Fine Gael senators seek talks as Simon Harris plans to restrict alcohol sales

Fine Gael senators and TDs who blocked plans to limit the sale and promotion of alcohol earlier this year have demanded a meeting with Health Minister Simon Harris over his plans to force through the law change.

Senators Tim Lombard and Paudie Coffey, who were key to 20 senators stalling the bill before the summer, said Mr Harris must explain how any still unpublished amendment will address their concerns over the public health policy at the party’s pre-Dáil think-in on September 14-15.

Speaking at an addiction recovery event on Monday, Mr Harris hit out at colleagues and rival parties over their repeated blocking of the public health alcohol bill, saying alcohol is the single most dangerous addictive substance in Ireland.

Criticising politicians for stalling plans to introduce minimum pricing rules and limit the promotion of alcohol in stores by imposing a “booze curtain” system, the health minister said that the situation is no longer acceptable.

Mr Harris, who described alcohol addiction as “the elephant in the room”, said he has grown tired of “Trojan horse” claims of the damage such changes could cause small shops and will force through the legislation before Halloween.

While saying he will address legitimate concerns about small shops in a still unpublished amendment, Mr Harris said the time has come for politicians to move to limit alcohol sales and promotions.

However, speaking to the Irish Examiner last night, a number of Fine Gael senators who blocked the public health alcohol bill earlier this year said they remain unconvinced and want a meeting with Mr Harris over his plans in two weeks’ time.

“I had a problem with the bill and I always did because it didn’t look at the impact on small shops. I haven’t seen what Simon Harris is proposing in the amendment, but I definitely want a meeting with him about it,” said Cork-based senator Tim Lombard.

“We want to be given the amendment details, and to be given an appropriate amount of time to examine what changes to the bill he is suggesting.

“The booze curtain idea, for example, was a disaster, it was a disaster, and proposals like that cannot continue to be in the bill if it is to be supported.”

Fellow senator and former junior housing minister Paudie Coffey, who was also among 20 Fine Gael senators who blocked the bill due to the potential impact on small shops, said that while Mr Harris’s comments “do assuage some of my concerns”, he also wants further details on the planned changes.

“We’ll be looking for an early engagement with the minister at the think-in [on September 14-15], it will be an ample opportunity for him to engage,” said Mr Coffey.

Meanwhile, campaign group Alcohol Action Ireland has strongly backed Mr Harris’s insistence that the bill must be passed, saying “Ireland has a significant crisis with alcohol”.

Demanding the “immediate enactment of the public health alcohol bill and the minimum unit pricing measure”, the group’s head of advocacy Eunan McKinney said: “Ireland has a significant crisis with alcohol. Recent data regrettably demonstrates that our consumption level continues to rise.

“The central drivers of such high-risk consumption are price and availability.”


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