We are resuming the debate on amendment No. 10 to section 4. Amendments Nos. 50 to 52, inclusive, are related to amendment No. 10 and the House has agreed to discuss them together. When the debate adjourned on the previous day, the Minister was in possession and I will call on him to resume his speech. Before I do, I would like Members to bear in mind that I do not wish, as Cathaoirleach, to have any Second Stage speeches. People can contribute obviously, but we have had Second Stage and we are well into Committee Stage. I will remind Members not to embark on Second Stage speeches on the general issue but to stick to the amendments before us.
Public Health (Alcohol) Bill 2015: Committee Stage (Resumed)
I am delighted to be back here in what seems to be a much bigger Seanad Chamber for the resumption of this very important Bill. It is landmark legislation and the first time ever as a country that we will introduce public health legislation on alcohol. I certainly do not intend to treat Committee Stage like Second Stage but, by way of a few introductory remarks, it is important to say that with this Bill we are, for the first time, taking the important step of addressing alcohol as a public health matter. The clear intention of the Bill is to contribute to the reduction of the harmful use of alcohol in our country.
We have all been, or have known someone who has been, affected negatively by the misuse of alcohol. Examining our own relationship with alcohol and addressing the damage it can cause will never be popular, nor will it necessarily be comfortable. Alcohol is an intrinsic part of our culture, and perhaps even of our identity, and to address the harms it can cause when it is misused requires courage and honesty. I am confident the nature of the debate we will have here today will be very helpful in progressing this key legislation. We hear Irish people drink moderately, but in 2017 the Healthy Ireland survey found that almost four out of ten of us binge drink regularly. The Central Statistics Office recently published figures which showed Ireland as top in the EU for binge drinking in 2014. Binge drinking involves drinking six or more standard drinks at one time.
The more we drink, the higher our risk of developing life-changing illnesses such as alcoholic liver diseases or alcohol-related cancers. We can no longer ignore the evidence or the risks.
One of the objectives of this Bill is to address the relationship between children and alcohol. It is worth noting the recent comments by our special rapporteur on child protection, Dr. Geoffrey Shannon, in his report earlier this year on the exercise of Garda powers under the Child Care Act, who stated "the failure by society to address alcohol as a fundamental problem, places insurmountable burdens on the child protection system". This Bill on its own is not the answer to this pressing issue but it is an important contribution along with others identified in the national substance misuse strategy on prevention, treatment and rehabilitation, which the Taoiseach and I launched a couple of weeks ago. The Bill aims to reduce harmful drinking by adults and therefore of children's experience of those harms but also to delay the age at which children themselves start to drink.
There is a strong link between alcohol, self-harm and suicide among our teenagers. In the "Irish Health Behaviour in School-aged Children Study", which was published in 2014, one fifth of Irish children reported that they had an alcoholic drink in the last 30 days and one in ten children reported having been drunk in the last 30 days. In the most recent European school survey project on alcohol and other drugs, seven out of ten Irish 15-to-16 year olds had already drunk alcohol and more than three out of ten had been drunk in the past. The same survey found that a quarter of Irish girls and nearly a fifth of Irish boys reported having been injured or involved in an accident due to alcohol. These are frightening numbers. While I have no doubt that the statistics on the relationship between children and alcohol may change from year to year, is it not time to say that no such relationship should exist and that our children should not be consuming any alcohol? I believe that it is. It is our responsibility as law makers to take what steps we can to reach that goal and to change the culture.
Research studies show 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 do. The Bill sets out measures to create an environment where our children are not exposed to alcohol products or advertising on a daily basis and where alcohol consumption is not considered to be an automatic rite of passage for every teenager. Our objective is to ensure that taking a drink is something that can be enjoyed by an informed adult who knows the risk of misuse. Are we being a nanny state? I have heard a great deal about this in recent weeks, but I do not believe so. It is an intentional distraction from the purpose of the Bill. Protecting the health and welfare of our children is a duty of the State. We need to acknowledge and address the harms associated with the misuse of alcohol. Deputy Micheál Martin was accused of introducing a nanny state when he implemented courageous measures on tobacco as a result of which people have lived who would otherwise have been dead. If this were a discussion on legislating to control the exposure of children to other substances with an equal potential for harm, I doubt the nanny-state accusation would be made.
