I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Corcoran Kennedy.
Public Health (Alcohol) Bill 2015: Committee Stage
I am pleased to be in the Seanad for the Committee Stage debate on the Public Health (Alcohol) Bill 2015. As all Senators are aware, alcohol is causing significant damage across the population, in workplaces and to children. It carries a substantial burden to everyone in Irish society.
I would like to outline some of the forms of harm caused by or attributable to alcohol. In 2013, an average of three people died every day as a result of drinking alcohol. On average, one alcohol-related death each day is due to poisoning or trauma and two alcohol-related deaths are due to chronic conditions. Alcohol is a contributory factor in half of all suicides and in deliberate self-harm. In 2014, one in three self-harm presentations was related to alcohol. Alcohol is associated with a risk of developing health problems such as alcohol dependence, liver cirrhosis, cancer and injury. The rate of alcohol liver disease discharges trebled between 1995 and 2013. The highest rate of increase was observed among those between the ages of 15 and 34. It is estimated that the incidence of alcohol-related cancers will more than double for females and will increase by 81% for males up to 2020. Alcohol is a factor in many cases of assault, including sexual assault, rape, domestic violence and manslaughter. It is estimated that 167,170 people suffered an alcohol-related assault in 2013.
The cost of alcohol misuse also has a significant impact on the economy and the taxpayer. For example, the annual cost to the taxpayer of alcohol-related discharges from hospital is €1.5 billion. In addition, approximately €1 of every €10 spent on public health in 2012 was assigned to alcohol-related discharges. This excludes emergency care, general practice and alcohol treatment services. It is estimated that 5,315 people who were on the unemployment register in November 2013 had lost their jobs due to alcohol use. The estimated cost of alcohol-related absenteeism was €41 million in 2013.
The Government is committed to tackling alcohol misuse in Ireland and the widespread harm it causes. It is working to reduce alcohol consumption and to address the underlying causes of alcohol misuse, which are affordability, availability and attractiveness. The Bill before the House is the most far-reaching proposal ever to have been made in this area by an Irish Government. For the first time, alcohol is being addressed legislatively as a public health measure. This legislation is a measured and evidence-based response to the need to deal with the very real harm caused by alcohol. The aim of the Bill is to reduce alcohol consumption in Ireland to 9.1 litres per person per annum, which is the OECD average, by 2020 and to reduce the overall harms associated with alcohol. The legislative measures contained in the Bill are required if we are to achieve this aim and to alter our relationship with alcohol.
I welcome the Minister of State. As this Bill was introduced before her appointment, I expect she has had to catch up with the situation. I would like to speak about the provisions in the amendment before the House with regard to broadcasting. I accept that the procedures regarding the whole question of broadcasting, advertising and sponsorship are complex. That is a currently a matter for consultation. Has the Minister of State considered the question of newspaper advertisements in addition to that of broadcasting? All the Sunday newspapers - I am referring particularly to the Sunday Independent - carry approximately six pages of advertisements. I will give an example. One advertisement said that people could purchase a bottle of gin for €20 even though it would cost a publican between €22 and €25 to buy the same bottle. According to the same advertisement, a bottle of brandy can be bought for €30 even though it would cost a publican €35 to buy it. I checked these prices yesterday at various cash-and-carry outlets. After the publican has bought the bottle of brandy for €35, he or she has to add the additional percentage of VAT that applies to the sale of that drink. The point I am making is that the below-cost selling of alcohol in supermarkets is one of the biggest dangers in relation to drink, as far as I can see.
They are called "loss leaders". When one picks up the newspaper on a Sunday, one says, "Oh my goodness", when one reads that one can buy a whole case of Carlsberg, Budweiser or Canadian for €15. The cheapest price for which a publican could buy the same case would be approximately €17.50. Slabs can be bought at a very cheap price. How can supermarkets sell these products at such low prices unless they are loss leaders? The same thing applies to vodka advertised by Eurospar. Captain Morgan Spiced Gold, which sounds very attractive, is retailing at €23, but the cheapest a publican can buy it for at a wholesale outlet is €22.50. Slabs of Carlsberg, Corona, Heineken and Budweiser are advertised for sale in SuperValu for €15 each, but the cheapest a publican can buy such a slab for is €17.38.
I thank the Chair for giving me a certain latitude in the points I am making at the outset of Committee Stage. I appreciate that very welcome restrictions in relation to minimum volume sales are introduced later in the Bill, but there are ways of getting around that. I ask the Minister of State to consider that drink should be separate from groceries. Alcohol should not be part of the grocery trade. I can get a €10 voucher from one of the big supermarkets - Dunnes Stores, Tesco, SuperValu or Londis - if I buy over €50 worth of groceries. That is a regular marketing tool. If I buy a bottle of vodka, a bottle of gin and a bottle of wine, I will get €10 back if that comes to more than €50, so the actual cost will be closer to €40. It is a form of subsidisation. I am reasonable in my point of view. I understand the complications. I am not being simplistic. It will not be easy to solve this.
The point I am making is that this amendment basically relates to television advertising of alcohol, but I wonder whether the Minister of State should consider the whole question of newspaper advertising of underpriced alcohol. I refer to loss leaders that are aimed at bringing customers in on the day in question. It is strange that as we approach Christmas, bottles of Jameson whiskey will be sold for €25, even though the lowest amount for which a publican can buy the same bottle is approximately €29. What is happening? It is quite demeaning for those involved in this business to have to go to the local supermarket to buy drink for their pubs. Pubs are under pressure in rural Ireland. I suppose I had better give a declaration of interest. I am involved in the Castlecoote Lodge Bar and replica Dáil and Seanad lounge in Castlecoote, County Roscommon. I hope I have made that declaration in case anyone says I have a vested interest in this matter. I have a knowledge of the pub trade. When I served as a Dáil Deputy for 15 and a half years, most of my clinics took place in pubs. I am sure the Minister, Deputy Harris, holds clinics in pubs. I am sure that is also part and parcel of the Minister of State's work. I want to be fair and reasonable about this important Bill.
