Public Health (Alcohol) Bill 2015 [Seanad]: Second Stage

I move: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

I am pleased to finally be here to introduce the Public Health (Alcohol) Bill to this House. The Bill has been the subject of much discussion and debate and it is clear from the clinical community and many advocacy groups that the Bill is badly needed. I have had excellent engagement with Members of Seanad Éireann, which has passed the Bill in full, and I now look forward to further constructive debate on this landmark public health legislation in this House.

With this Bill we are for the first time endeavouring as an Oireachtas to address alcohol as a public health matter. We have successfully used public health legislation to progress a health agenda in this country in areas such as tobacco for many years. We have never before done so in respect of alcohol and that must change now. This is why I and the Taoiseach in his comments this week have been so clear that this legislation must pass and that it can make a real and meaningful difference to our health service and, most importantly, the health and well-being of our people. In this context, the overall objective of the Bill is to contribute to the reduction of the harmful use of alcohol in our country.

Alcohol consumption in our country is not low. Let us debunk that myth. Ireland is the fourth heaviest-drinking nation in the OECD in terms of the quantity of alcohol consumed. Recently published figures from the Central Statistics Office show that Irish people between the ages of 18 and 24 are top in the EU for binge drinking, that is, drinking six or more drinks on one occasion. Ireland also ranks joint third for binge drinking in a World Health Organization analysis of 194 countries. These are not the statistics Deputies will have heard from the drinks industry in its endeavours to scupper this legislation. Alcohol consumption in our country is not falling either. In 2015 it was at 10.9 l of pure alcohol per capita but figures from the Office of the Revenue Commissioners indicate that our consumption levels increased in 2016 to 11.46 l. Let us hope that is another myth debunked.

The more we drink, the higher our risk of developing life-changing illnesses such as alcoholic liver diseases and alcohol-related cancers. A 2012 analysis found that one in eight breast cancers in Ireland in the years 2001 to 2010, inclusive, was attributable to alcohol and that alcohol was responsible for at least 83 deaths every month in 2011, so this is no small public health issue.

When it comes to our children, the most recent European School Survey Project on Alcohol and Other Drugs found that seven out of ten 15 to 16 year olds had already drunk alcohol and more than three out of ten had been drunk in the past. The same survey found that a quarter of Irish girls and nearly a fifth of Irish boys reported having been injured or involved in an accident due to alcohol. Research studies show consistently that exposure to alcohol advertising is associated with an increased likelihood that children will start to drink or, if they already do so, will drink in greater quantities. This Bill sets out measures to create an environment in which our children are not exposed to alcohol products or advertising of those products daily. The importance of these measures was recognised by the Seanad such that it agreed an amendment to the Long Title of the Bill. This now includes a specific reference to the restrictions on advertising and sponsorship as they relate to children. I thank the Seanad for that amendment and I think it further improves the Bill.

I think we can all agree that it is our duty to protect the children of our country, but should we leave it to adults to decide on their own drinking? I am clear in my view that we must all take personal responsibility for our own actions. Of that there is no doubt. However, when the decisions of the individual impact negatively and substantially on all of us as a society, including on the Irish public health service and social services, we cannot abdicate our responsibility to protect our citizens and public services. The cost of time spent in hospital for alcohol-related conditions in 2012 was €1.5 billion, or the equivalent of €1 for every €10 spent on public health. I know Deputy Kelleher and I could think of many ways in which we could better spend that money in the delivery of public health services. If we can reduce alcohol consumption, we can reduce these costs, and many of us would have no difficulty finding alternative uses for any moneys saved in that regard. In 2013, alcohol-related discharges accounted for more than 160,000 bed days in public hospitals, that is, almost 3.6% of all bed days in the Irish health service being used for problems that the measures in this Bill are designed to address and mitigate. If we as legislators can act to prevent these beds from being needed because of the harmful use of alcohol, I believe we should do so. One of the primary objectives of this Bill is to lower our consumption of alcohol in order that the human and financial costs of misuse are reduced. The Bill aims to reduce consumption per capita to 9.1 l of pure alcohol by 2020, to delay the initiation of alcohol consumption by children and young people and to reduce the harms caused by the misuse of alcohol. Let us be honest with one another: the Bill will not change our culture overnight. However, it will raise awareness among all of us about the risks associated with alcohol and will provide for practical changes to protect our children and all our citizens, which can only be a good thing.

