I welcome the Minister for Health, Deputy Harris, to the House. Before we commence, I remind the House that a Senator may speak only once on Report Stage, except the proposer of the amendment who may reply to the discussion on the amendment. On Report Stage, each amendment must be seconded. Amendments Nos. 1, 5 and 29 are related and may be discussed together.
Public Health (Alcohol) Bill 2015: Report and Final Stages
We are starting with technical amendments that are straightforward. As I indicated on Committee Stage, I am proposing to amend section 1, which necessitates consequential amendments to sections 5 and 30. The proposed amendments are strictly technical and do not change any of the commencement dates in section 1 or make any substantive changes otherwise.
Amendment No. 1 will replace section 1 of the Bill as adopted on Committee Stage. The amendment to section 1 is necessary to correct a numbering reference in the Bill, as amended, which in error provides for two commencement dates for section 19 and none for section 20. Therefore, I am proposing to change one of the two references to "section 19" to "section 20", as originally intended. I am also proposing to reformulate this section for easier reading and understanding, but with no changes being made to the effect of the provisions.
The effect of an identical numbering error in section 30 with regard to sections 19 and 20 is corrected by amendment No. 29. Section 5 deals with the power of the Minister for Health of the day to make regulations and orders. Amendment No. 5 inserts a reference to section 1(5) into section 5(3). The effect of this amendment is that commencement orders made under section 1(5) will be exempted, along with all other commencement orders made under section 1. I commend these three technical amendments to the House.
As amendments Nos. 2 to 4, inclusive, amendment No. 6 and amendment No. 15 are related, they may be discussed together.
I seek the guidance of the Chair regarding the six amendments to the Intoxicating Liquor (Amendment) Bill 2017.
We are dealing with the Public Health (Alcohol) Bill 2017. It is a different Bill. The amendments to the Bill before the House can be found in the ante-room. One of the ushers will get them for the Senator. Does Senator Higgins wish to move amendment No. 2?
I will leave it to my colleague, Senator Black, to speak on it.
It would be better if Senator Black were to move the amendment, given that the mover of an amendment has the right to reply.
I move amendment No. 2:
In page 7, between lines 22 and 23, to insert the following:
" "Audiovisual Media Services Directive" means Directive 2010/13/EU of the European Parliament and of the Council of 10 March 2010 on the coordination of certain provisions laid down by law, regulation or administrative action in Member States concerning the provision of audiovisual media services;
"audiovisual media service” has the same meaning as it has in Article 1 of the Audiovisual Media Services Directive;".
I welcome the Minister to the House. I am speaking in support of amendments Nos. 2 to 4, inclusive, amendment No. 6 and amendment No. 15. Amendments Nos. 2 to 4, inclusive, and amendment No. 6 are purely technical and propose definitions to facilitate amendment No. 15. For example, "information society service" is the technical term used in EU law to cover services like Facebook, YouTube and Twitter. The proposed definitions facilitate the substantive amendment in this grouping, amendment No. 15, which deals with online advertising of alcohol targeted at children.
One of the main aims of the Bill before the House is to limit children's exposure to relentless alcohol advertising. Several advertising provisions in the Bill relate specifically to children. For example, the Bill proposes to restrict advertising within 200 m of schools, playgrounds and crèches or at children's sports events. Thanks to an amendment we secured on Committee Stage, this legislation's focus on child protection has been made very clear and is now explicitly stated in the Long Title of the Bill.
When we seek to address alcohol marketing in legislation, we are clear that we are focusing in particular on children. I thank the Children's Rights Alliance and other children's organisations that have supported us in our efforts. However, there is a significant gap in the Bill as it stands, in so far as it does nothing to address the growing problem of children's exposure to alcohol advertising online, especially through social media. This is really the most important means of reaching younger audiences today. My amendment would fill that gap by requiring advertisers to take "all reasonable steps" to ensure their online advertisements are not targeted at children. It provides guidance on what such reasonable steps might be. For example, there must be regard to whether "age verification controls" and "demographic targeting" have been used. Such mechanisms can be used to ensure particular Facebook advertisements do not appear on the timelines of users who are under a certain age.
This reasonable and workable measure draws on the current capacities of social media. Twitter, for example, has an age screening feature which requires each user to enter his or her date of birth before he or she can follow the account of an alcohol company. This amendment simply proposes that alcohol companies will be required to use such features where they exist. It does not relate to the content of advertisements, which is covered elsewhere in the Bill. It relates solely to alcohol advertisements that seek to target children. Importantly, the amendment merely asks companies to take "all reasonable steps" to prevent such targeting. It takes account of the cost of such measures, as well as the current state of the technology. This means that alcohol companies will not be asked to do anything unreasonable or disproportionately costly. They are simply being asked to use the normal tools that are available to exclude children from their advertisements. This is not a big request. It fills a really important hole in the Bill.
There is precedent for this proposal around the world. Facebook's advertising policies section gives information on the restrictions it uses in various countries. As a result of legislation like the Bill before the House, Facebook advertisements in Sweden, for example, are not targeted at people under the age of 25. We should seek to emulate this pretty simple measure here. I do not think it is unreasonable to ask companies to make an effort not to market alcohol to children on their smart phones. Such marketing practice is a reality today. I hope the Minister and Senators on all sides of the House will support this proposal.
I second the amendment. We welcome and support all the amendments in this group. As Senator Black has outlined, they relate to the issue of child protection, which is now covered under the heads of the Bill. Facebook, Twitter and Instagram are all owned by Facebook. Social media, which is an endless and all-pervasive means of communication, is the way of the future and is replacing one-to-one interaction. We have proposed these amendments, which seek to strengthen the child protection elements of the Bill with specific reference to online exposure, because we are responsible and we want to be protective of our children's futures.
When representatives of Facebook appeared before the Joint Committee on Children and Youth Affairs last week, we asked them to strengthen their protocols for dealing with cyberbullying, etc. I was not too convinced by their answers. I am not convinced that they have sufficient numbers to deal with Facebook's 1 billion members. While Facebook's child protection policies seem to be decent enough on the face of it, they are not doing the job they need to do. Facebook has said it will employ an additional 10,000 staff members around the world, many of whom will be involved in policing child bullying, in particular. I suggest these companies need to consider employing more people to ensure children who access Facebook, Twitter and Instagram on their phones can be protected. I welcome this important legislative proposal.
The central amendment is amendment No. 15. All of us share the objective of protecting children because children are the most vulnerable group and are easily targeted. They are also deliberately and specifically targeted by the drinks industry and there is an intention to introduce children to alcohol.
The proposed new section in amendment No. 15 includes the following paragraph: "A person shall not advertise, or cause to be advertised, an alcohol product by means of an information society service unless all reasonable steps are taken to ensure that the advertising cannot be viewed by children." I am curious to know who will monitor this provision. Will an agency do so because without monitoring, it will be useless verbiage?
I do not use social media and I am glad to say I am a complete computer virgin and hope to go to my grave as such. However, I understand the powerful impact of social media, particularly on young people. Wherever one sees young people, whether on the street, on a bus or in a restaurant, they are always checking things on their telephones. The measures provided for in amendment No. 15, including checks on whether age verification controls and demographic targeting have been used and whether an advertisement has been labelled or registered in a way that permits it to be blocked, are all important and practical. I commend the other Senators in the group which tabled the amendment. I hope it will be accepted by the Minister.
The Fianna Fáil Party group will support amendment No. 15 which is, as Senator Norris pointed out, the substantive amendment in the group. Enforcing its provisions will be a much harder task, however. I ask the companies in question to erect the barriers provided for in the amendment. There is very little we can do if young people provide a false date of birth on a website. A child of 11, 12, 16 or 17 years could indicate on a website that he or she is 18 years old. While the amendment is well intentioned, I do not know how effective it will be. It is fair to require that a mechanism be provided on a website, even if someone can enter false details to obtain access to information.
I oppose amendment No. 15 because the proposed measures are impractical and could not be policed. If one considers its implications, an advertisement placed on an Internet service abroad which then becomes available in Ireland through the Internet simply cannot be policed. If we accept the amendment, we will create a criminal offence punishable by the courts which no one can police. It is not practical to provide that all reasonable steps be taken to ensure children do not have access to a particular Internet medium. If, for instance, a site such as Netflix had an advertisement for Coors beer attached to a film, what could we do about it? Who would we prosecute and what court would sit and listen to the case? I note amendment No. 15 refers to "a jury". What jury will waste its time listening to such a case?
If a jury is empanelled, its members must listen to the case.
They would be better at home.
Juries cannot choose what they listen to.
That is the point. They should not be asked to waste their time on futile prosecutions.
That is a different point from the first point the Senator made.
Let us be practical by not inserting in legislation provisions that we know will not and cannot be enforced.
I believe we can monitor these measures. We should look forward to many discussions in the House on how we engage with online platforms and advertising. The reality of the modern world is that the online sphere, the data sphere and the way in which consent and access are managed are all part of people's everyday lives. As such, they fall into our realm, as legislators, and we cannot shirk the issue. This area is not an amorphous wilderness. Many of these advertisements are commercial in nature and are purchased through commercial platforms.
The previous speaker referred to Netflix. There are many mechanisms already in place to prevent people from watching certain films within certain jurisdictions. We all encounter cases of films being variously blocked or not blocked within certain territories. What is broadcast online and via the Internet is already affected by geographical jurisdiction and regional area. It is not a simple empty space but a space which we, as regulators, will have to consider more and more in order that we can provide protection and empowerment to citizens as they engage in it.
I will bring forward legislation in the near future to address the way in which citizens' data are used or targeted online. We must be clear that this is not a mysterious world but the world in which citizens, including children, operate. We have responsibility in this area and the proposed measures are highly practical. They provide for simple mechanisms such as age verification controls and how an advertisement is targeted once purchased. Advertising, as a commercial practice is an appropriate realm for regulation. The way in which an advertisement is targeted once purchased is a concrete, commercial, regulatory decision which falls within our realm. Legislators and the Judiciary will have to upskill in this area. The amendment is a good step forward and I will strongly support it.
Two issues arise regarding amendment No. 15. While most people will agree with the sentiment behind it, as Senator McDowell stated, the issue of enforceability arises. The amendment has probably started a conversation. We must ensure, however, that legislation is practical and works. We must not suddenly find that certain measures are unworkable because it is virtually impossible to unwind them. While the sentiments behind the amendment are good, we may need time to examine how the proposed measures could work in practice.
While I also support the sentiments underpinning the proposed amendment, I also share Senator McDowell's view on the issue of enforceability. There is no point including measures which cannot be enforced. It would be difficult to enforce these measures because much of the advertising involved is international in nature. We could seek to make progress in this area at European level. The problem with the amendment is the enforceability of the proposals.
As several previous speakers noted, the issue is one of enforcement. While we all agree that the sentiment behind the amendment is positive, there is no point including in legislation measures that cannot be enforced. We do not want to introduce a measure that does not work. We must take a practical approach. For this reason, I support the stance taken by the Minister.
I echo the views expressed by previous speakers on the purpose of the proposed measures, namely, the protection of children. Unfortunately, over the years, we have introduced laws which were subsequently shown to be unenforceable or not legal and fell as a result. Let us not allow the perfect to get in the way of the good. The good being done in the Bill is considerable and the Minister will be remembered for a long time for bringing the legislation through the House. I do not want it to fall or fail because of a well intentioned but unworkable amendment.
Senator Reilly's brief contribution got to the nub of the issue and does not merit repetition. As a parent and educationalist - I was a teacher for many years - it is important that young people are protected. We will have to address the potential of the Internet, Facebook and so forth to damage children. This is a whole new area which will need to be addressed properly.
All I want to do is acknowledge the quality of thought behind the amendments and the sentiments therein. The other arguments are well made and I will not repeat them.
Finally, the Minister to respond.
I thank Senator Black and her colleagues for tabling the amendment. I will begin by agreeing that they strengthened the Bill by adding the words "children and child protection" specifically into the Title, which is what this Bill is about. Obviously, we want to change behaviour and culture in Ireland in terms of alcohol. In particular, we want to try to target and change behaviour and culture among the next generation of Irish citizens. I very much understand what the Senators have tried to do here. I feel a bit conflicted because I want to do the same thing as them. I want to arrive at a situation whereby we can put restrictions on advertising on the Internet in terms of this space.
I share the concern of others about not wanting to put anything into this Bill that is not then effective. I will provide some of my views, having taken some soundings on it. The amendments put forward propose provide for the creation of an offence in a case where a person advertises, or causes to be advertised, an alcohol product on an information society service unless all reasonable steps are taken to ensure that the advertisement cannot be viewed by children. These steps include whether age verification controls have been used to prevent access by children to an advertisement.
This amendment uses the framework of the audiovisual media service directive which is within the remit of my colleague, the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment. My officials have consulted with that Department and the Department of Justice and Equality on this matter. The audiovisual media services directive is a sector-specific directive for television, and services that are like television. I am informed that the extension of its scope to include audiovisual content on any platform would cut across several directives and other regulations.
I would have some genuine concerns about the effectiveness of this proposed provision. If it was introduced for websites hosted in Ireland, for example, advertisers could simply move to websites that are not hosted in Ireland, but can be accessed by children in Ireland, in order to avoid the necessity to comply with this proposed amendment.
In terms of how effective age verification controls could be implemented, there is not enough clarity under the current proposal. A reliance on self-disclosure is obviously not a robust method of enforcement as children can simply claim to be over the age of 18 and, therefore, access the alcohol advertising.
I want to see this area fixed and Ireland should show leadership in this area. My ministerial colleagues and I should work at a European level on the audiovisual media services directive, which addresses all issues regarding intermediary or online platforms. That is what I will undertake to do, namely, to work with my colleague, the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment. I hope this Bill will pass this House today. We will have an opportunity to further engage on this legislation before it is introduced into the Dáil. I do not think there is any Member in this House who does not want to achieve what the Senators concerned want to achieve. I respectfully suggest that we examine ways we can do this at a European level. This country has a very good record of working at a European level to advance the public health agenda and I will certainly undertake to do that. I hope that the Senators consider not pressing the amendments. I will commit to further engagement.
Senator Black has the final word.
I am disappointed that the Minister does not support the amendment. I am glad to hear that Fianna Fáil supports it. I hear what the Senators are saying. Everybody agrees with the sentiment behind the amendment and acceptance of it would be fantastic. We can see what happened with Facebook. Young children use Snapchat and it displays advertisements for alcohol all the time. I hope that the amendment gets enough support from Senators to be accepted. I thank Fianna Fáil, Sinn Féin and all the other Senators for supporting the amendment.
We are dealing with amendment No. 2.
Can I respond?
Maybe we can try this another way. I genuinely do not want the Seanad to divide on this matter. My own party and Government shares the desire to protect children when they go online. I am concerned that the amendment may not be workable. I am concerned about the integrity of the Bill if we include an amendment we then find is not workable.
I reiterate my commitment to work with the concerned Senators on this issue. I will also engage with my colleague, the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment, along with the Senators, on how we could reflect this when we go into the Dáil. I will give that very strong commitment here. I just do not want to leave this House with a sentiment in legislation that we all agree with but that may not be effective. I do not wish to divide the House on the matter but that, genuinely, is my very strong view.
Is the amendment being pressed, Senator Black?
Which amendment is it?
We are dealing with amendment No. 2 at the moment, but these amendments are related.
That is the Senator's prerogative.
- Bacik, Ivana.
- Black, Frances.
- Conway-Walsh, Rose.
- Devine, Máire.
- Higgins, Alice-Mary.
- Humphreys, Kevin.
- Kelleher, Colette.
- Mac Lochlainn, Pádraig.
- Nash, Gerald.
- Norris, David.
- Ó Ríordáin, Aodhán.
- O'Sullivan, Grace.
- Ruane, Lynn.
- Warfield, Fintan.
- Boyhan, Victor.
- Burke, Colm.
- Burke, Paddy.
- Butler, Ray.
- Buttimer, Jerry.
- Byrne, Maria.
- Coffey, Paudie.
