Alcohol Marketing: Discussion (Resumed)

I welcome the following delegates from Retail Ireland: Mr. Frank Gleeson, chair, and Mr. Torlach Denihan, outgoing director; and from Ballymun Youth Action Project, Mr. Dermot King, director, Ms Cara Fennelly, Mr. Christian Herbert; and Mr. Hugh Greaves, co-ordinator of the Ballymun local drugs task force. This is the last of a series of meetings we have been holding to discuss the issue of alcohol sales, marketing and prices.

Witnesses are protected by absolute privilege in respect of the evidence they give to the committee. However, if you are directed by the committee to cease giving evidence on a particular matter and you continue to so do, you are entitled thereafter only to qualified privilege in respect of your evidence. You are directed that only evidence connected with the subject matter before us today is to be given and you are asked to respect the parliamentary practice to the effect that, where possible, you should not criticise or make charges against any person or persons or an entity by name or in such a way as to make him, her or it identifiable. Members are reminded of the long-standing parliamentary practice to the effect that Members should not comment on, criticise or make charges against a person outside the Houses or an official by name or in such a way as to make him or her identifiable.

I apologise for the delay in beginning the meeting. We will have to suspend the committee again to attend a vote in the Dáil. Deputy Ó Caoláin will also have to leave because he is due to speak on a Bill. I invite Mr. Gleeson to make his opening statement.

Mr. Frank Gleeson

On behalf of Retail Ireland I thank the committee for the opportunity to address this important issue. We have been following the debate on the issue of alcohol misuse and we are committed to playing our part in tackling the problem. I am the chair of Retail Ireland and retail director of Topaz Energy Group. I am joined by the outgoing director of Retail Ireland, Mr. Torlach Denihan.

Retail Ireland is the national representative body for the entire retail sector. It represents Irish and international department stores, DIY, electrical retailers, fashion and footwear retailers, major supermarket groups, symbol groups and a range of specialist retailers. There are more than 20,000 food and non-food retail enterprises in Ireland, employing more than 240,000 people. These companies are Irish and international but for the most part they are small and medium size enterprises.

We take our position as the largest industry in Ireland seriously. We know that we have a duty to ensure that the retail environment is properly regulated, operates within the law and meets its responsibilities to society and customers of all ages. We are committed to the responsible sale of alcohol. The sale of alcohol to minors is unacceptable and we take steps to ensure this does not happen. The penalties for retailers who sell alcohol to children should be harsh and adults who are found guilty of so-called secondary purchasing should be punished severely. Irish society as a whole must continue to develop a more mature attitude to alcohol consumption.

It should be noted that the committee is making its deliberations at a time of huge difficulty in the retail sector. Retail sales have fallen by more than 20% since 2008 due to the recession and price reductions. At the same time the savings ratio has increased from approximately 2% to 14% due to weak consumer confidence. The recent budget is likely to have a big impact on our sector through higher VAT rates, increased fuel costs and higher charges for public services which impact on retail sales. Retail Ireland members continue to battle against issues including diesel laundering and the sale of counterfeit branded merchandise. These various forms of crime cost the Exchequer hundreds of millions of euro in lost taxation and cost the retail sector similar amounts in lost sales. We also lose out to cross-Border sales, the effect of which has been well documented. Nonetheless we share the committee's desire for a regulated and responsible retail space and we remain committed to working in partnership with it.

Before I speak on the code of practice to which our industry subscribes and the issue of pricing, I will set out certain facts that perhaps have been overlooked heretofore. By all indications alcohol consumption in Ireland is decreasing. Government figures show that consumption has fallen by almost one quarter in the past ten years. Irish people drink the same amount as in the mid-1990s and our consumption is less than in France and Austria. This decrease in consumption began during the peak of the Celtic tiger and has accelerated since the start of the recession. It occurred following the abolition of the groceries order and the advent of price promotions in retail outlets.

On the issue of price, the committee should also be aware of the facts before it makes its recommendations. The price of alcohol in Ireland is the highest in Europe. EUROSTAT published a report in June 2011 which indicates that the price of alcohol in Ireland is 170% of the EU average. It believes this is a result of the high taxes levied on alcohol here. Ireland, along with the UK, Sweden and Finland, is an outlier in terms of high alcohol taxes. Falling consumption and historically high alcohol prices should be born in mind when considering this issue.

The mixed trading members of Retail Ireland were instrumental in the establishment of Responsible Retailing of Alcohol in Ireland, RRAI, and the drawing up of the voluntary code of practice on the sale and display of alcohol products in mixed trade premises, in tandem with the Department of Justice and Equality. This code has been in place since 2009 and three reports have issued on it since then. RRAI is a limited company which oversees the code of practice and has an independent chairman who administers the monitoring of the code and produces an independent annual compliance report for presentation to the Minister for Justice and Equality.

Retail Ireland members are extremely proud of the role they have played in establishing RRAI and the code of practice which, according to the latest compliance report, is fundamentally more transparent and publically accountable than normal self-regulation or voluntary codes. The code now applies to the vast majority of licensed stores in the mixed trading sector, including all major mixed trading premises. Under the code: alcohol can only be displayed in-store in one separate area; the area where alcohol is sold must, as far as is possible, be in a location through which one does not have to pass to access other products; alcohol cannot be displayed or advertised in shop windows; in-store advertising of alcohol is confined to the area where it is displayed; in-store advertising of alcohol cannot appeal to minors; alcohol can only be sold at clearly designed check-out points, monitored by CCTV cameras; proof of age must be produced where the customer appears to be under the age of 21; staff must be properly trained in the area of alcohol sales and must have an adequate knowledge of the law; and the code and complaints procedure must be clearly displayed for members of the general public.

I apologise for interrupting Mr. Gleeson but a division has been called in the Dáil. I propose that the committee suspend pending the vote.

In the spirit of Christmas, I suggest that the committee should invite our guests to tea and coffee.

I was going to do that.

I know the Chair will pick up the tab afterwards.

Sitting suspended at 11.50 a.m. and resumed at 12.10 a.m.

I apologise to the delegates and guests for the delay caused by a vote. I call on Mr. Gleeson to continue.

Mr. Frank Gleeson

Rather than start again I will continue with my presentation.

The code of practice is independently audited and verified on an annual basis. The compliance procedures have been put in place and Retailers Ireland operates a 24-hour hotline for members of the public that wish to report an alleged breach. Its implementation has led to a marked difference in how alcohol products are displayed and promoted in retail outlets here. Alcohol can no longer be displayed and promoted at store entrances and can no longer be found in the aisles of supermarkets. Alcohol is now located, wherever possible, in a single part of the store so that customers can choose not to enter. Further, the advertising activity of retailers has also changed. Now, when a retailer advertises in the print and broadcast media, only one quarter of the advertisement can refer to the alcohol products it sells. Typically, this results in advertising material that includes information on good value food, household items and non-alcoholic beverages as well as information on a range of alcoholic drinks available. The code runs in tandem with legislation on the sale of alcohol that includes, for example, a restriction in the hours of sale. It is also against the law to sell alcohol to someone under the age of 18 years.