I will now take the House through the Bill to outline the content of each section. The Bill is divided into three parts. Part 1 is titled "Preliminary and General" and contains sections 1 to 10, inclusive. Section 1 sets out the Short Title of the Bill and the commencement times of the sections after enactment. There are different lead-in times for different sections. The longest Iead-in time is three years, which applies to the labelling requirements, advertising at events and sponsorship and elements of the advertising requirements. These long lead-in times are to facilitate those businesses which may have to make changes to comply with the new requirements. We are therefore providing significant time for practical changes to be made, which is an important recognition. Section 2 deals with the interpretation and defines some of the terms used in the Bill. Section 3 provides that the Bill will apply to a club registered under the Registration of Clubs Acts 1904 to 2008. Section 4 requires that an applicant for a liquor licence must give one month's written notice in advance to the HSE. The purpose of this provision is to ensure that the HSE has the right to appear and give evidence at a hearing for the granting or renewal of a licence. Section 5 empowers the Minister for Health of the day to make regulations as provided for under the Act. Section 6 is a standard prevision dealing with expenses. Section 7 is a standard provision dealing with the service of documents under the Act.

Section 8 sets out the offences under the legislation. A person who commits an offence under the Act will be liable on summary conviction to a fine not exceeding €5,000 or imprisonment for a term of up to six months or both. A person convicted on indictment for certain offences will be liable to a fine not exceeding €100,000 or imprisonment for a term of up to two years or both. For other offences, a person convicted on indictment will be liable to a fine not exceeding €250,000 or a term of imprisonment of up to three years or both. In proceedings under the Act, it is a defence if a person can show he or she made all reasonable efforts to ensure compliance with the relevant provision, which is an important point.

Section 9 provides that where a person is sold an alcohol product from somewhere outside the State but that product is despatched within the State, the sale is deemed to have taken place within the State and will therefore be subject to the provisions of the Act. Section 10 repeals sections 20 and 23 of the Intoxicating Liquor Act 2003 and sections 9 and 16 of the Intoxicating Liquor Act 2008. Three of those sections deal with promotions in respect of alcohol products, and section 9 of the Intoxicating Liquor Act 2008 deals with the structural separation of alcohol products in mixed retail outlets. These sections will be replaced by sections 22 and 23 of this Bill.

Part 2 of the Bill is titled "Alcohol Products" and contains sections 11 to 23, inclusive. Section 11 provides for minimum unit pricing. The minimum unit price is set at 10 cent per gram of alcohol. It will be an offence to sell, or advertise for retail sale, alcohol at a price below this set minimum price. The minimum unit price can be increased by ministerial order. The first order cannot be made until three years after commencement of the section, and subsequent orders can only be made every 18 months. The Minister of the day must take into account the available expert research when making an order. Alcohol products sold in airport duty-free shops are exempt from minimum unit pricing for passengers leaving the State. Minimum unit pricing will target cheaper alcohol relative to its strength because the price is determined by the amount of pure alcohol in the drink. It sets a "floor price" beneath which alcohol cannot legally be sold and targets products that are very cheap relative to their strength. At a minimum unit price of 10 cent per gram of alcohol, a 500 ml can of Guinness will have a minimum price of €1.66, a 440 ml can of Tesco lager will have a minimum price of €1.32, a 750 ml bottle of Jacob's Creek Classic Chardonnay will have a minimum price of €7.52, a 700 ml bottle of Jameson whiskey will have a minimum price of €22.09 and a 500 ml can of Dutch Gold will have a minimum price of €1.58. The only products in the list I have read out that would see an increase in their price under minimum unit pricing are Tesco lager and Dutch Gold. Again, the idea that the price of everyone's drink will increase is a convenient myth put out there by the drinks industry and is not borne out by fact. For on-license premises using pub measures, the proposed minimum unit price of 10 cent per gram of alcohol will mean a pint of Heineken will have a minimum price of €2.25, a pint of Budweiser will have a minimum price of €1.80, a pint of Bulmers cider will have a minimum price of €2.02 and a measure of Jameson whiskey will have a minimum price of €1.12.