- Coghlan, Paul.
- Conway, Martin.
- Craughwell, Gerard P.
- Daly, Paul.
- Davitt, Aidan.
- Feighan, Frank.
- Gallagher, Robbie.
- Hopkins, Maura.
- Horkan, Gerry.
- Lombard, Tim.
- McDowell, Michael.
- McFadden, Gabrielle.
- Mulherin, Michelle.
- Murnane O'Connor, Jennifer.
- Noone, Catherine.
- O'Donnell, Kieran.
- O'Mahony, John.
- O'Reilly, Joe.
- Reilly, James.
I move amendment No. 3:
In page 7, between lines 34 and 35, to insert the following:
“ “information society service” has the same meaning as it has in Article 1 of Directive (EU) 2015/1535 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 9 September 2015 laying down a procedure for the provision of information in the field of technical regulations and of rules on Information Society services;”.
I move amendment No. 4:
In page 8, between lines 5 and 6, to insert the following:
“ “media service provider” has the same meaning as it has in Article 1 of the Audiovisual Media Services Directive;”.
I move amendment No. 6:
In page 10, line 21, after “20(1),” to insert “21(4),”.
Amendments Nos. 7 to 9, inclusive, are related and may be discussed together by agreement.
Amendments Nos. 7 and 8 are to amend section 12 on the labelling provisions of this Bill. On Committee Stage, Senator McDowell rightly raised the possibility that section 12(1) would not allow for the import of alcohol products and the subsequent addition of the health information to the product before the sale. As I undertook to, I sought legal advice on the issue and, as rightly could be expected from such an eminent legal mind as Senator McDowell, this proved to be correct, so I am now amending the section. The objective of the labelling provision is to ensure that when the alcohol product is sold in the State, it has health and content information on it. Amendments Nos. 7 and 8 delete the offences of importing an alcohol product without the necessary information, either on the label as in section 12(1) or without a document setting out the information in the case of reusable containers as in section 12(3). To ensure that manufacturers, whether within or outside the jurisdiction are treated the same, amendment No. 7 also removes the offence of manufacturing a product with the intention to sell in the State without the necessary information. The result of these amendments does not change the substance of what we are doing with labelling but provides clarity that products will be able to be imported or manufactured without the necessary information but these cannot be sold without that information being added. This new formulation will achieve the same objective but by more proportionate means.
Amendment No. 9 from Senator Black and colleagues proposes to specify the amount of printed material which should be given over to health related warnings on labels. The form of the warnings and information to be included on labels and related documents can be prescribed by regulations made under section 12(10). As the Bill provides for the Minister for Health to be able to determine the form of the warnings and information, including to prescribe the size and font type of those warnings, I do not propose to accept this amendment, purely because the Minister has the power to do that through regulations. I think that is the better place to do it, rather than having to come back to primary legislation every time we want to amend a regulation.
Will the Minister clarify, on the labelling, the situation I raised at an earlier stage about airports? Products manufactured in Ireland will carry the labelling but there are a certain amount of international products that are only on sale at airports and not in the domestic market. What is the situation with them? It would seem that it is not really relevant to the prohibition of alcohol or whatever. Will the Minister clarify that?
I have raised this matter privately and publicly and I am obviously very supportive of the Bill. I am a strong advocate of this type of preventative health measure. I have raised this issue and want to support my colleague on the matter of airports. It is only a small exception. We are talking about rare whiskeys and rare wines. We know alcohol is still bad for a person but it is not drunk in volume, unless one is a very well-off person who wants to drink a particular expensive alcohol and buys it in bulk when going through the airport, which is logistically difficult. It is fair for an exception to be made here. Airports compete with other airports internationally. They do not compete with people in Ireland for the most part. They are competing with Amsterdam Airport Schiphol, Heathrow and so on. It is an international market where people who fly a lot and sometimes buy a rare whiskey will buy it in certain airports. There is probably recognition that Dublin is a reasonable place to get this type of rare alcohol. There could be a Taiwanese whiskey, which is very rare. Airports would not necessarily want to provide labelling on those bottles. I am not going to bash the Minister over the head with it, but at the end of the day, I am supportive of the Bill and think it is reasonable. We are not going to try to stop anything from going through today but if it could be addressed in the Dáil, I would appreciate it.
The Minister might reassure me that, given the changes he is proposing, it would still be an offence for an alcoholic product to be manufactured without the appropriate labelling being included on the container. There was confusion from some people I spoke to yesterday evening based on the changes the Minister is proposing. Some were assuming that a literal meaning of that might mean there would no longer be any obligation on the manufacturer to provide the labelling on the container but that that labelling obligation might fall on the shopkeeper. I am sure it is not the Minister's intention for that to be the case. Will he reassure me and the House that it is still the obligation of the manufacturer to include, on the container, the appropriate labelling as would be provided for under this legislation? In general, pertaining to labelling, I ask that the Minister and his officials engage in some detail with the Irish Cancer Society which is particularly anxious to ensure that we retain the measures, including the link between alcohol consumption and fatal cancers. I ask the Minister to engage with the society over the next short period between this Bill being passed, we hope, through Report and Final Stages today and when it enters the Dáil early in the new year. We want to ensure we can deploy best practice and get the best advice possible to ensure that this particular measure about linking excessive alcohol use and alcohol misuse to fatal cancers is done in the best possible way.
I will echo the last speaker. The health warnings are critically important. There was a real lack of awareness in this country until recently about the carcinogenic effect of alcohol and people need to be advised about it. The other issue I know was on the original Bill and which I presume is still there addresses the calorific content of alcohol. Many people do not realise how much of a contributor to obesity alcohol is. On the first point raised by Senator Nash, there is a need to be absolutely clear that all alcohol sold in this country, regardless of how it comes to be here, has to carry the warnings on the labels in their original context.
I will speak in favour of amendment No. 9 which seeks to ensure the evidence-based health warnings will take up a minimum of one third of the printed material on the label. As it stands, the Public Health (Alcohol) Bill makes it mandatory for labels to include health warnings but leaves details such as font, size, visibility and so on up to the Minister. We had a brief discussion on this point on Committee Stage and I understand the Minister feels that we should not put too much granular detail into the legislation. I appreciate this but without this amendment, we are essentially saying that we will leave it up to the Minister of the day to ensure the health warnings are noticeable and impactful. I know the Minister is very good and strong on this but a Minister might come in at another time who would not be as strong on it and that is my concern. I have no doubt that the Minister, Deputy Harris, would be very committed but we do not know if this would be the case for whoever may take up the role in the future. I am seeking reassurances on this point since I do not want to see a health warning introduced that amounts to a small run of text that simply will not make any difference. I am glad that the Bill will introduce these warnings but they must be substantial in size and clarity. They would not be effective if they were small and unnoticeable. I hope we will see support across the House, but if not, I urge the Minister to put strong assurances on the record today that when the labels are drawn up, expert advice will be sought on their size and shape and that they will be substantial.
An excellent thing that has arisen from the debate on the Public Health (Alcohol) Bill is the raising of awareness among people about the health consequences for abuse of alcohol in their lives and the consequences of binge-drinking. There has been much debate about it and we need more information and education. Alcohol, its abuse and the health consequences have been described. There are other foodstuffs that can have serious health consequences if abused or taken the wrong way.
I want to take up what Senator Noone had to say about the drinks industry at the moment. It is on the amendment and it is about the labelling. We are promoting the sale of premium drink products abroad. We are encouraging start-ups here at home. If we have a massive cancer sign on a label on a bottle of alcohol that we sell in this country but which is not on it when we are selling it abroad, there is a contradiction. We are saying that if one takes a drink here, potentially one is going to get cancer. We are selling it abroad but it is not subject to the same labelling. We also have the Internet to contend with and digital media. The idea that we have a product that we are selling abroad, saying it is premium, and yet we have a health warning label on it here, is something of a contradiction in policies.
In the development of the regulations around this, perhaps there could be engagement with the affected small start-up businesses and industry to get a reasonable solution. That would take on board what the Minister, Deputy Harris, is trying to do. It would also take on board the realities of business and the reality that the Government is encouraging them to produce this product and grow their businesses as provided for in Foodwise 2025. The Minister has engaged with the small shop owners in a most welcome fashion. Would he have a similar conversation with small start-up businesses and industry and not just shut it down? There is a fair point about a certain contradiction.
I am following the same line of thought as Senator Mulherin. It is an issue I have raised previously. We have a whiskey industry that we are trying to promote nationally and internationally. It is one of the key drivers in some parts of the economy, particularly in the southern half of the country. We have to look where we are going with our microbrewing industry and how we are tying it into place. These are high-end expensive products. These are products that are really like a collector's item rather than a item for consumption. Is it practical to be putting labels on something that will probably never be consumed? When we look at where the industry and market is going worldwide, there is a niche in that market itself.
When the Bill goes to the Dáil, we might look at some flexibility around these issues regarding this high-end product. Senator Noone said that there are very few people going to be consuming these products. They are such a high-end product that it is very unusual to see them consumed in a manner which will cause huge issues. It is an issue that we could look at, in particular the high-end issue. I have no problem, and I mean this, with the low-end stuff because that is where we need the legislation to take effect. Looking at what we are trying to do, we have a food policy in place, we are putting money into our distilling industry and there is also going to be a tourism trail for the whiskey industry itself. This is going to be very high-end stuff. When we put a label on such a high-end product, it does not do it justice in many ways. We should look at some flexibility around that issue.
I have heard a fair amount of nonsense in my time but there is a good quantity of it around here this morning.
Please be brief.
I will be very brief and absolutely to the point as I always am. I am strongly in favour of alerting people to the dangers of cancer.
It is an extraordinary attitude to say let us protect our own citizens but we will poison all the bloody old foreigners. We do not give a damn about them. They can get cancer in Germany or Italy or France or wherever it is. It does not bother us. We will not have to pay for it through our health service. I think that is a lot of rubbish. I also think it is a complete load of rubbish to say that these are collectors' items and that people are going to buy them, stick them up and admire them. Fine, if they are not going to drink them the label is not going to affect them. Forget that argument for a start.
Then there is this stuff about airports competing against each other. With the greatest respect, and I paid tribute to Senator Noone yesterday for her wonderful conduct of the Joint Committee on the Eighth Amendment of the Constitution, on the idea that airports are competing with each other, does the Senator seriously think-----
Yes, I do.
-----that someone going from Dublin Airport will say he or she cannot get his or her rare Vietnamese whiskey? I have never heard of Vietnamese whiskey-----
Taiwanese. The Senator needs to educate himself.
Very high quality.
Taiwanese. High-class Taiwanese. I will spite Dublin Airport, take myself off, get a flight from Schiphol Airport and I will buy my Taiwanese whiskey there. I never heard such utter rubbish in my entire life and I have heard a fair quantity of rubbish both here and in Trinity.
Order now, please.
Senator Norris is as entertaining as ever. I am speaking as a co-signatory to amendment No. 9 on health consequences. I know we will deal later with an amendment to this tabled by the Labour Party. A third of the space to be given is an appropriate amount to protect our health. It is not just physical health consequences and every single part of our bodies, but also our minds. We had the association of general practitioners in yesterday presenting to Committee on the Future of Mental Health Care. When we asked the representatives about alcohol and co-morbidity, they just threw their eyes up and threw their hands in the air. I cannot emphasise enough the impact of alcohol. A third of the space on a bottle, can or whatever it may be is appropriate to warn against alcohol abuse.
I thank Senator McDowell for highlighting the issues relating to sections 7 and 8. I thank the Minister, Deputy Harris, for looking at it very carefully, taking on board comments in the previous debate and bringing forward the amendments. They are very welcome. On amendment No. 9, this is not an unreasonable amendment. We are talking about one third of the total printed material being set aside for health warnings. It is a matter that we should give serious consideration to in accepting this amendment. I certainly think it has been well researched by the Senators who have brought it forward. It is something that we should support.
I want to raise again a matter I raised on Committee Stage, namely, the language of any warning. Is it going to be in both Irish and English or will one suffice? I have not had any clarity on this thus far. If it is going to be in both languages, I am just making the point that these are going to get very lengthy. I remember getting my bus tickets when I was a kid going to school in the 1950s and wondering what the small print in the corner of the bus ticket actually meant, whenever there was ink in the conductor's machine to read it.
We have got to the point now where if we are going to have bilingual notices, that might also colour what Senator Norris has said about sending our produce off to Vietnam in Irish as well. There are issues which we have to be practical about here-----
Senator Michael McDowell: There was a matter that I raised on the Committee Stage and I want to raise it again now. That is the lanuage of any warning. Is it going to be in both Irish and English? Or will one suffice? I have not had any clarity on this thus far. If it is going to be in both languages these are going to get very lenghty. I remember getting my bus tickets when I was a kid going to school in the 1950s and wondering what the small print in the corner of the bus ticket actualyy meant when there was actually ink in the conductor's machine to read it. We have got toit the point now that if we are going to have bilingual notices that might also colour what Senator Norris has said about sending our produce off to Vietnam in Irish as well. There are issues which we have to be practical about here.
There are Vietnamese Irish speakers. Did we not have one winning a case about-----
Exactly. The point I want to raise is that before we get carried away about the physical extent of the written words we had better be clear about what is going to be written and in how many languages it is going to be written.
I agree with Senator McDowell that we should be very clear what we are going to put on the labels. In relation to what my colleague from Mayo, Senator Mulherin, said about the labels, we should take a look at it before it goes to the Dáil. The organisation known as Drink Aware is funded by the industry, it does great work and works closely with the Department of Health on problems that people have-----
One at a time. Order, please. Senator Burke has the floor. Please be respectful.
I am led to believe that the health service works closely with it when people have problems. They go to it for advice on various issues regarding measurements and so forth.
It has brought forward many good proposals. It is funded by the organisation. It is independent and has an independent board.
One is never independent if one is funded by a sectional interest.
The board is fully independent. It does great work. I ask the Minister to look at this in regard to the labels that he will draft. There will be no need for Drinkaware when the Minister drafts the label that is proposed in this legislation. I am asking the Minister to look at this before the Bill goes to the Dáil or before he concludes in the Dáil.
It is important the Minister would clarify that this only applies to products sold in the Irish State. I think there is merit in Senator Reilly's comment about calorific value, however one manages to quantify it so that people know the calories. Perhaps we need to consider identifying it by symbols, for example the symbols on food packages - the red, the green, the orange or whatever. I am not an expert in this area but if we are to have writing in Irish and English - Senator McDowell might want it written in Latin-----
That would be too laborious.
Deputy Harris made a point about the ministerial order, and I presume the ministerial order could specify greater than one third, such as 40% or 50%. The amendment is looking for a guarantee of one third. Will the Minister indicate his thoughts as to where his initial base position is on this?
I want to put factual information in the public domain on Drinkaware. Drinkaware is funded by the alcohol industry.
I said that.
That means it is not an independent organisation and it does not work with the Department of Health. At present Drinkaware in South Africa is running a domestic violence campaign while also advertising whiskey. Drinkaware is trying to get into the health system, to also make profits on drink. It should be on the record that Drinkaware does not work with the Department of Health. I do not believe the Department of Health wants to work with it. It is not independent and has a vested interest in alcohol and alcohol sales.
Let me reiterate, as colleagues have, that my Department has no relationship whatsoever with Drinkaware.
My Department has also written to other Departments and agencies to make that very clear, including the Road Safety Authority and the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. I know that Senator Burke is supporting the legislation. What we are doing today is quite significant. We are moving beyond the need for industry baddies taking responsibility or voluntary codes, to state that we as legislators are taking charge of this-----
-----and that we have a public health duty. It is for the industry to do whatever it wants but that we will have our own labelling system as a result of the legislation. I accept the points Senator Burke makes about the need to engage, consult and inform people about any change to any labels and to engage with a wide range of stakeholders. I will certainly undertake to do so. If one is making a change to any product it is important to notify people and inform them of the impact it will have in advance of that happening.
