Blocked or blacked-out areas in stores, special screens, or moveable walls may be needed to comply with new drink separation rules under the Public Health Alcohol Bill, Fine Gael members say.
New fit-outs could cost convenient stores tens of thousands of euro, lead to less customers, changes to opening hours, and even higher levels of shoplifting, it has been warned.
Junior health minister Marcella Corcoran Kennedy was told of the concerns during a Fine Gael meeting in Leinster House last Wednesday. Health officials will brief members on Tuesday, before the bill goes to the Seanad the following day.
The Public Health Alcohol Bill started its passage in the Oireachtas at the end of the last government. It will tackle below-cost sales of drink, restrict advertisements, and require stores to keep drink hidden and away from other products.
Section 20 requires that alcohol be confined to a special area, separated by “a physical barrier” through which “alcohol products are not visible”.
Senator Paddy Burke, former Cathaoirleach of the Seanad, confirmed resistance to the plan.
“I have reservations about putting extra costs on corner shops,” he said. “There also could be pilferage if people go to [drink] areas on their own.”
Maria Byrne, a senator from Limerick, said: “The worry with alcohol screens is pilfering. You’d need someone standing there the whole time. Shops may also close as people won’t be buying produce.”
Former minister and Waterford senator Paudie Coffey also outlined Fine Gael reservations: “There’s the question of physical infrastructure and if extra staff are required here.”
Opposition to the structural changes for stores is high among rural Fine Gael members, who claim larger supermarkets will have less problems and likely gain more footfall from the restrictions.
Retailers group RGDATA said shop refits may cost €20,000, with special moveable walls or doors.
Director general Tara Buckley said there would also be insurance and health and safety concerns.
“Binge drinking must be dealt with. But we’re not the problem. Small shops may close,” she said.