As is clear from these examples, the application of a minimum unit price of 10 cent per gram of alcohol will not have an impact on prices in pubs, clubs or restaurants. This is another important myth debunked.

Section 12 provides for the health labelling of alcohol products and the provision of health information on alcohol products more generally. It aims to ensure that consumers are provided with health information on alcohol products whether they are purchased in a shop, in a pub or through a website. The section provides that a label on alcohol products must contain certain health and product information. The same information must also be provided on a website through which alcohol products are sold and on a document required to be provided with alcohol products contained in reusable containers such as kegs or casks.

The information to be provided to the consumer in these circumstances comprises three health warnings intended to inform the public of the risks associated with alcohol, the quantity of grams of alcohol in the product, the energy value or calorie content of the product, and details of an alcohol public health website to be established and maintained by the health service. The HSE website, askaboutalcohol.ie, has already been established. It contains information to help us assess our own level of drinking, explains the health risks of alcohol and offers support and guidance to anyone who wants to cut back on their drinking. It will assist all of us to manage our own health better in respect of alcohol consumption.

Section 12 also provides that licensed premises must display notices in their premises that include the three health warnings intended to inform the public of the risks associated with alcohol, details of the alcohol public health website established by the HSE and confirmation that a document is available on request that sets out the grams of alcohol and the calorie content of each alcohol product sold in a container without a label, for example, draught beer or a glass of wine sold in an on-license premises.

The Minister for Health of the day can make regulations prescribing the information to be provided to the consumer and the manner of its display, for example, the size and colour of the text of the warnings on labels. Any available expert research on the effectiveness of including such information must be taken into account in making the regulations. The Department commissioned research to inform the manner and form of the health labelling provisions in order to ensure their effectiveness. These provisions will come into operation three years after the commencement of the section and will not apply to alcohol products that are already on the market prior to this section coming into operation.

Sections 13 to 20 provide for restrictions and prohibitions on the advertising and marketing of alcohol products. One of the major aims of these provisions is to protect children from continuous exposure to alcohol advertising. Section 13 relates to the content of advertisements. It provides that some of the information that is required on the labels of alcohol products must also be included in advertisements for alcohol products. Specifically, advertisements for alcohol products must incorporate the three health warnings intended to inform the public of the risks associated with alcohol and details of the alcohol public health website established by the HSE. The Minister of the day can make regulations prescribing the form of the warnings in advertisements and the prominence and duration of the warnings in a broadcast advertisement.

Section 13 also provides that the content of advertisements for alcohol products is restricted to any or all of the following: an image or reference to an alcohol product or alcohol products, the country and region of origin of the product, the method of production of the product, the premises where the alcohol product was manufactured, information on whether the products is intended to be diluted and an image of or reference to a non-alcoholic beverage to dilute the product, the price of the product, a brand name, trademark or emblem, a corporate name and corporate emblem, a description of the flavour, colour and smell, the name and address of the manufacturer, the alcoholic strength by volume of the product, the quantity of alcohol in grams in the product and the energy value of the product.

In addition, the section provides that alcohol products and alcohol use cannot be portrayed in an advertisement for any other product or service. The exceptions are advertisements for a licensed premises and an advertisement or public service message from the Road Safety Authority or the HSE.

Section 14 prohibits advertisements for alcohol products in certain places. These are in a local authority park or open space, in or on a public service vehicle, for example a bus or taxi, in or on a tram or train, in or at a train station or bus station, at bus or tram stops, in or at a school, including its grounds or within 200 m of the perimeter of its grounds, a crèche or within 200 m of its perimeter, or at a local authority playground or within 200 m of its perimeter.

For the purposes of this section, advertising is defined as the display of posters, billboards, hoardings, placards or other signage. It does not include an advertisement that is attached to a licensed premises or a premises where alcohol products are manufactured or sold by wholesale. Alcohol-related merchandise that is distributed free of charge in a licensed premises or in a premises where alcohol products are manufactured or sold by wholesale is also excluded from the definition of advertising in this section. In addition, and based on advice from the Office of the Attorney General, an alcohol delivery van or truck which is in any of these locations during the ordinary course of its business would not fall under the definition of advertising in this section.