What is the name of the Senator's pub?
I do not want to name it again. In fairness, the Fianna Fáil Party is in favour of the principle of this Bill from a health point of view. We have certain reservations about the technical side of it. I am expressing my personal view on this whole area. Members of this House should express their personal opinions on the whole industry. In summary, has the Minister of State considered the possibility of imposing restrictions on the advertising of alcoholic products that are being sold below cost? I welcome very much the proposal for a minimum unit cost. I hope it will be implemented. The question of the separation of alcohol from groceries is an important one.
Alcohol is not a grocery item. It is a substance. It can be used for pleasure. I do not condemn anybody who takes a drink. It is quite in order to do so, within reason. We are all about responsible drinking. Responsible drinking is what will happen in the local pub, where there is supervision of the distribution of alcohol. Those are my views and I would like to hear those of the Minister of State.
I welcome the Minister of State and thank her for bringing forward the Bill. There is overall agreement that we need to tackle the drink problem. We have major problems in our health service related to drink. The University of Sheffield, which was contracted by the Northern Ireland Executive, made a presentation to the previous Oireachtas Joint Committee on Health and Children on how we can deal with this growing problem. It produced some interesting results. The Minister of State mentioned the knock-on difficulties we are having outside of health. Reducing the level of alcohol consumption would reduce the number of deaths associated with the abuse of alcohol, crime and work absenteeism, which is a major issue. People staying away from work due to excessive drinking is a great loss to employers. The latter is an issue which we do not debate.
Medical practitioners in accident and emergency departments tell me the numbers of cases involving excessive drinking of alcohol coming in continues to increase, especially in the hours after 10 p.m. Between 1,500 and 2,000 hospital beds are occupied at any one time by people with health difficulties directly related to excessive drinking. It is interesting to read the University of Sheffield report. It is important that we realise the difficulties we face. The report states:
The evidence estimates that within the overall population aged 18+, the proportion of people who don’t drink, drink at low risk (less than 16.8 std. drinks per week for men and 11.2 for women), increasing risk (16.8 - 40 std. drinks per week for men and 11.2 - 28 for women), and high risk (more than 40 std. drinks per week for men and 28 for women) levels are 22.1%, 56.3% and 16.4% and 5.2%, respectively.
While the number of high risk drinkers is small, we also need to deal with the 16.4% who drink more than the recommended limit for low-risk consumption. They are also at risk. The report also states:
Low risk drinkers consume on average 4.5 standard drinks per week, spending €508 per annum on alcohol. Increasing risk drinkers consume 21.9 standard drinks per week, spending €2,218 per annum and high risk drinkers consume on average 62.5 standard drinks per week, spending €5,120 per annum.
The number going into the high-risk category, above the recommended consumption limit, is continuing to increase. Our alcohol consumption per head of population is one of the highest among OECD countries. We need to start dealing with it. Nobody has any objection to people drinking socially. It is the health difficulties we need to address.
The Bill sets out minimum unit pricing. I fully understand that it must be a co-ordinated approach with the Northern Ireland authorities. In the provinces of Canada, the introduction of minimum unit pricing has created a benefit for the community, health service and general population. We cannot continue to ignore the trend whereby young people start binge drinking at a very early age. It is open season, particularly in our colleges between September and Christmas. I have seen it during recent weeks. I do not live far from University College Cork, where it is dangerous to drive. Even at 8 p.m., I have seen people who have been drinking all day. We need to deal with the issue. We need to do a huge amount of work in education. We have done it for smoking. We should not take just one approach. The Bill is not the only action we need to consider.
People may not like some elements of the Bill. We may have to compromise on some of the elements it contains.
Overall, there is a need for a major shake-up in respect of how we approach alcohol consumption. We need an education programme and we need to control access to alcohol, especially for young people.
The Minister of State is very welcome, as is the Bill. I am a little confused. I take it we are on Amendment No. 1. Other colleagues have ranged widely, and I will not be able to resist the temptation, although I will keep it to a minimum. It seems that Amendment No. 1 would not insert something but delete something. There is a great similarity between section 1 of the Bill, as initiated, and section 1, as proposed in the amendment. Under the heading, "Short title and commencement", section 1(1) reads, "This Act may be cited as the Public Health (Alcohol) Act 2015." The amendment changes 2015 to 2016. Section 1(2) is exactly the same in the amendment and section 1(3) is more or less exactly the same. Are we going to have duplication? Would it not be better and correct to substitute the amendment for what is there? Otherwise, we will have duplication. I wonder why there is this duplication.
I begin the discussion on the Bill, particularly this section, from the point made in the opening of the explanatory memorandum. It is a very serious statement, as follows:
Alcohol is no ordinary product. It has major public health implications and is responsible for a considerable burden of health, social and economic harm at individual, family and societal levels.
This should give us pause. This is where we start from. It is not an ordinary problem. It has enormous implications in terms of health and finance. I am 72 years old, and have seen a very considerable change in Ireland. Like most Irish people, my roots are firmly in the bog, and I glory in the bog. All over my little bog in Laois, there were family grocery shops which were also pubs. One could go in and get a flitch of bacon and have a pint of stout in the back.