Senator Nash put an important question about the practicalities of who has to put the label on the product after this change. That is an important point. In the original Bill and now, the offence is "to sell" and it arises when the product is being sold. For example, industry will have to sell to a wholesaler before it gets to the shops. I am quite satisfied that the practical obligation will still rest with whoever wants to sell the products because nobody will be able to sell the product without the appropriate label.
On the question of the size of the labels, I have listened very carefully to what Senators Black and Horkan have said as well as to what my Fine Gael colleagues have said. I am willing to accept that amendment because it is in line with what we were going to do anyway.
Is the Minister going to accept amendment No. 9?
Yes. As the Senator was good enough to outline, it is in line with what I intend to do anyway. Putting it in legislation just provides that absolute clarity.
I always planned on introducing labels. We are not here just to pretend we are going to do things. We are putting labels on to make people very much aware of the health consequences. I thank Senators Black and Devine for bringing forward the amendment. I am happy to accept it.
The legislation already states in section 12(11) that when the Minister or any future Minister for Health is making regulations, he or she should consider any expert research available on the effectiveness of labels. We have tried to capture that already in the legislation.
I take the point that Senator Mulherin makes about other products and the importance of making our citizens aware right across the range of products in terms of their own health and the health content or lack thereof in various products. Through the Healthy Ireland agenda and the national obesity strategy we will pursue that.
On the issue of labelling products for sale at airports, I hear what people are saying. There is a leadership role. If one were to stand in this Chamber and introduce the smoking ban years ago, one could have had people stand up and say, "We are doing it and other countries are not doing it." Sometimes somebody has to move. I certainly hope that Ireland making this change regarding labelling will result in it coming in other countries and that we will be able to go to European health Ministers' meetings and ask them if they have heard what we are doing in Ireland and if they have an opinion on it.
I take the point that regulations will enable me to engage in terms of providing specific information as well. From a health perspective, my basic premise is that if we are going to decide that we need to provide people with information and health information, we do need to provide that, irrespective of where the product is sold in the country of irrespective of the cost of the product.
I am happy to clarify for Senator Horkan that this absolutely relates to sales in Ireland, not exports, but I certainly hope other countries will follow what I hope will be Ireland's lead in this area.
Will the Minister clarify the question raised by Senator McDowell about whether the labelling would be in both English and Irish?
I should clarify that. I accidentally overlooked Senator McDowell's question. The labels, just as other labels, will have to be in both Irish and English.
I thank the Minister for that clarification.
On a point of information.
I cannot allow Senator Nash in again.
In the interest of clarification I think it would be important that the Minister would clarify this point.
We cannot have another debate on it.
I am not requesting another debate. I am requesting clarification so that we are all clear on what we will have to support.
I should not be allowing any Senators to speak a second time on Report Stage.
Where does the onus for providing the label rest? In the original iteration of the Bill, the manufacturer had responsibility for providing the label on the container in which the alcohol was sold. It seems now that this responsibility is no longer with the manufacturer but ultimately rests with the person who will be selling it. At which point in the process is the label introduced? That is an important clarification.
Will the Minister clarify that point briefly?
That is a fair point. The offence in the Bill is "to sell". If one owns a shop and sells the alcohol without the label, one has committed an offence. The point I am making is that, in practice, the person producing the product will have to sell it to wholesalers. Who will buy the product?
If it leaves the manufacturers facility without the label, it is no longer an offence.
The offence is only committed when the product is on sale.
The point of sale?
Exactly. The distribution cycle will not work if people are producing products that cannot be sold.
I understand that in practice.
That is it.
I move amendment No. 9:
In page 15, line 39, to delete “concerned;” and substitute the following:
“concerned, where at least one third of the printed material will be given over to evidence- based health warnings;”.
I second the amendment.
Amendment No. 10 arises out of Committee Stage proceedings. Amendments Nos. 10 and 11 are related and may be discussed together by agreement.
I move amendment No. 10:
In page 17, between lines 28 and 29, to insert the following:
“(e) a premises which is defined as a visitor centre which may or may not attach to a manufacturing licensed premises, such a visitor centre being defined as a tourism attraction the purpose of which is to generate tourism based on the manufacturing process of an alcohol product.”
I second the amendment.
I second the amendment.
The Fianna Fail group tabled amendments Nos. 10, 18, 25 and 27, as well as amendments Nos. 16, 22 and 26, which are now Government amendments, as they have the same wording as Fianna Fáil amendments.
The Minister has come along way from where he started and we have come a long way from where the Department started. We have moved from two bays to three bays and changed from one year to two years in terms of construction. We have gone from 1.8 m to 1.2 m in the physical barrier height.
Is this relevant to amendment No. 10?
Senator Coffey, I am in the Chair and I will rule on these matters.
I am trying to be helpful but I will stop being helpful if Senator Coffey wants. With the Minister, our party has some significant achievements in the context of this Bill so I will not press the amendment.
I move amendment No. 11:
In page 17, between lines 34 and 35, to insert the following:
“(c) a warning that is intended to inform the public of the direct link between alcohol and fatal cancers,”.
This is a fairly straightforward amendment. We have accepted the principle that there should be labelling around alcohol misuse and its link to fatal cancers. This amendment merely seeks to include the principle in the content of advertisements as well.
I agree in principle with the amendment but I am a bit worried about putting too much into legislation as it makes it difficult to bring forward regulations. Would the Senator be happy if this was brought forward by way of regulation? This would give more discretion to the Minister. It is important to emphasise that there is a direct link between alcohol and cancer but I think regulation would be the way to deal with it, rather than legislation.
I cannot support amendment No. 10 from Senators Swanick and Ardagh.
It has been withdrawn.
I will say a few words about amendment No. 11 from myself and the Labour Party Senators, and I would like to thank Senator Nash in particular for his co-operation on this point. We spoke at length on the previous Stage about the clear link between alcohol and cancer and the need to reflect this in the legislation. We know that every year in Ireland, 900 new cancers and 500 cancer deaths are attributable to alcohol, but public awareness on this point is very low and this amendment can help to change that.
I was delighted that the Minister and Senators from all sides of the House accepted our four amendments on this point on the previous Stage.
I disagree with my distinguished colleague, Senator Colm Burke. It is very important to put this amendment through. The link between alcohol and cancer has not, until recently, been generally known. I certainly did not know that one in eight cases of breast cancer was caused by alcohol. It is extremely important to insist that information about the link between cancer and alcohol consumption be put on these labels.
I support the amendment and commend the Senators who brought the amendment forward from Committee Stage. I repeat what I said on that Stage that this measure is vital. The death rate through cancer in the poorest parts of Dublin is twice the rate of affluent areas. The proportion of alcohol-related deaths from cancer in Ireland is higher than the European average. It is about education and having the information on the label in a very visible way. I commend our national broadcaster for its recent advertisements on the radio, which have featured women talking about breast cancer and its link to alcohol.
I will not repeat what everybody else has said but I endorse the amendment and thank Senator Nash for proposing it.
I agree with what the Minister said earlier on. I commend him on accepting the earlier amendment because the more one puts into legislation the more difficult and unwieldy it is to deal with regulations at a later stage. On the same basis that we accepted the amendment of Senator Frances Black, we have to accept this amendment. This is a critical point of information that I raised earlier on. Awareness that excessive use of alcohol can cause fatal cancers is minimal in this country and it needs be put into law, so I hope the Minister will accept the amendment.
I wholeheartedly support this amendment and commend the Minister on accepting it. It shows how well the Seanad can work and that we are not overly political about things.
I support the amendment as it is important to be unequivocal about this. Along with many other people, I was unaware for a long time of the links with a number of cancers. Senator Devine is correct that the recent radio advertising campaign on the link between breast cancer and alcohol was effective and should be commended. There should be more of such advertising. Labelling is critical but advertising and other media have a strong impact.
I thank Senators for their contributions. I said on Committee Stage that there was no doubt that there was a link between alcohol and cancer. It is a scientific fact, even if some do not wish to acknowledge it in public debates. It is not the only condition linked to alcohol and we need to avoid creating a hierarchy of conditions. On Committee Stage, we accepted a reference to cancer in labelling so it is consistent to replicate that in advertising and I am happy to support amendment No. 11. I thank Senators Nash, Black and Devine and I also thank those from my own party and from Fianna Fáil for their work on this.
I welcome the Minister's commitment.
Amendment agreed to.
Amendment No. 12 arises out of Committee proceedings. Amendments Nos. 12 to 14, inclusive, are related and may be discussed together.
I move amendment No. 12:
In page 20, lines 3 and 4, to delete “or within 200 metres of the perimeter of the grounds,”.
This group of amendments deals with a proposal that it be an offence to have any form of advertisement, which is not attached to a pub, within 200 m of the perimeter of a school grounds, a crèche - which in colloquial terms is a preschool or an early schooling place - or a playground. I worked out the figures relating to the city of Dublin and there are 444 mainstream primary schools in the city, 177 post-primary schools and 1,260 child care facilities. If Senators were to open out a map and use a protractor to draw a 200 m exclusion zone around all of those premises they would see that many main roads would be off limits. The legislation requires one to look at the perimeter of a school so if there are extensive football grounds it would involve going off into the neighbouring roads for the 200 m limit within which advertising hoardings would be banned.
The second problem with this legislation is that, for example, if someone opened up a crèche in Hawkins Street or at one end of Temple Bar, the Heineken advertisement on O'Connell Bridge House would have to come down.
That is what this legislation is all about. I live in Ranelagh and on Ranelagh Road, for instance, one has the presence of a multidenominational school, Sandford Park School, Muckross Park School, and the Church of Ireland national school beside Sandford church. The provision means, effectively, that large swathes of streets become off-limits to advertising hoardings.
That is the point.
Order in the House.
If that is the point, then let us be clear that one can have advertisements for McDonalds, Smarties and fattening sweets in these places. However, one would be operating on the basis that children going into a crèche would be influenced by a Coors beer advertisement, in some sense, and softened up psychologically to alcohol when they reach the ages of 15, 16, 17 or 18.
That is the point. Senator McDowell is being repetitive.
Order, please. Senator McDowell, please.
In my view this is pathetic, stupid legislation.
I wish to raise another point and I ask the Minister to deal with it as well. What if a lorry delivering beer has the word "Heineken" displayed on it? Is that an offence?
That is not true.
Is this a way of saying that all delivery lorries for drink must now not pass within 200 m of a school or a crèche on their delivery rounds? We have got to be practical in what we try to do by legislation.
People have spoken here about the necessity to stop normalising alcohol. There is a diametric difference between me and those people because I believe that alcohol is normal. I believe that alcohol has been normal in Irish society for millennia.
That is the problem.
Some people here may think that is a problem. It certainly is a problem for some people but it is not a problem for the great majority of people in this country. Alcohol has been part of our social life.
Then we should not have the Bill at all.
Alcohol is part of our social life. Alcohol is not the same as cigarettes. We have not decided as a country to wipe out alcohol or introduce a series of prohibitions to prohibit its place in our society. That is not part of the social programme here. Alcohol has existed for millennia and alcohol has been normal for millennia. There was a time when water was so unsafe to drink that one had to drink beer. That is where beer came from in the first place.
Order, please. Senator McDowell, without interruption.
Let us be clear about what we are talking about here.
I thank the Senator.
If we are going to ban the advertisement of alcohol we are saying, effectively, that alcohol is to become a dying industry in Ireland.
I support a lot of it.
The production of alcohol is to become a sequestered industry, which dare not speak its name and that the advertisement on, for example, Guinness or Heineken lorries, is to be something that must be painted out because we cannot have them in public advertising near a school.
I am quite happy that schools should not have advertisements for alcohol on their premises. I agree with that proposition.
I am delighted to hear that.
I would even, if people were mad enough to suggest that it would happen, prohibit the presence of alcohol advertisements in crèches. I do not know who is going to do that but I am against it. If the proponents of this legislation think that is a good idea then I think that is a good idea.
We are getting to the truth of it now.
I have never seen anybody who was tempted to display an advertisement for alcohol near a children's playground. I do not think that the advertising industry is that stupid.
I thank the Senator. We are discussing schools.
What this series of amendments is saying is that one can prohibit all of those things. To start working out no-go zones around three different categories of places is foolish legislation. It necessarily brings up the situation if there is an advertising hoarding, which has always advertised Coors or Heineken on the side of a road in Ranelagh or wherever else, that if somebody opens a crèche across the road then that advertising space can no longer be used for that particular purpose.
The Senator has amply made the point, to be honest.
The Senator has mentioned Ranelagh and Heineken.
I think the Senator has a problem.
Just because some people may not want to hear it, a Leas-Chathaoirligh.
We will hear it.
These are important points.
I am not saying they are not.
I know, yes. I am grateful for your observations, a Leas-Chathaoirligh.
I am trying to avoid repetition.
What we are faced with here is whether this law is practicable. I expect the Minister to deal with this matter now or give an undertaking that he will deal with it before he brings this legislation to the Dáil. Is advertising on lorries and advertising floats permissible? I mean the things that we all do at election time. We pretend that we are driving around the country with these things.
Going up lamp posts.
The media arrive and take a picture of a lorry that has an advertising thing on it, which can be brought to Lansdowne Road, Croke Park or wherever and parked in a prominent place. Is that caught by this legislation? If it is caught by this legislation, does it mean that because a crèche has opened beside Lansdowne Road or Croke Park that becomes illegal? Does it even matter if the crèche is open? These are the kinds of things that we have to actually think about before we bring in stupid laws.
There will be a big advertisement for McDonalds and all of the ill-effects that is supposed to have. I am sure that Senator Reilly, who is a doctor, can tell us all about the obesity aspects of Big Macs, chips and all of the rest of it.
Surely, many of the----
Such advertisements will be displayed and they will not have to be taken down because there is a crèche nearby but something for Heineken, Coors or similar will be made illegal. I think this is a stupid law. I want the Minister to point out and say to me-----
-----whether it will be lawful or unlawful to have a lorry carrying a big sign on the road advertising a drink. If that is the case, I ask him to confirm whether it will become unlawful to drive that lorry within 200 m of a crèche.
Is that the law that the Minister is proposing? It seems to be what is in this section.
I thank the Senator.
I second the amendment.
I am reminded about the term "nanny state" which was much used in the earlier debates and in the context of crèches and child care facilities. I endorse what Senator McDowell has said and agree with him that the amendment does not make sense. We need to be realistic, responsible and acknowledge the role played by many commercial products, be they alcohol or any other products, in the commercial life of this country. We must be honest. On the one hand, we talk about being pro-enterprise. On the other hand, we talk about new initiatives for food, alcohol and beverages as a trade, which have been promoted by Bord Bia and many of our State agencies in a positive manner. Let us strike a balance.
Sorry, a Leas-Chathaoirligh, I have not spoken.
Can I tease out some of the points?
Senator McDowell talked about vehicles that display advertisements moving around and parking outside places and made a valid point. I have heard a number of Senators talk about a sugar tax, obesity and the dietary connection with health. Interestingly, it seems to be okay to have big fast food agencies that will now take these advertisements. Where are the Senators who talked about a sugar tax, poor health, obesity and all of the other issues?
I have said it.
I would like to hear their views on such advertising today. It is important that we get this legislation right. I do not need to be lectured to about alcohol. I know the damage done by alcohol consumption. Many of us will know how alcohol consumption impacts on our lives and that of our families and loved ones. I do not think there is anyone in this room who has not personally experienced a setback as a result of the demon drink. I do not have a problem with alcohol and I want good legislation. I think this particular legislation is not right and needs to be teased out further. We need practical interpretations of how the provision can be applied.
I must speak in opposition to the amendments from Senators McDowell and Boyhan. It is not the direction we should be going with this legislation and we should be seeking to strengthen the Bill rather than water it down. As it stands, the Bill seeks to limit alcohol advertising, particularly with regard to children, and I stated at length during the last Stage that this will not do enough. Outdoor advertising is indiscriminate in nature and anyone travelling past is exposed. This is exactly why we prohibited tobacco advertising outdoors and it would be reasonable and proportionate to do the same for alcohol, especially in the name of child protection. Dr. Geoffrey Shannon, the Special Rapporteur on Child Protection, has produced a report that emphasises the devastating impact of alcohol on children and we must examine how it is marketed to children. Ms Tanya Ward of the Children’s Rights Alliance stated:
It really is an important children’s rights issue. The marketing and advertising of alcohol in Ireland is widespread and is self-regulated by the drinks industry, which consistently disputes the link between marketing and increased consumption. We know that young people are especially susceptible to the influence of marketing.