Section 15 relates to advertising during events. It provides that advertisements for alcohol products are prohibited in or on a sports area while a sports event is taking place. A sports area is defined as an indoor or outdoor area on which competitors engage in the sporting event such as a football pitch, running track or swimming pool. Alcohol advertisements are not prohibited around the sports area so, for example, advertising on hoardings around a pitch or track during an event will still be allowed. The advertising of alcohol products is also prohibited at an event aimed particularly at children or at an event where the majority of those taking part are children.

Section 16 prohibits the sponsorship of an event where the majority of those taking part are children, an event aimed particularly at children or an event that involves driving or racing cars or bikes. Sponsorship is defined for the purposes of this section as any form of contribution to an event with the aim or effect of promoting an alcohol product, an alcohol brand or alcohol consumption. Under section 16, the holder of a licence can sponsor an event as long as that sponsorship does not include the promotion of an alcohol product or brand. A pub or other licensed premises can promote its business or premises through sponsorship but it cannot promote a particular alcohol product or brand.

Section 17 provides that children’s clothing, including footwear, which is branded with an alcohol product or which promotes alcohol consumption, cannot be manufactured for sale in the State, sold in the State or imported for sale in the State. Children’s clothing is defined as clothing which is intended to be worn by a child, for example, clothing with a child's age on the label. It is not an offence under the legislation for a parent to purchase such clothing or for a child to wear it. This section will not apply to children’s clothing placed on the market up to a year after the section comes into operation.

Section 18 provides for restrictions on alcohol advertising in publications. The advertising space permitted for advertising alcohol products in a publication is restricted to a maximum of 20% of the advertising space in the publication. A publication cannot be imported for sale in the State if it breaches the provisions relating to advertising in publications. This section does not apply to publications that are intended for sale or distribution outside the State, that are directed solely at those in the business of selling or distributing alcohol products or specialist publications which are solely about alcohol products. Publications by or on behalf of specialist off-licences which promote the sale of products in that premises are exempted from some of the requirements also.

Section 19 introduces a broadcast watershed for alcohol advertisements. Alcohol advertisements are prohibited on television between the hours of 3 a.m. and 9 p.m. This means that advertisements on television will be seen only after 9 p.m. and until 3 a.m. Alcohol advertisements are prohibited on radio between the hours of 3 p.m. to the following 10 a.m. on weekdays. This means that on weekdays advertisements will he heard on radio only after 10 a.m. and until 3 p.m. Alcohol advertisements can air on radio at any time on weekends. These timings were agreed in conjunction with the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment and the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland and relate to the times when children primarily watch television and listen to radio.

Section 20 restricts advertisements for alcohol products in cinemas to the intervals around films with an age 18 classification and to a licensed premises in a cinema.

Section 21 provides that within three years of its commencement, the advertising and marketing sections of the Bill must be reviewed.

Section 22 relates to the separation and reduced visibility of alcohol products in mixed retail outlets. It is well known that during the passage of the Bill through the Seanad we had significant discussion and engagement on this and a number of measures have been agreed that will restrict the visibility of alcohol, with three options available to retailers which I will take as read in my script in the interest of time. Airport shops are also exempted from some of the requirements and instead those set out in subsection (5) of this section apply. In airport shops, alcohol products sold for consumption off the premises must be displayed in storage units that contain only alcohol products.

Section 23 empowers the Minister for Health of the day to make regulations to prohibit the following types of promotions: selling an alcohol product at a reduced price or free of charge on the purchase of another alcohol product or another product or service, for example, buy-one-get-one-free offers; selling an alcohol product for a limited period at a price less than it was the day before, for example happy hours or happy days; an event or activity, or the sale at a reduced price or free of charge of alcohol products likely to encourage the consumption of alcohol in a harmful way.

The final part of the Bill is Part 3, which is titled "Enforcement and Compliance" and contains sections 24 to 31. These outline the various enforcement and compliance provisions in the Bill, which I look forward to having an opportunity to discuss on Committee Stage.

These are truths about alcohol in Ireland that it is time we must accept. Alcohol can and does cause harm to health and significant costs to the Exchequer. Alcohol consumption remains high. The harms of alcohol make it unlike other grocery products and it is time to denormalise it in this regard.