There was confusion at that stage, but it was when there were local brewers - Perry's in Rathdowney, Smithwick's and, in Dublin, Guinness. We do not have that anymore and nor do we have Jameson or Powers.
There are more of them now.
Not one of them-----
There are craft brewers.
-----is owned by an Irish person. They are multinational-----
Senator Norris is wrong.
I will sit down and the Senator can make his interruption.
Senator Norris is incorrect in what he is saying.
I am not.
There are many local craft brewers.
Oh goodness. There may be some craft brewers but the major suppliers to the industry are-----
Will Senator Norris address the Chair, please? He has the floor.
I beg the Chair's pardon. I will not only address the Chair, I will address its occupant.
Multinational corporations have been carrying out extensive lobbying of Members of this House. Sometimes, they are clever in how they conceal their origins referring to "responsible drinkers" and all of that rubbish. No one believes it. They have stopped lobbying me because I used to send material back and tell them that I did not believe them.
I will start with the impact of alcohol on the health of the people and the finances of the country. Three lives are lost daily. There is a €3.75 billion cost to the health service and the Exchequer. That is a hell of a lot of money. I am not being moralistic about this. These are the facts. I acknowledge the presence of former Senator Jillian van Turnhout in the Gallery. She has done a great deal of work on this issue. She was with the Children's Rights Alliance, from which I received a briefing. The impact of alcohol on children is frightening. It is being done through advertising. Children are attracted to bright advertising, including on television. They will ask about these matters. A survey published in December 2015 found that 64% of children aged between 13 and 17 years had consumed alcohol. That ought to give people pause for thought. A total of 53% had been drunk at least once. Kids in their early teens drunk. This is the situation with which we are faced. Forget about the fancy stuff about putting bottles of wine behind curtains and so on. Think directly of the damage being done. Of those surveyed, 50% reported that they drank every month. The UN Committee on the Rights of the Child has expressed concern about the high level of alcohol consumption by adolescents and has called on Ireland to strengthen its efforts to address this.
After the Bill's recital of the technical and legal mumbo jumbo, it gets into broadcast advertisements, that is, on the wireless and television. They are potent instruments. We should follow directly the example set by what was done in respect of tobacco and ban the advertising of alcohol. Alcohol is something that gives people pleasure when taken in moderation but it is a poison. Is no one awake to this fact? One can die of alcohol poisoning. One does not have to wait to get cancer or cirrhosis of the liver. A person can drink and drink - people increasingly do in, for example, student challenges where they drink enormous amounts - and die of alcohol poisoning after just one session.
One in four people has experienced harm as a result of someone else's drinking and 55% of drinkers were hazardous drinkers. The newspapers released a figure the other day showing that 97% of Irish people do not regard themselves as problem drinkers but that approximately 50% of them are binge drinkers. It is a case of "Oh, but that is not a problem. I just have an odd binge."
It is time that we were realistic about this matter. Here is the strength that the Minister of State has behind her. I hope she does not weaken or give in to the drink lobby or any of her colleagues in Seanad Éireann who will be affected-----
I have given the Senator a certain latitude but I do not want this to develop into a general debate.
It is getting interesting.
I am just telling the Minister of State that I hope she does not weaken on any of these amendments. I hope that she keeps to them. They are not enough but they are a beginning. I want to strengthen her hand. Of people questioned for the survey to which I refer, 74% were in favour of a ban on alcohol advertising on radio, television or anything else that appealed to young people. Well done on tackling radio and television advertising, but the measure needs to be implemented as strictly as possible. I would be in favour of a complete ban on alcohol.
I will end on this point. The promotion of sport through alcohol is ridiculous. Some of it damages one's health. This substance is used to promote and fund sports. It is nonsense.
I do not want to confine the Senator in one sense but-----
The Acting Chairman has confined me. I am now sitting down. I thank him for his advice.
I thank the Senator.
Fianna Fáil welcomes the Public Health (Alcohol) Bill. Harmful drinking is a major issue. More than 8,000 people were treated for problem alcohol use in 2012. Alcohol is associated with 2,000 beds being occupied every night in the acute hospital sector, one quarter of injuries suffered by those presenting at emergency departments and over half of all attendances at specialised addiction treatment centres. I have first-hand experience of this situation in that I have worked in many of Dublin city's accident and emergency departments, as well as for the NHS. I know the trauma that alcohol causes the people involved as well as to the staff of accident and emergency departments.
It is estimated that three people will die in Ireland everyday as a result of alcohol. That equates to 88 deaths per month and more than 1,000 lives lost every year. This is five times more than the number of road traffic deaths every year. A study by the HSE in 2012 estimated that alcohol-related costs amounted to approximately €3.7 billion per annum. For these reasons, Fianna Fáil is supportive of the legislative measures to curb alcohol abuse and excessive consumption. We aim to strike a balance in our amendments and to be solution driven and pragmatic.
Like Senators Swanick and Leyden, I am in favour of the Bill. Our amendments, which have been outlined, are reasonable and fair. Most small retailers are aware of the situation because they are involved in-----
Those amendments will be discussed later.
Yes. I am just following on. Most small retailers are highly aware of the complications and problems surrounding alcohol because they are involved in the community and are locally based. Anyone who goes to shops that are also off-licences will see that most have a defined break between where alcohol is sold and where ordinary groceries are sold. This segregation is important. It is being addressed. We have given it quite some consideration in our amendments.
