Monday 19 August 2019

Minister bottles drink measure long overdue

Health Minister Simon Harris Photo: Frank McGrath
Health Minister Simon Harris Photo: Frank McGrath


One of the critical reasons why the currency of politics is so devalued in the public mind is that what is right is too often being sacrificed for what is convenient.

The flip-flopping by Health Minister Simon Harris on the issue of introducing a new law to outlaw cheap drink is just the latest cynical side-step to avoid doing something that is responsible, but unpopular.

We have become used to governments kicking the can down the road metaphorically; now it has done so literally as the much-heralded introduction of minimum pricing on tins and bottles of beer is put on hold indefinitely.

The new prices were supposed to ban the selling in leading supermarkets of beer for less than €1.

Apparently Mr Harris wants to synchronise the move with price hikes in the North to avoid a rush of sales over the Border.

All one can say is good luck with that, minister. Not only is there no government in Belfast, the one in London is hanging on by a slender thread.

The idea that there is time or appetite to introduce the kind of increases to bridge the disparity between alcohol prices here and in the UK, is as hard to swallow as cheap lager.

This will not happen any time soon, and it is difficult not to conclude that the minister has simply bottled it.

This is totally unacceptable. Alcohol causes twice as many deaths as all other drugs combined in this country.

Some argue that we make our choices, but in the end it is our choices that make us.

Avoiding tackling the problem of excessive drinking here has to be confronted sooner or later. It is hugely disappointing that Mr Harris has all too predictably opted for later.

Internet behemoths should share the spoils

It is 20 years since the one-time chief executive of Google, Eric Schmidt, said the internet was the largest experiment in anarchy that we’d ever had. It has been the great disruptor; challenging, revolutionising and devouring all in its path for both better and worse.

A game-changer of such magnitude does not come with a manual, and as a consequence strategies on how to react and optimise have struggled to keep pace. Needless to say internet providers have stolen a march. They should pay their share. Once upon a time people were happy to pay a licence fee for their TV because they relied on RTÉ for all their entertainment and news.

RTÉ had the luxury of also being able to charge premium advertising rates without competition.

As RTÉ struggles to plug a hole from €6m in unpaid licence fees, we learn there is a move to slap a tax on laptops. There is also talk of lifting Vat on newspapers. The argument for this is straight-forward: journalism is in the national interest and a public service; yet newspapers get no support from a licence fee.

In another context Google and Facebook have been castigated for being the main drivers of fake news and at the same time funnelling in vast fortunes on the back of content and services they do not have to pay for. Anything worth having should command a price. The real behemoth in the room is how to force these big tech players to share some of their spoils which have reached stratospheric levels. Globally, digital advertising expenditure is expected to reach $229.25bn (€196.85bn) this year.

The moral and financial case for imposing some kind of  fairer deal has become overwhelming.

Irish Independent

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