Ireland: Big Alcohol Lobbying Behind The Scenes Against Public Health (Alcohol) Bill
The Irish Public Health (Alcohol) Bill had already been introduced by then-Minister for Health Leo Varadkar in December 2015. Ever since then, it has been discussed in parliament, at committee stage.
The bill contains a wide-ranging set of policy solutions to prevent and reduce alcohol-related harm in Ireland. One crucial corner stone of the legislation is the regulation of alcohol advertising, both in shops and supermarkets, on billboards and at sporting events.
While the Bill has cross party support, a number of changes were recommended after it was debated at committee stage. Politicians have also highlighted how a great deal of lobbying has been done by industry to try and amend other aspects before it gets signed into law.
Big Alcohol lobbyism
The Journal reports that numerous members of parliament have come forward to air their frustrations about the amount of lobbying taking place from the alcohol industry, as amendments to the legislation were under review by members of the Seanad
Independent Senator Frances Black told the House in November 2016:
Is the Leader aware of the amount of lobbying by the alcohol industry on the Public Health (Alcohol) Bill? I am shocked by the amount of lobbying.”
Senator Black further said:
I have seen it with my own eyes. I saw seven people from the industry standing around one Deputy in the coffee dock some days ago and I was absolutely horrified.
We have to stop listening to the industries whose representatives are in here fighting against saving lives.”
— Frances Black (@frances_black) November 18, 2016
Lobbyists come from the alcohol producers and their front groups, from the advertising industry and from the alcohol retailers.
Senator David Norris also drew attention to the issue:
Multinational corporations have been carrying out extensive lobbying of Members of this House. Sometimes, they are clever in how they conceal their origins referring to ‘responsible drinkers’ and all of that rubbish.”
Section 20 under fire
The retail sector, meanwhile, has been taking aim at one particular stipulation of the draft bill: section 20. The Irish lobby register shows a great number of lobbying attempts.
Section 20 concerns the “structural separation” of alcohol products for sale in shops and supermarkets. When implemented, it would lead to the erection of a physical barrier to separate alcohol from other products in shops. On the register of lobbyists, it can be seen that shop owners have been keen to get this part of the Bill amended in particular.