Strenuous efforts to water down alcohol bill

They must be worried, says Daniel McConnell. The booze companies I mean

A can of Dutch Gold will cost €1.58 under new laws on minimum pricing under discussion in the Seanad.

Will someone not think of the poor students?

In recent days and weeks, a fierce lobbying campaign has been launched by the alcohol industry to combat the Public Health Alcohol Bill.

Politicians and the media alike have been bombarded by slick pr agents about how the planned moves would
destroy the retail sector and the embryonic native craft beer industry.

“80,000 Customers Sign Petition Against Section 20 of Public Health (Alcohol) Bill,” came one press release.

“DRINKS INDUSTRY SLAMS ‘MISLEADING’ AND ‘INACCURATE’ DEPARTMENT OF HEALTH BRIEFING AHEAD OF ALCOHOL BILL DEBATE,” came another in bold capital print for added emphasis.

And on and on and on it has gone.

The planned bill, which is seeking to introduce minimum pricing for alcohol and also restrict the visibility of the alcohol in shops, has been the source of considerable criticism within Fine Gael and across the Dáil floor since it was first introduced in 2015.

The length of time it has taken to get to this point is a clear indication of how tricky politically it is.

Former junior minister Marcella Corcoran Kennedy ran into the sand when she tried to progress this issue against the strong objections from many of her colleagues.

While she is no longer in office, the issue has remained on the agenda and the divisions were evident on Seanad floor yesterday.

While a number of Senators like Frances Black and Dr James Reilly argued passionately and convincingly in favour of the bill, plenty of his colleagues lined up to seek to have it watered down, weakened and diluted.

Among those seeking changes included Mayo Senator and former TD
Michelle Mulherin, ex-TD Kieran O’Donnell, Cork senator Tim Lombard and Cavan’s Joe O’Reilly who all wanted the bill amended while voicing some support for the health aspects of it.

There was a lot of concern about increasing prices in the South while prices in the North remain unchanged, saying it would lead to many crossing the border.

Independent Senator Victor Boyhan also raised concern about the likely impact on tourism, saying he had just returned to Ireland and came across advertisements about whiskey tours.

Health Minister Simon Harris had to brace himself for a long session in order to get through the bill and sought to highlight the virtue of the proposed changes.

He said Ireland has an opportunity to be a world leader in public health policy and it should not be wasted.

Despite the major stumbling blocks, Harris was appearing to get his way and significant issues like segregation were overcome.

But the booze companies have vowed to fight on, the war is not yet over.

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