Stephen Donnelly issues warning: Government may fall before alcohol bill passes

Stephen Donnelly: "If Taoiseach calls/orchestrates a general election, the bill will fall"

The Government may fall before the long-awaited Public Health Alcohol Bill passes through the Oireachtas, Fianna Fáil health spokesman Stephen Donnelly has warned.

The bill took another step closer to enactment yesterday when it came before the select health committee.

After passing through committee stage, Junior Health Minister Catherine Byrne said the bill would go to report and final stages in the Dáil, but that was likely to be in the autumn.

Mr Donnelly tweeted that Ms Byrne had confirmed the bill would not go back to the Dáil before the summer.

“So if Taoiseach calls/orchestrates a general election, the bill will fall,” he tweeted.

Health Minister Simon Harris welcomed the passage of the bill through committee stage.

“First time ever we will legislate from a public health perspective on alcohol,” he tweeted.

During the committee stage, Ms Byrne moved an amendment removing the requirement for evidence-based health warnings to take up at least one third of the size of the printed material on alcohol products.

She said the requirement had been added to the bill after an amendment was accepted at report stage in the Senate last year, but the European Commission decided it was not proportionate and that the objective of protecting public health could be achieved with a smaller, yet visible, health warning.

Fine Gael TD Bernard Durkan said he thought having a warning of at least one third of the printed material was “over the top”, but that a health warning must be imposed so every person consuming alcohol knows it causes certain side-effects.

Sinn Féin TD Louise O’Reilly said the drinks industry is already required to label products for different markets and did not think it would be as onerous as some people fear.

Mr Donnelly said he had no problem in removing the labelling stipulation if that was what the commission wanted.

His concern was that the health warnings remain prominent as alcohol is more carcinogenic than people in Ireland or around the world realise. “I have been reading up on the evidence and it is pretty stark,” he said.

Ms Byrne said the regulation would require that the label be visible.

I have no idea as to how the labelling will be until the regulations are in place, but people will not have to bring a magnifying glass to the supermarket to see what is on the label.

Ms O’Reilly asked if the regulations were being worked on.

Ms Byrne said that the regulations would not be confirmed until after the bill was enacted.

Alcohol Action Ireland, meanwhile, said it was pleased the central provisions of the bill have largely remained intact after what had been an intense lobbying action by the alcohol industry to have crucial sections amended.

The alliance noted it had been more than 900 days since Leo Varadkar, then the health minister, had introduced the bill.

The proposed legislation would introduce a minimum unit price for alcohol, provide information about the products to consumers, and restrict advertising to protect children.

Alcohol Action Ireland chairman Frank Murphy said the proposals had been frustrated and trivialised by powerful vested interests for too long.

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