Retail Ireland also fully supports test purchasing by minors in outlets suspected of flouting the law and increased enforcement to prevent purchases by minors using distance sales. We also support harsh punishments for individuals found guilty of secondary purchasing. The RRAI code is working. According to the recently published RRAI compliance report, compliance with the code stands at a very high 85%. This increases to almost 95% of all supermarkets. Almost 100% of stores met the test of displaying alcohol in one part of the premises and not having satellite displays, while more than 97% were judged to have complied with the requirement of displaying alcohol in a part of the premises that customers do not have to pass through to get to other beverages and food products. None of the stores audited allowed for the purchase of alcohol at self-service checkouts and all alcohol checkout points were monitored by CCTV.

These figures prove that the RRAI code is working. It has made a tangible difference to how alcohol is displayed and promoted in retail outlets throughout the country. We believe the code provides a flexible and effective mechanism to ensure alcohol sales in mixed trading premises are carried out in a responsible manner, where young people are not overly exposed to alcohol brands, where customers are not inconvenienced and where retailers are not over burdened with unnecessary costs.

I understand that pricing is an issue of concern to many members of the committee and the wider public. However, alcohol in Ireland is not as cheap as many people claim it is. Retail Ireland notes that the Minister for Finance announced in his budget speech early last week that the Government would bring forward proposals in 2012 on the issue of alcohol pricing. We have also heard the comments of the Minister of State at the Department of Health, Deputy Shortall. It might surprise some members to hear that we have an open mind on this issue. We look forward to hearing what the Government parties propose and to engaging with them to ensure they achieve their own policy targets while also understanding the retail sector's requirements and those of consumers.

We are also aware that the Department of Justice and Equality is also examining proposals in the area of price promotions of alcohol. Again, we have an open mind on this subject. However, Retail Ireland is strongly of the view that proposals in these areas must be done an all-island basis. There is quite simply no point at all in introducing restrictions on the sale of alcohol in the Republic of Ireland that do not apply in Northern Ireland. The net result of such a policy would be no reduction in total alcohol consumption in this jurisdiction; a large reduction in alcohol sales in retailers based in the Republic; and a large reduction in the tax take from alcohol sales for the Exchequer.

On the wider alcohol debate, while we are happy to engage with the committee and with all stakeholders on the issue of alcohol sales, ultimately, our national problem with alcohol is not about how it is sold, or purchased, but how it is consumed. All the restrictions in the world on the sale of alcohol will not succeed, we believe, in tackling alcohol misuse. One need only look to countries like Spain and Portugal, where alcohol is cheap by Irish standards, and where it is more widely available at any time of the night and day. Why is it that, despite this low price, high availability regime in place, Spanish and Portuguese people do not drink to excess? Why is it that in Ireland, where alcohol is more expensive and less available than in the Mediterranean, we seem to have more of a problem with it? Why is it that to be drunk is something an Irish person brags about but something an Italian would be ashamed of? Retailers are playing their part but the answer to our national alcohol problem does not solely lie with us.

I thank Mr. Gleeson for his thought provoking presentation. Drinking to excess and the attitude to drink is what we are about. The question he put to the committee at the end of his presentation is interesting.

I call Mr. Dermot King, the director of Ballymun Youth Action Project, BYAP, to make his presentation.

Mr. Dermot King

I thank the Chairman, Deputies, Senators and guests for inviting the BYAP to address the committee. As a community response to drug and alcohol issues in the particular community of Ballymun, we hope that our input will further contribute to the elaboration of the most effective responses regarding young people and the impact of alcohol. Ms Cara Fennelly and Mr. Christian Herbert are two of the staff team of the BYAP, who undertook the research on attitudes to alcohol among young people in the Ballymun area. Mr. Hugh Greaves, the co-ordinator of the Ballymun local drugs task force, is also present as part of our delegation.

The title of our organisation, the Ballymun Youth Action Project, reflects the fact that it was the deaths of three young people that led to the creation of our project. These deaths, in 1981, galvanised members of the local community to develop a more solid response to drugs and alcohol in Ballymun. Since then, our approach has always been from a community development perspective. Our work includes working with young people who have significant drug and-or alcohol misuse issues but we also work in various ways to prevent young people arriving to that point where they have to actually enter our service in a more formal way.

The research, Fact or Fiction – A Study of Attitudes to Alcohol and Related Issues Among Young People in the Ballymun Area, which I gather the committee members have all received, forms part of that work to support prevention and intervention and, accordingly, we are delighted that this committee has recognised the contribution of such an approach.

We would like to highlight a number of key points from the research, which we believe have a particular bearing on the work of this committee. The study indicates a high level of under age alcohol consumption and further emphasises the extent indicated by National Studies. The most recent data from the European School Survey Project on Alcohol and Other Drugs, ESPAD, shows that more than half of 15 and 16 year olds in Ireland reported ever having being drunk. This is a crucial baseline on which to look at other issues.

It is clear that such consumption patterns expose young people to a much higher level of risk than would be the case if they were not drinking alcohol. In addition, the study identified that under age drinking tends to be secretive and unsupervised and that this creates significant additional risks for the young people involved. The report highlights some of the risks that the young people themselves identified relating to alcohol use as a young person and the list is quite disturbing. They identify being a victim of violence, or being violent themselves; they talk of alcohol poisoning and loss of consciousness. They speak of being sexually assaulted or being unable to deal with unwanted sexual advances. Alongside that, they clearly indicated the potential impact on relationships, schooling and their own physical, emotional and mental development.

The study shows the central role that parents or guardians play in all of this. The young people surveyed gave clear indications that they want parents to know what is going on and that such parental knowledge would in fact be a protective factor. They are also aware of the impact that adult behaviour around alcohol has on young people. Digging deeper into this finding, it appears that two dimensions are emerging. First, parents clearly have a role in modelling behaviours around alcohol, even down to such things as not becoming drunk in front of children. A 2010 study of family life and alcohol consumption undertaken by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation found that parents are the most important influence on the attitudes of young children between aged five and 12 towards alcohol. Second, many parents are also engaged in a process of colluding with the secretive drinking behaviour of the young people, motivated in part by a desire not to know that it is going on in the hope that it will settle down and a "sure didn't we all do it" attitude.