When this point was raised on Committee Stage it was disappointing to see there was not enough support across the House to act on it. However, I did not expect to see attempts to move us in the other direction and to delete some of the minor advertising provisions in the Bill. These amendments would change the Bill and enable advertising near schools, crèches and kids' playgrounds. I must oppose this and I do not feel it is necessary. Why do companies need to advertise beside a school? Is it that big a deal for an alcohol company to advertise in the thousands of other places across the country where children do not play?
The provisions in the Bill are very mild and we should not water it down further. We know how everything is aimed at children through marketing. Ireland is a nation in denial over alcohol, which is our problem. Three people will die today from an alcohol-related problem, which indicates a crisis. Children are susceptible to this advertising all the time. When they walk into a local shop, they see a wall of alcohol and outside their school they see advertising all over the place. It is on television as well. It is everywhere they go. It goes to their subconscious, telling children that alcohol is a normal product or grocery item like a bottle of lemonade but it is not. It is a psychoactive drug that kills people and destroys lives. I work on a daily basis with families whose lives have been destroyed by alcohol. How can people say it is a normal product? That is an absolute disgrace.
As spokesperson for children, I deal with this quite a bit and I have done much work on many issues with which libertarians and contrarians disagree. As I mentioned, I was recently given an award for being a "nanny-in-chief".
What does that have to do with schools? We are discussing advertising .
I will get there. I have just stood up.
Of course but I am trying to hear people speaking about advertising close to schools.
Try to forget that it is me who is speaking.
She wants to set the scene.
I was about to make my point.
I am trying to avoid waffle all over the place, if that is possible.
The Leas-Chathaoirleach has a difficult job.
Senator Noone has the floor. There should be no interruption.
That is an example of more disrespectful language that I do not have to put up with around here. As Senator McDowell's nanny, I reject him.
Senator Boyhan used that phrase. It was not me.
I do not want people speaking across the floor.
Fair enough but as the Senator's nanny, I reject him. The Senator has made the case for the legislation. There are a number of schools in the constituency in which we both live, and that is exactly the point.
Do not encourage him.
The number of schools in Dublin Bay South proves the point that we need to not have advertising in the area as there are so many children affected by advertising. Senator Black and I agree on everything in this respect. This seeps into children's psyche when they are young and although the Senator does not accept it, the statistics prove it. It is the reality. The advertising is aimed at children in very clever and innovative ways on the Internet and in other media. It is very effective and there is no point in arguing otherwise.
We have a duty of care to children to help them and hope they do not end up with an alcohol problem. Most will not have an alcohol problem and I hope fewer people will have such problems. With the greatest of respect, people are missing the point. If there is a McDonald's argument, bring it on, and I hope the next time we are here having this type of an argument, it is about stopping advertising for fast foods near schools.
We should not allow chippers near schools, and I have made that point over the past four years.
We are discussing alcohol legislation.
The point about lorries is fair and I am sure the Minister will address it. I have great regard for Senator Boyhan and he does not need a lecture about alcohol; none of us does. Nobody needs to be a medic or rocket scientist to know we have a serious problem in this country with alcohol. This is good legislation and that is the end of the story. As I have said, the evidence indicates it will have an impact.
Senator Black already mentioned Dr. Shannon's work. Clever marketing will affect children and of course the drinks industry will dispute it. Why would it do otherwise? I cannot be more supportive of this legislation. I say "rock on" to the Minister and he should pursue it. Ireland has had a very difficult and internationally unusual relationship with alcohol, which we must address. We are doing this in reverse but we have no choice; it is where we are.
I rise to share the honour of being nominated for a lifetime award for nannies.
Did the Senator collect his?
He is the only bearded nanny I know.
The Senator should watch "Mrs. Doubtfire".
We are dealing with amendments Nos 12 to 14, inclusive. They relate to advertising.
I will be more serious. I have been a Minister responsible for health and children matters and I know all the words uttered by my colleague, Senator Noone, are very true. Senator McDowell mentioned a number of crèches and there may be more, please God. He also mentioned the number of schools, and there may be more, please God. We need them and there is a growing young population. It is the youngest population in Europe so we should have more schools and crèches. Advertising is a huge industry and companies do not spend money on it because it does not work; they spend money on it because it works.
During the plain packaging for cigarettes campaign, the Irish Cancer Society described how children playing with packets of cigarettes said they were nice and lovely to hold. When they were shown the plain packs, they recoiled in horror. Advertising has an impact on children and it is correct to say they are softened up to the idea that alcohol is just another product. My colleague, Senator Black, has given a very eloquent and passionate description of the damage it can do. With respect to the argument about McDonald's and Burger King, there may well be a time when we have a "no-fry" zone around schools. The Minister has campaigned for that.
Bring it on.
That does not concern alcohol advertising.
It is part of the argument. I hope the Leas-Chathaoirleach will allow the fulsome debate this topic requires.
I am trying to avoid Second Stage speeches.
The Senator does not wish for a fulsome debate. He means a full debate.
It is important.
We are dealing with amendments.
I challenged Burger King years ago as to why it would not tell us how many calories were in its burgers. More information would protect people.
Tackling fixed outdoor alcohol advertisements outside schools is the minimum we could expect out of this Bill. I commend the Minister and reject this amendment. It flies in the face of what we are trying to achieve. Like so many times before, we will have to fight for every inch of ground to protect our children. The industries concerned seem to want to yield nothing, only to wrap us up in cotton wool with organisations like Drink Aware, which clearly cannot be independent when it is funded by the industry, any more than Forest Éireann is independent of the tobacco industry.
I support the Minister and hope that he will reject this amendment out of hand, which I know he will.
As I understand it, Senator McDowell's argument is that alcohol is normal and only a small proportion of people are adversely affected by it. If one accepted that argument, it would undermine the entire principle of the Bill. I am against this amendment in principle, but I do not believe that the presence of a Heineken hoarding within 200 m of a crèche will send a clatter of babies off on the booze. That seems rather-----
We are dealing with schools rather than crèches.
Crèches were mentioned. Listen to the chorus. Yes, crèches are involved.
That is not practical.
Regarding the McDonald's argument, I have heard Senators Noone and Reilly speaking passionately numerous times about these kinds of fatty foods. There is no inconsistency in their position but, respectfully, I ask that Senator Noone withdraw her appalling statement that she rejects Senator McDowell as a nanny. Think of the catastrophic psychological damage that could be done to Senator McDowell by this appalling maternal rejection.
Senator Norris is straying, as ever.
I am sorry. I hope that Senator McDowell takes it in the way I meant it.
I take it as-----
Order for Senator Mulherin, please. Everyone will get an opportunity.
Senator McDowell's call for practicality is a reasonable one, but has this debate been reasonable and is common sense prevailing? The last time the matter was debated in the House, numerous Senators enunciated that alcohol was poison, only to then tell us how much they were guilty of consuming. Is saying alcohol is poison practical and logical if they are going to continue drinking it?
The Minister can respond to that.
Yes, but I am referring to the debate and responding to the call that Senator McDowell-----
We will allow the Minister to-----
In fairness, there is a large majority against what Senator McDowell is saying, so we are allowed to elucidate on what he has suggested, if the Leas-Chathaoirleach does not mind. I will not be too long.
I do not mind, but I am trying to get everyone to be as brief as possible. There is much to go through yet.
Some of the arguments to date have been to point to the great job done in respect of cigarettes. Public policy should be that no one should smoke because there is nothing good about cigarettes, but we seem to be likening alcohol to them. Sometimes, this debate has bordered on asserting that no one should drink. That is puritanical as well as oppressive of anyone who expresses any sort of dissension. Immediately, people's bona fides on public health are challenged, which is wrong. My colleagues across the way are right to table this amendment as they have done.
Instead of demonising alcohol, perhaps we could begin to ask why people abuse it or need it as a crutch. If we take a crutch away from someone who needs alcohol, with what do we replace it? Why are people in society despairing so much that they reach the point of abusing alcohol? Anyone who has had a bit too much knows it does not feel great the next day, but people who continue to do that to their bodies, emotions and everything else-----
On a point of order, a Leas-Chathaoirligh,-----
I am sorry, but Senator Black has been speaking all of the time.
We are on amendment No. 12.
We are speaking about the amendment.
Senator Black is right. It is a point of order.
I thank the Leas-Chathaoirleach.
Why would somebody-----
I am sorry, but a point of order as been raised.
Senator Mulherin is not speaking about the amendment.
I know. I am trying to get people to stick to the amendment, but they are tending to make Second Stage speeches. We are on amendment No. 12.
Why would someone continue to do that to himself or herself? We are all able to learn a lesson and move on, or so we hope, after having drank to excess. Some people choose never to drink. That is their prerogative. Others have experienced difficulties with drink and cannot drink anymore. There are all sorts of people, but this is a more fundamental issue for society than can be addressed by suggesting that there would be no problem if no one drank. There are problems in society and we are only glancing at them.
Senator, you are-----
Based on the figures cited in this debate and the suggestion that there may be more crèches, does the Minister accept that this would be tantamount to a ban on alcohol advertising in the capital and perhaps elsewhere?
I wish to ask about another matter. I await a response on the question of a Heineken truck transporting alcohol, but all pubs have external branding, be it Guinness or Heineken.
They are exempt.
Does Senator Mulherin take a drink herself?
I am calling on Senator Craughwell, who I know will not make a Second Stage speech.
We are on amendments Nos. 12 to 14, inclusive.
The Leas-Chathaoirleach may set the clock now. I find myself conflicted on this amendment. On the one hand, I support my two colleagues but, on the other, Senator Black made the point about the destruction that alcohol causes to the individual. Having seen it a number of times up close, it also causes destruction to families and friends. What the alcoholic does to people is horrendous. I have seen former colleagues die from alcohol. I am supportive of anything that can limit such situations.
However, in considering the amendment, I am mindful of Galway Harbour during the Volvo Ocean Race. Yachts sailed in from all over the world sporting various branding. If Dún Laoghaire Harbour, Waterford Harbour, Cork Harbour and so forth are to land international events where the likes of Heineken, Bushmills, Paddy Power and so on are sponsors-----
I thought that Paddy Power was a bookmaker.
I am sorry. I meant Paddy and Powers, the two whiskeys. Sponsoring organisations have a right to have their advertising shown because they have paid large amounts of money to sponsor these yachts. We must have an element of practicality where there is an option to deal with the issue. The yacht entering Waterford Harbour, Galway Harbour or Dún Laoghaire is no different from the Heineken truck driving around town delivering. We cannot tell its crew not to sale into the harbour because it is branded. There is a conflict.
Thankfully, I do not have to make this decision. The Minister does, and how the situation will be regulated falls to him. While I am supportive of my colleagues, I am also supportive of the position of Senator Black and anyone who is against the mass sale of alcohol.
I will make a final point. I was in a supermarket the other evening where a woman was walking around with two young children. A third child came running around the corner and said, "I have found them, Mammy. The wine and whiskey are over here." There is a need to block off things.
At the end of the day, we cannot be impractical about how we handle this. We must consider exceptional cases. Senator McDowell is not wrong to table this amendment.
I am conflicted on these amendments. Although I side with Senator McDowell, I support the Bill fully and will not support his amendments if he presses them. I come from a rural county. Mayo's county development plan bans billboards throughout the county, including along motorways.
We do not have advertising billboards in the county. The vast majority of national schools are in rural areas. Has the Department done assessments on national schools in Mayo, a county which does not have billboard advertising? People in Mayo or no different from people in Dublin. The county has as significant an alcohol problem as Dublin because we suffer from isolation and various other disadvantages. However, billboard advertising is definitely not a problem in the county. For this reason, I accept the argument being made by Senator McDowell.
The Government is spending the guts of €55 million per annum on its anti-smoking campaign. The Minister indicated he would revert to me with the exact figures and I hope he does so. I have twice proposed using young sports stars to publicise Government campaigns on smoking and drinking. Many young sports stars, whether at international level or county footballers and hurlers, are admired and looked up to in their communities. Many of them do not drink or smoke, yet the Health Service Executive has not used any of them in its anti-smoking or anti-drinking campaigns. Using these young people in these types of campaigns would be a step forward.
To respond to a comment the Minister made on billboards and digital advertising, given that many billboards feature digital advertising, will it be possible to ban a fixed advertisement while allowing a digital advertisement to proceed?
To respond first to the Senator's final question, it would not be possible to ban one and not the other. In any case, the reference I made to "digital" advertising related to Internet advertising. Whether a billboard features digital or non-digital advertisements does not make a difference.
I thank Senators for their contributions on this discussion. People are entitled to their views and I do not question anyone's bona fides on public health policy. However, I wholeheartedly disagree with the amendments. I am unapologetic in stating that the whole purpose of the Bill is to dramatically reduce the amount of outdoor advertising for alcohol, particularly where it is targeted at areas where children will gather. We do not hide from this objective. We are trying to dramatically reduce the amount of outdoor advertising of alcohol products targeted at children. I put my hands up and state that is the purpose of the legislation. Senator McDowell has made clear his view that he fundamentally disagrees with the Bill. I respect his view but completely disagree with it.
The concept of reducing and restricting advertising in areas where children may congregate is not new. It is one to which the industry had signed up previously. The current voluntary code of practice, which already applies to alcohol advertising, is known as the alcohol, marketing, communications and sponsorship code of practice. It already includes a provision that advertising for alcoholic drinks will not be placed within 100 m of primary or secondary schools and the measure also applies to designated youth clubs, scouting and girl guide premises. In industry's internal discussions on the restriction of alcohol, it has already accepted that we should restrict the availability of advertising in areas where children generally congregate or go about their business.
The Joint Committee on Health, in its pre-legislative scrutiny of the Bill, noted the existence of the voluntary code and the all-party committee decided that it was desirable to consider the means by which outdoor marketing of alcohol could be banned or restricted close to schools. This legislation is, therefore, parliamentary democracy in action as it implements a recommendation of the joint committee.
The joint committee recommended that the Minister consider introducing regulations to enforce a ban on outdoor advertising, including bus shelters, hoardings and banners of alcohol, within 250 m of schools. The Bill proposes a ban on such advertising within 200 m of schools, crèches and playgrounds.
The research paper, A Rapid Evidence Review of the Effectiveness and Cost-Effectiveness of Alcohol Control Policies: An English Perspective, was published in the medical journal, The Lancet, in April last. It stated that the strongest evidence for the impact of advertising on alcohol consumption comes from reviews of longitudinal and cohort studies observing children. These studies report consistently that exposure to alcohol advertising is associated with an increased likelihood that children will start to drink or will drink greater quantities if they already drink.
In 2009, the science committee of the European Alcohol and Health Forum concluded that alcohol marketing, including advertising, increases the likelihood that adolescents will start to drink earlier or drink more if they already drink.
There is a significant body of evidence that the earlier a person is exposed to alcohol advertising, the more likely it is that he or she will drink earlier and more. Sometimes I hear spokespersons for the alcohol industry speak about advertising as if it did not matter. In that case, why do they pay for advertising? They do so because it is effective and continues to generate profits. That is fine but alcohol advertising clearly matters. A survey carried out in Wales in 2011 interviewed primary school children to ascertain if they could readily identify alcohol company brands and logos as well as alcohol advertisement characters. In some cases, more children were able to identify alcohol branding such as Carlsberg than were able to recognise a Ben & Jerry's ice cream brand or a Mr. Kipling brand. The evidence is available and I will be glad to share the relevant figures.
Advertising, including advertisements targeting children, matters and we need to ensure there is less of it. I acknowledge that some Senators would like to go further than the Bill goes, while others do not want me to go this far. This is a common sense measure that will reduce the visibility of outdoor advertising promoting alcohol products in areas where children go about their business.
