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Anti-alcohol group fails to back new minimum price plan


‘Are you doing Dry January?’ is the question on everybody’s lips

‘Are you doing Dry January?’ is the question on everybody’s lips

‘Are you doing Dry January?’ is the question on everybody’s lips

The controversial anti-alcohol campaign 'Stop Out of Control Drinking' has declined to publicly support the Government's plans to introduce minimum unit pricing (MUP) to tackle the availability of cheap alcohol.

A spokesperson for the campaign, which is funded by drinks firm Diageo, said the campaign's board supports the general scheme of the Government's Public Health (Alcohol) Bill 2015.

But the spokesperson would not comment when asked if the campaign specifically supported the plans to impose MUP.

The general scheme of the bill, which was revealed by the Government earlier this year, outlines a range of measures to tackle binge drinking, including an advertising watershed and strict regulations on separating alcohol from other products in retail outlets.

However, it is the MUP plans, which could see the price of a can of beer rise to €2.20 and a bottle of wine to €8.80, which has sparked most debate.

The plans have been largely supported by anti-alcohol organisations and representative bodies like Alcohol Action Ireland and the National Off-Licence Association (NOFFLA).

The Alcohol Beverage Federation of Ireland (ABFI) has said it supports the Government's "intention to address the sale of cheap alcohol to tackle alcohol misuse".

However, the organisation, which represents drink manufacturers and suppliers here, including Diageo, said it is opposed to the plans to introduce MUP which it says will be "ineffective".

"In order to address the sale of cheap alcohol, we would suggest that the best and quickest way to do this is by the reintroduction of a ban on below cost selling of alcohol," ABFI director Ross MacMathúna said.

In the UK, Diageo is a member of the Scotch Whisky Association, which has taken a case against the Scottish government's MUP plan to Europe.

The association is arguing that the plans are in breach of European law.

The 'Stop Out of Control Drinking' initiative, which has been criticised by a host of health experts and individuals for accepting €1m in funding from Diageo and which has lost four high-profile board members in recent weeks, told the Irish Independent its "focus was not legislation per se and so has not developed detailed positions on the minutiae of the Bill".

"The campaign was set up to change behaviours, attitudes, culture, which are important complementary elements to legislation," a spokesperson said.

However, the campaign's failure to clearly support MUP has been criticised.

Alcohol Action Ireland CEO Suzanne Costello said: "Any initiative which doesn't wholly support the bill can't really be seen as worthwhile.

"The legalisation is almost ready to go through so I don't see what relevance a conversation has in 2015 when we have legislation ready to go."

Ms Costello continued: "We don't feel that the alcohol industry has any role in the formulation of alcohol policy."

Ms Costello said MUP was the best and "most nuanced measure" for targeting cheap alcohol.

NOFFLA's Government Affairs Director Evelyn Jones said her organisation also supported MUP.

However, she said she "would also like to see a ban on below cost selling" as MUP may be blocked by Europe because it only targets one socio-economic group.

Meanwhile, heritage group An Taisce has lodged legal complaints with Dublin City Council over the planning status of certain advertisements by Heineken and European Rugby Club Ltd, which are displayed on pubs and billboards around the city.

An Taisce wants the firms to remove all unauthorised advertising structures which it says have been put up without planning permission or are on sites which are not planning compliant.

The heritage group has also asked that the IRFU intervene in the issue.

Irish Independent