Consumers should be able to make informed choices about their drinking. Our children's and young people’s relationship with alcohol needs to be addressed. This Bill is designed to act upon those truths. We have the opportunity to take some important steps in order to create a healthier society for our children, our vulnerable people and our citizens in general. This legislation has been talked about for years. It is time we, as legislators, accept our responsibilities to debate the Bill in an expeditious but thorough manner and pass it into law so that the benefits for our children, our young people and future generations can be felt and the benefits for our health service can be put in place. Industry has lobbied and lobbied in a hope to delay or stall this process. I am absolutely determined that this Bill will be passed into law.

We broadly support this Bill. The publication of the legislation, debate in the Seanad and, previous to that, the discussions we had at the health committee and various other health fora over many years, indicate that this Bill is long overdue in addressing a fundamental issue facing society, namely, our unhealthy relationship with alcohol.

The Minister has outlined statistics on the volume of alcohol consumed by Irish people. The fact that Ireland is fourth in the binge-drinking league table and one of the highest consumers of pure alcohol indicates we have a challenge in shifting our mindset in respect of our relationship with alcohol and addressing the fundamental problems it causes in society.

Reference has been made to, for example, the number of bed days lost every year in our health service. It is approximately 160,000, just less than 4%. With our hospital system running at well over 94% or 95% occupancy, in many larger hospitals, it indicates this is an issue that has impacts on broader public health policy and the provision of services in our health system. Many people might accuse this of being nanny statism. However, the State has an obligation and a duty to insure it brings forward policies that reflect the challenges of not only the individual but the challenges placed on society and the State from addressing the fallout from harmful drinking in our country.

Looking broadly at our consumption rates, they are very high and they are not coming down. There is no point in saying otherwise. We do have to accept that this particular measure is necessary. I also believe it goes to show that if mindsets are changed through legislation and educational programmes, progress can be made. In the context of road safety and the number of people killed and injured on our roads compared with a number of years ago, there has been a seismic shift. I know there have been technological advances in the context of cars, roads and everything else, but there has also been a seismic shift in our mindset in terms of alcohol, drink-driving and our relationship to public safety.

We have also had the situation with regard to smoking and the reduction in tobacco consumption among our population. However, we have a long way to go. That is why I think it is not good enough just to bring forward legislation. The message that is underpinning this particular legislation has to be driven home consistently in terms of binge drinking and harmful drinking. I refer to the impacts it has on the individual, families, collectively on society and the State in terms of provision of services and the cost of providing services.

It may be an anecdote but only yesterday my office had to call an ambulance for a person who was very intoxicated. The individual in question fell outside the office and cut his forehead. While he was being taken away, he still had a naggin of Paddy in his hand. It does consistently on a daily basis impact on the ability of the State to provide health care in terms of our emergency services during the day and more importantly at weekends and at nights. Many of our hospitals encounter that particularly on a Friday and Saturday night. It does have a huge impact.

The legislation has been a long time coming. We have had many experts at various health committees over the years trying to encourage, cajole and nudge those involved with the legislative process to take action. There is no doubt that there are strong lobby groups. Many of them come at this matter from the perspective that they are trying to defend their industry. However, there is no doubt that this legislation's sole purpose has to be to reduce the consumption of alcohol. I refer primarily to harmful drinking. It is evident we are going to have strong lobby groups from the drinks lobby industry, IBEC and others that see this as a potential threat in terms of reducing alcohol intake. Be under no illusions, that is the welcome purpose of the Bill. We support its passage through the Dáil.

There are a number of issues in respect of minimum unit pricing. There has been a great deal of scaremongering. Some of the figures were referred to already. If we look at current pricing arrangements in our supermarkets, the price charged in Tesco for a can of Dutch Gold is the only one that will actually increase. Let us be honest, empty Dutch Gold cans can often been seen around the place. When we have cheap alcohol, we will have increased consumption and harmful drinking. That is very evident. Be under no illusions as well this is an area that we still have to address and challenge. I refer to the whole culture of binge drinking and "prinks" in people's houses before they head out to nightclubs, particularly the younger cohort. This is having devastating impacts on younger people. There is also a link between increased alcohol consumption, binge drinking, mental health challenges, mental health issues, suicidal ideation and suicide. There are huge challenges. While this legislation will help in terms of making it less attractive for people to drink, we still have to face the fundamental problem of the mental health issues that are very prevalent because of our unhealthy relationship with alcohol.