Fears have been expressed in the House about below-cost selling and we would gladly see it addressed. Below-cost selling by large supermarket chains in an attempt to induce people into drinking is a serious issue. I would welcome anything that will tackle this scourge.
On behalf of Sinn Féin, I welcome this debate. It is in the interests of public health. We all know the burden on the public purse and, in particular, the public's health. This morning, there was a discussion in the Chamber about assaults on front-line staff and first responders, for example, fire-fighters, nurses, medics and gardaí. They usually respond to fires, accidents and domestic violence, which are largely fuelled by alcohol.
They then attack the first responders still fuelled by alcohol. We need this debate and we need to get our house in order and no longer be known as the drunken Irish. I welcome minimum pricing. To go back to Scotland, the European courts have ruled that it is in the public interest. There are some concerns about structural segregation. We will discuss them when we get to section 20. There are 52 amendments. The basic aim is to protect children and, ultimately, change our mindset. It is possible and it is essential for our well-being.
I welcome the Minister of State to the House. I think everybody in this House welcomes 95% of this Bill but some people have problems with some small aspects of it. By and large, 95% of the people think this is a very good Bill that is very welcome and will do what it aims to do. Senator Norris posed a very good question relating to sports and advertising. I believe we should turn it back on the drinks companies. We should use our sports stars to advertise the fact that they do not drink. I have not seen it done yet. I think the health authorities should take the lead on this and give them grants for secondary school or third level education or pay them to advertise the fact that they do not drink and that they set an example to other young people. I think they would take a lead from that.
On a point of order, while these are very valuable suggestions, we are straying potentially into a Second Stage debate.
We are not. We are dealing with amendment No. 1.
I have allowed a certain amount of latitude but I ask the Senator to-----
Amendment No. 1 deals with this.
Senator Paddy Burke has the floor so-----
The Minister of State and the Department should have a look at that aspect of it.
I think the Senator makes an excellent point that needs to be made. It should be taken up by the GAA and the IRFU.
Senator Paddy Burke has the floor.
I cannot find section 17(3)(d). I can see section 17(3)(c) but I cannot see section 17(3)(d). Could the Minister of State point it out to us?
I will address the overall point of the amendment first and then address some of the comments that were made. The first ministerial amendment deals with the commencement dates of the Bill, which will be introduced on a phased basis. The amendment sets out commencement dates that now include sections 12 to 19 of the Bill regarding advertising. The commencement dates were determined following a targeted consultation process with the industry. Due account was taken of the time required to develop advertisement campaigns and the time span of sponsorship deals. It is proposed that subsections 1 to 3 of section 12 regarding warnings in advertisements and sections 13 and 18, which provide for the prohibition of alcohol advertisements in certain places and the restriction on advertising in cinemas, will have a lead-in time of one year following commencement. It is also proposed that subsections 7 to 11 of section 12 regarding the content of advertisements and sections 14 and 15, which provide for the restriction on advertising during events and sponsorship, will have a lead-in time of three years following commencement. Section 17, which provides for restrictions on the advertising of alcohol products in publications that are subject to some exceptions, has a lead-in time of 18 months following commencement.
It is also proposed to introduce a new section providing for a watershed for the broadcasting of alcohol advertisements on television and radio as provided for in Government decision, S180/20/101801. This provision will have a lead-in time of one year following commencement. The officials at the Department of Health and the Office of the Parliamentary Counsel are reviewing the requirements to commence similar provisions in the Bill at the same time and as such, this section may be revisited on Report Stage.
In respect of some of the points that were made, print media will come up under section 17. Minimum alcohol pricing will come later as well in respect of minimum unit pricing. Senator Norris made a point about section 1. This will delete section 1 so there will not be any duplication.
But it does not say that "delete". That was left out.
I apologise for that.
Just to establish, what I spotted was a defect and it will be rectified.
The Seanad has done a little job today.
Acceptance of the amendment involves the deletion of section 1 of the Bill.
The deletion of section 1 of the Bill.
But it does not say that.
I do not know what the Senator is looking at but what I am saying is that-----
There are two decisions here - one to accept the new amendment and the other to delete the old section.
Page 2 states that the amendment involves the deletion of section 1.
The second one is a logical consequence of the first one.
I thank the Acting Chairman for the clarification.
We will deal with the segregation of alcohol in section 20. We will also deal with below-cost selling in terms of minimum unit pricing. We can deal with that there. Section Paddy Burke mentioned section 17(3)(d). That is an amendment.
Is that an amendment that will be put in it? I do not see it in the Bill.
It is not in the Bill. It is a proposed amendment.
It has been proposed and will be inserted.
It is not in the Bill as initiated. We cannot see what section 17(3)(d) is in the Bill.
It is a proposed amendment further down.
Through the Chair.
It is referring to an amendment that will be made subsequently.
The amendment says there is a subsection. The Minister of State is referring to it.
Officials should advise the Minister of State, not the House.
The sports element of it is a very good idea and I am sure some of the various sporting organisations might think very favourably because they engage in tremendous health and well-being programmes so it might be something they will take into account.
I think it was Senator Paddy Burke's suggestion.
I welcome the Minister of the State to what is a very important debate on alcohol use and abuse in this country. The vast majority certainly agree with many of the provisions in the Bill. Some of us have concerns that we can tease out at a later stage. I recognise and the Minister of State has just explained that amendment No. 1 gives the Minister of the day the mechanism to implement the orders or provisions in the Bill on a case-by-case basis as required. This is particularly important in respect of the economic climate in the Border regions in light of Brexit and the impact it could have on the local economy in the Border areas, particularly with regard to the minimum pricing proposals with which I fully agree. Alcohol abuse in this country is due to the availability of low-cost alcohol to people who, unfortunately, find themselves abusing it.
