The interests of business and public health advocates should not be given equal weight in discussions around the final form of landmark legislation on alcohol, according to a charity working in the area.
Alcohol Action Ireland accused the industry of using “highly intemperate” language and the “pernicious distribution” of inaccuracies, such as disputing scientific evidence that alcohol was a carcinogen.
Health Minister Simon Harris has said he hoped the long-waited Public Health (Alcohol) Bill will complete its passage through the Oireachtas over the autumn.
It includes provisions on mandatory minimum pricing, restrictions on alcohol advertising and marketing, the separation of alcohol in stores and alcohol labelling.
The bill marks the culmination of a drawn-out process of legislating for proposals made five and a half years ago by a State alcohol steering group. The first Public Health (Alcohol) Bill was published in February 2015.
Eunan McKinney of AAI said the highly influential employers’ group Ibec had sought to spin a common thread between those “who lobby to guard vested interests and those who advocate to protect public health”.
He said that while it was “perfectly reasonable” for business lobbyists to inform the political system, it was “not reasonable” to assert that it carried the same weight as advice from public health specialists.
He said that a media “hungry for confrontation” were willing to create a “false balance” between the two sides, thereby placing them as “champions of equal value”.
He said the bill contained “reasonable and pragmatic” measures that should, over time, reduce high-risk consumption of alcohol.
“This is not prohibition or some trial of new economies but modest steps to curb an all-pervasive alcohol-fuelled culture that leads to an avoidable crisis of alcohol-related harms,” he said.
Mr McKinney said that there was “a battle for the public’s heart and minds” on the need for the new legislation.
The Alcohol Beverage Federation of Ireland, which is part of Ibec, has said that the iconic Guinness Christmas ad would be banned under the bill and this month told the Oireachtas Agriculture Committee that images of farmers working in the likes of orchards would no longer be permissible.
“One of the biggest concerns for the industry is that the Bill will make Ireland one of the most restrictive countries in the world for the marketing of alcohol products,” ABFI director Patricia Callan told the committee.
“In fact, the very farmers who supply the industry will be banned from ads. For example, images of farmers in barley fields and orchards will be prohibited.
“The proposals contained in the Bill will undermine competition, innovation and investment in the Irish drinks industry.”
ABFI estimates the bill will cost the media industry €20 million per year in lost revenue.
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