I propose to take Questions Nos. 113, 129, 156, 176 and 792 together.
These questions relate to the sponsorship of sport by the alcohol industry.
I fully support the central aim of the National Substance Misuse Strategy in reducing the level of alcohol consumption and binge drinking. I am very supportive of a number of the measures proposed including minimum pricing, health warning labels and statutory advertising codes. However, I am concerned that placing constraints on sporting organisations by eliminating the alcohol industry as a source of sponsorship will have negative impacts on the development and availability of sport and consequently on our efforts to maintain and increase sporting participation at local level.
There are huge and obvious economic, social and health benefits accruing from sport. It is very important that funding is available to sports organisations to ensure that sport is maintained at grassroots level so that as many people as possible can participate.
In view of the current economic constraints, Government investment in sport has had to be reduced in recent years. The imposition of a ban on sponsorship would further undermine the efforts of sporting organisations to be self-sufficient.
It is estimated that sport sponsorship by the alcohol industry amounts to around €30m per year. To place this in context, the Irish Sports Council’s budget is just over €40m. Difficulties currently being experienced by some of our high profile teams and events in securing sponsorship suggest that the funding lost might not readily be replaced by alternative sources. Sports organisations may well be placed in a position where they have to curtail their development programmes, which are pivotal to promoting participation at all levels.
I believe that any measures introduced should be evidence based, effective and proportionate. Furthermore, any decision in this area should have regard to the potential downsides that may occur.
There is no evidence to show that a ban on sponsorship would be effective in terms of reducing alcohol consumption amongst youths. Indeed, given the 'Loi Evin', it is worth noting the comparisons between Ireland and France in the 2011 ESPAD Report on Substance Use Among Students in European Countries, which was published last June. This report monitors substance use among 15–16-year-old European students in order to monitor trends within, as well as between, countries. Since 1999, the proportion of these young people reporting having had five or more drinks on one occasion during the past 30 days in Ireland has decreased by 17% to 40%. In comparison this has increased by 11% in France to 44%.
It should be remembered that Britain, having recognised the failure of the 'Loi Evin' in France to reduce alcohol consumption by young people, decided not to ban alcohol sponsorship of sport for evidence based reasons. We should not implement policies merely for the ‘optics’ but we should only do so after an evidence based cost benefit analysis.
Furthermore, it must be recognised that many of the major sporting events in which Irish teams compete are international events and are directly or indirectly broadcast into the State by foreign broadcasters. Were Ireland to ban alcohol sponsorship, the only effect would be to exclude the Irish sporting organisations from sponsorship money while the advertising occurred anyway.
There are also a number of practical difficulties at a local level which must be considered, for example will pubs and hotels be allowed to sponsor teams? How will the difficulties with sports which operate on an all- Ireland level be addressed?
Instead of imposing a ban on alcohol sponsorship, my preference is for the introduction of a voluntary system, such as currently exists in Australia, where the Department of Health would compensate sporting organisations who voluntarily give up such sponsorship and moving to the introduction of a ban only when it is shown that the money lost can be replaced through alternative sponsors.
Certainly, I do not think that the Government should impose such a law without fully compensating sports organisations for the revenue lost in the same way as we compensated political parties when corporate and private donations were restricted.