However, the young people in the study were clearly saying that it would be better if parents did know about the drinking of their children. There is a clear awareness among the young people of the negative impact of alcohol, particularly when the amount or pattern of drinking leads to negative outcomes. There was also a consensus that advertising does not adequately represent this. In their responses, the young people in the study highlight a dilemma that clearly exists but that is not frequently discussed in the policy arena, which is the tension between presenting "responsible drinking" messages to young people where the legislation states that they should not drink in the first place. From the young people's perspective the overly sharp focus on extreme case scenarios does not seem to offer them any guidance, and in many cases may simply invoke the "that would never happen to me" defensive reaction.

Such considerations lead us back to the issue of reducing the harm involved for the young people. Harm reduction is a recognised public health strategy, yet when it involves our young people it generates strong reactions. Clearly it is not appropriate that young people consume alcohol, yet they are doing so. In the absence of accurate messages, their consumption is more likely to be harmful. We need to access ways of making these accurate messages available, looking particularly at the medium more than the message. A 2009 World Health Organisation publication on reducing alcohol-related harm identified that surveys of particular population groups, such as adolescents, are particularly useful in designing effective alcohol education and information programmes targeting those particular groups. Parents and peers have emerged from the Ballymun study as key agents in getting this accurate information across, and also as key actors in keeping the young people safe.

Clearly not every young person who drinks alcohol before the age of 18 will develop a dependency on alcohol, but they are still at risk of harm, and this harm is accentuated by the type and amount of alcohol consumed, and the context in which the consumption occurs. As a community response we are attentive to both the young people who progress into dependency and the much larger group who continue to be at significant risk of harm at present. Accordingly we support any initiatives that would reduce the level of consumption, and would serve to make the context where young people grow up more communicative and more supportive of positive outcomes in physical and mental health and well-being.

The Ballymun Local Drugs Task Force, which is represented here by Hugh Greaves, is also working in a systematic way with a range of community and statutory partners to bring about a change in the local environmental and community systems which currently facilitate harmful levels and patterns of drinking in Ballymun. This work is captured in the Ballymun Community Alcohol Strategy 2010-2016: A Road to Change. The strategy proposes that a number of areas must be addressed locally to achieve a reduction in harm, including: regulating the numbers and density of alcohol retail outlets; policing and enforcement; community awareness and attitude change; education; treatment; and harm reduction.

Two of the key principles underpinning the strategy are important to highlight to the committee. First, as mentioned in earlier presentations the strategy recognises that alcohol is not an ordinary commodity, but a powerful intoxicant proven to be causative in a number of health and social harms. Second, the strategy endeavours to reduce alcohol-related harm by reducing overall consumption levels. These principles are particularly relevant to our discussion this morning.

The members of the Ballymun Local Drugs Task Force have long recognised the significance of the supply of alcohol to young people in terms of addressing the broader issue of the harms associated with its use. Accordingly the strategy advocates the cessation of alcohol home deliveries and text sales; the cessation of alcohol price-reduction promotions; and the introduction of minimum pricing standards. The strategy also continues the work of the task force in challenging the practice of adults buying for minors.

The experience within the community of Ballymun strongly suggests that alcohol-related harm is a feature of the life of young people growing up in our community. Tackling that harm needs to involve a systemic response that addresses all of the contributory factors. Drawing parents and young people as peers more closely into that response appears to be an underused avenue. It is clear that the drastic cuts that have been applied to the youth sector in this budget will undoubtedly have an additional impact on alcohol-related harms as they affect young people.

I thank Mr. King for his presentation and compliment him and the Ballymun Local Drugs Task Force on their collaborative approach. The publication of its alcohol strategy is very foresightful.

I thank Mr. Gleeson and Mr. King for their very well reasoned and reasonable presentations. There are probably conflicting aspects of our deliberations. It is undoubtedly true that alcohol damages many people and I agree with Mr. King that when young people are drawn into the alcohol cycle early in life it can present all sorts of social and economic consequences. Equally it is undoubtedly true that pricing alone will not solve this problem. Society in general, parents and the example of friends will all influence behaviour. We will not solve this problem by increasing the price of alcohol to such a scale that it becomes available only to the very wealthy, which would be nonsensical. It would be as ludicrous as saying that because there are many road deaths we will put car tax at a level beyond the ability of the majority to pay for it.

I wish to put a point to Mr. Gleeson in particular. I understand that the losses stores make through below-cost or at-cost selling in order to attract people into a store in the hope of making consequential purchasing can be offset against VAT returns. In that case the taxpayer would be funding the underpriced sale of alcohol, which we should not do and it should be stopped immediately.

It is a difficult issue for Government to grapple with. We cannot have alcohol available as an easy and attractive option, particularly for young people going into stores, nor should we drive it underground, nor should only the very wealthy be able to afford to buy alcohol. We would be doing a disservice to responsible drinkers if we were to do that. Any additional income from alcohol sales should be channelled towards youth groups in particular because the foundations for future practice are laid at that level. The only way to deal with what is a societal problem is at that level.

I can see all my colleagues' eyes glaze over when they hear their third medical lecture on the evils of alcohol in as many meetings of the committee so I will try to give the précis. I am tempted to set an examination for the members because I believe they would pass it, having heard it so much. The reality is that all these things would happen if everybody stopped drinking alcohol completely -every one of these is verifiable by facts. There would be fewer car crashes; fewer deaths; less violence; less murder; less rape; less domestic violence; and fewer teen pregnancies. We would have an increase in the amount of discretionary funding families would have available to feed, educate and clothe their children. We would have an increase in the quality of parenting because people would spend less time recovering from drink or involved in alcohol-seeking behaviours.

We would have a major decrease in the utilisation of our accident and emergency departments. Many waiting lists in the health service would, if not disappear, shrink rather dramatically. In health, we would have a decrease, obviously, in liver disease and a decrease in all of the following cancers which have been shown to be related to alcohol. I stress they have not been shown to be related to alcohol excess but shown to be related to alcohol. These are: cancers of the head and neck area, liver, pancreas, gastrointestinal tract and - rather alarmingly - recently breast cancer, which we have seen may be related to rather trivial exposure to alcohol. Even having what we would regard as a healthy guideline intake of alcohol - from the point of view of a woman's liver - increases the risk that she will get breast cancer.

Let me summarise what alcohol is - I say this as somebody who enjoys it. Alcohol is an intrinsically dangerous cancer-causing addictive drug. It is intrinsically dangerous and is not related to patterns of excess. A person who takes any alcohol runs the risk of becoming an addict and increases the risk of getting certain illnesses. A certain amount of nonsense has been spoken over the years about decreases in the incidence of certain specific illnesses which may subtly go down as a result of alcohol. It is very hard to prove that is the case. People will mention fat and cholesterol, which are different. Fat is not bad for people: too much fat is bad for people. Fat is an essential component of a human diet: fat excess is not. Any alcohol has some degree of harm potential for a person.

