Ministers close to deal on tackling under-age drinking

Banning the sale of cheap booze will not increase the cost of alcohol for all drinkers, but will make it harder for young people to engage in dangerous binge drinking, according to Alex White, the junior health minister.

The Government is close to finalising a range of measures clamping down on what is often criticised as a culture of excessive drinking, including minimum pricing and changes to alcohol promotion and availability.

Ministers are close to agreement on the politically contentious question of whether to ban alcohol sponsorship for sporting events, which had been a source of disagreement between Mr White and Sports Minister Leo Varadkar.

The Cabinet has agreed there can be no consideration given to the ban until an alternative source of funding is identified and made available to sports organisations.

An earlier demand by Mr White that these sources of funding be found by 2020 has been taken off the table and no time limit will be included in the final announcement.

Mr Varadkar had resisted such a time limit on the basis it would curtail the revenues of large sporting organisations that rely on sponsorship from drink firms.

Speaking at a meeting on alcohol awareness in Ennis, Mr White said it was his “earnest hope and expectation that we will reach agreement on a finalised package of measures shortly”.

He had been at odds with Mr Varadkar over his proposals to ban alcohol advertising, which is worth some €30m a year to sports groups.

Mr White appears set to agree to putting off the ban for an indefinite period, until alternative sources of funding are identified.

But he insisted: “We must aim to extract alcohol from sporting experiences.”

Speaking at the event in Clare, he said alcohol involvement in sport and the pursuit of excellent sporting performance “are simply incompatible”.

And he believes children are getting a mixed message about alcohol: “Sports coaches tell our children and teenagers that good sporting performance and good health are generally incompatible with significant alcohol consumption.

“Throughout our communities there are massive billboards — ads on bus stops, on buildings, and on buses — representing booze as an experience that helps you transcend your mundane life and enter a world of beautiful people, sporting success, and happiness.”

He said: “There is a clear disconnect between what we as a society tell our young people about alcohol and what they are actually hearing and seeing in their everyday lives.”

Mr White said minimum pricing would be a “key part” of the strategy, targeting “risk levels of alcohol consumption, especially by those who drink in a harmful and hazardous way”.

“It will also impact children and younger adults by discouraging them from purchasing alcohol,” he said.

Referring to a Scottish High Court ruling on minimum pricing, Mr White said it was not aimed at eradicating alcohol consumption or increase the cost of alcohol for all drinkers. “Rather, the measures are intended to strike at alcohol misuse and over-consumption and to get people to form a healthy and sensible relationship with alcohol,” he said.

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