I have a genuine concern about minimum alcohol pricing. I have not been lobbied to the extent that some have said but I am concerned that some of the trade would automatically be displaced to Northern Ireland. The Minister of State can clarify it for me but I presume that this amendment allows her to ensure that, as far as possible, there is a simultaneous policy with the authorities in Northern Ireland so we do not put ourselves at a serious disadvantage economically and, at the same time, do not achieve the objective of the Bill, which is to reduce the consumption or abuse of alcohol. If it is available within miles across the Border for a much reduced price, we have a serious problem. Could the Minister of State clarify whether this amendment allows her to phase in the Bill at an appropriate time?
The Minister also mentioned advertising measures.
I presume I am correct in thinking, again to allow the Government time to implement the provisions, the legislation will allow existing sponsorship contracts to expire so that we do not interfere with them. I am referring to sports clubs or others that have sponsorship deals and advertisements with alcohol firms or distributors. Is that reason for this provision? Does it allow such organisations to continue as normal while the Government can implement it but give due notice?
I agree with my colleague, Senator Paddy Burke, that there are not enough prominent, high profile sports people enforcing the idea that alcohol is bad for a person. Many high-profile sports people are members of the Pioneer Total Abstinence Association or do not drink at all and it would be good to hear their voices in this debate. They could help young people realise that there is an alternative to alcohol abuse and fight off the strong influence of advertisements about alcohol.
In respect of the minimum pricing issue, if it kicks in and how it will kick in, I ask the Minister of State to clarify the matter. Sterling is worth 90 cent now but it is volatile. Can she change the provision if sterling gains parity in a few years' time? Parity with sterling would have a major effect on the economy of the Border region. If there is a sea change in sterling, what knock-on effect will that have on the entire Border region? As much as we can have a minimum price we must also have an opportunity to take it out as well because I cannot forecast what will happen to sterling next month or in the future and I do not think the Minister of State or her officials can either. Brexit and everything that is associated with the Border region at the moment indicates that the economy is exceptionally volatile and sterling is a key issue in that entire dynamic. We must consider how we deal with the issue going forward.
In respect of sponsorship, the sports industry sponsors sports clubs and in my neck of the woods every major nightclub has a sports award. How does that scenario fit into this Bill? It is all very well to impose a ban on alcohol advertisements. What happens when the major driver in a locality becomes the major driver behind a sports award that is advertised in every newspaper using all types of publicity? How does a monthly award, a yearly award, a quarterly award and an award for an award fit into the actual issues? All of these awards ceremonies take place in huge nightclubs located in districts and regions that we are associated with. It is a huge issue that we must grapple with. As much as we are saying that alcohol advertisements will be phased out, how will we deal with the internal view of tying it together?
The Minister of State referred to exemptions that may apply to certain print media and they are in a couple of provisions in section 17. Please correct me if I am wrong but that is what I heard her say. I ask her to outline what that means in practice.
Like some of the previous speakers, I feel a little proprietorial about this Bill. I was a member of the previous Government that generated this legislation that is extremely positive from a public health perspective. I look forward to teasing out a couple of particular sections with the Minister of State later in the debate.
I was struck by the comments on currency differential made by colleagues. My constituency, from the point of view of the current market and currency comparisons, would be affected. This is not the legislation to deal with such issues as it deals with a public health matter. I ask the Minister of State to reiterate and remind us what the nature of the proposition is in terms of when the minimum unit pricing order will be made and what direct control she has over the order. The view always was that if the ambition of the Bill was to be achieved, and if we were to adequately protect public health and make the kind of interventions that this Bill proposes in the interest of public health, then we would have to move in step with neighbouring jurisdictions. She is aware of the challenges in that regard. It is important that she puts on record how she intends to address the matter and what ongoing discussions are taking place with, for example, the Northern Ireland Executive and the British Government on the timing and choreography of same.
I wish to further develop a couple of the points made by colleagues on the sports sphere. I shall first refer to sports stars who distribute a good public image. I can speak from experience about decent campaigns by the IRFU to encourage sensible or no drinking among players. Donncha O'Callaghan and Peter Stringer are two famous sports stars who abstain from alcohol and they make that very clear distinction when they visit sports groups. They could do with more institutional encouragement for their sensible approach to alcohol, especially in the area of mental health.
I am concerned about the impact of the sponsorship provision in the Bill. How can we regulate for international agreements and competitions with Irish sports bodies, national government bodies, teams and athletes? How can we enforce the provision where contractual agreements exist, be they television deals or otherwise? How can people compete in certain competitions that are sponsored by an alcohol company or brand? What will happen in instances where they compete in international stadia and advertisements are broadcast on to Irish television and people can see hoarding on pitches or jerseys brandishing certain logos? I would appreciate if the Minister of State went into detail about how the provision will be regulated and implemented.
I welcome the Minister of State to the House. I welcome this debate as it is pertinent to this country. It is a sign of the times. We are a more affluent society and are at liberty to make lifestyle choices. Unfortunately, many of the lifestyle choices we make when affluent lead to many of us drinking too much. Irish people must have a sober conversation, pardon the pun, about their relationship with alcohol. We can deal with it through informed decision-making and taking personal responsibility. The State plays a role in guiding us, informing us and protecting children to ensure we have a more responsible relationship with alcohol.
