Tuesday 12 December 2017

New coalition row as TDs reject alcohol sponsorship ban

Transport Minister Leo Varadkar opposes the ban on alcohol advertising at sporting events
Transport Minister Leo Varadkar opposes the ban on alcohol advertising at sporting events

Niall O’Connor

A FRESH coalition row is on the cards after a committee of TDs and senators rejected calls to impose a ban on alcohol sponsorship of sporting events.

A new report released today has found that sporting associations would “suffer inordinately if legislation for such a prohibition was introduced”.

The Oireachtas Committee on Transport and Communications – which was tasked with examining the prospect of a ban – has instead called for the setting up of an “addiction” fund and stricter marketing rules when selling alcohol.

The group of TDs and senators found that a blanket ban on alcohol sponsorship would have to be introduced at an EU level and not just by Irish authorities.

The issue of alcohol sponsorship of sporting events has proven extremely divisive and has pitted the drinks industry against health professionals.

The debate has also led to divisions within the coalition – with Labour leader Eamon Gilmore and junior Health Minister Alex White issuing their support for such a ban.

Opponents of the ban, including Transport Minister Leo Varadkar, have argued that the measure would make it difficult for the likes of the FAI and the IRFU to find alternative sponsors. After examining the issue, the Oireachtas Committee has found that the ban is not merited.

Speaking to the Herald today, former junior health minister Roisin Shortall accused the committee of having its “head in the sand”.

“The committee has made a mistake on this issue and it doesn't seem to appreciate the huge damage alcohol can do to young people, both physically and mentally,” she said.

“They are ignoring all of the evidence and only seem to be interested in pleasing the sporting organisations. Nobody wants to damage sport but the evidence is very clear that this type of sponsorship can have a severely negative impact.” However, committee chairman and Fine Gael TD, John O’Mahony, rejected her criticism.

“It’s naive to say our heads are in the sands on this issue. To suggest that the banning of sport sponsorship will solve all the problems in relation to the misuse of alcohol just isn’t true. Psychiatrists and alcohol action bodies have accepted that the likes of minimum pricing and below cost selling are far greater issues that need to be looked at ahead of sponsorship of sporting events. This report will now go to the cabinet for considersation.”

The report found that a fixed percentage of monies generated through sponsorship should be pumped into a fund designed to tackle alcohol-abuse and addiction.

It also recommends that Irish stadia adopt a code of practice for the consumption of alcohol while sporting events are taking place.

And the committee also wants brand owners to provide training to those selling and marketing alcohol.

A previous submission made by Ireland's governing rugby body, the IRFU, found that alcohol sponsorship generates €9m for rugby, alone, each year.

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