The decision followed days of confusion within the Department of Health as to who would take over the brief, following the departure of Minster James Reilly and Minister of State Alex White.
A meeting was held yesterday between Mr Varadkar and Minister of State Kathleen Lynch during which the National Substance Misuse Strategy brief was discussed.
Interested groups, including Citywide Drugs Crisis Campaign and Alcohol Action Ireland had been concerned this week at the lack of clarity as to who would take over. But they welcomed yesterday’s announcement.
“For us it is clear now where the Public Health Alcohol Bill will fit,” said Suzanne Costello, CEO of Alcohol Action Ireland. “It is great that Minister Varadkar is taking it on and putting his full weight behind it.”
She said the legislation — currently being drafted — will provide significant health benefits to the public and financial savings to the department’s own budget.
“A recent Health Research Board report showed there were 1.3 million harmful drinkers in the country,” said Ms Costello.
Joan Byrne, coordinator of Citywide Drugs Crisis Campaign said: “Citywide welcome the announcement that the National Drugs Strategy will return to the responsibility of a senior minister in Government and hopes that this indicates the level of priority Government are now giving to the escalating drugs crisis in Ireland. The community sector very much looks forward to developing a positive working relationship with Minister Varadkar.”
The ministerial meetings at the Department of Health has left Ms Lynch, who already had the mental health brief, with additional responsibilities for primary care and older people.
Mr Reilly will now have a role in co-sponsoring tobacco and childhood obesity.
Mr Varadkar was one of four government ministers who expressed concern about bringing in a ban on sport advertising by the alcohol industry, which was recommended by a Government-appointed expert group in February 2012.
He has already backed the Health Ireland initiative, a new national framework for action to improve the health of the general population.