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Monday 15 July 2019

Scrap drinks campaign, says students' union

Laura Harmon
Laura Harmon

Katherine Donnelly and Emma Jane Hade

The Union of Students in Ireland has called for the Stop Out-of-Control Drinking campaign to be wound up in the wake of the latest resignations from its board.

The initiative has been embroiled in controversy since its launch last month, because its €1m funding is coming from the drinks giant, Diageo.

The number of board resignations hit four yesterday, when the head of Diageo Ireland, David Smith, stepped down because of a perceived lack of independence due to the company's involvement.

"To ensure that the board members can work to the best of their abilities and carry out the objectives of the campaign without further pressure and distraction, I will no longer sit on the board of the campaign," he said.

But Diageo will continue to fund the campaign through to the production of a report from the board in the summer. Mr Smith said there would be no input from Diageo into the report.

USI has been among the critics of the campaign and president Laura Harmon said the fact that so many board members were stepping down would suggest that the campaign is not working.

She said USI remained opposed to it, because it continued to be funded by a drinks company.

"I think it should be disbanded," she said.

Other board members include clinical psychotherapist Joanna Fortune; National Parents' Council (primary) chief executive Aine Lynch; Dublin City University president Professor Brian MacCraith; Labour Relations Commission chief executive Kieran Mulvey; and actress and playwright Gemma Doorly.

The board is completed by Irish Smart Ageing Exchange director Anne Connolly; entrepreneur Gavin Duffy; and Simon Keogh of the Irish Rugby Union Players' Association.

Health Minister Leo Varadkar said Mr Smith had taken the right decision to step down.

Mr Smith's resignation followed the move, earlier this week, by Paul Gilligan, the chief executive of St Patrick's Mental Health Services, to leave the board.

In recent weeks, Dr Ciara Kelly, well-known for her role on 'Operation Transformation', resigned citing time constraints.

Krystian Fikert, the founder of mental health charity My Mind, has also stepped away due to "resource constraints".

Fergus Finlay, who chairs the campaign, said it had generated more controversy than they expected and board members had been made to feel uncomfortable by some "very personal" tweets from "very angry, very determined" people.

He said their work was continuing because there was a need to "get real" about the drink culture in Ireland.

Meanwhile, another board member, former Fianna Fáil TD Charlie O'Connor, reaffirmed his commitment to the campaign and said it was "worthwhile" and was "being run by an independent, credible group of people".

His actor son, Robert, tragically died 11 months ago and Mr O'Connor said that his passing was one of the reasons he committed to the campaign.

"I took the view that if I can make a contribution to a campaign, which is attempting to 'Stop Out-Of-Control' drinking, I can live with that and it is something that I want to contribute to," the Dublin councillor added.

Rob Hartnett, the founder and CEO of Sport for Business, also sits on the board and he told the Irish Independent that he was still fully committed to the campaign "as a parent, a sports coach and as someone who wants to make a difference but isn't necessarily within the health sector".

"I'd be very disappointed if Diageo were to feel that pressure which is being brought to bear is too much and that they would walk away from the entire project.

"But I genuinely think that's not going to happen.

"They are a big enough company and they understand their own sense of their place," he added.

Irish Independent

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