Drinks giant Diageo has pulled its representative from the board of the controversial alcohol aware ness campaign, which it also funds.
However, the company said it remained “unanimous” in its support for upcoming alcohol legislation.
Ireland country director for Diageo, David Smith, said he was stepping down from the Stop Out-of-Control Drinking campaign to ensure it could complete its objectives “without pressure or distraction”.
“Since the launch of the campaign many of our board members have been subjected to unwarranted pressure because of a perceived lack of independence given the involvement of Diageo on the board,” he said.
“To ensure that the board members can work to the best of their abilities and carry out the objectives of the campaign without further pressure and distraction, I will no longer sit on the board of the campaign,” he told RTÉ radio.
Diageo announce that they are stepping down from their involvement in the Stop Out of Control Drinking campaign, David Smith of Diageo— Today Sean O'Rourke (@TodaySOR) March 25, 2015
It is the fourth resignation from the board in recent weeks. Dr Ciara Kelly, Krystian Fikert, of mental health care organisation MyMind, and Patrick Gilligan, of St Patrick’s Mental Health Services, have also stepped down.
Diageo confirmed its decision to leave the board would not affect its funding for the campaign — which amounts to around €1m to date.
In a statement, the company said the resignation was a further example of its independence from the campaign. It also said it was “unanimous” in its support for the Public Health Alcohol Bill, which is currently before the Oireachtas.
“For the avoidance of doubt, we intend our plan and all our work to be complementary to the range of other initiatives that exist to address the consumption of alcohol in society. We have already, for example, written to the health committee of the Oireachtas setting out our unanimous support for the General Scheme of the Public Health (Alcohol) Bill 2015,” said the statement.
Stop Out-of-Control Drinking campaign chairman Fergus Finlay robustly defended Mr Smith’s time as a board member and said he “never once” attempted to promote the interests of Diageo.
“He was an incredibly helpful and supportive board member and I believe he has left the board for the exact same reasons. He wants to help, he wants to support, he wants to be involved.
“He came to the view himself that some of the commentary, some of the social media stuff, some of the pressure, had become very intense and very personal, not on the corporation that is Diageo but on individual board members,” he told Newstalk, yesterday.
Mr Finlay said that Mr Smith brought a real sense of corporate responsibility to the issue of problem drinking and that “he should be respected for that, not constantly sneered at and attacked as he has been”.
Health Minister Leo Varadkar welcomed the decision, saying he did not think it was “appropriate that the drinks industry should be actively involved in campaigns around public health for the obvious reasons”.
Independent senator and former Children’s Rights Alliance chief executive Jillian van Turnhout also welcomed the Diageo move but asked whether PR firm Goddard Global was still operating as secretariat for the campaign.
Welcome news: Diageo has stepped down from campaign. Does same apply for Goddard Global? Who will 'own' names signed up? remaining funding?— Jillian van Turnhout CDir IDP-C (@JillianvT) March 25, 2015
Goddard Global acted as secretariat for the Common Sense Alliance, which lobbied against European directives aimed at tackling the tobacco industry.
“The drinks industry has no role in public health. If people want to get involved to tackle the problem of alcohol in Ireland I would would urge them to support the Alcohol Health Alliance, which is made up of a wide range of public health campaigners, medical professionals, NGOs and charities all trying to tackle the problem of alcohol misuse,” she said.
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