On the issues of obesity raised by speakers, I am proud that my home town of Greystones, County Wicklow, has put in place a no-fry zone. Wicklow County Council does not want fast food restaurants near schools and has included this policy in its development plan. I hope it will become a nationwide policy. I would love to return to the House to discuss legislation on obesity and protecting children but we are discussing a Bill on alcohol today.
Senator Paddy Burke made a very good suggestion of using role models in anti-smoking and anti-drinking campaigns aimed at young people. I raised this issue with the Health Service Executive following the debate on Committee Stage. It is a sensible suggestion and one which I will follow up.
On the issue of a workman not being able to travel to work if he has an advertisement on the side of his van or lorry, I sought legal advice on this matter from the Office of the Parliamentary Counsel. The advice available to me is that a van or lorry delivering in the ordinary course of its business is not advertising under section 14. I will be pleased to share further guidance on these matters.
I move amendment No. 13:
In page 20, lines 5 and 6, to delete "or within 200 metres of the perimeter of a place where an early years service is carried on".
I move amendment No. 14:
In page 20, lines 7 and 8, to delete "or within 200 metres of the perimeter of such playground".
I move amendment No. 15:
In page 23, between lines 13 and 14, to insert the following:
"Advertising on the Internet
21. (1) A person shall not advertise, or cause to be advertised, an alcohol product by means of an information society service unless all reasonable steps are taken to ensure that the advertising cannot be viewed by children.
(2) In determining whether a person has taken all reasonable steps to ensure that advertising cannot be viewed by children the court or the jury, as the case may be, shall have regard to—
(a) whether age verification controls have been used to prevent access by children to the advertisement,
(b) whether demographic targeting has been used to ensure that the advertisement is not displayed to children,
(c) whether the advertisement has been labelled or registered in a way which permits it to be blocked by parental filtering software,
(d) whether the advertisement invites users to share it with others, and
(e) the cost of implementing the measures and the state of technological development.
(3) Subsection (1) shall not apply to advertising by means of an audiovisual media service unless the media service provider is established in the State in accordance with Article 2(3) of the Audiovisual Media Services Directive or under the jurisdiction of the State in accordance with Article 2(4).
(4) A person who contravenes subsection (1) shall be guilty of an offence.".
I second the amendment.
I would like to work with the Minister on the amendment.
Amendments Nos. 16 to 27, inclusive, are related. Amendment No. 18 is a physical alternative to amendment No. 17 and amendment No. 22 is a physical alternative to amendment No. 21. The amendments may be discussed together by agreement.
Speaking on this landmark public health legislation on Committee Stage in the Seanad, I made very clear that I had a test in respect of visibility. As a result of the Bill, I wanted to make alcohol less visible in shops and ensure shops looked different when it comes to alcohol. I am very pleased that, having asked my Department to engage with retail organisations, I have a section which I propose to insert in the Bill by means of an amendment which will make alcohol less visible in shops and change how shops look and feel regarding alcohol products. At the same time, the section will address a number of the concerns raised by Senators, including members of my party and the Fianna Fáil Party, regarding the practical operation of such changes.
I was very determined not to lose the integrity of what this Bill was about. It was about a number of things, including minimum unit pricing, advertising restrictions, sponsorship restrictions and visibility. For a period of time, it seemed that visibility was the only thing in the Bill. Visibility matters. Alcohol will be less visible in our shops as a result of these amendments. I think the new arrangements are more practical and more operationally useful than what was originally envisaged. I thank the retail sector for engaging with my Department. I thank Senators for their engagement as well.
I am proposing a number of changes to section 22. The meaning of the phrase "Structural Separation", which is the title of the section, was discussed during the earlier part of Committee Stage. At that time, an undertaking was given to examine the title of the section with a view to changing it to better describe the content of this section of the Bill. It is proposed to change the title of the section to "Separation and Visibility of Alcohol Products and Advertisements for Alcohol Products in Specified Licensed Premises". I believe this more accurately and more fully describes the contents of this section.
Amendments Nos. 16 and 26 amend section 22 to extend the lead-in time under this provision from one year to two years. It is intended that this additional year will minimise the disruption to retailers that will be subject to the new requirements. Retailers are going to have to do things differently. They will have to make changes. This proposal will give them enough time to make those changes.
Amendment No. 17 proposes to amend section 22(1)(a), which sets out a requirement for alcohol products and advertisements for such products to be confined to a single area separated by a physical barrier. The use of the phrase "readily visible" in this section has led to some uncertainty. On that basis, I am removing the phrase and providing for a specific height for the required barrier of a minimum of 1.2 m. In proposing this minimum height, I recognise the concern that a higher barrier might expose a retailer to non-compliance with certain requirements, such as those related to planning or fire safety legislation. Under this amendment, the presence of a physical barrier will ensure there is a marked separation of alcohol products from other ordinary products in a mixed-retail outlet and the minimum height is such to ensure reduced visibility of alcohol products for young children. There will be reduced visibility of alcohol, which will be in a separate part of the shop.
Amendments Nos. 20 and 21 reflect my intention to ensure, as far as possible, our children can go to shops and supermarkets without being regularly exposed to alcohol products and advertisements for such products. Amendment No. 20 ensures alcohol products and advertising will be confined within storage units that are fully closed by describing those units as "enclosed". Amendment No. 21 addresses the visibility element of this option. Section 22(1)(b), as currently worded, requires alcohol products and advertising for such products to be confined to storage units in which the products and advertisements would not be visible. I propose to amend this subsection to provide that products stored in such units will not be visible up to a minimum height of 1.5 m. I am doing this to address the concerns that wholly opaque doors on large units might give rise to difficulty for retailers in terms of public liability and concerns that the ability of staff to supervise the area would be impeded. This proposal will also address the concern expressed in this House that wholly opaque storage units could have a negative impact on the shopping experiences of customers in smaller shops.
The proposal we are making in this regard is a workable alternative which will minimise disruption to retailers while continuing to achieve our important public health policy intention, which is to provide for the separation and reduced visibility of alcohol products and advertisements. Alcohol products and advertisements will be visible over a height of 1.5 m under this option. This is clearly a higher level than that which will apply in the physically separated area of a shop. We are providing for this difference in recognition of the fact that the enclosed units will be on the shop floor and not in a separate area. I am increasing the height of the visibility restriction to further protect our children.
Amendments Nos. 19 and 23 are technical amendments that are needed to facilitate the introduction of an additional option for retailers. Amendment No. 24 introduces that option. Senators will recall that on Committee Stage, I mentioned a proposed third option to facilitate smaller shops. I propose to introduce that third option today to recognise the particular needs of retailers that sell lesser amounts of alcohol and to minimise the disruption to them, while still retaining the public health policy objective.
Amendment No. 24 provides that a mixed-trade retail outlet can visibly display alcohol products in up to three units, each with a maximum width of 1 m and a maximum height of 2.2 m. As I understand it, these dimensions represent the industry standard. On that basis, this is likely to be a lower-cost option. It is important for Departments like the Department of Health to be aware of industry standards. Those involved in the retail industry know more about the shelves that are used than I do. It makes sense to listen to what they have to say about measurements. While there are no visibility restrictions for retailers that choose to opt for these units, the amendment limits the number of such units to three. On that basis, the amount of alcohol that can be visibly displayed is restricted.
These proposed amendments provide three main options for retailers. Shops wishing to display large amounts of alcohol, especially in the form of boxes or slabs, might wish to set out a separate area. This form of display will not be allowed outside such areas. In a shop where setting out a separate area is not practical, the retailer can opt for the use of enclosed storage units with certain visibility restrictions. Retailers that wish to visibly display lesser amounts of alcohol may wish to take up the new option I am proposing today. In addition to the three options I have mentioned, retailers will also be able to sell alcohol products from the till area in closed containers of any size. The proposed amendments are designed to minimise the disruption the new requirements will introduce for retailers. I am satisfied that I have minimised disruption while still delivering on the public health policy objective of these provisions. I will provide clarity for retailers with regard to the points of entry to and exit from the structurally separated areas.
Section 22 introduces a statutory framework for the separation and visibility of alcohol products and advertising in mixed retail outlets. It demonstrates that as legislators and as a State, we are serious about attempting to reduce the consumption of alcohol by separating it from other everyday grocery items in mixed outlets. Buying alcohol is not the same as buying a litre of milk or a loaf of bread. We should treat it differently and that is what we are doing. This legislation demonstrates that we want to take action to address the relationship between alcohol and our children by reducing the likelihood that our younger children will be exposed to alcohol products and advertising in their daily lives. Environmental health officers will help retailers to meet their compliance obligations on the introduction of these provisions, but they will also enforce them. The Bill provides for criminal penalties for failure to comply with these requirements. That framework is the clearest demonstration that we are absolutely determined to recognise and reduce the harm that the misuse of alcohol can bring.
I would like to refer briefly to the amendments in this group that have been proposed by Opposition Senators. Amendments Nos. 18 and 22 propose to remove any visibility restrictions on alcohol products and advertising. I do not intend to accept those amendments because the amendments I am introducing today involve alternative approaches which will maintain the policy objective.
Amendment No. 25 proposes that off-licences that sell a specified and limited range of products in addition to alcohol will be those only off-licences exempted from the requirements of section 22. This Bill provides that an off-licence is exempted from these provisions if it is selling wholly or mainly alcohol products. If that product balance changes, the provisions of section 22 will apply. While I am sympathetic to the intention of this amendment, I would need to consult my colleague, the Minister for Justice and Equality, before addressing the definition of a stand-alone off-licence because licensing legislation is within his remit. On that basis, I am not in a position to accept amendment No. 25 today.
Amendment No. 27 relates to the sale of alcohol products in airports. The effect of the inclusion in the Bill of the word "immediately", as proposed in this amendment, would be to permit non-alcohol products to be in display units that are beside alcohol products. As the overall objective of section 22 of the Bill is to provide for the separation of alcohol products from other everyday grocery items, I am not in a position to accept this amendment.
I thank Senators for the constructive way they have engaged with me and the Department of Health on this matter. I think we have managed to find a point at which we can deliver on the policy objectives of making alcohol less visible, protecting our children and making our shops look and feel different in relation to alcohol without placing an unnecessary burden on retailers, particularly small retailers.
I have a list of 12 Senators, most of whom are from the Government side. I will start with Senator Horkan. I ask all speakers to avoid repetition.
Amendment No. 16 is a Government amendment, but it is also in the names of two members of the Fianna Fáil Party, Senators Keith Swanick and Catherine Ardagh. I am proposing it on their behalf. I am more than happy with much of what the Minister has outlined. Although we have disposed of just 15 of the 29 amendments at this stage, thankfully 12 of the remaining 14 amendments are being discussed simultaneously. I hope we will make some progress through the amendments because we have much more business to do today. We have come a long way from where we were a few months ago. It is good that we have less visibility without having no visibility. We were talking about planning. The Minister alluded to planning and fire controls. Equally, there were issues about crime. Concerns were expressed about what might happen if nobody was visible behind big 1.8 m steel doors. It is important that such unintended consequences are being addressed.
It is excellent that we have reached an arrangement with the Minister following liaison with the retail bodies. There is unanimity among all the retail bodies, including the petrol station people, Responsible Retailers of Alcohol in Ireland and the newsagents, that they are happy to support this amendment. It is important to appreciate that this will be a costly exercise for retailers. I know they make money from selling alcohol. That is what businesses do. They try to make money and keep going. They also provide employment. It is important for us to acknowledge the costs and other impacts of structural separation as a measure. There are many premises that are not easily separated and others that are very easily separated. I have been shown plenty of examples in my own area. The layout of older buildings, in particular, makes it very difficult for them to be reconfigured.
It will be very difficult for those premises due to the layout of the buildings. They will have to comply but it will be an onerous cost and burden on them. It is good that we have gone from the two bays to three bays and from one year to two years. It is more practical to get it implemented, as is the barrier going from 1.8 m to 1.2 m. We are discussing all these matters together so I will deal with the remaining Fianna Fáil amendments.
Amendment No. 16 is a Fianna Fáil and Government amendment, as are amendments Nos. 22 and 26, so the Government has effectively taken on board and used the wording of our amendments to put in itself. I know the Minister is sympathetic to amendment No. 25 and I take that on board so I will withdraw it when we get to it, as with amendments Nos. 18 and 27.
It is a good day for the future. It is probably only the start of the journey. There are probably many things that this Bill will not affect but this is a start. It is about sending out a message that we are concerned about alcohol, particularly with regard to targeting younger people and having it be so readily visible. We will have to wait and see if it will change society. It will be a number of years before we have any empirical evidence as to whether it has or has not. Let us hope that what happens will have some positive benefit for those people who are affected. I take Senator McDowell's point on board that not everybody has a harmful relationship with alcohol but equally, as Senator Black has alluded to, many people do.
I do not intend to speak much more on these points. We support the measures in the Bill. We made realistic, pragmatic changes. I am glad the Minister and his team took them on board. I thank him for his efforts in that regard. It is a long road. I was getting emails from many anti-alcohol lobbyists, far more than from pro-alcohol lobbyists, about this Bill having taken 500 days since it arrived in the Seanad. Thankfully, by the end of 2017, and hopefully in the next half an hour or less if we are lucky, we might get through it.
I thank the Minister. He read out a very comprehensive statement and has clearly been listening. He indicated when he first came into the Seanad to discuss this Bill that he would take a pragmatic view, be reasonable and fair but he said he was pushing ahead and has clearly demonstrated his conviction to see this legislation through. I know this legislation was initiated by the Taoiseach when he was Minister for Health. It is important that the Minister has made himself clear and was resolute from day 1, which I acknowledge. He was also reasonable, fair and he listened to all sides of the debate, both politically and non-politically. It is important that he indicated he would not compromise public health policy, which is his remit and that is also a fair point. I thank the Minister for listening, for his reasonable, fair and pragmatic approach and also for his respectful approach to the democratic process, particularly here in Seanad Éireann. Whatever differences in views we have, that is by the way when we leave this Chamber. We put our best foot and our ideas and beliefs forward.
I acknowledge the trade. I do not have difficulty in talking to people in any trade. I do not have a problem talking to any lobbyist because it is a legitimate, professional, regulated profession and I acknowledge their input and acceptance. People will be disappointed on all sides of this debate but it has been reasonable, pragmatic and fair. I acknowledge the trade, particularly Padraic White, who responsibly represented a whole block of people. I met traders in my own community and it was a co-ordinated, professional, responsible approach to what they were trying to achieve. We must always have a balance between protecting livelihoods, our economy, business, industry, small villages and towns across the country and at the same time never compromising public health policy. My colleague, Senator McDowell, and I do not propose any further divisions or debate. We believe this is a good outcome and we are supportive of it.
I thank the Minister for taking on board the views of Members and of the industry. Changing the time for the work to be done from one year to two years and the number of enclosed bays from two to three is very welcome. I thank Members of the various political groupings, including the Fianna Fáil group, for their contribution and being so constructive in dealing with this matter. It is a good day for democracy in that people have been listened to and the views of people and Members of this House have been taken on board in dealing with this legislation. I thank the Minister for listening and adopting the amendments brought forward by other groups and parties in this House.
Many of these amendments darkened my heart when I saw them. It seems to be quite a dilution of the intention of the Bill, which is public health. I have spoken to small businesses and taken on their concerns about what would seem like a tight framework of one year but, pushing it to two years, I remind this House that in that time, over 1,000 people will have lost their lives and it will have been directly caused by alcohol. Amendment No. 21 concerns separation and visibility, which is to prevent impulse-buying among adults but primarily to protect children from those images, whether advertising or stock on a shelf in a small shop or supermarket. I reckon 1.5 m is a seven year old-----
It is higher than that.
It is 5 ft.
I reckon it is the height of a seven to ten year old. It depends on how our children are growing. They are definitely a bit stronger. After that, it is visible so a 12 year old will still see it. In the protection of children, we are talking about really small children and it is important to get to them at as young an age as possible, even going back to the crèche idea and advertisements in crèches. We need to continue to provide that message. This seems to be quite watered down and I would be concerned that it is diluting the intention of the Bill which is public health, separation and visibility issues.