I am intrigued by the broadcast watershed to the effect that a person shall not broadcast or cause to be broadcast an advertisement for an alcohol product on a television programme service between the hours of 3 a.m. and 9 p.m. I was a little puzzled by the choice of 3 a.m. There are not many people up at 3 a.m., and certainly not kids. That is, unless a person is up with a child watching "Balamory", "Wonder Pets!" or "Dora the Explorer" and walking the floorboards at 3 a.m. It is unusual to see the watershed starting at 3 a.m. right through. It is important that we challenge the advertising that is prevalent in this area of alcohol and the huge impact it has.

Let us be honest. We all still remember sporting events by dint of the sport itself but we also recall the names of the companies that sponsored these events. Sponsorship has a powerful impact on people. This is all about normalising alcohol and healthy sports people in an arena. That is why the companies involved target sports and the big national sporting occasions we have in this country whereby they make the subtle link between physical prowess and alcohol. It is an approach that has to be challenged and addressed. It is a nefarious form of advertising that companies would target sporting events primarily for that purpose.

I refer to the issue of segregation. The Minister and Deputy Corcoran Kennedy spent long arduous hours in the Seanad discussing this issue. The purpose of the Dáil and the Seanad is to try to get legislation through that will have an impact but equally has broad buy-in and is seen as practical legislation. The amendments brought forward in the Seanad will address some of those particular issues. We want broad buy-in. We want people to embrace this legislation even though it may have a negative impact on profit margins at the end of the day. However, for the good of society, it is important that they step up to the plate and embrace it.

In respect of the minimum unit pricing, as the Minister well knows, the Scottish were challenged in the European court. What was involved there was found to be in accordance with bringing forward minimum unit pricing for public health reasons. The broader issue of course was that was meant to be done in the context of the United Kingdom, as far as I understand, and at least with Northern Ireland. We would simultaneously have minimum unit pricing both in the Republic and in the North. Where is this legislation in the context of Northern Ireland? Has it been delayed because the Assembly is not up and running or is it broad UK policy? What exactly are the reasons for that not being rolled out in tandem with the legislation in the Republic?

We all have received representations about duty-free sales. People who are buying duty-free alcohol are leaving the State so the alcohol will not be consumed in the State. It is exempt from the minimum unit pricing. What is the position with labelling for alcohol that is leaving the State? Perhaps the Minister will clarify that. In addition, the Bill is a little unclear regarding who is responsible for the labelling, although perhaps that is my reading of it. In other words, if a bottle of alcohol is produced in this country, is the manufacturer, the wholesaler or the retailer responsible for labelling it? We need clarity on that. Equally, in the context of exports I assume alcohol does not have to be labelled when it is manufactured here and leaves the State through normal export channels, but perhaps the Minister will clarify that. These are the questions some of the microbreweries and distilleries are asking us. That equally applies to importing alcohol. The Minister referred to Chardonnay but it might be a nice Chablis imported from a boutique-type vineyard in France. Again, many people are wondering who is responsible for the labelling when the bottle arrives in Ireland. Is it the manufacturer in France, the importer, the wholesaler or the retailer? That should be clarified.

I hope that this Bill will have the impact we seek. One need not travel far from here on a Thursday, Friday or Saturday night to see what excessive drinking does to individuals and the broader society so we will support the Bill. As always, we will play a meaningful role on Committee Stage and we hope the Bill will be passed by the Dáil as quickly as possible. We are highlighting some issues on which we seek clarity and the Minister might be able to deal with them in his reply to this debate or on Committee Stage.

Undoubtedly, the drinks industry employs many people in this country. It spends a great deal of money on capital investment in plant, machinery, labour, training, advertising and buying product and raw material. It is a major industry. Many people have been lobbying from the various areas, such as people who are supplying malting barley to the breweries and distilleries and those involved in the manufacture of alcohol. They are a powerful influence, but it is important that Members put the public good before anything else. By and large, this legislation does that. The people behind it are not afraid to challenge those who would prefer if there was prevarication in bringing the Bill through the House. We do not wish to see that happen.