Most of us take a drink and so are all prone to this ambiguity. It is culturally very dug in, even if one accepts the creationist view of the history of the universe which is so popular in some parts of the southern United States. We have pretty good evidence that people have been drinking throughout the 6,000 years of recorded history so it is unlikely we will all just stop tomorrow. One thing we can understand is the direct link between harm and the amount one drinks. If everybody - the heavy, moderate, light and occasional drinkers - drank less, the world, the country and our health would be better. Money would be better spent and health services would be less stressed.

With great respect, and the structure of Irish society being what it is, I patronise outlets which sell alcohol and have many friends who make their living selling alcohol. It is a reality of life. However, there is a natural tension between us at professional level. We have met in this room people from various organisations who sell alcohol who portray themselves as being some type of social workers whose commercial competitors are in fact those who cause the problem. Everyone blames someone else's sale of alcohol for causing the social ills associated with alcohol. It is never the fact we drink, consume or sell alcohol which is, of course, the problem.

As people concerned with public health, our job should be to ensure the witnesses' jobs are not as well rewarded. We need to ensure their businesses fail to a greater extent - not completely fail but that they sell less alcohol. We want the sales of those in the business of selling alcohol to decrease. This is what we need as a society.

There is a certain distortion in the figures we hear quoted about our national consumption in terms of litres of pure alcohol per head of population decreasing somewhat. Honest to God, I am not certain these figures are reliable because there has been colossal access to extra-jurisdictional alcohol in recent years which may be understating the true alcohol consumption. One thing which is true is that the underlying trends decade by decade are for increase. We drink between three and four times more alcohol now as a nation than we did in the 1960s. In terms of the league tables of alcohol consumption, we were extremely low and now we are relatively high. We may be the highest in western Europe. We are certainly within 1 litre of alcohol one way or another of the countries which are the highest in western Europe.

This is the scope of the problem, the scope of the harm it causes and the reality we must all acknowledge. With the Chairman's indulgence I will ask him to put to the witnesses at the end of the meeting the same question that has been put to all delegations appearing before the committee, and on which I would like a "Yes" or "No" answer, which is whether the witnesses acknowledge as individuals the reality that if we all stopped drinking, we would be better off and Ireland would be a better place.

Failing this, we must institute a broad set of policies to try to decrease alcohol consumption in society. We should ban all advertising. If alcohol was invented for the first time tomorrow, it would certainly be banned and would not pass the carcinogenicity tests. A cancer-causing drug such as alcohol would never be allowed to be sold if it were discovered only now. It has been grandfathered into acceptance for cultural and historical reasons. If it were new it would not exist. We need to stop anybody having the ability to advocate the consumption of alcohol, which means banning advertising.

All sponsorship should also be banned. Alcohol should not be linked to healthy activities such as sports or intellectual activities because no part of one will function better, be it one's ability to play hurling or Gaelic football or one's ability to write science papers or produce plays, because one is hammered. We need to disconnect completely alcohol and sponsorship.

We need to ramp up the way we punish people who sell alcohol irresponsibly. We need to state there is an equivalence of punishment between those who sell this dangerous drug to children and those who sell heroin. This would concentrate the mind wonderfully. We also need a national strategy in which we acknowledge collectively that what we are trying to do is to encourage society, through whatever means we can short of coercion, to drink less. It should not target the few people who are the extreme cases with very unhealthy patterns. We all need to drink less, mise included.

The national drugs strategy has a reduction in alcohol consumption as part of its aims.

I welcome the witnesses and thank them for coming before the committee. I pay particular tribute to the Ballymun youth project. It is my old home town as I grew up in that area and much of my family still lives there. The impact the project is having on the community is felt and permeates through. I congratulate those involved on the work they do and I wish them well.

What I have to say is more a statement than a question. I greatly regret that the presentation given by Retail Ireland genuinely disappointed me because we all know and understand the problems we face, and we have all been eloquently educated by the professor in recent weeks on the ills due to the consumption of alcohol in the country. I am very disappointed that Retail Ireland came here this morning and stated that while its members sell alcohol, none of the problems is theirs and they are not involved in fixing them. It is disappointing because I feel certain aspects of the retail sale of alcohol in the country are directly responsible, through completely reckless marketing and price positioning, for the over-consumption or increased consumption by ordinary people in recent years. Given the cultural relationship between the people of Ireland and alcohol, to make a statement that people in Spain or Austria have the same access as we do and that there is no problem in those countries is not acceptable.

A number of steps need to be taken to reduce the intake of alcohol. Yesterday, we heard statistics that the average amount of alcohol consumed is 8 litres per person over a year if people drink within the limits, and even this causes harm. As a country we are at 14 litres and no section of the community involved in the sale or in dealing with the after-effects of alcohol should not be part of a responsible approach to reducing this figure of 14 litres per person to 8 litres. I must be honest and state I found the presentation given this morning disappointing because the delegation is not willing to recognise the part played by the people it represents in fuelling the problem or to put in place steps to fix the problem.

Mr. Frank Gleeson

In response to Deputy Colreavy's question on VAT, while I am not a tax expert, the Minister for Finance stated in reply to a parliamentary question recently, "where a retailer is in a situation of net VAT gain as a result of below cost selling, this is not a loss to the Exchequer or an additional benefit to the retailer, it is merely how VAT is charged". This is on the public record and is my response to the question.

In response to Deputy Doherty, we take on board her views with regard to pricing and we have an open mind on pricing and promotion as we said in our statement. Everyone must play their part and retailers, through our Responsible Retailers of Alcohol in Ireland, RRAI, code, want to be responsible. We do not want the misuse of alcohol and we take steps to ensure we comply with the law. We have an open mind on a number of matters and we would like to participate in the discussion and the solution.

What about Senator Crown's points?

Mr. Frank Gleeson

Senator Crown asked whether I agree that society would be better off if everyone stopped drinking completely. Personally speaking, as a user of alcohol I do not have a problem with it if it is properly used. However, I am absolutely against the misuse of alcohol. I am also involved in the community and I am the chairman of a GAA club and I have worked in retail all my life. I do not know if we ever had low consumption of alcohol in Ireland so there is something ingrained in our nature. We want to ensure our customers do not misuse alcohol if we can help it but there is nothing we can do about it.

Mr. Torlach Denihan

I will make a point in response to Deputy Doherty. I am sure she has perused the report on the RRAI code which has been verified by the independent chairman. This code contains a series of restrictions on what retailers can do which goes beyond anything in legislation. There is debate on the commencement of section 9 of the Intoxicating Liquor Act 2008. On a voluntary basis the retailers who participate in the code, which is the vast bulk of retailers in Ireland, have agreed to restrict the amount of advertising they do. Major restrictions have been put in place. This forms part of Retail Ireland's acknowledgement of the existence of a problem and our willingness to be part of the solution. No other group selling alcohol restricts itself in this way. We have gone measurably beyond what has been asked of us.