During the debate, comparisons were made between alcohol and tobacco. The end game is not ensuring everyone does not drink. Ireland has been compared with France and Spain. They are two countries that seem to have a more reasonable relationship with drink but those comparisons do not apply. We are debating a public health Bill. This is a more affluent time but we must encourage people to make the best choices for the benefit of their health and quality of life. We have heard from experts so we all know that alcohol abuse impacts on one's health and quality of life.
Later we will debate sections that are up for amendment but I wish to flag the following issue. Let us consider the advent of the change in how we relate to alcohol. One thing that strikes many people is the price. One can easily and cheaply buy a slab of beer. Below cost selling is connected to the abolition of the Groceries Order. This practice is particularly visible in the supermarket multiples where people can buy copious amounts of alcohol. In fact, it costs more to buy a bottle of water than a can of beer. The current situation makes alcohol freely available.
I welcome minimum unit pricing. I am concerned that we are required to have an agreement with the North of Ireland to adopt minimum unit pricing simultaneously in order to have the best effect. The situation is outside of our control and the initiative could take two years or more to complete. In the meantime, below cost selling will continue even though it is a contributing factor to the abundance of alcohol and binge drinking.
I am concerned that the Government is not acting immediately to stop below-cost selling, although such a move is within the gift of Government. This may not be the end point, that is to say, minimum unit pricing. It appears that, from the information the Department of Health has given us, that would be more effective.
Clearly, this below-cost selling is working for the supermarkets. It is drawing people in and they buy drink. We can act now. I am at a loss to know why we are not doing something. Numerous pointed comments have been made to the effect that we are being excessively lobbied. In the case of every Bill or proposed legislation that comes through we are subject to lobbying. However, it only seems to suit some people. It does not suit public health aims. It only seems to suit the big supermarkets. Why is that? We could do it right now instead of waiting. Everyone welcomes minimum unit pricing, but when is it going to materialise? In the meantime, there are options involving other measures. I welcome the measures-----
We are on amendment No. 1.
I intend to address the matter in more detail. I welcome the measures on advertising. A number of measures in this area go to the heart of forming our attitudes to drink. We know advertising is powerful and that is why so much money is spent on it. Equally, if we agree that below-cost selling is a lure or bait to get people in, and it works, why are we not doing something about it? Are there vested interests at play? That is what I am wondering about during the debate.
The Minister of State might address another contradiction. We are at war with alcohol, yet we give grants to enable distilleries and craft beer companies throughout the country to be set up. We need to have a realistic conversation. Obviously, this problem will not be solved overnight and I welcome an open debate on the issue.
I would appreciate it if the Minister of State could address my particular concerns. I have heard before that stopping below-cost selling is not the be all and end all, and I accept that. However, it is clear to anyone who applies a modicum of logic and common sense that it is used and abused by the multiples to the detriment of small independent traders on the street. We could stop it right now. The smaller traders do not have the money for glamorous advertising etc. to help them to draw people in. Why are we not acting? It seems the only people who will lose out are those on the side of the multiple supermarkets. I am concerned about that. It is within the gift of the Minister of State and the Government to do something. I would appreciate an answer to that question.
I intend to speak more substantially to the amendments I will second. First, I will build on what Senator Mulherin has said. We have a real opportunity to take action. There is urgency about the matter and we have an opportunity to take action today. I hope we do what it is in our power to do as Members, that is to say, move forward and ensure the Bill passes Committee Stage before we leave this afternoon. We need to look to urgent action. Let us all seize this opportunity. I will come in again in respect of the amendments I have supported.
Reference was made to minimum unit pricing. Minimum unit pricing is a measure specifically targeted at heavy drinkers and younger people. That is the objective.
People are concerned about what will happen with regard to Northern Ireland. It will be a matter for the Minister to decide when he wants to bring in the measure. There is significant concern around Brexit and how we can continue with the relationship with the Northern Executive in the context of bringing in minimum unit pricing at the same time. That was always the intention and we sincerely hope we will continue to be able to do that.
A question was asked about below-cost selling. The University of Sheffield has found that a ban would have negligible impact on alcohol consumption and related harm. However, there is an opportunity for the Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation to consider the matter. At the same time, we have decided this is not something that will work for us based on the evidence produced. That is why we are going for minimum unit pricing instead.
Another question was asked about promotions. A number of sponsorships will be restricted at certain events. This is covered in section 15. It will be an offence for a person to sponsor an event at which the majority of individuals taking part are children. A section will deal with that query. If Senators hold on, we will deal with that in time. We will also be regulating for price promotions. There will be no price promotions such as those we have seen, like happy hours and messy Mondays and so on. We are certainly dealing with that in the Bill too.
I think I have dealt with most of the questions.
I am keen to give everyone an opportunity. Does Senator Gallagher wish to make a quick point?
Cuirim fáilte roimh an Aire Stáit go dtí an Teach. I welcome the Minister of State and thank her for the briefing she provided yesterday. It was well attended and I found it most informative.
Any opportunity we have to discuss overconsumption of alcohol is to be welcomed. Unfortunately, Irish people have become famous worldwide for all the wrong reasons when it comes to our abuse and overconsumption of alcohol. That is unfortunate. It is fair to say that there is probably not a family in the country that has escaped the effects of overconsumption of alcohol and the dangers and addiction that comes with it. Any Bill that strives to attempt to lower consumption must be welcomed, and I will certainly support it.
