Plan to ban drink ads changed after job losses claim
Plans to ban billboards and hoardings advertising alcoholic beverages near schools were watered down after advertisers warned proposed changes would have a devastating impact on businesses and lead to job losses.
A 250-metre exclusion zone around schools was recommended in a report by the Oireachtas Health Committee.
However, the Government opted for a 200-metre exclusion zone when it approved new alcohol advertising legislation late last year.
It has now emerged the Department of Health was lobbied on the issue by some of the country's major outdoor advertising firms.
Documents released under the Freedom of Information Act reveal the department was warned by the Outdoor Media Association (OMA) that proposed changes would have "a devastating effect" on advertising businesses and were "bound to lead to job losses".
The OMA represents Clear Channel Ireland, Exterion Media and JCDecaux Ireland, which together account for 90pc of the country's outdoor advertising market. In a briefing document released to the Irish Independent, the association unsuccessfully argued that the self-policed 100-metre zone currently in operation was "a sensible restriction which reflects the distance at which posters can be seen".
It said OMA members had around 7,600 roadside panels and that if a 250-metre exclusion zone was introduced, this would mean over half of them - some 4,075 - could not be used to advertise alcoholic beverages.
The documents reveal then-Health Minister Leo Varadkar declined a request to meet the OMA last September, but sent officials to meet them instead.
The Public Health (Alcohol) Bill which subsequently emerged contains a 200-metre exclusion zone, which means just 2,908 advertising sites will be excluded should be legislation be enacted.
Fine Gael has said it is committed to passing the bill through the Dáil and the Seanad.
However, the passing of the legislation could be derailed by objections from other EU member states to measures it contains on minimum unit-pricing, health warning and a calorie count labelling.