WHAT with the Budget 2019 announcement, the release of the third interim report of Mr Justice Peter Charleton’s Disclosures Tribunal and the dramatic resignation of Denis Naughten as Minister for Communications leading to further instability for the minority government, the passing of a very important piece of legislation a fortnight ago through the Houses of the Oireachtas, and signed into law last week by the President, almost went unnoticed.
The Public Health (Alcohol) Bill was first introduced into the Oireachtas in December 2015 and, in spite of intense lobbying by the drinks industry and vintners’ representative groups and some rather disingenuous filibustering by a number of TDs, the Bill eventually made it through both Houses with a few common-sense amendments. It has been described as a landmark piece of legislation, as it is the first to address alcohol consumption as a public health matter.
This is very important given the relationship that Ireland and the Irish people have historically had with alcohol. Enjoying alcohol in moderation does not generally harm imbibers or those around them, but the Bill’s aim was to deter people from engaging in alcohol abuse and to limit opportunities for it to happen.
It provides for minimum unit pricing, health labelling of alcohol products, the regulation of certain aspects of the advertising and marketing of alcohol, separation and reduced visibility of alcohol products in mixed trading outlets, and the regulation of the sale and supply of alcohol in certain circumstances.
In welcoming it, Health Minister Simon Harris pointed out that the legislation was debated for over 1,000 days as ‘it has been the subject of the most intense lobbying by the alcohol industry.’ However, he expressed the hope that the legislation would make a real difference to changing the culture of drinking in Ireland over a period of time and save thousands of lives.
His sentiments were echoed by the Royal College of Physicians of Ireland (RCPI), which welcomed the legislation and called for immediate commencement of the Bill’s provisions. The RCPI has been strongly advocating for it in order to help ease the frontline pressures on the health service.
With three deaths per day attributed to alcohol use in Ireland, it affects too many families and communities and RCPI president, Prof Mary Horgan, pointed out that ‘our unhealthy relationship with alcohol as a society is also putting an unsustainable burden on our health system, with up to 1,500 beds in hospitals taken up every night due to alcohol use at a time when our health system is struggling to cope.’
Siobhán Creaton, head of public affairs and advocacy at RCPI, added: ‘It shows that public health can ultimately triumph over vested interests, particularly when civil society unites.’ The umbrella group which opposed the intense lobbying of the drinks industry, Alcohol Health Alliance Ireland, was established by the RCPI and Alcohol Action Ireland, and it and its member organisations were a crucial force in the campaign to get the legislation passed.
Credit also to all the politicians in the Dáil and Seanad who did the right thing by voting through the Public Health (Alcohol) Bill in spite of being put under intense pressure by various lobbyists on behalf of vested interests. It’s for the good of the nation’s health.