Ministers are ‘playing politics with alcohol’

The Government has sent a clear message to the drinks industry that their interests are being protected by putting the alcohol action plan on the “back burner”, community and voluntary groups have said.

Citywide Drugs Crisis Campaign and the National Voluntary Drug Sector called on government ministers to “stop playing politics” with the alcohol problem.

The comments came after the Cabinet deferred consideration of the action plan on alcohol, drafted by drugs strategy minister Roisín Shortall, until September.

The Labour Party minister of state at the department of health expected her plan to be discussed at Tuesday’s cabinet meeting and went public on Monday saying so.

But that did not happen and senior Fine Gael figures, including Justice Minister Alan Shatter and Taoiseach Enda Kenny, said it had not been on the agenda.

The Cabinet further decided not to deal with it at its last meeting before the summer recess, next week.

Labour party chairman Colm Keaveney claimed on Tuesday that the Cabinet had been “influenced” by lobbying from the alcohol industry. This claim was rejected by Mr Shatter as “fiction”, who accused the Galway TD of being “lost in fantasy land”.

A joint statement by Citywide and the Voluntary Drug Sector said: “On the same week The National Suicide Research Foundation produced their first report, which shows the strong link between alcohol and suicide, the Cabinet inexplicably deemed it unnecessary to discuss measures to reduce the harm that alcohol causes in our society”.

It added: “By putting this issue on the back burner, the Government is sending a clear message to the drinks industry that their interests are being protected.”

Padraig Cribben of the Vintners Federation of Ireland said he would like the Government to address the action plan sooner rather than later.

“Over recent weeks we have seen one well-known supermarket chain run a children’s allowance day promotion and more recently we witnessed the horrendous violent scenes at the Phoenix Park,” he said.

But he added: “However, it is important for the Government to get this right and we would much rather the Government take stock and defer discussions until September, than rushing in now unprepared.”

He added that the VFI was keen to develop a better relationship between Irish society and alcohol.

A spokesperson for the Alcohol Beverage Federation of Ireland, representing manufacturers and suppliers, said: “The misuse of alcohol is absolutely contrary to the best interests of the Irish drinks industry and we fully recognise the need for a more responsible attitude to alcohol in Ireland.”

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