Diageo boss ‘right’ to quit campaign

Barnardo’s chief executive Fergus Finlay is determined to continue with the controversial Stop Out of Control Drinking campaign despite its funder, Diageo, withdrawing its representative from the board.

The drinks giant is to keep funding the campaign, but Diageo country director for Ireland David Smith will stay off the board after criticism that involvement by him and his employers compromised its independence.

Mr Smith wrote in a Sunday newspaper that he had felt under a lot of pressure from the criticism and complained there had been “a rush to prejudge and reject”. “This pressure was acute, often personal in nature, and at times wholly unacceptable,” he wrote.

He was particularly critical of exchanges on social media about the campaign and Diageo’s involvement.

“The ‘we know best’ conversations being had by a small group of individuals on Twitter or in the media is not the debate that is being had by the rest of the country,” he said.

“More than 12,000 people have already signed up to support the campaign, and all the public workshops have been oversubscribed.”

Mr Finlay has now lost four members from the board which he chairs — TV GP Ciara Kelly, Krystian Fikert of mental health charity MyMind, and Patrick Gilligan, head of St Patrick’s Mental Health Services, have all stepped down in the last few weeks.

However, he said he supported Mr Smith’s decision and the work of the campaign would be unaffected. “I think David Smith joined the board for the right reasons and I think he left for the right reasons,” he said.

“I am a bit taken aback by how controversial [the campaign] has been,” he told RTÉ’s Marian Finucane. “I think what it boils down to is, are people prepared to accept that an industry which has been a significant part of the problem can be a part of the solution or not.

“There is no doubt that there has been a huge amount of misunderstanding,” he added, stressing that the campaign was in favour of planned new legislation on minimum pricing and other restrictions on alcohol sales, even though Diageo has opposed them.

“We can’t change anything in Ireland about what everyone accepts is a serious social problem unless the first thing that happens is law and the second thing that happens is effective implementation of that law. We support that and we want to complement that.”

Mr Finlay said he wanted the campaign to help start a “generational shift” in attitudes to alcohol. “I hope I will be able to claim credit for all this controversy because at least I have generated debate.”

READ MORE: Diageo laps it up with alcohol ‘campaign’

FERGUS FINLAY: Time to stop papering over ‘craics’ and tackle corrosive alcohol abuse


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