Reilly fast-tracks tobacco bill as firms prepare legal challenges
Children's Minister James Reilly has managed to fast-track his plain packaging proposals in a move that will take tobacco companies by surprise.
Dr Reilly's bill is now expected to pass through the Dáil tomorrow and could be signed into law by President D Higgins before St Patrick's Day.
The Irish Independent has learned that the bill has been amended by Attorney General Maire Whelan, in a move Government sources say will put it on a stronger legal footing.
Once the bill is passed by TDs tomorrow, it will go back to the Seanad to allow senators to give the amended legislation the seal of approval of the Upper House.
Dr Reilly expects the bill to go next month before the President, who must then decide whether to consult his Council of State regarding its constitutionality.
The Fine Gael deputy leader is hopeful that the new plain packages will be in the shops by 2017.
But the Government is widely anticipating legal challenges from major tobacco giants such as Japan Tobacco Ireland (JTI) and Imperial Tobacco.
The Dublin North TD has insisted that plain packaging is aimed at addressing a grave public health issue and the scourge of smoking among young people.
Dr Reilly told the Irish Independent last night that the measures will ensure cigarettes are sold without "marketing gimmicks".
"We have been working on this landmark public health legislation for over two years.
"It began its passage through the Oireachtas last June," Dr Reilly said.
"I am delighted to be able to bring this legislation to Report and Final Stage on Thursday. It will be a great day for the future health of our children when cigarettes are only sold in packets, free from marketing gimmicks, that highlight the stark realities of smoking. They will also remind our young people who are already addicted of the need to stop," he added.
As previously revealed, the Government has already prepared its legal strategy aimed at fending off any legal challenge that will arise.
Firms have claimed that the measures represent an infringement of their property rights and will be a breach of EU single market rules.
But Dr Reilly has consistently dismissed the objections and said firms are trying to "intimidate" the Government.
The plain tobacco legislation has cross-party support and may proceed through the Dáil without the need for a vote, Government sources say.