I will not complain about the retail sector being self-regulating. Rather, my problem is with a short line in the code that reads, "where possible". This is the greatest get out clause for every multiple retailer. I mean no disrespect, but I feel like I am having a go at the delegates. The Sunday Independent would go bankrupt if all of its advertisers pulled their price point advertising, which fills that newspaper every Sunday. The sector cannot claim that it is good on the one hand when it has a great get out clause on the other. The sector’s practices contradict its claim that it is at the party - if the delegates will excuse the pun - trying to fix the problem.

Mr. Frank Gleeson

The separation policy is well adhered to in supermarkets. Alcohol is placed in a restricted area. The mention of "where possible" is meant to allow retail outlets of 60 sq. m - small convenience stores - to retail alcohol in, for example, a village.

We have an open mind on pricing and promotions. We understand that the Government is considering the matter and may well introduce an equitable measure that will level the playing field.

Have the delegates made a submission to the Minister of State, Deputy Shortall?

Mr. Frank Gleeson

We are in the process of doing so.

Mr. Dermot King

I will address Deputy Colreavy's point about pricing not solving the problem on its own. Supply and demand are crucial to this issue and reducing supply depends on the overall level of consumption. The research suggested ways to challenge our national attitude and our approaches to other aspects, for example, parenting.

Regarding the impact on young people, our bottom line is similar to Senator Crown's point, in that the more that is consumed, the greater the harm and risk. Although there are policies, Mr. Greaves might wish to identify some of the scale and extent of practices on the ground that allow for greater consumption among young people.

Mr. Hugh Greaves

We have been trying to highlight some of these issues for a while. The issue of alcohol delivery stands out on its own. There are Christmas club advertisements for off-licences and additional drivers are brought in on junior certificate results day to allow for the extra demand that is created by deliveries in the area.

Who is buying alcohol for minors on results day? They cannot buy it, as they are under the age limit.

Mr. Hugh Greaves

Evidence suggests that alcohol is more available to young people because of delivery services. They can order, ask the driver to deliver to a house at, for example, No. 18 Kildare Street and pay the driver with cash. Some parents would buy it because at least then they could watch over their children. We need to tackle parental attitudes.

The impact of drinking at home has not been measured. We recently conducted a survey on the numbers drinking at home and found that more drink at home than in pubs. When they do this, they are unsupervised and no one tells them to go home at 11.30 p.m., to watch their behaviour or so on. They drink in front of children, and God only knows what impact it will have. This behaviour is directly related to availability and price, in that people can buy cheap alcohol in supermarkets. If I can get drunk for the price of a packet of cigarettes, it is more appealing than having two pints in a pub, but where does it stop? We have not seen the impact yet. Along with the children of the country, we could be in for a rough ride when the impact becomes clear.

Ms Cara Fennelly

If children want alcohol, research has shown that they will get it at off-licences, through friends, by asking people outside shops, and so on. As much as we want prevention, we must recognise that some children need harm reduction measures, including education and supports. Our findings suggest that they have great respect for their peers. The issues of relationships, including with their parents, and harm should be examined.

That is a good point. Senator Henry is next, followed by Deputies Conway and Maloney.

I thank the delegates for their attendance and presentations. I apologise to Mr. King, as I needed to make a telephone call and did not hear what he stated. His project does good work.

I agree with all of Deputy Doherty's comments. This country has a problem with alcohol. I have mentioned how important education is in that respect. An organisation called North West Alcohol Forum, NWAF, has a fantastic education programme in-----

I apologise for interrupting, but there is a vote in the Seanad.

Will the meeting continue?

Yes. The Senator can continue, as she has a few minutes.

The NWAF runs its education programme in County Donegal, but rolling it out across the country would be great.

It is worrying that one can buy a bottle of beer for less than the price of a bottle of water. To Mr. Gleeson, I point out the fact that alcohol is sold in supermarkets and promoted every day of the week in newspapers and elsewhere, but the code is not being adhered to. One can find alcohol in any part of many supermarkets. I have been in supermarkets that display alcohol at the door. Every member will agree.

Mr. Gleeson mentioned that Retail Ireland has an open mind. Will it co-operate with minimum pricing? As Deputy Colreavy stated, it will not solve our problem, but will Retail Ireland support it?

I apologise for not being present earlier, but I watched the presentations on screen and have read the submissions. My comments to Retail Ireland will be in line with those of Deputy Doherty and Senator Henry. I draw everyone's attention to a line in the organisation's written submission, which claims, "our national problem with alcohol is not about how it is sold, or purchased, but how it is consumed." I disagree fundamentally. We have discussed the separation of alcohol. At Christmas in particular, boxes of Budweiser are beside boxes of Pampers in local supermarkets.

Deputy Conway should move her telephone, as it is interfering with the microphone.

I apologise. How does the situation in my example qualify as separation? Alcohol has become a mainstream, throw it in the shopping trolley, but it should have no place in supermarkets or families' shopping trolleys. Our attitude has been influenced by its placement in supermarkets and how it is advertised.

There are issues. Prior to being elected to the Dáil, I worked as a child protection social worker in the HSE. The difficulties being caused in communities by heroin and cocaine get the headlines, but the No. 1 difficulty experienced by families and children relates to alcohol and its misuse. It is unquestionably a gateway to other drugs. The statistics, research and my first-hand experience convince me of this.

During the days and weeks of this debate, many delegates have attended our meetings to give their opinions. We should have an outright ban on alcohol advertising. My position is becoming more entrenched. I did not believe it would, given that I am a sports lover and a Waterford woman who is ever hopeful that we might get a run in Croke Park on all-Ireland final day.

The Deputy can keep dreaming about that one.

I am aware of the implications of this type of ban for those organisations. However, there must be another way. I would like to hear from Retail Ireland what it will bring to the table in terms of a solution. We have a problem. It is incumbent on all stakeholders and community services to address it. The local shop is part of the local community and it, too, must play its part.

I have spoken previously on the issue of off-licences. Mr. Greaves alluded to junior certificate night. We all know what happens on Hallowe'en and junior and leaving certificate nights or on a sunny day, namely, the shelves in Tesco are cleared of Stella Artois, which is the cheapest alcohol available, and local breaches are filled with people drinking. We have all seen the gangs of youths - although I accept not all youths do this - with blue bags which we know contain alcohol bought it in off-licences and we know they are under age. I have reported incidents of this to the Garda Síochána and have asked them to check them out. A simple step which Retail Ireland could take is to ensure that all off-licences use branded plastic bags so that we can identify where alcohol has been purchased and thus try to hold those responsible accountable.

What is Retail Ireland's position in regard to Dial-a-Drink? Does it believe it is a service we need to be encouraging young people to use? We have all seen on television the programmes on under age children freely accessing alcohol. The point was made a couple of weeks ago at a meeting of this committee that it is illegal to purchase alcohol with a credit card.