I know the Minister has been under pressure due to these amendments and that it has been a tough decision for him to make. However, I am incredibly disheartened and was sickened when I heard about these amendments at how the industry has succeeded in picking this section of the Bill apart. I believe the industry and its power are the cause. The Bill has been the subject of intense lobbying, the likes of which I have never seen before and, looking at the amendments tabled today, I am sad to say that the industry has succeeded. These amendments will undermine this vital measure and reduce the effectiveness of the Bill as a whole. I strongly oppose them.
The key behind this section is visibility. It is about product placement in stores and the clear impact that has on our purchasing patterns. This is based on the most fundamental, basic marketing principles outlined in detail by Nielsen research and others, which show the huge effectiveness of in-store promotion and product placement in driving sales. We know that 37% of wine sales are impulse purchases at the point of sale, for example. The obvious fact here is that product placement matters, and alcohol placement in grocery shops is a key tool for companies to push up sales. Alcohol companies are fighting this because it is so blindingly obvious that it works. This is what we are trying to deal with here but the amendments tabled will undermine it.
If these changes are accepted, alcohol products will now be separated by a small 1.5 m barrier, like a velvet curtain rope one would see in cinemas. Fridge doors may have some frosted glass but this will be up to 1.5 m, unsurprisingly at an adult’s eye level. Most disappointingly, the exemption offered to protect small shopkeepers at the last stage has been expanded hugely, meaning alcohol can be displayed and sold exactly as it is now on shelves 2 m high and 3 m wide. It means that the wall of alcohol in a grocery shop will still be there. It means that clear distinction between alcohol, a psychoactive drug, and regular grocery products like bread and milk, will not be made as clearly. It is undermining a really important section of this Bill and I am sad to see it happen.
This is especially disappointing because in reality this was never about small shops.
This has been about big business and large retailers from the beginning, who do not want to see sales falling. Unelected lobbyists have won on this point, and the wealth of the few is more important than the health of the many. Never mind the fact that three people die each day in this country from alcohol-related illnesses, and 1,500 hospital beds are taken up every night.
My parents were small shopkeepers and I know about the pressures they face. I have been receiving these emails and speaking with shopkeepers, and I have listened to colleagues across the House outline their concerns. I see where they are coming from and I watched the Minister come into this Chamber last month and put forward a clear exemption that would protect them, but it was not enough. The intense lobbying and blatant misinformation continued, and it has seen the section watered down immensely. This is especially disappointing as I do not think the Minister wants to do that. I have seen him and Deputy Marcella Corcoran Kennedy put a huge amount of effort into this Bill, trying to push it forward and dispel the ridiculous, misleading rubbish that has been spread. He strongly made the case that visibility and product separation matters, and I recognise and appreciate that work, but the sad reality is that opposition within his own party and across the House has brought us to this point.
The concession offered in November was big, and I think it would have met the concerns of many Senators who spoke passionately on this point last month, but it was not enough. Retail and industry representatives were invited into the Department of Health a few weeks back, they asked for big concessions, and they got them. It is sad to see.
I was at the annual Christmas gathering of the RISE Foundation last night, attended by 200 family members whose lives have been impacted by a loved one’s misuse of alcohol. These families will not thank the lobbyists and the politicians who have opposed this Bill. I hope those lobbyists and politicians in this House never have a family member with an alcohol problem or feel the heartache that such families go through. If they do, they can come to the RISE Foundation. What is most worrying is the precedent this has been set. There are four main measures in this Bill, four small measures, and lobbyists looking to protect profits have succeeded in fundamentally taking one of them apart.
I want to put this on the record clearly: watch as the lobbyists now move on to the rest of this Bill as it goes to the Dail. For the lobbyists, it is one down, three to go. The attention will turn now to pick at advertising, labelling and pricing, and I am really concerned that this will happen again. I heard one of them on the radio just an hour ago on my way into Leinster House, talking about how something as small as health labels will ruin sales. It is starting already and we must resist it.
After working at the coal face of alcohol harm for years, I was honoured to come into Leinster House with a real desire to work on this issue. However, every time we try to meaningfully address this problem, industry is there to obstruct. The cold hard fact is that the No. 1 concern of business is profit. That has always been the case and I cannot believe that we are letting drinks companies and industry interests change the direction on public health. The asks in this section were modest and meaningful, but they have been misrepresented and then watered down. It is a really worrying development and I, in good faith, urge the Minister, sincerely, to stand his ground and stop the rest of this Bill from being pulled apart. I urge my colleagues across the House to do the same.
I know there have been arguments on this, and I have made my case as passionately as the Senators who disagree. I understand their position and I hope I have made mine clear. I will be opposing most of these amendments, but if they succeed I am urging all my colleagues to draw the line here. I say that not as a legislator, but as someone who has worked in the field, who has worked in the Rutland Centre as a therapist to people who have been devastated by alcohol. I still see families with loved ones in addiction every week at the RISE Foundation. This Bill can really have a huge impact on alcohol harm in Ireland, and we really have to see it through.
I thank the Minister and the Department of Health for the fantastic work they have done but I urge them not to give in to any more lobbying. I urge them to stand their ground. I understand that they had to give in on this point but they should try to stay strong on the rest of this legislation because it will save many lives.
There are 14 more speakers and we will probably have half a dozen votes so I do not want Second Stage speeches. Senator Black passionately opposed a large tranche of amendments but I ask other Senators to be reasonable and to realise that we are on Report Stage.
I have legitimately raised concerns about this Bill from the outset but I have, at all times, fully supported its objectives to enhance public safety and reduce the exposure to alcohol of children and vulnerable people. This has been a good debate and the Seanad has demonstrated how all views and perspectives can be held and put on the record and that amendments can be proposed. I thank the Minister for bringing forward this groundbreaking legislation, which will have an impact on public health and will reduce the harmful impacts of the abuse of alcohol in this country.
All sides have had a fair say and the Minister has already demonstrated his willingness to listen and to accept Opposition amendments today. The debate has generated strong emotive contributions but any legislation that passes through this or the Lower House has to be workable. I thank the Minister for the manner in which he engaged with Senators and for addressing their concerns to ensure this legislation will work and that it will achieve its objectives. We must take account of all stakeholders, though I do not hold a torch for any multinationals or other large businesses. I have put on the record of this House my belief that most of the problems relating to alcohol abuse are due to the easy access to large volumes of drink at low prices, which are being provided by multinationals.
Our concerns were about small shopkeepers, who can be allies in our fight to reduce the harmful effects of alcohol. Such shopkeepers are responsible people who know their consumers by name and know their families and their children. I commend the way their representatives engaged with the Seanad, the Minister and the Department of Health. The Government and our colleagues in Fianna Fáil have produced amendments that will ensure the legislation will work. I thank the Minister for his positive engagement and wish the legislation the best. I look forward to seeing the positive impacts it will have on our society and I want to support the Bill as it goes forward. I welcome the amendments the Minister has brought forward.
I am rather sorry the Minister has been forced into this position and I think he regrets it too but he is a political realist and was faced with this situation. It is a question of numbers, of voting and the support it gets. I would hope the Bill is part of a process and that we will look at the issue again.
There are legitimate concerns for the welfare of children but it is not just children, and a physical barrier does not protect vulnerable adults, who also have to be taken into consideration. Children may well be protected to a certain extent by the Bill but it does not, even in its amended form, protect adults.
I regret the fact that these amendments have had to be introduced, though I sympathise with the Minister and understand the practical situation he faced. I hope, however, that this argument is not over and I strongly support what my colleague, Senator Black, said so passionately from her own personal experience, of alcohol itself and of dealing with victims of alcohol and their families.
Everyone is looking for the same thing from this Bill, which is that it be balanced and practical. We need to follow this legislation with a measure on the minimum price of alcohol as that is the key element. I acknowledge that Senator Black is passionate about this.
The changes came about on a number of levels. The Senator spoke about being both a politician and a person. We are politicians. We are elected to legislate for the general good. If we peruse legislation, our job is to examine what will work and what will not work while maintaining the intent and purpose of the legislation. The legislation before House calls for all alcohol to be separated within any shop anywhere. That is groundbreaking, and we should not take from what is being achieved in this Bill in any way.
I have no sympathy for the big multiples. They did not want any changes to the Bill. What I do have, however, is sympathy for the shopkeepers in cities and villages throughout the country. In some rural towns there is one shop - a supermarket. There are invariably young people running it. They have families. They are in their 30s and their 40s and they employ up to 20 or 30 people, all locals. They are competing with the multiples and off-licences. We had to find a balance, and the balance here is very simple. We now have barriers separating drink. If one goes to a counter in any supermarket or shop, alcohol will, like cigarettes, be totally closed off. We should not lose sight of what we will achieve. We spoke about the Recognition of Irish Sign Language for the Deaf Community Bill 2016. That was groundbreaking. This Bill is also groundbreaking. There will never be a Bill every section of which achieves everything. However, we must look at------
I remind the Senator that we are not on Second Stage. We are on Report Stage.
I know that. I will conclude on this point.
There are 11 more speakers who will be complaining later.
The intent of the Bill remains intact. That is something of which sight should not be lost. The next step is to introduce minimum pricing as quickly as possible. Multiples are selling drink way below cost and young people are buying it. They are not going to the pub, where it is in some way regulated. They are buying alcohol and binge-drinking. We have to find a way to sort out the minimum price of alcohol. I would say to Senator Black that she should not lose sight of what we will achieve in the context of the groundbreaking intent behind the Bill. That intent remains intact.
I am trying to balance between the various groups in order to be fair to everyone. Nobody from Senator Ó Ríordáin's group has spoken since I entered the Chamber.
This morning, we saw the best of Irish politics in the passing of the Recognition of Irish Sign Language for the Deaf Community Bill 2016. In this issue, we see the worst of Irish politics. Everybody knows the damage alcohol and addiction cause in this country. I was moved by the contribution of Senator Black. She has exposed the influence that special interests and lobbyists have had on the Houses of the Oireachtas concerning this legislation, which is why we are debating these amendments. Two people die each week as a result of fatal overdoses of alcohol. These are not people who fall in front of vehicles or down stairs. They drink so much that they die. Approximately 100 die in this way every year.
It is remarkable that whenever legislation relating to drink-driving or public health alcohol measures comes before the House, the political system still cannot step up to the mark and deliver it in an unamended form that will actually help to save lives. There always seems to be a way for people to wriggle out of the attempt at legislating. In a huge number of other areas of public policy that affect peoples lives, this does not happen. Remarkably, the Misuse of Drugs (Supervised Injecting Facilities) Bill 2017, which will also save lives, went through the Oireachtas without amendment. When it comes to alcohol, we all say the right things. We say that alcohol is bad and that young people do not know what they are doing. By the way, I must respond to that. To suggest that young people are the only individuals in the country who drink to excess is to completely miss the point. Young people have learned their behaviour from their parents, who, in turn, learned their behaviour from their own parents.
The country in which we live has a completely dysfunctional relationship with alcohol. However, whenever legislation is introduced, we find ways around doing the right thing. I will say this much. I was so proud to be a member of the Oireachtas today because of the efforts of Senator Mark Daly, along with the Irish Deaf Society, in bringing forward legislation that we all applauded. This afternoon, however, I am ashamed to be a member of this Oireachtas because-----
The majority of those offering to speak are from the Government's side, which is a bit unusual, particularly as, apparently, an agreement was made.
I remind colleagues that if they took this issue as it deserves to be taken, they would not just agree with every single word of what Senator Black has said, they would do exactly what she is advocating that we do. There always seems to be a way around doing the right thing when it comes to alcohol in this country. We have made progress, but it is not in any way the progress that we should be making.
This is a process with which we have been involved since I first entered the Oireachtas. It is important that we have made progress, particularly in the past few months. We are at a very important point today and I welcome the fact that we have made such progress on this Bill. I hope that by this evening it will have gone through this House. That will be a very important step forward. To say that there is no movement is not fair. There has been very positive movement.
I compliment the Minister in particular on his personal involvement will the legislation. I also compliment him on his ability to steer the Bill, this very important, groundbreaking legislation, through the Oireachtas. That is something for which the Minister and his officials must take credit. What the Minister has proposed is very important. He has looked at the issues and identified what is practical. There has been an issue with the smaller shopkeepers. I am not here to bat for any big multiple or off-licence, I am here to bat for the small corner shop. If we told the honest-to-God truth, those shops probably will not be there in 20 years' time with the way the market is going. We have to try to protect them as best we can, in circumstances where they are being pushed out of the marketplace. If we want to, we can walk away and just leave them. However, that would be totally inappropriate.
What we and the Minister's officials have come up with is a compromise that is very proactive in nature. It will ensure that there is balance in this proposal. It is a very positive step forward. If we were to go the other way, I would be afraid to see what would happen to our small corner shops. I come from a small part of the world where we depend on such shops. If they did not exist, we would have to drive to the multiples in the big towns, and that will do nothing for our villages and towns.
I again compliment the Minister. What he has done needs to be acknowledged. This is the most groundbreaking legislation on alcohol that I have ever seen. He must be acknowledged for that, not bashed for it. This Minister has put his neck on the line, and he has delivered. I am very proud to say that he is one of the best Ministers for Health I have ever seen. This legislation will save lives. That is because of the drive that Minister has brought to the Bill and how he has brought it through the House in recent weeks.
A lot of the same things are being said.
I will try to say a few new things that have not been said. We heard about common sense at great length earlier. We heard great lectures on common sense and practicality. Let us have some common sense. If there is a barrier that is waist-high, anybody can see over it. If there is a frosted glass barrier of 1.5 m, any 11 year old or adult can see over it.
There are two sets of amendments here. We have heard lengthy talk about the small shop. We have heard much about the small retailer. However, it is not simply concessions to the small retailer that we are seeing here. I hope this is not the case but this is how I am reading it at the moment. There are also concessions regarding larger shops where there may be 20 fridges. There can be a structural separation barrier, or symbolic turnstile which is pretty much waist height at 1.5 m. Beyond that there can be a wonderland of fridges and all of the rest. There can be multiple fridges and they can be at frosted height. To be very clear, are those provisions only related to smaller shops? That is how I read it at the moment. This is not the struggling small retailer, this is in larger establishments. One can walk into those and one will be looking over a wonderland of alcohol to entice whoever may wish.
Again, we are not simply talking about children. Some of the important discussions we had, the figures, the facts and the research we heard was about the visibility of alcohol as a trigger and the effectiveness of instore advertising on people's decision to purchase. Let us be very clear. I believe three fridges is an excessive concession and not necessary for small retailers. I thought a very reasonable compromise was put forward previously. However, I understand the Minister has had to concede further. For the large retailer, we have given ground to a very wealthy industry in many cases. The large retailer can now have a very visible grotto of alcohol in the shop as something that people see all the time. We have given excessive ground in that regard.
This may be what the Minister has had to do to pass the Bill in this House. However, the word will go out to the many thousands of people who care about this Bill, to those who are proud and excited about this Bill, to those in the health industry, to those families who go shopping, and to those who are themselves struggling former alcoholics or struggling with a former alcohol problem. When they all see that we have given such ground to large retailers there will be a backlash. I expect there will be amendments in the Dáil. I hope that we are back here in the Seanad after this Bill has passed through the Dáil and we have the opportunity to reverse these unnecessary and inappropriate dilutions of what was envisaged and the principle of structural separation.
That is the fact. That part specifically is giving ground. We should not have to give that. It is an unfortunate dilution. I look forward to debating it again when it rolls back. I do not believe that it should be let slip under. We should not blur an eye. My friends who are small retailers have their issues. However, let us not confuse them with the large retailer. Let us be very clear. Two years, particularly with these concessions, is too long. One year should be sufficient for people to put these measures in place. If we go to two years, that is two more years where we as the public and the State carry the cost of alcohol. It will be two more years for all of those working in health services and for all of those working in accident and emergency departments. It will be two more rounds of Christmas. We will have all the cyclical moments when we know that binge drinking tends to peak in Ireland. We will have that wax and wane for yet another year without having done everything we could. I know this will not be a magic bullet. However, we have not implemented everything we could to try and turn the tide in that relationship with alcohol in Ireland. It is regrettable that the Minister has had to concede. I have to oppose some of these amendments. I look forward to the public debate picking up on some these concessions that have been made. I look forward to how it may go after that.