Referring to off-licences probably broadens the debate beyond the content of the Bill but is relevant in the context of the availability of alcohol. People have various views on this and I have raised questions on previous occasions when we have discussed it at health committee meetings. People can legally buy large volumes of drink in off-licences at 18 years of age. They can buy industrial quantities of alcohol. We need to accept what happens in society. The individual goes to the off-licence or supermarket with their identification, legally purchases industrial volumes of alcohol and walks out the door with the slab on their shoulder. The person goes across the road and ends up in a park, field or a corner of an estate. That person's girlfriend or boyfriend might be only 16 years of age and the girlfriend's or boyfriend's friend is only 14 or 15 years of age. In one move in the chain, it has gone from being purchased legally to being consumed illegally.

We are not doing enough in that area, to be truthful. We must address it in some way. Obviously, this legislation is not geared to deal with it as it focuses on the advertising, segregation and minimum unit pricing. However, the industrial scale purchases of alcohol in off-licences across the country is a major problem. I can take the Minister to places in my constituency, and I am sure he can take me to similar places in his constituency, where one would wonder if a truck had dumped all the cans, be it in the corner of a field, estate or park, such are the consumption levels. This Bill will not deal with that, but we must examine this issue in more detail or the problem will continue for years to come. Do not get me wrong - most off-licences are responsible and nobody is breaking the law. The drink is purchased legally, but it is consumed illegally across the road. I am concerned about that. I have said previously that it should be examined.

One can legally drink in a licensed premises at 18 years of age, but there is some form of supervision. I am not saying that this is the answer but is it possible to consider raising the age for off-licence purchases from 18 to 21 years of age? I have outlined the reasons for suggesting it. The 18 year old purchases the alcohol legally but his or her age peers, the people he or she hangs around with, can be as young as 14 or 15 years of age. Perhaps we should consider carrying out some research or analysis on this. It is a problem and this legislation will not address it. It is causing fundamental difficulties for young people and it can lead to other issues, such as youths congregating in groups. We all did that when we were teenagers, but now huge volumes of drink are being purchased and consumed in quick succession in one night. Then there is the introduction to various other drugs as well. This is happening every week and weekend all over Ireland. We must have a conversation on the issue. An 18 year old with a friend of 16 years of age cannot legally bring his or her friend to the pub to have a drink. Instead, they drink illegally outside. However, if one is over 21 years of age there is a better chance that one will go to a pub, as opposed to standing in the corner of a field under the rain to drink. At least it would be a controlled environment, with some type of overarching peer observation.

It might be something somebody in the Department might bear in mind when looking at public health policy and how we address those issues. I and probably every Deputy in the House would say this is where we have major problems with anti-social behaviour, drug taking, violence as a result of aggressive behaviour and so forth. All of it stems primarily from the fact that there was a legal purchase in an off-licence in some part of the country, after which it was consumed illegally in huge volumes. I hope that could be considered at some stage.

Overall, we wish to play an active role in the Bill going through Committee and Report Stages. In addition to the issues I raised earlier, I have an inquiry about carcinogenic labelling. The Minister referred to a Minister doing something by order or by regulation. Is everything in terms of labelling done by regulation or is there already a legislative provision in the Bill, as passed by the Seanad, that ties the Minister's hands to a certain extent with regard to flexibility? Perhaps the Minister will elaborate on those issues. The Bill is welcome and I hope it will have the desired impact in reducing harmful drinking across all age cohorts, but primarily in the generations coming after me. They have enough pressure in their lives.

However, binge drinking and such harmful activity on a continuous basis is having a broader impact that is causing mental health issues, violence and general harm to an already vulnerable group. I ask the Minister to consider the issues I have raised. I commend the Bill to the House.

Sinn Féin supports the Bill and its objectives and I share the hope that has been expressed that it will have the desired effect such that if we look back in 20 years' time - and I dread to think which Deputies will still be here - we will be able to say------

Deputy O'Reilly will still be here.

-----it had the desired effect. The discussion of the legislation has forced me and all others involved to have a very grown up and honest conversation about our relationship as a State with alcohol. That conversation is welcome. We have moved on from rolling our eyes and saying a person is fond of a pint to being able to confront such behaviour and acknowledge that on a Tuesday night, a person is probably better off having a Ribena than a glass of red wine. It is evident that there is less of a macho culture associated with alcohol consumption among young people. However, there is a culture of harmful drinking in society which I am very hopeful the legislation will confront.

