for alcohol. A great partnership between the Oireachtas & public health advocates. Honoured to work with colleagues to steer this through the Dáil. A good day for public health in Ireland— Simon Harris TD (@SimonHarrisTD) October 3, 2018
While he didn’t accept the amendment, which was put forward by Sinn Féin’s Louise O’Reilly, he said he would “like to see us go further in the future” and that sports sponsorship would be “revisited” in a review within three years of commencement of the bill.
The bill passed all stages of the Dáil last night, however, as a number of TDs called for a vote on the issue.
They were unable to press for this vote as they did not have the 10 members required to oppose passage of the law.
It will now be referred on to the Seanad.