That is correct.

As I understand it, to use the Dial-a-Drink service, one must use a credit card. As such, retailers are breaking the law. Where does Retail Ireland stand on that issue?

My colleague, Deputy John Lyons, whose office is located beside mine, asked me to send his regards to the Ballymun Youth Action Project. I attended a conference held by the Ballymun Youth Action Project in Dublin Castle at the beginning of this year. I am familiar with the group's work and commend it in that regard. As I said, I have worked on the front line and I know how difficult that can be. It is true that we talk about alcohol in terms of trying to prevent children engaging but it must be acknowledged that there are children who are 14 and 15 years of age who have entrenched problems with alcohol. This issue needs to be given a voice and examined. I commend the group on its work.

I thank all the witnesses for their contributions on this issue. Like everyone else here, I, too, want to be honest and frank. I am a new Member.

During the first session of the committee's work on alcohol I stated I would like to see an outright ban on the sale of alcohol in supermarkets. I will elaborate on that later. It is important to state that regardless of the influence of parents, peers or the continuation of the drinks industry and so on, this Parliament is as guilty as are any of the influences on society I have just mentioned for the fact that alcohol is the national drug. Parliamentarians, Members of the Dáil and Seanad, have never grappled in an effective manner with the issue of the national drug. As stated earlier by Senator Crown, they have contributed to the difficulties now being experienced in this society. The people who do not subscribe to the view that alcohol, as the national drug in Ireland, is a major social issue are deluding themselves.

I do not have to tell members the result of a recent survey of secondary school students who were asked to list the three most serious social issues in Ireland. Top of the list was not unemployment, which surprised me, the emigration of their brothers and sisters or their parents' mortgage difficulties - it was alcohol. That was the view of teenagers. Anyone who believes alcohol is not to the forefront, in terms of its being a serious social issue, is deluding himself or herself. As with any other drug, the problem lies in its availability. We all know what happened in this country, or more specifically this town, in the late 1960s when hashish became available and the 1970s when heroin became available. Availability is one of the most, if not the most, important contributory factors to the spread of heroin. Likewise in respect of marijuana-hashish. There is no difference in trends.

Much time has been invested on the issue of alcohol pricing. I have come to the conclusion that that is side stepping the problem. We all know that the cost of the drug or product will have little influence on an addict. It is a litmus test for this Parliament as to whether anything will be done. I do not confine my analysis of how this problem of the national drug will be dealt with to the removal of alcohol from supermarkets. The damage that has been done by the drinks industry and retailers, in terms of equating the national drug with a bottle of Lucozade and so on, should never have been allowed to happen. Legislators, irrespective of party membership, will have to make a decision on this issue. It is either right that a drug is sold beside bread and butter or it is not. I believe it is not right and that it should be removed. As I stated, much damage has been done. Politicians allowed this. It was past and not current Members who allowed it but we are going to try to change it now. Politicians must take the blame for what happened.

My colleague, Deputy Conway, spoke of the generation of children for whom the sale of alcohol in supermarkets is a light-hearted issue. I am a user and so can speak with some authority. There is a perception that a generation of children have been brought up in a certain way. People mystify themselves by asking about the prominence of home drinking. Some people suggest it is the smoking ban but it is not. The national drug is the national drug and it is fashionable and seen as harmless. That is a major contributory factor. Mr. Greaves made his point well. People's disposable incomes changed during the Celtic tiger and anyone who claims over-consumption of alcohol did not take place in that era has been taken over by delusion. There is no one solution to the tapering of consumption of the national drug. A multiplicity of elements affect us, including price, availability and the major problem that we like our drink and we are not like other Europeans when it comes to alcohol. It is a civic thing and I do not like to use the word "culture" but we have a culture of drinking. In terms of a drug, the word culture is inappropriate. The civic element is a considerable factor and politicians must take some of the blame for that.

Mr. Frank Gleeson

I will try to answer as many questions as possible. Regarding Deputy Regina Doherty's point, we are open-minded about promotion and price. If equitable legislation is published, we will engage in the debate and do what we can to assist the Government in making its decisions. We introduced the RRAI code voluntarily in the trade, which does not allow advertising in windows of supermarkets and convenience stores. I cannot say the same for other alcohol outlets such as specialist off-licences-----

Mr. Gleeson is dealing with retail.

Mr. Frank Gleeson

We know that. Retail Ireland involves supermarkets and convenience stores and we do not put alcohol advertising in the windows or in the entrances to premises. I am disappointed to hear that one of the Deputies saw alcohol beside Pampers because we have achieved a significant amount of separation-----

Two weeks ago, I walked into Dunnes Stores, Bishopstown Court. I am naming it deliberately and I shop in my community. I walked in the door and past the fruit and vegetable section, the bread and confectionery and as I was heading towards the meat and fish section I saw a display of wine. I walked back and I happened to see the store manager, who I will not name, who was walking about with his staff. I said it to him and I mentioned the RRAI code. I am paraphrasing him but he completely dismissed me, telling me that I did not know what I was talking about and that he got his instructions from the head office. I commend Mr. Gleeson on making it clear that alcohol will only be displayed in a separate area and that in-store advertising is confined to the area in which alcohol is displayed. I met the store manager at 8.30 a.m and he told me that he gets his instructions from head office. Dunnes Stores Bishopstown Court is a very fine store. This display was away from the section where alcohol is sold.

Mr. Frank Gleeson

That is in breach of our voluntary code.

It is. The store manager was adamant and he told me that my complaint was noted.

Mr. Frank Gleeson

We are very disappointed with that. It is in breach of our code and Dunnes Stores are members of the RRAI. I am pleased that this complaint is on record. When our retailers breach our code, the public has an opportunity to phone a hotline number. The complaints are logged and followed up.

To be fair to the store in question, it is very strict on sale of alcohol to under age people. They have stopped people from purchasing alcohol and are vigorous in checking this point. Like Deputy Conway, I was alarmed that there was a display of wine on the way to the meat counter.

Mr. Frank Gleeson

That is unacceptable. It is in breach of the code and we will take the complaint back to the independent chairman, Pádraic White. We have taken action against members of the RRAI who breach the code inadvertently or, in some cases, deliberately. We want the code to work. Although it has reduced sales in our retail channel, it has introduced some regulation that has helped our retailers to be more responsible. I am pleased to hear the Chairman say that we are strict on age. There are dire consequences for someone behaving in the way the Chairman has described.

