In Budget 2009, as part of the programme of rationalisation of State agencies, it was proposed that the Food Safety Authority of Ireland, the Irish Medicines Board and the Office of Tobacco Control would be merged to form the Public Health and Medicines Safety Authority. The case for this merger was based primarily on the broadly similar functional responsibilities of the three bodies in terms of their standards setting and inspectorate functions, and their risk assessment and evaluation roles. However, following the pivotal role played by the FSAI during the 2008 dioxin incident, the Joint Committee on Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, in May 2009, recommended a reversal of this proposed merger. In December 2009, the inter-agency dioxin review group also recommended that the independence of Ireland's food safety infrastructure be maintained. The Government, thereafter, decided in June this year to retain both the FSAI and the IMB as independent, stand-alone agencies. The Government also decided to revert to its earlier decision to merge the OTC within the HSE as it was considered that there was no case for merging the OTC with either the FSAI or the IMB.
In introducing this Bill, it is appropriate to reflect on the comprehensive range of tobacco control legislation that has been introduced in Ireland since 2002 and the significant contribution made by the OTC in its implementation. These important public health measures include the smoke-free initiative in 2004, the ban on the sale of packs of cigarettes of less than 20 in 2007 and the ban on in-store display and advertising and the introduction of the retail register in 2009. This comprehensive range of tobacco control legislation places Ireland in the top rank of countries internationally. However, despite the legislative measures taken to date and the widespread knowledge of the harm caused by tobacco consumption, smoking prevalence in Ireland remains high.
In view of this it is now necessary to refocus our efforts to reduce smoking rates generally, with a particular emphasis on young people. With the core legislation already in place, we now need to focus to a greater extent on the broader health promotion and smoking cessation measures necessary to reduce smoking prevalence. This integrated approach, allied with ongoing enforcement of the legislation, is essential if we are to continue to make progress towards a tobacco free society. In this regard, the HSE has recently published its tobacco control framework to provide a coherent approach to promote public health by reducing tobacco use in Ireland. This framework recognises the need for effective and evidence based tobacco control measures, including offering help to people who want to quit and warning of the dangers of tobacco.
It is timely in this context that the Bill before the Seanad provides for the functions and staff of the Office of Tobacco Control to transfer into the HSE from 1 January 2011. This additional resource and expertise will significantly assist the HSE in achieving its tobacco related population health objectives in the years ahead; objectives that are fundamental to a reduction in the health and social burden of tobacco consumption in Ireland.
The Bill comprises 15 sections. Section 1 defines certain words and terms used in the Bill. Section 2 dissolves the office. Section 3 transfers functions of the office into the Health Service Executive. Section 4 provides for references to the office in any enactment to be construed as references to the Health Service Executive and for the completion by the HSE of any function commenced by the office prior to dissolution. Sections 5 and 6 transfer land, other property and any money, stocks, shares, securities, rights and liabilities of the office to the Health Service Executive. Section 7 provides that every contract or agreement made by the office which is in force immediately before the commencement of the Act, shall continue in force and have effect as if the Health Service Executive were substituted for office.
Section 8 substitutes the name of the Health Service Executive for the name of the office in any pending legal proceedings to which the office is a party immediately before the commencement of the Act. The proceedings shall not abate by reason of such substitution.
Section 9 provides that every person who is currently a member of staff of the office shall be transferred to and become an employee of the Health Service Executive. It ensures that their conditions of service, remuneration and superannuation benefits shall be no less favourable than those applicable immediately before commencement of the Act. The previous service of a person transferred shall be reckonable and they shall be deemed to be employed in accordance with the Health Acts 1947 to 2009.
Section 10 transfers each record held by the office immediately before commencement of the Act to the Health Service Executive. Sections 11 and 12 require the Health Service Executive to cause final accounts and final report of the office to be prepared and to be laid before each House of the Oireachtas.
Section 13 repeals Part 2 of the Public Health (Tobacco) Act 2002, which established the Office of Tobacco Control and sets out the general functions and procedures under which the office operated. Section 14 provides for the payment of expenses incurred by the Minister in the administration of the Bill out of moneys provided by the Oireachtas. Section 15 provides for the Short Title, commencement and collective citation.
I draw attention to the welcome given by the OTC's chairman to the transfer of the office into the HSE. The OTC considers that this move will ensure that Ireland's ongoing work to create a tobacco-free society, in which Ireland is a world leader, will stay at the heart of public health. I commend the Bill to the House.