Friday 20 October 2017

Ministers 'facilitate' tobacco lobbyists

Eilish O'Regan and Shane Phelan

GOVERNMENT ministers are facilitating lobby groups and businesses who are campaigning against controversial plans by the Department of Health to introduce plain packaging for cigarettes with graphic health warnings.

Finance Minister Michael Noonan and Jobs Minister Richard Bruton both passed correspondence from members of the tobacco lobby to Health Minister James Reilly, internal records reveal.

The records, obtained under Freedom of Information rules, also show how the alcohol industry targeted government ministers in a bid to pressurise the Department of Health to row back on plans to ban alcohol sponsorship.

Mr Noonan sent a letter from a manager of Centra supermarkets in his Limerick constituency saying the series of anti-smoking proposals would damage his business.

He also forwarded a strongly worded letter from the Emergency Committee for American Trade, representing the US business community expressing "serious concern" about the impact of the measures.

A spokesman for Mr Noonan said the Department of Finance regularly receives representations from interest groups on a range of issues.

"If submissions are in connection with a policy area or specific legislation outside the remit of the Department of Finance they are forwarded to the government department responsible," he said.

The Taoiseach Enda Kenny and Jobs Minister Richard Bruton also passed on a large amount of correspondence they received berating the proposals and claiming they would fuel a black market in cigarettes.

ALCOHOL

Mr Kenny, who controversially met with lobbyists against smuggling in May, was canvassed by TV presenter Bill O'Herlihy who is also a public relations lobbyist for the Irish Tobacco Manufacturer's Advisory Committee.

Housing Minister Jan O'Sullivan and Junior Environment Minister Fergus O'Dowd passed on representations from service agents and persons who worked for PJ Carrolls.

Other correspondence showed how the drinks industry and sporting bodies mounted a strong campaign lobbying government ministers and TDs is a bid to stall plans to ban alcohol sponsorship.

Irish Independent

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