Friday 24 November 2017

Cross-party group to fight proposed ban on alcohol sponsorship

Michael Brennan

Michael Brennan

A CROSS-party committee is set to oppose the banning of alcohol sponsorship of major sporting events such as the Heineken Cup, as cabinet divisions on the issue continue.

Labour junior minister Alex White has sent a memo proposing to halt such alcohol sponsorship by 2020, and to ban any new deals from 2016.

The Oireachtas Transport and Communications Committee is due to issue its report later this month, with a "big majority" of members opposed to banning alcohol sponsorship of sporting events.

Its chairman, Fine Gael TD Tom Hayes, said members believed it would cost a lot to replace the sports sponsorship provided by drinks companies.

Mr Hayes said the Cabinet would have to consider factors such as the heavy dependence on alcohol sponsorship that the IRFU and the FAI had.

"If they are to go by the views of the vast majority of the members of the committee, they would hold off on it," he said.

However, the report will also include the dissenting views of Labour TD Eamonn Maloney, who has said that sports sponsorship allows the drinks industry to portray alcohol "as a harmless substance".

The committee is meeting next week to finalise its report, after hearings featuring the main sporting bodies, Alcohol Action Ireland and the Royal College of Physicians.

The Cabinet is divided over the issue, with Mr White and Health Minister James Reilly in favour of a ban and Transport and Sports Minister Leo Varadkar firmly opposed to it.

Three ministers who have been opposed to such a ban are keeping silent at the moment – Agriculture Minister Simon Coveney, Arts and Heritage Minister Jimmy Deenihan and Communications Minister Pat Rabbitte.

A spokeswoman for Mr Coveney said he would make his views known at Cabinet. A spokesman for Mr Deenihan said he would raise any views he had on the ban at Cabinet. A spokesman for Mr Rabbitte said he would be making no comment.

Labour TD Roisin Shortall, who was involved in devising the ban before she quit as Junior Minister for Primary Care last year, called for Mr White's plan to be supported. She said it was key to break links between sport and alcohol sponsorship.

SUPPORT

Ministers have to respond to the memo by Friday, and it is expected to be brought to Cabinet by the end of the month.

Meanwhile, the Royal College of Physicians of Ireland has come out strongly in support of banning alcohol sponsorship of sport.

Professor Joe Barry, who is a senior member of its public health medicine department, said there was evidence that alcohol sponsorship increased drinking among young people.

However, former rugby international Frankie Sheahan hit back at the proposals last night.

"I can't believe there is even a discussion about alcohol sponsorship – changes would decimate racing, GAA & rugby at grassroots," he tweeted.

A spokesman for the FAI referred to the submission the organisation made to the Dail Committee last March, in which it said plans to cut sponsorship would damage its ability to run community-based programmes, which help to keep young people away from alcohol.

Irish Independent

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