I welcome the amendments. Everybody in the Chamber has agreed on the objectives of the Bill. We have to go back to that. No one person has a monopoly on how we achieve the objectives. As the Minister rightly acknowledged, people will have different views. Political debate lends itself to extremes. Either something is the Holy Grail and the be all and end all, or it is the worst thing ever. A reasonable examination would say that is not the truth. We have to try and work together. We have to work with the people affected by legislation we are going to bring in. We have to talk to stakeholders. That includes shopkeepers. It includes everybody. It includes people who have problems with alcohol. Everybody has to be taken on board because we are not just legislating for a narrow group. We are legislating for the whole of society.
The Minister has listened, he has responded, he has reacted, he has taken on board concerns and he has come up with a workable solution. To be honest, there are a lot of small shopkeepers who have breathed a sigh of relief regarding this outcome. They are very much in favour of being responsible regarding how alcohol is sold. In rural shops, as my colleague Senator Lombard referred to, they get no kudos if they are going to be abusing the manner in which they sell alcohol, even as the law stands. They are very mindful that they have a special relationship with customers because everybody knows each other. One must do the right thing whether it is selling to underage people or selling to somebody who has too much drink or has a problem.
There is a lot of good work going on at the moment with the smaller retailers that I would like to acknowledge. The Minister did respond. It has been said, and I agree with Senator Horkan on this, that it is going to cost these shops. However, the shops agree with the objectives as much as we do. I think it is a good day for democracy. Everybody has been listened to. In the round, we have to come up with a decision. That does not diminish anybody's passion about their position or what they think on the legislation. This is democracy at work. I say, "Thank God we live in a democracy".
I acknowledge the good work of the umbrella organisation, Responsible Retailing of Alcohol Ireland, and the various groups it represents, including the Convenience Stores and Newsagents Association, the Irish Petrol Retailers Association, etc. We have been lobbied. I agree with Senator Horkan. I have been lobbied way more by NGOs who are advocacy groups in the fight against abuse of alcohol than other organisations. I have gone around my own county. I was invited to various shops and I can see what is happening on the ground. I welcome this. This is landmark legislation as regards alcohol. It is not an easy thing to do. That is why the debate is the way it is. However, I welcome the Bill and I welcome the comfort and ease that has been provided. I look forward to seeing the good results from the efforts that have been made to combat abuse of alcohol and alcohol addiction.
I compliment everyone on the hard work that has been done. It has not been easy. I have no interest in drink and am always the designated driver. No matter where anyone goes I am the driver because I just have no interest in drink. I would never promote drink in any shape or form. I am a firm believer that culture and education is the next road that we need to look at. I welcome this amendment. I do believe alcohol should be separated. This is a new amendment. This is a Bill we need to work on. It is a long road but we have compromised today. Everyone has worked together. We need to look at the bigger picture of education and culture when this is done. I say "Well done". All the groups working together have come to a good balance. We need to find legislation that will work and that is important.
I am the former Chairman of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Health and Children that was responsible for perusal of the heads of the Bill. Despite the comments of Senator Ó Ríordáin, this is actually a tremendous day for the Oireachtas. This is groundbreaking. We had the sign language Bill this morning.
This afternoon, a Minister, in tandem with his chief medical officer and the Government, for the first time is bringing legislation before the Houses of the Oireachtas to tackle our dysfunctional attitude towards, and relationship with, alcohol. There is no monopoly on any side of the House. It is the collective work of all of us. Can we please stop stating that lobbyists and advocates can influence us all to the point we can get the Government to change its mind at the drop of a hat? If we continue with the line that some people purport, we will have no pre-budget submissions, no trade union briefings and no representation by anybody about anything, and we will go back to the old days when civil servants wrote the paper and the Minister came in and nodded and we went out the door. Can we just stop with regard to lobbying and advocacy?
Let me give one example. There is a gentleman in the Gallery, Padraic White. I had an issue with a particular store on a Saturday morning about the placement of alcohol. I confronted the manager of the store, who literally laughed at me and told me to get lost. He incensed me. I rang Mr. White, and within an hour that alcohol was gone from the store and I received a phone call of apology because of what happened. This is a relationship that works with regard to the placement of alcohol, as mentioned by Senator Black.
Let us look at what we are doing here. This is a Minister and a Government that are taking away a voluntary code. We are bringing in legislation. Amendments Nos. 16 to 27, inclusive, are introducing a legislative onus to comply. It has never been done before. I agree with Senator Ó Ríordáin that we have a dysfunctional relationship with alcohol as a society. However, are we seriously saying that the shopkeeper is the problem with alcohol in our country? I am not saying the Senator said that, but that is the inference. It is not the case.
Look at the import of the amendments. I am very passionate about this. I have worked in this House since I came in here ten years ago. My first relationship with the Department of Health was as the Chairman of the health committee, and our first report was on drug addiction and alcohol misuse. I work with Tabor Lodge, Fellowship House and various organisations where I live in Cork. Look at the import of what we are doing. Separation is taking place, with the physical decongregation of alcohol. A barrier is being put in place. Product placement is the very thing on which Senator Black and I agree. We cannot and should not walk down an aisle and fall over a display advertising a deal on alcohol. It is being done. Visibility is being dealt with and being reduced. Alcohol will no longer be visible. We all speak about the protection of children.
People speak about small businesses. I am conflicted because I do not speak about small business even though I have worked with people. I speak as the former Chairman of the health committee about the misuse of alcohol in society. Look at what were doing with the overall objective of the Bill. That is why we should not be talking about one section of the Bill. We are tackling the issue of price with minimum unit pricing. We are tackling the issues of availability and supply. The biggest mistake we made as a society and as a State was we allowed for the groceries order and for certain other outlets to sell alcohol. If I had my way I would not have alcohol in any garage in the country. I know and I realise we cannot do that now. I have a very simple view on the supply of alcohol. It should be in a stand-alone off-licence, as they have in many states in the US. I recognise, to be fair to people such as Vincent Jennings and Padraic White in the Gallery, their members are responsible people. I know we cannot do this. To be fair, the people to whom I speak every day are responsible people in the retail sector. Senator Lombard is right in that there are jobs dependent on everything. Do we want to close down middle Ireland altogether? I do not want to do that.
Could I ask the Leader-----
This is important. I feel passionate. I will not speak any more. I will finish with my final two sentences.
There are another seven speakers from the Leader's party.
I know, but we listened to some stuff this morning that must be countered. We all have a right to be heard. I have worked on the Bill with the Minister, the Taoiseach, the former Minister, Senator Reilly, and the former Minister of State, Deputy Shortall. The heads of the Bill we published did not recommend structural separation. This is about leadership and about people making a stand. In an ideal world we could come in here with a different attitude, but we do not live in an ideal world because there are some people who oppose everything the Government does and there are others who try to oppose it on some occasions.
I commend the chief medical officer and his staff. He is a gentleman whom I have got to know and admire for his work on alcohol. Today is a good day for him and his staff at the Department of Health. They have only one overarching concern, namely, a healthy Ireland and a healthy people, and reducing our dysfunctional relationship with alcohol. The Minister has shown leadership in the Bill. He will not be forgotten in terms of the leadership he has shown today. Can we please understand this is the overall picture and the overall desire we all share. This is the beginning of a groundbreaking piece of legislation that will, ultimately, tackle the issue with all of us as a society. Senator Black is right, it is all about education.
I call Senator Joe O'Reilly. There has been a lot of repetition and it is all from the Government side.
Normally, when the Minister does a job, and he has done a good job so far, everyone comes in either to praise him or to condemn him.
Two things have emerged very clearly in the discussion today. One is that throughout the House on all sides, to be very fair, there is a universal desire to deal with the alcohol question and a universal abhorrence of all the harm and ill that can flow from the abuse of alcohol, and an effort to right this. This is what should be the case. What is also very clear from the discussion today is there is a universal realisation throughout the House that the Minister has done an extraordinarily good and pioneering job. He has made a great effort to get this over the line and has shown courage in the process.
I came to the Bill with a sole concern, namely, that the small shopkeepers in rural Ireland and in the small towns and villages of the country, are already threatened by prohibitive rates and by prohibitive insurance. They are finding it very difficult to stay open. These shopkeepers, were the Bill to make an expensive request and were there to be a section requiring expensive infrastructure, would not be able to do it and, in so far as they might have attempted it, they would not be able to cope with the multiples. This was my concern. I feel this concern has been addressed in the legislation. It is done in a way commensurate with keeping alcohol out of sight of young people in as much as it can be done. I commend the fact we are trying to keep jobs in the small shops of this country. They are real jobs.
I will finish on this point. There is a major tragedy around alcohol. If one were to close the shops in the villages and towns in counties Cavan and Monaghan, the area in which I live, and put ten to 15 people per shop out of work, those jobs cannot be replaced in those locations. We are trying to balance two great rights and I think we have achieved a reasonable balance. Of course, the matter can come up for review in the future.
I commend the Minister. Today has been a very good day for the Seanad. I think we should be very proud of the passage of the two Bills that were discussed in the House today, the Irish Sign Language Bill 2016 and the Public Health (Alcohol) Bill 2015. This shows democracy at work in the very best possible way.
I thank the Minister for Health for this very relevant legislation, the Public Health (Alcohol) Bill 2015. As has been said already, we are here to achieve a goal, that is, to protect the rights of the child. I am 5 ft 11 in. tall so 5 ft would be around my shoulder and the height provision is very important. I compliment the Minister on listening to Members when we said that we could not bring in this legislation without the Minister having consulted with small businesses and people in the industry. As has been pointed out already, it is about retaining jobs. In rural areas and even in cities, the small corner shop provides employment. Where supermarkets are far away, the small shop is relevant to people's lives. I thank the Minister for taking the needs of people into account. He listened to people and everything was done in a responsible manner.
Legislators must be responsible when enacting legislation. I think we are taking on board the needs of the public as well as the businesses. This is relevant because we are still achieving our goal to make alcohol less visible.
The Minister stated that the law will be enforced by the health officers. I think officials must have very clear guidelines because from my background of a small shop, I have first-hand experience of how different officials interpret the legislation. The officials need clear guidelines on how the rules are to be applied and that they must keep within the rules.
I will be brief because I have already spoken on it. I find it difficult to listen to Senator Ó Ríordáin coming in to give us a lecture at the tail end of the debate. If more evidence is needed as to how seriously the Government side takes this issue and commits to it, one has only to look at the level of attendance by Government party Senators during the debate.
How many Fine Gael Senators were present on Wednesday night?
I did not interrupt the Senator.
There was one. All the Fine Gael Senators are lining up in the Chamber to talk about the impact of the Public Health (Alcohol) Bill on shopkeepers. There was only one Fine Gael Senator present when we were discussing the motion on special needs assistants. Such hypocrisy. I did not have a clue what she was discussing.
We are here to debate a significant Bill affecting not just those living today but generations to come. Our commitment to the Bill is beyond doubt. The commitment of the Minister of Health, Deputy Harris, is beyond doubt.
We heard a Member roar and shout about the various interests that he may have and which we all share, but to come to the Chamber and criticise those who have shown their commitment and who are all united in the goal of protecting children in particular and our population in general from the ill effects of excessive alcohol use is something that I am not going to let pass.
I have one main reason for rising to speak at the end, apart from congratulating the Minister on his stand and Dr. Tony Holohan, chief medical officer, and all the officials in the Department of Health who have worked tirelessly in recent years on public health issues, both tobacco, launching Healthy Ireland, which we did many years ago, and this alcohol Bill which started when I was Minister and Deputy Marcella Corcoran Kennedy was Minister of State, who did so much of the preparatory work on the Bill among others. I see also Mr. Eunan McKinney in the Gallery, and he worked with the then Minister of State, Mr. Alex White, when he was working on this Bill. Members from many sides of the House are committed to the Bill.
However, my main reason for speaking is that public health policy is probably the most important part of what we do in the Department of Health. Everybody focuses on the hospitals and general practice, which are essential and important services, but good public health policy can save many more lives over a much longer period than any hospital can in a short period. This is critical legislation. My concern is that lobbyists have a legitimate right to lobby and they do and they will. My call is to all those who are interested in the well-being of our children and people to make sure that this argument does not become just about jobs and that it is not going to be a case of jobs over people's well-being or livelihood over the lives of our citizens. We have a good Bill and we want to defend it when it goes to the Dáil, and I am calling on the bodies such as the Irish Cancer Society, the Children's Rights Alliance, Barnardos and the Irish Heart Foundation to keep advocating to keep the pressure on to make sure the Bill succeeds and to make sure that the work done by all the Senators to make this the Bill it is today is not wasted and that we get a result.
This is but one step on a journey. There is no question or doubt that we will be coming back to these issues into the future to see what more we can do. In the same way that we started to deal with tobacco, we started with a ban that was not just that but also a ban on the sale of single cigarettes or two cigarettes and making the minimum number of cigarettes for sale a packet of 20 cigarettes. That was followed by a requirement for plain packaging, the banning of advertising and all the other measures. This will all happen in regard to alcohol.
The Minister has done a sterling job. Perfection will always get in the way of the good. This is a good Bill, a good day for public health and a good Christmas present to give our children with the thought that in the new year we will have a law that protects them from alcohol ingestion before they are able for it. It is well proven statistically that the younger a person is when he or she starts to drink, the more likely that person is to develop serious problems with alcohol later in life. That is a fact.
On a point of order, I would like Senator Ó Ríordáin to withdraw his comment on the debate on Wednesday. Everybody is entitled to express an opinion. I made my point, he had a different point, and while we might not have agreed, he launched an attack and I would like him to withdraw it.
That is a political charge. I cannot control everything. If Senator Ó Ríordáin wants to withdraw his comment, he can come in.
I have spoken earlier. I am concerned about children. Habits are formed when a child is young and the Bill will impact on them. That is a fundamental part of the Bill. The child turns into an adult and adults will be helped by this legislation. We could have gone further, but I think the Minister, Deputy Harris, has shown himself to be extremely pragmatic and innovative in getting the Bill through the Seanad. For example if the divorce Bill had been presented in a different way, the referendum would never have passed. We are in a situation where we are travelling a distance down the road to protecting our citizens, be they children or adults. There is a bigger picture issue of small retailers in rural areas. We need to think of innovative ways for them to make money which is not dependent on the sale of alcohol.
We need to think bigger and find ways for small retailers to survive. They are generally entrepreneurial and innovative and they are in a difficult position, but we need to devise other ways. If we are to reduce the amount of alcohol that people drink, profits are going to be affected. Many Senators have mentioned below-cost selling. It is the only show in town.
"Lobbying" should not be a bad word. It is a necessary part of a democratic process. Some people are lobbied more intensely by certain NGOs because of their viewpoints. I have not been lobbied much by NGOs on the health side. By whom Members of the Oireachtas are lobbied depends on from where those Members are coming. That is healthy because the NGOs provide information and we have the objectivity to reject or accept as much of it as we like.
Preventative health, which is what this Bill involves, is where it is at. The fiscal space in terms of what we spend on alcohol-related harm, health and so on will be much larger if we prevent people from getting ill. Alcohol makes people ill. Regardless of whether it is consumed in moderate or large volumes, it is not good for us. I drink a bit. Many of us do. It should not be demonised, but the harsh reality for a country like ours whose identity is intrinsically linked with alcohol is that we have to do something about this.
I commend the Minister as well as Dr. Holohan and his officials, whom I have often met. They must be worn out dealing with this legislation. I commend Deputy Corcoran Kennedy.
She was brave in respect of this legislation and did not get the thanks or respect that she deserved in that debate. I apologise for going on.
