Friday 28 November 2014

Stand up for a vital part of our culture... support your local

Bart Storan

Published 10/07/2014 | 02:30

Thinkstock Images
Thinkstock Images

Imagine a sector in recession ravaged Ireland that still employs 92,000 people. Imagine that these are jobs in parishes across the country, in places where jobs are often thin on the ground. Imagine a sector that is steeped in Irish craft and artisanship but also home to innovation.

Imagine a sector that attracts visitors and consumers from across the world and is central to our hospitality offering. Now imagine hitting that sector with punitive taxes and undermining its future.

That sector is the Irish drinks industry and that is the reality we currently face.

Since 2011 the sector has been hit with a triple tax wallop – one VAT hike and two excise increases. This is despite the fact that alcohol consumption has been steadily decreasing since 2001.

This has led us to the surreal position whereby a bottle of Irish whiskey costs more in Ireland than almost anywhere else in the world. For example, a bottle bought in the US (€16.61 after the currency conversion) is less than just the tax on that same bottle in Ireland (€17.37).

Ordinary Irish consumers who drink responsibly are taking the hit too. The average drinker is being asked to pay a whopping €733 a year in alcohol tax. To put this in context in Germany, where consumption is similar, the German drinker pays a more modest €307 a year.

Those who attack the drinks industry consciously seek to stigmatise the sector. There is a point at which this simply must be called out. The drinks industry is part of the very fabric of this country.

The drinks industry is about the 12,000 farm families who supply our breweries and distilleries. It is about the 7,000 pubs – mostly run by families – in every corner of every county. It is about the young entrepreneurs who are reinventing old Irish crafts like distilling with new ventures in the heart of our cities. It is about globally recognised Irish brands. It is about hospitality and welcome.

It is easy to ignore all this in the pursuit of a dogmatic aim and crude policy instruments.

It also seems to be easy to ignore the €2bn in wages paid by the drinks industry every year, the €1.1bn in Irish inputs purchased and the 1.5 million visitors to drinks-related attractions every year.

That's why Support Your Local was set up – to give a voice to the thousands of people throughout the country who are working in the drinks industry.

We have held events throughout the country to encourage those working in pubs, restaurants, hotels, independent off-licences, breweries and distilleries to feel proud of the products that they produce and the impact that they are having.

We are asking the people of Ireland to join us as set out to prove that the cavalier attitude that labels taxes on alcohol 'the old reliable' is not good enough. In fact, alcohol taxes are a tax on jobs, a tax on tourism and a tax on the hard-pressed Irish consumer.

These taxes are killing pubs and independent off-licences, especially in rural areas, and they are making tourists who visit this country question why they are being ripped off by the highest alcohol prices in Europe.

We will be attending events throughout the country to bring our case directly to the people of Ireland –and we will be showcasing businesses in the drinks industry through our website, www.supportyourlocal.ie. We will be doing all of this to ensure that the drinks industry is not just an interesting part of our past, but that it is also a vibrant part of our future.

Many people, from all walks of life, have commented that we have a complex relationship with alcohol in this country. I don't for a second want to undermine the suffering that alcohol abuse causes for families throughout the country. But the debate on alcohol abuse cannot be carried out in a vacuum.

Punishing the responsible drinker yet again is unfair. A reductive approach that is shrill in tone and light on content will not deliver progress. Quasi-prohibitionist quick fixes will not work. Instead we need the courage to acknowledge complexity, and to implement targeted solutions that tackle alcohol abuse.

Bart Storan is Campaign Manager 'Support Your Local', an initiative affiliated to the drinks industry

Irish Independent

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