Fine Gael senators threaten to vote against Coalition alcohol bill

Fine Gael senators have threatened to vote against the Government’s alcohol bill if they do not get reassurances on measures impacting on small businesses.

A number of crunch meetings were yesterday held in a bid to ease the worries of senators before the Public Health (Alcohol) Bill 2015 is debated in the Seanad this afternoon.

However, Government senators are still concerned that the bill will severely impact on small rural retailers and corner shops.

The bill, which is at committee stage, would introduce minimum unit pricing for alcohol, would require health warnings on labels and also further restrict the advertising of alcohol.

However, one of the main concerns senators have is the requirement to segregate alcohol in shops.

They worry that the cost associated with blocking off sections of stores and perhaps requiring extra staff to monitor areas where alcohol is for sale could put pressure on small businesses.

Cork Fine Gael senator Tim Lombard said changes would have to be made to the bill before it is accepted.

“We want to amend the bill. It is becoming an urban-rural divide. We are in favour of most of the bill but we have concerns and questions.”

He questioned whether the shopkeeper would be fined if a customer accidentally left a blind up or a curtain open after picking up a bottle from the shelf and called for “leeway” around this.

A meeting between senators and Junior Health Minister Marcella Corcoran Kennedy was held at 1.30pm yesterday and was described as “very volatile”.

There was a second briefing later yesterday afternoon with the chief medical officer.

It is understood that senators voiced strong opposition to parts of the bill and strongly indicated that they would not be able to support it if amendments were not made.

Another last-minute meeting is due to be held this morning before the Seanad debate.

One senator said: “The minister and the Taoiseach are trying to push this down the throat of the parliamentary party and most importantly of senators.”

However, Senator Paudie Coffey said he was hopeful that Ms Corcoran Kennedy could provide the “reassurances” needed and was confident it would not go as far as Fine Gael senators voting against it.

“We are looking to her [Ms Corcoran Kennedy] to take account of the concerns or to clarify the impact of structural separation.

He will be calling for an “incremental introduction” to the bill in the Seanad today.

“I would be asking the minister to bring forward minimum pricing, to introduce the changes around sponsorship especially with regard to children and sporting clubs.

“But the structural separation requirement should not be introduced until the impact of these measures is evaluated,” he said.

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