Small retailers look set to escape proposed rules restricting the display of alcohol products in shops in legislation to be revealed next month.
Health Minister Simon Harris will give small and rural outlets an out-clause on blocking off or covering up drink, in a bid to secure cross-party support for the Public Health Alcohol Bill.
Shops with drink in fridge units whose fronts are less than 2sq m in size will be exempt from some rules.
Mr Harris told the Irish Examiner he intended to bring the changed alcohol legislation to the Seanad next month, as he seeks support so it is passed by year’s end.
“I want to proceed with the Alcohol Bill in November,” he said. “I heard the concerns from all parties, including my own, in relation to the potential consequences on a small shop.”
He confirmed there will be an amendment to try and “mitigate against that burden for small shops”.
Under the current plans, the bill provides for minimum unit pricing to prevent below-cost selling and compulsory health warnings on drinks. It includes restrictions on alcohol promotion and strict structural separation of drink from other items in shops.
However, this issue has been the biggest bone of contention for some Fine Gael Oireachtas members, who opposed the bill a year ago, particularly a stipulation that drink in shops not be “readily visible to members of the public from outside the area”. Lobby groups say this will be costly for small retailers, particularly rural corner shops or garages having to build separation units and special shutters.
Mr Harris’s officials have since suggested that retailers will be exempt from covering them up, if the front of fridge units with drink are less than or equal to 2sq m. Retailers would be allowed have two fridge units, each up to 1sq m, or one unit amounting to 2sq m in size.
The minister said that, with an exemption now planned for small shops, members from across parties should roll in behind the public health legislation.
“I think it would be very useful for all political parties to reaffirm their support for the bill, for all of the bill, not just the bits that they wish to cherry pick,” he said. “I would call on all of the parties in a non-partisan way to rally around this piece of legislation. If they were to do that, we could have a very significant piece of public health legislation and the first time ever we passed public health legislation on alcohol passed by the end of this year.”
Legislation for minimum priced alcohol was introduced in Wales this week. Doctors here say the delay of the bill over two years has had “lethal consequences” and that 2,000 more people had died due to alcohol-related illnesses.
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved