SPORTS Minister Leo Varadkar is on a collision course with a Labour junior minister over alcohol sponsorship of sport.
Mr Varadkar (inset) is insisting a ban on alcohol sponsorship in sport would have no effect on underage drinking – and said binge drinking among teenagers is actually rising in France, where strict advertising bans are in place.
Labour junior health minister Alex White is set to take up where his predecessor Roisin Shortall left off, pushing for tighter constraints on alcohol sponsorship.
But Mr Varadkar has set himself against this, saying there is "no evidence to show that a ban on sponsorship would be effective in terms of reducing alcohol consumption amongst youths".
The issue has already caused differences in Cabinet, with Health Minister James Reilly backing up his junior minister, but others, such as Agriculture Minister Simon Coveney and Communications Minister Pat Rabbitte, are understood to agree with Mr Varadkar.
Mr Varadkar was responding to a number of Dail questions tabled on the issue, and cited new research used by his department to say "there is no evidence to show that a ban on sponsorship would be effective in terms of reducing alcohol consumption amongst youths".
The Dublin West TD also warned about implementing such policies purely for "optics".
He pointed to the new research, which showed binge drinking among young people had actually increased in France, even though it has a ban on alcohol sponsorship of cultural and sporting events, as well as advertising in cinemas and on television.
The French ban is called 'Loi Evin', and Mr Varadkar pointed to a recent report which compared drinking in 15- and 16-year-olds in different European countries.
"Since 1999, the proportion of these young people reporting having had five or more drinks on one occasion during the past 30 days in Ireland has decreased by 17pc to 40pc," Mr Varadkar said. "In comparison this has increased by 11pc in France to 44pc.
"It should be remembered that Britain, having recognised the failure of the 'Loi Evin' in France decided not to ban alcohol sponsorship.
"We should not implement policies merely for the 'optics' but we should only do so after an evidence-based cost-benefit analysis."
He also said alcohol advertising is providing vital income for sports organisations when funding from central Government has been slashed.
"It is estimated that sport sponsorship by the alcohol industry amounts to around €30m per year," Mr Varadkar said. "To place this in context, the Irish Sports Council's budget is just over €40m.
"There are also a number of practical difficulties at a local level which must be considered, for example will pubs and hotels be allowed to sponsor teams? How will the difficulties with sports which operate on an all-Ireland level be addressed?"
Mr White did not return calls last night.