I do not intend to go into the issues in great detail. A number of my colleagues have referred to minimum price per unit. That is a good idea, but it is vital we work in conjunction with our friends in Northern Ireland. I come from a Border county. We are going through tough economic times at the moment. I imagine the Minister of State can appreciate that. For anyone in business along the Border at the moment, the buzzword is survival. We are doing all we can to hang on in light of Brexit, the devaluation of sterling and the effects these changes are having on our local economy. It is vital from an economic perspective that anything we do in respect of minimum cost selling is done in conjunction with our friends North of the Border.
Reference was made to the separation issue. There seems to be considerable confusion. I realise we will discuss it in more detail shortly. There is considerable fear over what will be acceptable in small rural shops. Some clarity was offered on the question yesterday and my party will make an amendment along these lines. I welcome the opportunity to debate the question. Any time we spend talking about overconsumption of alcohol is time well spent.
I was not in the House for Second Stage when the Bill came before the previous Oireachtas. I acknowledge the presence of a former Senator, Ms van Turnhout, who was a pivotal member of the Joint Committee on Health and Children that I chaired. Senator Colm Burke was a member of that committee as well.
That committee undertook pre-legislative scrutiny of the Bill. I welcome the Minister of State and commend her on her initiative this afternoon. It is important, in the context of the debate, that we consider the harmful relationship we have with alcohol.
Let us put some facts on the table as part of the discourse in considering the Bill. Alcohol consumption is on the increase. Approximately 80% of the population consumes alcohol and half of those who consume alcohol are harmful high-risk drinkers.
Almost 10% of those who consume alcohol are dependent on it and that feature increases as we go up the age groups. What is important in the context of this debate is the overarching aim of the Minister of State to try to reach a solution where we can reduce the impact of alcohol on our public health system, on the number of work days lost and improve the quality of life for our citizens. If we consider the issue in the context of the incidence of liver cirrhosis and dependency on alcohol by many in our society, there is an issue not least in terms of people's physical health but their mental health and the fact that 1,500 hospital beds are occupied per night for alcohol-related reasons.
I do not intend to contribute much to the debate as I want to allow our spokesperson and other Members to contribute. The pre-legislative scrutiny of this legislation recognised that not one size fits all with regard to the issue of alcohol misuse. There are some who do not share in supporting the Minister of State's responsibility and who do not want to see alcohol consumption reduced. If we were all to be honest, and in that I include the Members opposite in particular, when we changed the groceries order and allowed alcohol to be sold freely, it was probably the wrong thing to do. That should not have been allowed to happen.
I acknowledge the presence of Mr. Padraic White and people from Alcohol Action, including Ms Suzanne Costello, who have been very strong on this issue. The retail sector has a duty of care and responsibility. It had a voluntary code and, to a limited degree, that worked or perhaps it did not work. I always found Mr. White accessible and amenable on any issues that I brought to his attention. He took this matter up with some of the people in question. However, there was an ambivalence on the part of some retail outlets regarding the way they advertised and displayed alcohol. I am referring to a particular chainstore, as Mr. White would be aware, but I must say in his defence that he acted in taking the matter up with that particular organisation.
We must balance the need to have health advocacy with bringing in minimum unit pricing. Representatives from the University of Sheffield showed that a skin prick test can be very positive in determining what age groups drank and how they rank. We need to bear in mind that minimum unit pricing is but one aspect of the Bill.
Another issue is media advertising and how radio and television advertising can be used. Senator Richmond spoke about sports and I am a member of an organisation and a club that has a bar, and striking a balance in that respect is important. As many of us involved in sport know, sponsorship of sports by alcohol companies and bars is much needed.
I must ask the Senator to conclude.
I will conclude now. I did not get a chance to speak on Second Stage and I chaired the committee that brought many of the recommendations to the former Minister and I want to give the Minister of State my support. The key point is that we have to take a stand and start to address how we can combat the misuse of alcohol in our society. That requires a collective response from all sides of the House and a willingness to engage and examine what we can do that is in the best interests of our fellow citizens. That means doing what is in the common good in terms of addressing the overarching principle of health advocacy and ensuring a reduction of the misuse of alcohol.
I will conclude by quoting a letter from the parent of a child who was killed which was published in The Irish Times a few months ago. It states: "I don't look on myself as a neo-prohibitionist; all I ask is that the whole subject of dirt-cheap alcohol that is causing so many problems in our country be addressed." That is the kernel of the problem. Access to cheap alcohol that can be purchased in many outlets is the problem. What we need is not a prohibition or a nanny state but for this issue to be tackled through the introduction of minimum unit pricing. If we can do that and deal collectively with alcohol misuse, we will have done the state a lot of service.
As Second Stage of this Bill was taken in the previous Seanad, I allowed some latitude but I ask that Members be brief in their contributions. There are 53 amendments and we have not yet decided on the first one. I ask Members to be conscious of that. I note Senator McFadden wishes to contribute.
I welcome the Minister of State to the House. I acknowledge the Acting Chairman's point that there are 52 amendments and all Members want to speak, and it is very important that they all speak. This is a serious Bill that will go through this House and we as policy makers should speak on it.
I accept completely the sentiments behind the Bill. I know, as others have said, that there is growing evidence that shows the impact of alcohol misuse and the harm it can do not only to the drinker but to his or her family and to society in general, the social disorder, violence and other crimes that happen and the cost to the State in terms of hospital bed occupancy. Everybody is aware of that.
The Bill aims to tackle Ireland's harmful relationship with alcohol and to encourage positive public health and safety and well-being, particularly among children, and I welcome that completely. We all see alcohol consumption every day and there is no harm in having a glass of wine every so often and nobody would argue with that, but alcohol is not an ordinary consumer product. That is something this Bill is trying to put forward and that we as a State would see that and use the licensing system to emphasise that, especially with specific excise taxes. The regulation of the way we display alcohol is important in terms of highlighting the harm it can do to families, particularly to children, in terms of over-exposure. I welcome the Bill, but I have concerns about some aspects in terms of the segregation and labelling and I am sure when we will deal with those later we can address them.
