Thursday 14 December 2017

Lobbyists hammer our policymakers on alcohol laws

Drinks industry figures made contact with public representatives 156 times over the new alcohol bill

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Wayne O'Connor

Wayne O'Connor

Powerful drinks companies and organisations are lobbying and pressuring our elected representatives and policymakers at an alarming rate, new figures show.

The lobbying register shows officials have been approached 156 times since the Government announced plans to introduce a Public Health Bill on Alcohol.

The figures shed a startling light on how much time is spent by TDs, senators and their advisers meeting and talking with the key players feeding Ireland's thirst for alcohol.

Publican bodies and companies such as Heineken and Diageo, producers of Guinness and Smithwick's, are among the most active, lobbying on everything from taxation, transport, concerns about where customers can smoke and their use of toilets.

The Vintners Federation of Ireland (VFI) and Ibec are the most persistent bodies when it comes to lobbying officials, contacting or meeting them 38 and 30 times respectively since September 2015 as momentum gathered behind the Public Health (Alcohol) Bill.

The VFI has repeatedly written to ministers and Oireachtas members lobbying for publicans to be able to sell alcohol on Good Friday, reducing excise duty on alcohol by 15pc and the current drink-driving laws.

This comes as Transport Minister Shane Ross is working to introduce a mandatory three-month ban for motorists found to have reached an alcohol limit of between 50mg-80mg per 100ml.

Earlier this year, the VFI emailed Kerry Independent deputy Michael Healy-Rae, claiming "figures being used by Minister Shane Ross as set out in the report of the RSA are inaccurate".

The body also emailed Fianna Fail's Robert Troy, stating figures put to him during a radio interview on the matter were inaccurate.

Former Fine Gael senator Imelda Henry, a publican, was designated to lobby officials seven times on behalf of the VFI in 2016 and 2017.

Ibec's Alcohol Beverage Federation of Ireland directly lobbied public officials 23 times and through a PR company a further seven times. These included letters and emails about the Public Health (Alcohol) Bill that were sent to all TDs. The group also lobbied former Taoiseach Enda Kenny last year prior to his St Patrick's Day trip to Washington as it sought to have Irish alcohol products included in a hamper to be presented to then US President Barack Obama.

Tanaiste Frances Fitzgerald was among the most lobbied TDs during her time as Justice Minister as groups looked for changes in legislation and rules around the sale of alcohol. The VFI lobbied her 10 times over this period via a series of mass communications, letters, emails and meetings.

Hotels have also expressed concern about drinks issues. The Irish Hotels Federation has met with Minister Paschal Donohoe to discuss excise charged on alcohol and has contacted a host of ministers, including Enda Kenny, Michael Noonan, Patrick O'Donovan and Mary Mitchell O'Connor, lobbying for this duty to be reduced by 15pc.

Tesco used Jackie Gallagher, a former special adviser in the Department of Taoiseach, to brief two Fianna Fail TDs and nine senators last year about the impact the Alcohol Bill will have on retail. Aer Rianta and the National Off-Licence Association also used third parties to lobby TDs and ministers about the issue.

Heineken and Diageo have been persistent on matters close to their breweries in Cork and Dublin. Heineken has met and shared emails with Simon Coveney about water usage and emissions at its Cork plant during his time as Environment Minister.

Diageo has pressed council officials in Dublin to discuss issues at its St James's Gate site and "to make Dublin City Council fully aware of Diageo concerns regarding the new traffic management proposals" for the city centre and "traffic congestion, impact on the local area and pedestrian safety".

Sunday Independent

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