Friday 20 September 2019

Diageo-funded bid to tackle binge drinking branded 'a smokescreen'

Mark O'Regan

A FORMER GAA president, a singer, a student leader and a comedian have all united to dismiss a new anti-alcohol campaign as a "smokescreen".

They strongly object to the fact it is funded by the drinks giant Diageo.

Des Bishop
Des Bishop

However, the 'Stop Out of Control Drinking' campaign, which has the backing of Fergus Finlay of Barnardos, already has support from some politicians, parents' groups, doctors and other health workers.

Mr Finlay, who is leading the campaign, says the relationship between Irish people and alcohol just has to change.

And although drinks giant Diageo was behind this latest campaign, the organisation's work would be fully independent, he said.

Despite this, there is growing opposition to the project which has gathered pace in the past few days.

Christy Moore
Christy Moore

To date, more than 50 individuals and organisations have signed an open letter rejecting claims this initiative on alcohol abuse is truly independent.

Among the opponents are the National Youth Council of Ireland, Professor John Crown, comedian Des Bishop, folk singer Christy Moore, the Union of Students in Ireland, and former GAA president Dr Mick Loftus.

They say there is an "inherent conflict" between the commercial interests of the alcohol industry, and its involvement in initiatives to tackle over consumption.

The letter suggests that the campaign is a cynical attempt to divert attention from the industry's ongoing attempts to "obstruct progressive alcohol harm reduction strategies and legislation".

Laura Harmon
Laura Harmon

They claim some of those backing the new initiative have alcohol industry associations, or are linked to sports sponsorship "sympathetic to the industry".

According to Senator Jillian van Turnhout, a member of the Oireachtas Committee on Health and Children, people have had enough of "vested interests and this way of doing things".

"What we need is evidence-based strategies formulated by public health experts that go to the heart of alcohol misuse," she said.

"This smokescreen initiative uses the good intentions and reputations of respected organisations and celebrities to try and appear credible. The tobacco industry used similar tactics in the past and people aren't falling for it."

Social campaigner and founder of youth website Ruairí McKiernan expressed similar concerns.

"It's a feel-good offensive and it can't work," he said.

Professor Crown said the drinks industry's primary interest was to satisfy its shareholders.

"It's not credible that there is a sincere effort by the industry to decrease sales of its product," he told the Irish Independent.

In a statement, Fergus Finlay said they respected other people's points of view but not their "premature conclusions".

"Our public workshops are oversubscribed so we ask that their right to have this debate about changing Ireland's drinking culture be respected and allowed to happen," he said.

A spokeswoman said Diageo was "delighted" to be part of the campaign.

She said it was crucial that everyone worked together to find a "lasting solution to out-of-control drinking".

Irish Independent

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