We are absolutely against Dial-a-Drink and we do not think it appropriate because it is an uncontrolled environment. It needs to be dealt with. With regard to Deputy Maloney's question, our members are audited independently and we are trying to get some independence in respect of how we trade. We represent a vast number of retailers, from large supermarkets to small independent stores, most of whom are part of the community and do not want to be irresponsible in their sale of alcohol. We comply with legislation on the legal products we sell. We have introduced a voluntary code that goes far beyond the legislation and it has been a positive step in the retail industry. We have improved matters in respect of display and advertising. Notwithstanding that, other people advertise alcohol.

It is on record that consumption is down over the past number of years and people are moving from pubs to drinking at home. The smoking ban, drink driving and the cost of alcohol in pubs are a number of causal factors. It is not unlike what one sees in other countries, such as the US or in parts of Europe, where more alcohol is drunk at home rather than in pubs. The pub culture in Ireland is changing and we have no control over that. We attempt to sell a legal product in a responsible manner and we do our best as an industry to put forward its positive face. We support all of the community initiatives. Most of our members are part of the community and would like to work with community groups to stop secondary purchasing, which is a major issue.

Mr. Torlach Denihan

Regarding Deputy Regina Doherty's point about the price issue, we are mindful of cross-Border shopping. We recommend that it be borne in mind. Deputy Conway asked what Retail Ireland is doing and, as Mr. Gleeson has outlined, unlike any other sector we have independently audited compliance with the code. This is overseen by Mr. Pádraig White, the former chief executive of the IDA. Reference was made to the wording of the code, "as far as possible", and the independent auditors are instructed to apply the wording only to small stores. This has been discussed in detail with the Department of Justice and Equality and is rigorously implemented by Mr. White. We are taking other restrictions on a voluntary basis. Members will not see alcohol-only advertising in newspapers, radio or television from subscribers to the code. The alcohol content of advertisements is capped at 25% on a voluntary basis. Alcohol is displayed in a separate area of the store and cannot be displayed or advertised in shop windows. In-store advertising is confined to the area where the alcohol is displayed and there are designated checkout points where alcohol can be purchased. Staff have received proper training in this area and it is all overseen and independently verified. We had attempted to do this over the past number of years and we are willing to take the process forward and develop it.

Can the witnesses make a comment on branded bags? This is a practical way of tracking secondary selling. Where does the data come from to inform the statistic about the decline in consumption of alcohol and who commissioned the research?

We will now take comments from Mr. Gleeson and Mr. Greaves.

Mr. Hugh Greaves

Regarding deliveries, our understanding is that all of large supermarkets practise home delivery of alcohol through ordinary grocery sales, including alcohol, which is delivered to homes.

We were told the opposite in terms of the payment method.

Mr. Hugh Greaves

They deliver alcohol to homes.

We were told it was debit card or credit card.

We were told one had to have a debit card or a credit card.

Mr. Hugh Greaves

Mr. Gleeson said it did not encourage dial a can but it practises it. For quite a long time, we have asked for a clear direction from the Garda on enforcement. A number of operators in our locality are accepting cash. Their delivery drivers accept cash at point of delivery and they also accept credit cards. That was highlighted in the "Prime Time" programme the Deputy mentioned.

Do the drivers check identity and age?

Mr. Hugh Greaves

We cannot say "Yes" or "No" but anecdotal evidence suggests that drivers do not, especially if delivering to a gang of young people on a street corner at 10 p.m. or whatever. We have asked the Garda to take action in this regard in terms of enforcement of existing legislation. There is no need to change the legislation as we understand it is illegal under existing legislation. Our local gardaí have not got a clear direction from Garda headquarters on this. If the committee could call for the enforcement of the existing legislation, it would be very helpful. It would also be very helpful if Retail Ireland said that it was not in favour of the delivery of alcohol to homes, regardless of how it is paid for.

Mr. Dermot King

I refer to one of the points raised by Deputy Maloney about alcohol being a national drug. It is ironic that we had a national drugs strategy for a long time but alcohol was excluded from it. It is significant that it is only more recently that alcohol has taken its place in the discussion.

A point which came up a number of times today and in previous discussions is addiction and alcohol. Much of our work in terms of a community response is that we work at a whole series of levels. There are a lot of points before the classic profile of an addicted person is arrived at. One of the things we constantly work on is motivating people to make a change at whatever point and working with their decisional balance. It is one of the methodologies. Part of that is accurate information on what is really happening. It is very helpful to hear the kind of depth of sentiment at the committee on the impact of alcohol on people's lives, in particular young people's lives.

Having said that, one of the things the research threw up was that young people also have a lot to say about it. Deputy Conway referred to them having a voice. When they are listened to, their voice is very telling and it gives very significant information.

From what we have heard in the presentations we have had, young people are voting to consume more alcohol by their actions, even though they express concern. In his opening statement, Mr. King eloquently referred to the effects and side effects. How do we get young people to change this mentality?

Mr. Dermot King

One of the points about this decisional balance is that people are beginning to get accurate, clear and precise information. Work around prevention intervention theory states very clearly that many of the scare tactics which have been used in the past are not effective. Again, the research supports that. Once people pass the age of 12 or 13, those messages about how badly it will effect one are too long-term, too distant or too insignificant.

I am being a devil's advocate but all the money invested, the powerful remarks this morning and the genuine and passionately held views have not solved the problem. We are investing millions of euro in alcohol and drug prevention and reduction strategies, but one could argue that it is not working on a certain cohort of young people.

To some extent, I agree that often we are trying to deal with the problem after the horse has bolted. What Mr. King asked, although I may be wrong, is how we equip young people to make positive choices. There is a deficit in how our children are educated in terms of their social and emotional development as young people. It is a void in our education system. We teach our children to make social choices based on religious instruction and, in a way, that has been an easy way for us to get out of teaching them what it is to be a friend and what it is to have a relationship. That is a personal belief.

In youngballymun and other centres such as Knocknaheeny in Cork and Roselawn in Dublin, there are preschool programmes for children between the ages of three and five where children are allowed to plan how they will play each day, how they will carry it out and how they will review it. If we can get to children at that early age where they can engage in making positive choices, understand that the choices they make have consequences and enable them to make and maintain positive relationships, it will go a long way to sort out our problems with drugs and alcohol.

That is what has been wrong with previous Administrations. They have thrown money at the problem. The problem for politicians is that if we invest in children between the ages of three and five, we will not see the return for ten to 15 years but elections are held every five years. The Government must do this over the next four years.

Mr. Dermot King

In terms of why it has not had the effect it could have had, in any Irish policy context, there have been different sub-committees on health and on licensing which have come out with contradictory messages. In some way, there is a kind of split psyche. It is as if we are opening the door and closing it at the same time. Young people are very much part of that as well. In terms of them making significant change, the work we do is one side but the other side is very much needed as well.

