Simon Harris plans to press ahead with changes to alcohol sales

The Government will reintroduce controversial plans to reduce alcohol advertisements and ban low-cost drink sales, with fresh concessions for small retailers around the storage of alcohol in shops.

Health Minister Simon Harris still faces opposition from his own Fine Gael TDs and senators, who claim the moves to reduce alcohol consumption will hurt small retailers and rural shops.

It has also emerged that alcohol producers and businesses in the minister’s own constituency of Wicklow are warning of local job losses.

The Public Alcohol Bill was rejected by the Seanad more than a year ago, with government members opposing it. Lobbyists, including former government members, have since tried to thwart the health measures.

Mr Harris will meet with senators this morning to discuss their concerns before introducing amendments in the Seanad. The changes, to appease concerns about extra costs for small shops, allow modest retailers to still sell alcohol in fridges without covering them.

The bill provides for minimum pricing to stop below-cost selling and compulsory health warnings on drinks. It includes restrictions on alcohol promotion and strict separation rules and the covering up of drink in shops. The latter issue is a concern for politicians, who claim it will hit local businesses.

Amendments, seen by the Irish Examiner, will allow retailers to visibly display alcohol products in not more than two adjacent storage units. But the combined storage capacity of the units must be no more than one cubic metre and the minimum depth must be not less than 25cm.

Another amendment will allow the sale of alcohol merchandise near schools, but not alcohol.

Cork senator Tim Lombard said: “I still have great concerns. The amendments on segregation don’t go far enough.”

Simon Harris

Mr Lombard said he and other Fine Gael senators also want stronger minimum price guarantees built into the changes and say the current plan could be delayed as similar changes are frozen in the North and would be needed to stop large-scale cross-border booze shopping.

“This mightn’t be fast enough, so we need to talk about the minimum pricing plans too,” he said.

Government sources are insisting there will be no movement on this last point or any below-cost changes to the legislation.

Meanwhile, businesses in Mr Harris’ constituency of Wicklow have weighed into the row over the health Bill. Distillers and brewers claim it will make Ireland “one of the most restrictive countries in the world to market products”.

They also say the minister will not meet with them or discuss changes.

Alex Peirce, chief executive of Powerscourt Distillery in Wicklow, said: “We are building a new €20m distillery that will be run by a world-class master distiller... Despite government assistance in many areas and the very positive figures that Irish whiskey exports are producing, the lack of consultation by the Government now with key industry representatives is surprising.”

Wicklow Wolf Brewing, which supplies 550 off-licences nationwide, said changes to labelling and severe structural separation restrictions would “impact on its ability to grow and launch new products”.

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