My party has played a proactive role in the debate on the Bill thus far and I am delighted to say that we are willing to work with anyone and everyone to ensure it is brought to Final Stage. My colleague, Deputy Ó Caoláin, was a member of the Joint Committee on Health and Children that discussed and completed pre-legislative scrutiny of the Bill. Sinn Féin strongly supported the Bill in the Seanad and, before Christmas, Sinn Féin Senators voted for its passage through that House. We are aware of the devastating impact of alcohol abuse and misuse on families, individuals, employers and the State and have seen the destruction that alcohol can bring to families and communities.

I hosted an information evening for parents in my home town of Skerries. We were delighted to have Senator Frances Black come and speak to us. As all Members know, Senator Black is centrally involved in helping the families of those with experience of harmful drinking. At the end of the meeting, it was quite refreshing and welcome that those in attendance were able to have a very open and frank conversation on the matter and it was very evident to me that there is strong support outside the Oireachtas for the legislation. I do not direct my remarks at any one person or group but, listening to some, one could be forgiven for thinking the roof will fall in on us if we pass this legislation, whereas the opposite is probably true. We are hurtling towards a problem if we do not confront and deal with this issue. That evening brought home to me how much support there is in my community for the legislation. Having spoken to my colleagues on the issue, I know such support is replicated in their local areas.

The collaboration of all parties on the matter has led to sensible amendments to the Bill being brought forward. Members may be of the view that the Bill could or should have been stronger but the compromises reached and amendments agreed with cross-party support are welcome and speak to people outside the Oireachtas who want Members to make progress on the issue rather than disagree on what word should go where.

All Members are aware of the toll that alcohol misuse and harmful alcohol consumption takes on families and communities but by far the biggest cost of alcohol misuse is the estimated €1.2 billion it costs the State in health care. Any measure that can be put in place to reduce harmful consumption and thus reduce that burden as well as the other hurt caused by alcohol use and misuse is to be welcomed.

The Bill has been scrutinised for almost three years and is now overdue. There have been working groups, Oireachtas reports, a huge amount of discussion, consensus on many issues and a sub-committee of Oireachtas members who put a huge amount of work into advancing recommendations. The Bill, in its current form, broadly reflects the consensus that has been achieved. It was debated in the Seanad and some issues encountered there were, thankfully, navigated quite well. I acknowledge the work of Deputy Corcoran Kennedy in that regard. She put in many hard shifts to try to allay people's concerns and get the Bill progressed. The evidence for such hard work is the broad and cross-party support for the Bill.

All Members are aware of the damage done by harmful alcohol consumption. Some have seen it in their families or communities and there is no home or street in the State that has not been affected in some way. The cost of alcohol misuse was brought home to me by statistics showing an estimated average burden of €3,318 per annum is borne by each taxpayer to foot the bill for harmful alcohol consumption. Members know there are three alcohol-related deaths in Ireland every day. Alcohol misuse places a huge burden on the health service, which must cater for all people. However, if there is a way Members can work together to alleviate that burden it behoves us all to so do.

On lobbying, one issue I heard addressed on the airwaves was the relationship between alcohol and cancer. Sinn Féin has repeatedly called for the early introduction of the Bill because it deals with a serious public health issue. Those who have lobbied Members on this matter have tried to make it seem like they want to have a big party and Members in favour of the Bill are trying to stand in their way and come down heavy on alcohol use. That is not the case. All Members have been lobbied by people such as those who say they only like a drink in the evening or that the Bill is an example of a nanny state and so on. Members have come together to silence that lobby. The relationship between alcohol and cancer - and that it is implicated in seven forms of cancer, including liver, breast, bowel, mouth, throat, oesophageal and laryngeal cancers - is a medical fact but this has been dismissed by some in the alcohol industry who liken it to the carcinogens in burnt toast. One is unlikely to find a health care professional in the accident and emergency department of any hospital who has recently treated a person for the harmful effects of burnt toast. Likewise, I doubt that any member of An Garda Síochána has attended the scene of a burnt toast-related incident.

There is a link between alcohol consumption and cancer and between harmful drinking and death on our roads. We need to grow up and confront that.

Debate adjourned.