DIAGEO - the parent company of Guinness – have withdrawn from an alcohol awareness campaign just a month after it was established.
Ireland Country Director for the drinks company, David Smith confirmed today that he is stepping down from the board of the Stop Out-of-Control Drinking campaign.
It is the fourth resignation that has blighted the group - which is led by Barnardos chief executive Fergus Finlay - since it was established in February.
Up to 12,000 have signed up to the campaign which is funded by Diageo to the tune of €1m over the first year.
“Since the launch of the campaign many of our board members have been subjected to unwarranted pressure because of a perceived lack of independence given the involvement of Diageo on the board,” Mr Smith told RTE.
“To ensure that the board members can work to the best of their abilities and carry out the objectives of the campaign without further pressure and distraction I will no longer sit on the board of the campaign,” he added.
Responding Health Minister Leo Varadkar said it was welcomed that Diageo were stepping back from the board.
“I don’t think it is appropriate that the drinks industry should be actively involved in campaigns around public health for the obvious reasons,” Mr Varadkar said.
However, social campaigner and founder of Spunout.ie, Ruairi McKiernan, says Diageo is still behind the campaign - as it is involved in funding - and he is not satisfied.
Speaking on RTE Radio One, Mr Smith said it never came up prior to the establishment of the campaign that Diageo should not have a seat at the board.
“The board were very happy with my involvement. I’m not sure I would do any differently if I had the time again but what I am doing today is acting to make sure that a lack of independence is removed,” he said.
“I’m glad we got involved in the campaign. I may not have sat on the board if I had known it was going to cause some controversy.”
It is the latest public relations setback for Diageo after they ceased organising their annual Arthur’s Day last year following much criticism.
“Arthur’s Day at the time was a great idea to celebrate the 250th anniversary of Arthur Guinness.
“All of these things run their course. It was a getting a lot of controversy at the time so we decided to move in a different direction.
“The irony is we were called upon to do more to tackle alcohol misuse and here we are over the last few months having done that,” Mr Smith said.
He added that he wished the board of the Stop Out-of-Control Drinking campaign good luck.
Mr Smith said he believed when people looked back in 15 years time, the drinking culture will have changed.
“With the benefit of hindsight, the debate was pretty ferocious but it did start to chip away at some attitudes and connect with some people.”
St Patrick’s Mental Health Services withdrew from the campaign in recent days following the earlier resignations of Dr Ciara Kelly and Krystian Fikert of mental health care organisation MyMind from the board.