The Government Alcohol Advisery Group considered the feasibility of regulations to require the labelling of alcohol containers in its 2008 Report. Section 22 of the Intoxicating Liquor Act 2003 provides for the making of regulations specifying particulars to be affixed to containers in which intoxicating liquor is sold for consumption off licensed premises which would enable the licensee and the licensed premises concerned to be identified. However, no such regulations have been made to-date for reasons outlined in the Group's Report.
The Group noted that while the labelling of alcohol containers was an attractive idea, significant challenges would need to be overcome in order to render it effective in practice. These challenges arose under two headings.
Firstly, practical difficulties would arise at retail level in cases where several individual containers were packaged together for sale, e.g. an enclosed six-pack of bottles; a plastic-wrapped tray of cans; or a wooden box containing bottles of wine. This raised the question of whether an appropriate label could be attached earlier in the supply or distribution chains rather than at the point of sale. The Group noted that attaching such labels to containers at an earlier stage might be simpler but it could create logistical difficulties for importers and distributors. Moreover, in the case of imports from EU countries, such additional labelling requirements could be regarded as infringing internal market rules relating to free movement of such goods.
Secondly, from an enforcement perspective, it was clear that possession by an underage person of a labelled container would not in itself constitute proof that the alcohol in the container has been illegally supplied to that person by the licensee whose particulars appeared on the container. The labelled container could have been taken from the family home or have been sold to a person over the age of 18 in good faith before being passed on to the person in possession of it. Indeed a container might have changed hands several times before coming into possession of the underage person.
The Group also noted that according to answers already given to parliamentary questions on the subject, issues relating to the evidential value of being found in possession of a labelled container had been raised during discussions on implementation of the 2003 Act with the Office of the Attorney General. That Office had expressed serious doubts about the evidential value of being found in possession of a labelled container and the overall effectiveness of any regulations that might be made under section 22 of the 2003 Act.
I have requested a report from the Garda authorities in relation to the trial referred to by the Deputy. I will contact the Deputy again when the report is to hand.
For the reasons set out above, I do not intend to make regulations under section 22 of the 2003 Act. I am however prepared to give serious consideration in the context of the forthcoming Sale of Alcohol Bill to any reasonable and workable labelling proposal that would not give rise to the difficulties outlined in the 2008 Report and in that context I will examine the Garda report on the trial referred to by the Deputy when it is received.