I will be brief. I congratulate the Minister on progressing the legislation. We have all helped to build this Bill in order that it can progress to the Dáil. As Senators Higgins and Ó Ríordáin stated, thousands of people might not be happy with this, but they can make choices. Like Senator McDowell, I hope that the Bill will help to normalise drinking. People can, and should, make choices about drinking. I made a choice about drink a long number of years ago. I also made a choice about cigarettes. I ran a restaurant, which had to make changes when Deputy Micheál Martin introduced the ban on cigarette smoking. I agreed with him. My greatest problem when making a choice about drink was to convince my colleagues and friends that I was not taking a drink.
There are many people who should make the choice to help with what the Oireachtas is doing. The Minister can only do so much with this legislation. Other than banning alcohol completely, he cannot do any more. With Dr. Holohan and his officials, the Minister has shown great cause in progressing this legislation. I congratulate them on progressing it this far, but the people of this country can and should make choices in their own interests as well as the interests of their families and children. I hope that they will go down the road in terms of how alcohol is consumed and should not be abused. We will never get rid of it.
I thank Senators for their contributions. I will recap a few points.
Today is significant and what we are doing with this legislation is very significant. This is the first time in the history of the State that we have introduced public health legislation relating to alcohol. Given how people discuss the smoking ban now as public health legislation, one would swear that it had arrived as a fait accompli. Changes had to be made during the deliberations on that legislation. I spoke to Deputy Micheál Martin about it. He had to make compromises. He showed great courage and lives have been saved as a result.
I accept that smoking and alcohol are not the same but, from a public health perspective, this is the first time we have ever used public health legislation in respect of alcohol. Let us not ignore that reality. Every item of public health legislation that has been introduced has required debate, democratic input, consultation and changes.
I agree with Senator Reilly that this Bill is an important step on a journey, but it is not the end of the discussion or policy intervention on alcohol. Far from it. We have a dysfunctional relationship with alcohol. I agree that there probably is not a family in the country that has not been impacted upon by alcohol. We have much to do, but this section of the Bill will radically change how our shops deal with alcohol. I have a great deal of respect for Senator Black and her advocacy in respect of this issue and for Senator Higgins and her passion. Not everything they want is in the Bill, but it will change the relationship. We are moving away from a position whereby it was up to shop owners to decide what they wanted to do. Many shops comply with the code but it is voluntary. The nature of the existing code means that the State has no responsibility and shops decide what to do themselves. We are now putting in place in law clear penalties, authorised officers, a clear enforcement process and clear requirements in terms of separation and reduced visibility. That is a world away from an industry code that is voluntary, unclear and unenforceable.
I resolved that we would not have a situation where we would allow the lights to go out in this Chamber for another Christmas with this Bill left going around in circles and the issues that Senators have rightly highlighted continuing. The phrase about not letting perfect get in the way of good rings clearly in my head. Retailers were concerned about the operationalisation of elements of the Bill. I hope that these amendments bring clarity about what will be expected.
It will be different. Someone will never again be able to walk into a shop and trip over a slab of beer. Everything will either have to be in a separate area or a container. That is significant.
We spent nine hours or more on this Bill on Committee Stage. It was right and proper to give the Bill that airing, but one eventually reaches the point of having to get legislation out of the Oireachtas and into society.
This has been going on for a long time. There is much to do. Everyone is entitled to a view, but I do not accept the argument about watering down. To say that, people would also have to say that I had made changes to the Bill and that I had worked with them to accept more stringent measures relating to cancer, its inclusion in advertising and the size of labels. That is what one does in a debate. We have inserted measures in the Bill today to make it stronger than it was when we entered the Chamber this morning. Getting to this point has been difficult, but section 22 now represents a balanced approach and enables the legislation to progress, which it badly needs to do.
If amendment No. 17 is agreed, amendment No. 18 cannot be moved.
Amendment put and declared carried.
Amendment No. 21 is a Government amendment. If amendment No. 21 is agreed, amendment No. 22, which was discussed with amendment No. 16, cannot be moved.
I move amendment No. 28:
In page 25, between lines 33 and 34, to insert the following:
“(e) prohibiting certain marketing practices, including selling an alcohol product by retail, or supplying an alcohol product to, or inviting an offer to purchase by, a member of the public of an alcohol product where part of the consideration to be given to the purchaser is a gift, token, trading stamp, coupon or other document or thing that may be exchanged for or used as payment or payment in part for certain goods,”.
Is the amendment being seconded?
Does Senator Devine wish to speak to the amendment?
I would like to speak to the amendment. I do not make lengthy, fabulous speeches, although sometimes I do, but brevity is usually my trademark. The Minister will probably give out to me for saying this but it is regrettable that he did not include children's hospitals as part of the schools, crèches and playgrounds reference. I know three are being built currently. I do not know if the voluntary code would work but it might be accepted and understood that children's hospitals are included. There are massive billboards advertising alcohol at the Rialto end and the James's Street end of St. James's Hospital. I would appreciate the Minister looking into that issue in terms of children's hospitals.
I want to speak to my amendment No. 28. When one goes shopping, one's reward card is extremely valuable at times but people who buy trays of alcohol are being rewarded with points, which is essentially, cash. I rang the three main stores to inquire about that. In Dunnes Stores, there is no money back offer or gift vouchers available on tobacco products, medicines, phone cards, lottery tickets, baby milk and vending machine products but there is no mention of alcohol. SuperValu does not offer gift vouchers or money back on lottery tickets, phone top-ups, call cards, GAA tickets, gift vouchers, postage stamps or tobacco products. A representative I spoke to said customers were not rewarded when they bought alcohol but that is not specified in SuperValu's policies. Tesco does not reward customers on the sale of lottery tickets, stamps, baby milk or medicines but it does allow for that when alcohol is being purchased. This amendment is to discourage and disallow that. It is also about incentives such as customers being offered a glass of Prosecco when they go to a hairdresser. Mothers often have to bring their children with them to the hairdresser, so we are talking about the middle of the day, they have their feet up, the rollers in the hair and a bottle of Prosecco on the side while they are shouting at the children to keep quiet. I hope this amendment will be accepted and I look to my colleagues to support it.
I second the amendment. I agree with what my colleague said. People might think the issue of being offered a glass of Prosecco in a hairdresser is trivial, but I have worked with many women who would struggle with alcohol misuse. I know of a woman who went into a hairdresser with her three year old child. She was doing her best not to drink wine. She was not what one would call a bad alcoholic but she had an alcohol misuse problem. When she drank she would drink wine in the evening. She wanted to stop drinking because she knew it was impacting her and her children. She was asked if she would like a cup of coffee and she said no, but two minutes later a glass of Prosecco was put down in front of her. She was not asked if she wanted it. She did not have that option. I understand the people in the hairdressers are simply trying to encourage people to come back to their premises, but this was a huge problem for her and she ended up drinking the glass of Prosecco, which means her sobriety had been badly damaged. I agree with my colleague on these amendments and totally support them.
I thank Senator Devine and Senator Black for the amendment, which proposes to introduce a new subsection to section 23 on the powers of the Minister for Health to make regulations on matters associated with the sale and supply of alcohol products. As brevity is Senator Devine's trademark, I will try it as well. This amendment proposes to prohibit marketing practices, some of which Senator Devine outlined, but subsection (1)(a) of section 23 provides that the Minister can make regulations to prohibit or restrict a person from selling, supplying or causing to be sold or supplied alcohol at a reduced price or free of charge. Subsection (6) specifies that the sale or supply of alcohol at a reduced price or free of charge includes the direct or indirect award of bonus points, loyalty card points or similar benefits, allowing directly or indirectly the use of any such points or benefit to obtain alcohol products or any other products and allowing directly or indirectly the use of bonus points, loyalty card points or similar benefits arising from the purchase of any product or service to obtain alcohol at a reduced price or free of charge. On the basis of the advice available to me, the proposed amendment is already provided for in terms of a power to make regulations already set out in section 24 and therefore I do not propose to accept the amendment.
The subsection allows the Minister to make the regulation, but will he make it?
It is a question as to whether the Senator believes it is better dealt with in the primary legislation or by regulation. Many different promotional offers can pop up from time to time and the idea is that the Minister would have the flexibility to respond through regulations rather than in primary legislation. That is a better place to do it.
The answer is that there is the regulation to deal with it if whoever the Minister of the day is so minded to do so.
I can discuss it again before this goes to the Dáil, if the Cathaoirleach wants me to do so.
Is Senator Devine pressing the amendment?
I know the Seanad has a lot of work to do today so I will not detain the Members, but I want to place on the record of the House my gratitude to Senators from all sides of the House for the way in which they have engaged with this Bill over a very long period, particularly in my time, taking this Bill through Committee and Report Stages, for the constructive way in which Members have engaged and teased through the issues. It is a good day for the Seanad and it is democracy in action.
I pay particular tribute to my own team in the Department of Health, the Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Tony Holohan, officials Claire Gordon, Siobhán McNamara and Denise Keogh, and to my own political team, Joanne Lonergan and KathyAnn Barrett. All of these people have worked extremely hard on this legislation. I acknowledge also my predecessors, including the former Minister of State, Deputy Marcella Corcoran Kennedy. I agree with Senator Noone. There was an effort in some quarters to demonise Deputy Corcoran Kennedy for having the courage to stand by important elements in this Bill. I stand by her in what she was trying to do and I have no doubt she will continue to make a powerful contribution on the public health agenda. I acknowledge Senator Reilly who, during his time, was the Minister who began this process, my predecessor, the Taoiseach, Deputy Leo Varadkar, Deputy Róisín Shortall, the former Minister of State, Alex White, and any Minister or Minister of State over recent years who worked on this issue. I thank everybody for it. The constructive engagement has brought us to a place where we can have legislation that will reduce the damage done to our society by the harmful use of alcohol.
I pay particular tribute to the public health advocates who have been following this debate very closely. It has been an incredible coalition of organisations.
I will not even begin to name them because I might leave one or two of them out if I do. They are an incredible coalition of people with an interest in public health who have kept the pressure on all of us collectively to get to this point. We can never get everything we want in legislation but today we are making a really good start.
The Public Health (Alcohol) Bill has given the House the opportunity to recognise, discuss and attempt to mitigate the damage to our health, society and economy caused by the misuse of alcohol. We in this country have a serious problem. We drink too much alcohol and we drink in a way that is harmful to ourselves and those around us. The statistics can still shock, even if we have heard them before. A Health Research Board report from 2016 found the number of alcohol-related deaths in the period 2008 to 2013 was 6,479. In 2013 alone there were 1,055 alcohol-related deaths, which translates as 88 per month or three per day. They are preventable deaths. More than 167,000 people suffered an alcohol-related assault in 2013. Of the more than 7,000 people who responded to this year's Healthy Ireland survey, one in 20 reported being hit or assaulted by someone who had been drinking and the same proportion had been a passenger in a vehicle with a driver who had too much to drink. Do not tell me we do not have a problem with alcohol in this country. These numbers are a reminder that harmful drinking does not just affect the drinker; it also affects wider society. The Public Health (Alcohol) Bill is landmark health legislation and will be the first ever public health legislation related to alcohol. I am delighted to have been in a position to bring it through this House and I am grateful for the Seanad's help and collaboration.
The measures we have agreed today and the new ones we have added to the Bill in terms of labelling and cancer warnings, along with the content of the Bill, will make a real and substantial difference. The last time I stood here I said it was my aim to reduce the visibility of alcohol in our shops. The measures we have agreed here will do that for the very first time. Gone are the days of voluntary codes and leaving it up to the shops or industry. With this Bill we have strong, workable enforceable legislation which will reduce alcohol consumption. The Bill contains a suite of policy measures, including visibility, minimum unit pricing and advertising and sponsorship restrictions and there is much more that we need to do on this agenda. I look forward to the other House taking this Bill in the same serious way it has been taken in the Seanad and getting it passed into law as quickly as possible after the Christmas break.
I will allow the spokespersons to make a brief comment. We have already had four hours of debate.
I will set a trend by trying to do this in less than 30 seconds. Most of it has already been said. Let us work together to see how this works. Hopefully it will do something to affect alcohol harm. It will improve the outcomes for children and adults who have issues with alcohol. Equally, it is a workable solution for everybody involved in the responsible selling of alcohol. We acknowledge that many people do not have an issue with alcohol but many others do. I thank the Minister and his team for the work that has been done and I thank all the Senators who spoke this morning. It has been a very engaging debate with an awful lot of people. It is almost four hours since we started this morning. The work is done at this stage so let it go back to the Dáil and see what amendments it makes. It is important to acknowledge an awful lot of work has been done on this. We hardly talked about the minimum unit pricing because it is a given. We talked about advertising and labelling but they were also a given. Structural separation was the issue. I thank everyone and wish them a happy Christmas.
I will start by thanking the Minister, the Chief Medical Officer and the team that worked on the legislation. This legislation is historic and I welcome it with all my heart and soul. I know how hard everyone has worked on it and I hope they understand why I opposed the amendments I opposed. I was excited and thrilled by what was going to be introduced and I am disappointed by the amendments. I hope the Minister understands I had to oppose them and I will continue to oppose them.
I would like to work with the Minister on this and I thank him for accepting my amendments. It was a lovely surprise for me today. It was a really nice start to my Christmas. I am delighted by the amendments concerning children and cancer. I am very grateful to the Minister. I know he is very passionate about this and I know how hard he worked. I look forward to working with him on it in the future. I will continue to oppose the amendments I have opposed but I will do everything in my power to support the Minister. He has done a really fantastic job on working cross-party on the Bill. I will do everything in my power. This legislation is the reason I am here in Leinster House; it is why I wanted to get elected. I was very grateful to be elected. The legislation is very important. I thank the Minister and his team and wish them a happy Christmas.
Historically, in this country we have been known as demons for the drink. What concerns me, apart from my professional clinical experience of what alcohol does to individuals and families, is when I see the younger generation getting ready to go out for an evening. Alcohol is topped up and tanked up until they fall into taxis to go out and enjoy the evening. The excess of it has been normalised for a younger generation. We need to stop that. We have a duty to do that as legislators and elders with experience of watching our younger generation fall into taxis. I have fallen out of taxis coming home but they are falling into taxis going out. It struck me that we needed to do something about it. My steer on the issue came from health and that is how I explained it to people who were very sceptical and said things like, "Here you go again", "Nanny state", "What are you up to?", "We cannot enjoy ourselves". All of that showed it was being taken negatively but I explained to people that it is about health and our young children. It is about the protection of children so that it is not normalised and they do not go into the shop with mammy and come out knowing the A to Z of beers, wines and whiskey.
I thank the Minister and Deputy Marcella Corcoran Kennedy. I found her a wonderful advocate who stuck to her guns on the health issue. I thank all the lobbyists in all their forms but especially those who pushed me in the direction of trying to get this Bill through, albeit not as diluted as it is today. It was an education. I thank the Minister and his staff. Let us all have a happier and less alcohol-oriented Christmas. Nollaig shona dhaoibh go léir.
I endorse what the Minister has said here today. I thank all the people who contributed to the Bill, in particular Deputy Marcella Corcoran Kennedy for her work in it, Dr. Tony Holohan, all the staff in the Department for the work they have done, and all the people who provided their input on the direction we should take on this issue. There are 2,000 hospital beds occupied by people who are in hospital with an illness directly related to alcohol. It is important we do everything possible to try to reduce the number of people who occupy beds for that reason.
It has been a long road dealing with the amendments. My only experience with such a number of amendments was in the European Parliament dealing with the Cross Border Directive on Healthcare. There were 400 amendments tabled on that directive. The number today was actually quite low compared to what we had to deal with on that issue. People become very emotive on issues related to health care because they have a firm belief their proposals will improve people's health. Everyone who tabled an amendment had a very genuine reason for coming forward with it because they believed it was the best way forward. I thank them for the work and effort they put into it. I also thank and acknowledge the work and effort of the background support team that worked with each Senator. It is important we acknowledge that.
I thank the Minister. I wish him and his hardworking staff and officials a peaceful Christmas and happy holidays.