Politics of Irish Whiskey redefines peace process

THE politics of whiskey production perplexed several government departments in 1979 and 1980, as they struggled for a legal definition of Irish Whiskey that would not heighten tensions over Northern Ireland.

The EEC was planning tighter appellation controls and the legal advice to the Government was that products would not be able to brand themselves as Irish if there wasn’t legislation to prove they were eligible to be classified as such.

A law was in place since 1957 which defined Irish Whiskey as whiskey produced within the State, but a problem was looming for Bushmills Irish Whiskey which had been taken over by Irish Distillers but was produced in the North.

At a meeting of Irish Distillers with officials from the Depts of Foreign Affairs and Industry, Commerce and Energy, it was noted: “The Bushmills claim to be an Irish whiskey is not underwritten in Irish, or British, legislation and the company are afraid that, if this position is not remedied, its international marketing effort will be seriously compromised.”

All sides were keen to amend the law, though it was noted of Sean Ó hUigínn, a senior official in the Dept of Foreign Affairs Anglo-Irish Section: “He accepted that there was always some risk that extremist loyalist elements would seek to capitalise on what they might represent as interference in Northern Ireland affairs by the Republic.

“He felt however that the self-evidently serious consequence for the industry in the North if no measures were taken would ensure that such criticism would be very limited.”

It was eventually agreed to write new legislation to extend the definition of Irish Whiskey to whiskey produced in the North. The Irish Whiskey Act came into effect in 1980 and Bushmills continues to brand itself Irish Whiskey.


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