Struggling industry fails to justify costly relationship with drink
IRELAND'S relationship with alcohol might be controversial, but it can't be denied that the sector has been an important employer.
The Drinks Industry Group of Ireland estimates it provides about 62,000 full- and part-time jobs.
Now new research from the organisation has highlighted just how rapidly these jobs are on the decline.
Employment slumped by about a fifth between 2007 and 2012, as the industry was hit hard by tighter consumer spending coupled with changing drinking habits.
Bar sales fell by a third while the number of pubs plummeted by nearly 1,000.
But this is not an industry that takes its blows lying down. Alongside aggressive marketing initiatives like Arthur's Day, the Drinks Industry Group of Ireland is implementing extensive lobbying programmes that urge government to cut excise duties on drink.
Its most recent report on the health of the industry, released yesterday, sought to remind Finance Minister Michael Noonan that the sector generates more than €2bn in VAT and excise receipts and over €1bn in exports annually.
Of course, there are two sides to every story. Alongside all the jobs, VAT returns and indirect spending that the drinks industry creates are a myriad of costs that must be shouldered by the taxpayer.
These include the price of treating alcohol-induced illnesses through the public healthcare system, as well as alcohol-related road accidents, suicide, crime and absences at work. A definitive study into how much alcohol costs the State every year, undertaken in 2007, estimates this at a shocking €3.7bn.
According to the State's chief medical officer, a 30pc reduction in alcohol-related harm would result in a saving to the Exchequer of €1bn.
Guinness owner Diageo has come under particular fire for contributing to these social costs. A leading child psychologist has branded its Arthur's Day initiative, taking place on Thursday, as an "excuse to drink" that targets 15- to 25-year-olds.
"The need for a day entirely devoted to the promotion of an alcoholic brand is totally uncalled for," said Alcohol Action Ireland's Dr Bobby Smith, adding that young people "don't need any more encouragement to drink".
Mental health charity Spunout.ie has also publically condemned the initiative. "What we're saying to the acts and their fans is simple: Diageo's Arthur's Day is a marketing exercise with the sole aim of increasing alcohol consumption without any regard to the harm caused," said Ian Power, SpunOut.ie spokesman. Yesterday, the drink manufacturer rejected suggestions it should make a financial contribution to hospitals treating patients with alcohol-related illnesses.
"We sell a product in an entirely responsible manner. It is properly labelled and only sold to people of legal drinking age.
"The idea that we would be penalised for doing the job we do legally and responsibly is very unfair," said Peter O'Brien, corporate relations director at Diageo and chairman of the Drinks Industry Group.