Saturday 24 June 2017

Ireland 'is shooting itself in the foot' over mix of Brexit and Alcohol Bill

Guuinness is among Ireland's most iconic brands. File photo: Reuters
Guuinness is among Ireland's most iconic brands. File photo: Reuters

Simon Rowe

Tourists and shoppers who want to purchase Guinness-branded merchandise such as T-shirts, mugs and key-rings in Irish gift stores may have to present ID to prove they are over 18 under draft proposals to curb alcohol advertising, industry experts have warned.

This is just one of unintended consequences of the Public Health Alcohol Bill (PHAB), said economist Ciaran Fitzgerald, the author of a new report on the impact of Brexit on the drinks industry.

Proposed restrictions on alcohol advertising and sponsorship contained in the Bill mean "there's a reasonable prospect of this type of thing happening", he warned. "But hopefully sense will prevail."

The Bill, which has been delayed following heated debate in the Seanad, aims to ensure that alcohol is "no longer treated as just another ordinary commodity or grocery, but is regulated effectively to reduce alcohol harm in Ireland and improve public health", Fitzgerald said.

However, he said the Bill poses far-reaching consequences for Ireland's drinks industry.

He said the prospect of a hard Brexit, combined with the economic consequences of the Public Health Alcohol Bill means that Ireland is "shooting itself in the foot".

"Since the Brexit vote last June and the subsequent decline in the value of sterling, the food and drink sector in Ireland has faced enormous challenges in the short term, including a surge in cross-border shopping.

"In addition, measures proposed under the Public Health (Alcohol) Bill will exacerbate pressure on a sector that employs 200,000 directly and indirectly," he said.

Fitzgerald's report was commissioned by the Alcohol Beverage Federation of Ireland (ABFI), which represents brewers, distillers, brand owners and distributors.

"The UK is Ireland's biggest export market for food and drink, with exports of €4.5bn in 2015," said Fitzgerald.

"The result of the UK Brexit vote and subsequent sterling devaluation has led to a surge in cross-border shopping, increased prices of Irish products and has increased the cost of Ireland as a tourist destination."

The ABFI is calling on the Government to introduce a range of policy measures in the medium term to enable the sector to offset the risks posed by Brexit and the PHAB.

"The restrictions on alcohol advertising will be felt most harshly by new craft brewers and new distilleries," Fitzgerald said.

"There is more to this than just the anti-alcohol lobby giving a bloody nose to the drink industry."

The Bill's proposal to introduce "booze curtains" in retail outlets sparked fury both among politicians and businesses.

The Bill has now been referred to the attorney general, who is examining a number of legal difficulties.

Officials in the Department of Health are also examining how they can adjust section 20 of the Bill, which would require shops to erect barriers to shield alcohol from public

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