I wish to deal with the Minister of State's response to a point I made. I did not find her comments on tackling below-cost selling very convincing. I am not only referring to her but I am at a loss to know why this approach has been taken by the Department.
Another point is that if these multiples or supermarkets buy an alcohol product that is produced in Ireland and sell it below cost in a supermarket to get people into the store to buy large quantities of alcohol, which is what they are doing, they can claim a VAT credit for it. They are claiming a VAT credit from the State and using the sale of alcohol products as a loss leader, yet we continue to stand over this. I find that incredible in the context of what we are discussing.
When will minimum unit pricing be introduced? We are talking about it, we are all in agreement on it but when will it happen? It is outside the Minister of State's control but she can do something now. I am perplexed as to why the Department of Health is not doing something about below-cost selling right now, given that everybody knows that access to very low priced alcohol originated with the big supermarkets. One does not need to have a PhD to know that. One can see as one does one's shopping. It is not the small store that has us landed with the problem of access to low-priced alcohol. The small stores are being crippled by these supermarkets, yet we are standing over this situation and have been doing so for years.
My question regarding the timing of the introduction of minimum unit pricing has not been answered. When will that happen? We can pass this legislation today and run it all through, but when will minimum unit pricing happen? The Minister of State cannot answer that. It could happen in two years or three years. We are dealing with Brexit at the moment. Is this issue at the top of the agenda in Northern Ireland? They have an awful lot on their plate. Why does the Minister of State not act regarding below-cost selling? Why should these supermarkets be able to claim tax credits for the way our system is set up? There is much talk about tax avoidance and so on in this country when it comes to multinationals. Here is a prime example. It is contributing to the problem the Minister of State is trying to solve, and it is within the gift of the Government to address it.
I welcome the Minister of State to the House and add my voice to others in support of this Bill, which is badly needed in this country. A fundamental shift is needed.
I hope that this is the start of something that will do away with our image internationally as well as our harmful relationship with alcohol. The Bill contains many useful measures but it is only a start. Suggestions such as those made by other Senators regarding, for example, sports stars and other role models who do not partake in alcohol on a regular basis are helpful.
We cannot lose sight of the fact that alcohol consumption has reached alarming levels. When the 20% of adults who abstain from alcohol completely were excluded, consumption figures for 2015 were 46 bottles of vodka, 130 bottles of wine or 498 pints per person annually. Alcohol consumption in Ireland has almost trebled since 1960. Although it has declined by 23% from a peak of 14.3 litres of pure alcohol per capita in 2001 to 11 litres in 2015, this decline has not been consistent. Whatever the statistics, we all agree that our relationship with alcohol and our method of drinking are the crux of the problem.
Despite changing levels of excise duty and affordability having a direct and immediate impact on consumption patterns, we remain almost 2 litres per capita above the Healthy Ireland and Public Health (Alcohol) Bill target of 9.1 litres. As all Senators who have spoken have acknowledged, this major issue needs to be addressed.
Growing evidence documents the impact of alcohol-related harm, not just on the individual drinker and his or her family, but on wider society, for example, social disorder, vandalism, violence, other crimes - we could be here all day - reduced community amenities, absenteeism and reduced work performance. As Senator Norris mentioned, the estimated cost of excessive alcohol consumption in terms of health, crime, public order and so on is approximately €3.7 billion per annum.
I will not speak further on the Bill in general. Like most others, I have already taken the opportunity. The Bill may raise small issues for businesses but we cannot in good conscience fail to implement all of the good measures contained in the Bill. I agree with Senator Mulherin about below-cost selling. I am frustrated that we cannot introduce something in that regard. We will spend an hour speaking about the segregation of alcohol in shops but that is a minor issue compared with the harm that below-cost selling causes to smaller retailers. We need to tackle this issue head on. I would be interested in the Minister of State's comments in this regard and I look forward to the debate on the individual sections.
I will be brief. I endorse the comments of Senators Mulherin and Noone regarding large retailers. To be fair to all sides, I will note that we have responsible retailers and consumers, which we should recognise in this debate. This Bill is an opportunity. If we want to wage a war on alcohol abuse - a war of which we are all supportive - we must target the large retailers that are shifting vast volumes of alcohol in a certain way. Rarely if ever have I seen crates of beer, spirits and so on leaving the smaller shops that people are concerned about. If I am honest, though, I have seen it many times in respect of large retailers. They have promotional and advertising power. In the coming weeks, there will be direct mailings to every house in the country of coloured brochures with pages and pages of alcohol products. Children will see them just as adults will.
We must target the area that will reap the maximum benefit in terms of eradicating alcohol abuse. If the Minister of State is prepared to listen to us, this is an opportunity for every Senator to shape the legislation in a way that can achieve that objective by targeting volume rather than smaller retailers, who are often known to people in the community and have a responsible approach to the sale of alcohol. If we do this together, we can introduce ground-breaking legislation. I acknowledge the considerable work done on the legislation by the Minister of State, the previous health committee and others but we must be careful not to cause unintentional impacts on responsible consumers, of which there are many, and responsible retailers. A balance is to be struck but I support the targeting of large retailers who, without whim or favour, target families with significant advertising. They are the bodies which shift the volumes of beer and spirits that are causing problems.