Ms Cara Fennelly

I agree with Deputy Conway about self-esteem issues which came up in the research. Personal development is very important to young people and peer pressure can be defining. Young people go through different phases in their lives and it is not enough to stop at five years of age. At 12 years of age, their parents are suddenly at the back and their peers come to the fore. We must recognise, listen and acknowledge and not make assumptions about young people. We must recognise the phases through which they go and meet them at those places. Ideally, it would be great if a young person never drank but we must meet those who drink where they are at.

Mr. Christian Herbert

The relationship between the parent and the young person and opening communication was mentioned in the research. If it is down to making healthier choices, one thing which came out of the research was that many young people binge drink, so they are sober going home and the parents do not know. The relationship between the young person and the parents could be explored along with using peers. The majority of people said advertising does not work. A new approach is needed. One thing which came up very strongly was an open relationship and opening up communication with parents.

Mr. Frank Gleeson

In regard to dial-a-can, it is typically operated by independent off-licences and not by supermarkets or large convenience store chains, so Retail Ireland would not be in favour-----

I refer to crates of Budweiser because one can buy-----

Mr. Frank Gleeson

Retail Ireland would not be in favour of dial a can.

It would be helpful it if said that.

Mr. Frank Gleeson

Retail Ireland would not be in favour of dial a can.

Do the major retail outlets, which have a home delivery service, include alcohol as part of that service? Tesco, Dunnes-----

SuperValu or whatever.

I am not sure if Dunnes has home delivery.

One can buy a sliced pan and a crate of beer.

Mr. Frank Gleeson

I presume alcohol could be delivered as part of a weekly shop. I do not know the answer to that question, so I will check it.

They do but it is not a crime. The problem is that alcohol is classified the same as bread, sugar and milk.

Mr. Frank Gleeson

I refer to the question on where we get our data. Consumption data are based on the Revenue Commissioners' figures and the CSO figures. The figures are available if anyone wants to look at them. The majority of our retailers have branded bags. The industry was looking to bring in labelling on products, so one would know where the product was bought. Consumers do not have to take a bag; they have a choice. It is a big issue and I know from dealing with the Garda, which we deal with quite a lot, that it likes to pinpoint where the alcohol was bought but it is not always that easy nor is it easy to pinpoint who bought it. We will co-operate with any initiatives which would be practical.

To be fair, we must give the retail industry credit for the establishment of RRAI, Responsible Retailing of Alcohol in Ireland, which is audited independently by Mr. Padraic White. Should the industry be allowed to regulate itself?

Mr. Frank Gleeson

The voluntary code is working very well. People have bought into the process of self-regulation because they realise without some regulation, they will be subjected to imposed regulation. The industry, therefore, decided to adopt a voluntary code, of which we are in favour. In our submission we suggest it should be extended to other purveyors of alcohol, as it is very strong in its implementation. In fairness to Mr. Padraic White, he is a very strong, independent chairman and we welcome the opportunity to attend RRAI meetings because he puts us on the straight and narrow. I am on the board of directors and can tell the committee that we do not attend board meetings lightly if we have misbehaved in the way outlined.

I have another question and do not mean to put Mr. Gleeson on the spot, wearing his other hat as a businessman with petrol stations and other non-retail interests. It could be argued that the sale of alcohol in petrol stations has added to the availability of alcohol? Should its sale be prohibited in petrol stations and other such outlets?

Mr. Frank Gleeson

No, because the vast majority of petrol stations are owned and operated independently; therefore, it is people's livelihood. They possess the relevant licences and comply with the relevant legislation and covered by our code. Where possible, they adhere to the concept of separation in the sale of alcohol in their shops. I do not believe they have caused an increase in the level of alcohol consumption among any group. There is no evidence to suggest petrol stations, per se, have caused problems.

I am referring only to the availability of alcohol.

Mr. Frank Gleeson

The majority of petrol stations do not have an off-licence, but, in many cases, they have a wine licence, which is considered to be different from a licence to sell spirits and beer. Spirits, in particular, are considered to be hard liquor. It is expensive to buy a spirits and beer licence for a premises and planning permission is also required. It is difficult to obtain planning permission, as a viable business case to have a full off-licence in a petrol station has to be made because of their size. Our stores are capped at 100 sq. m, which make it difficult to broaden our retail offering.

Would Mr. Gleeson be in favour of reducing the size of the off-licence area in large multiples? Does he realise that the area in which alcohol is on display in some large multiples is larger than some of the smaller stores in the group?

Mr. Frank Gleeson

It is difficult to comment on that aspect. Retail Ireland's position is that we need natural competition in the market, which supply and demand will dictate. Where a larger store offers a larger selection of alcohol products than a smaller store, is this more likely to lead to the abuse of alcohol? I do not know the answer to that question.

In the American model no alcohol is sold in retail outlets; it is available only in package or off-licence stores.

Mr. Frank Gleeson

I am very familiar with the American model, as I sit on the board of the convenience and petroleum retailing industry's association. There are different laws in different states. Some states do not allow the sale of alcohol in such stores, while in others, the primary place in which to buy alcohol is a petrol station. There is no one fit in the United States. Alcohol is widely available in different multiple outlets.

Does anybody wish to comment?

Ms Cara Fennelly

Deputy Doherty suggested the Chairman was not supporting what we were trying to do. May I suggest he consider providing funding for our organisation?

There is no money available. I thank the representatives of Retail Ireland for appearing before the joint committee. Having met many people during the course of the debate on this issue, it is only fair that I say Retail Ireland is very strong on policing, for which I commend it.

I am concerned that we engage in buck passing and do not take responsibility for what happens in society. I hope everybody buys into the fact that we have a role to play in reducing the level of alcohol consumption. As I said during the committee's proceedings yesterday, part of our problem as a nation is that people are going out to drink to get drunk, rather than to socialise. We must take a collaborative approach to the issues around the consumption of alcohol.

I thank the people from Ballymun for making an excellent presentation and commend them for their great work. I wish Mr. Torlach Denihan great success in his next career move. I also wish his successor, Mr. Stephen Lynam, every success.

The committee has had an in-depth series of meetings on the issue of alcohol. We have an issue with the level of consumption and may have a disagreement on the figures for the actual levels. It is fair to say the level of consumption is too high and that our attitude to alcohol as a society and a culture must change. As legislators, we have an obligation to put our personal opinions aside to formulate a proper code of legislation.

The Minister of State at the Department of Health, Deputy Róisín Shortall, has a report that will be presented to the Cabinet and our report will dovetail with it. Public health and the well-being of citizens are our concerns. That is the reason this series of meetings was given priority.

I thank everybody for participating. Let me assure our guests that the committee will reflect on all the presentations made and the insights given during the question and answer sessions. We will act in the best interests of citizens.

Sitting suspended at 1.25 p.m; and resumed in private session at 1.30 p.m. The joint committee adjourned at 1.35 p.m. until 11.30 a.m. on Thursday, 19 January 2012.