Monday 22 January 2018

Motion to ban alcohol sponsors in sport could 'take years'

Fiach Kelly and Fionnan Sheahan

A PROPOSAL to ban drink sponsorship of sports events over a period of time will be considered by Cabinet in the coming months.

But Junior Health Minister Roisin Shortall yesterday said any ban won't come into effect for another five years at the earliest, and is likely to take even longer.

The memo on how to tackle alcohol misuse will be brought to Cabinet by senior Health Minister Dr James Reilly, but it could take months for any concrete proposals to go before the Dail as legislation.

Ms Shortall told the Irish Independent the Government was determined to see the ban through, but it would take time.

"A memo will go to Cabinet on it the next two months," she said, adding "it will provide for a range of actions to tackle the problems of alcohol misuse."

Her comments came after Sports Minister Leo Varadkar earlier this week dismissed a claim that sponsorship could end soon.

Mr Varadkar said other ministers would also have a view. Clearly alluding to Ms Shortall's status as a junior minister, he told 'Radio Kerry': "A decision on that has not been made by Cabinet."

Ironically Ms Shortall had told the Dail there was "no room for ambivalence in our approach".

The suggestion has come under fire from festival and concert organisers, as well as Mr Varadkar's junior sports minister Michael Ring, and the stadium director of Croke Park, Peter McKenna.

Mr Varadkar has said sports organisations and festival organisers have to be given a long run into any ban to allow them find other sources of sponsorship, especially since cash is short during a recession.

Any decision to ban sponsorship has to be made by Cabinet, but Ms Shortall -- not Dr Reilly -- is directing the Department of Health's policy.

"It doesn't surprise me that a minister of state expresses a strong opinion and a cabinet minister would remind them it's a cabinet decision," a health source said, while acknowledging Ms Shortall was determined to push through the ban.

Mr Varadkar was reacting to Ms Shortall's comments to the Dail this week, when she said: "I am committed to phasing that out over a reasonable period of time. We as a society can no longer tolerate the level of alcohol abuse in this country, particularly among young people".

Proposals

The Department of Health is working on proposals based on the report of the National Substance Misuse Steering Group, which was published in February.Its recommendations include a ban on all alcohol sponsorship of sporting and large outdoor events, as well as a ban on outdoor advertising of alcohol, higher excise duties on some alcohol products and the introduction of minimum pricing.

The report also said 16 to 21- year-olds "list alcohol advertisements as five of their top 10 favourite advertisements".

Dr Reilly has said minimum pricing will only come in at the same time as it does in Northern Ireland, and has been working with his Northern Ireland counterpart, Edwin Poots, on the issue.

Alison O'Connor

Irish Independent

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