What about adults? Some would argue that we should leave it to the individual to decide on their own drinking. Certainly, I agree that we must all take personal responsibility for our actions. However, when the decisions of the individual impact negatively and substantially on all of us as a society, including on our health services and on our social services, we cannot abdicate our responsibility to protect our citizens and those public services. The cost of time spent in hospital for alcohol-related conditions in 2012 was €1.5 billion, or the equivalent of €1 for every €10 spent on public health. Many Members bring me to the House on important Commencement matters seeking more investment in the public health service. I ask them to think about what we could do with €1.5 billion of additional investment in waiting-list initiatives. In 2013, alcohol-related discharges accounted for more than 160,000 bed days in public hospitals; that is almost 3.6% of all bed days each year being used up in relation to this.
This Bill contains a suite of measures but they are not designed to change a culture overnight, which is impossible. Their aim is to raise awareness among all of us about the risks associated with the misuse of alcohol and to implement practical changes to protect our children and all of our citizens. During consideration of the Bill last October, the potential cost burden on smaller mixed trading outlets of the proposals around separating alcohol from other products was discussed at great length in the Seanad. I listened carefully to the debate and have read back over the transcripts of it. I heard the concerns and I have tried to act on them. When we come to consider the relevant section of the Bill, the House will see that I am bringing forward an amendment to provide an alternative for smaller retailers, which is a genuine effort to meet the concerns that were raised. However, I do not wish to divide the Seanad on this issue today. If what I have heard from all Members is absolutely the case, I believe we can all get to a point on which we can agree. Let me be clear, however, that my bottom line on this is that I want to see alcohol made less visible in our shops.
It is not the same as buying a loaf of bread or a litre of milk and it cannot be treated as such. There is significant misinformation and misunderstanding, however. I commit to the Seanad today that I will engage with small shops and their representatives to provide clarity on the flexible options available to meet the requirements of this legislation. However, I do not want today's discussion to focus solely on that one aspect of the Bill. There are many important aspects of the Bill, of which visibility is but one. The Government has a bottom line on visibility but I want to have the engagement on it.
We need to pass all sections of the Bill on Committee Stage today, if possible but at least by tomorrow, and engage further on this point on Report Stage. This legislation has been stalled for too long and we need to make progress today. I am, as I know we all are, committed to tackling the alcohol problem in Ireland and to reducing the widespread harm and pain it causes both to those who engage in harmful drinking and to all others affected. We have the opportunity today to take the first important steps to create a healthier society for our children, our vulnerable people and all of our citizens. In that spirit, I now look forward to engaging and co-operating with the House to bring the Public Health (Alcohol) Bill 2015 through Seanad Éireann, to teasing out legitimate issues of concern and, ultimately, to enacting a really important piece of landmark legislation.
I welcome the Minister and his officials to the Chamber.
I remind Senator Black that, as she is probably aware, amendments Nos. 50 to 52, inclusive, are related to amendment No. 10. She is actually a signatory of amendment No. 52. The amendments may be discussed together.
I am 100% aware.
Due to my eyesight, I cannot see the screen. Are we on amendment No. 10?
Yes. We are on section 4 and amendment No. 10.
I am very happy to see the Public Health (Alcohol) Bill back before the House. It is over a year since it was last debated. I offer my support for Government amendments Nos. 10, 50 and 51 and will speak in favour of my own amendment No. 52. Since we last debated the Bill, more than 1,000 people have died from alcohol-related harm and none of us wants to see further delays to this vital legislation. I will keep my contributions short where possible to allow us to get through the amendments. I urge my colleagues across the House to proceed in this spirit.
I thank the Senators who have co-signed amendment No. 52, which is a relatively minor amendment to modify and clarify the Bill's preamble. As it stands, the Bill's opening paragraph states that a key aim of the legislation is to provide for restrictions on the advertising and sponsorship of alcohol products. We wish to add the words "generally and in relation to children" to bring some small but important clarity to the fact that a key reason to control the advertising of alcohol is child protection, to address our harmful relationship with alcohol from an early age. This is in line with the spirit of the Bill as evidenced by several provisions on advertising which relate specifically to children, including a 200 m limit near schools or playgrounds or children's sports events. The minor change we propose places a focus on child protection from the very start and it is something we can all get behind.
I thank the Children's Rights Alliance, the ISPCC, Barnardos and other children's rights organisations for their strong and unwavering support for the Bill to date. I urge my colleagues to support my amendment. I will be pushing for a vote when it is moved.
I support the amendment and, if the proposer would like, will second it. It is important to take the question of children into account. In his opening remarks, the Minister adverted to the fact that there is a culture in Ireland where it is a rite of passage that young people are introduced to alcohol. It is perfectly normal and wonderful. Getting plastered is a big laugh and all the rest of it. That is a complete nonsense.
There has been an enormous level of lobbying. I assure the Minister of my strong and firm support for him in everything he is doing in the Bill. That there is some dissent in the Fine Gael ranks is a real pity. People have given in to the pressure of these lobbying groups. I have received things too.
I got one from a gentleman who runs a petrol station in County Donegal and he is complaining about having to conceal something. He should be selling petrol. It was a great mistake to allow for the sale of alcohol through petrol stations. A very decent man from Clontarf wrote to me. I have had contact with him before. He has 38 employees and he thinks it is going to be a real imposition to segregate the alcohol. What rubbish. If he can afford 38 employees, he can certainly afford the minimal disruption that will be caused by segregating the alcohol. On this amendment it is important to include the specific reference to children. I support the amendment and I want to indicate my very strong support to the Minister for everything he is trying to do in this Bill. I hope the main political parties will have the guts at last to stand up to the drinks lobby, which is very effective, powerful and economically strong.
As co-signatory to this amendment, I fully endorse it. The focus and substantive content of this legislation, especially in respect of advertising sponsorship and warnings, is sufficient to justify the inclusion of child protection in the description of the Bill. As legislators we are tasked with child protection and to act in the public interest. That is not a nanny state. All the reports, including Hidden Harm, show that we have known for years of the horrific effects of alcohol abuse on childhood and continuing into adulthood. I urge everyone to support this and to speak as briefly as possible in their contributions.
The Senator is setting a good example.
I too fully support this amendment. A person who works in the family law courts will find that drink has been a major contributory factor to much domestic violence. The people who really suffer are the children. It is important that at the start of this Bill, we state it is relevant to children and that we support this amendment.
I welcome the Minister and the Bill back to the House and commend Senator Black on her performance on television last night. As the former Chairman of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Health and Children, I welcome the insertion of children in the Bill. I remind Senator Norris that this a Public Health (Alcohol) Bill. It is not a question of collaboration with anybody but it is to ensure that we as a nation understand its importance.
This morning I attended a briefing on lung cancer, which is the biggest killer in our society. We have an obligation to ensure that the Public Health (Alcohol) Bill becomes law. It involves children because they are impressionable. I attended the Cork joint city and county policing forum two weeks ago where the Cork drugs alcohol task force co-ordinator, David Lane, gave a very interesting presentation on the association in children's minds between alcohol and commodities in a shop, such as sweets, milk or bread, as well as in the family home, where alcohol is seen with the cheese or yoghurt or whatever. I welcome the Minister's remarks. None of us wants a nanny state. As Members of the Houses of the Oireachtas we are privileged to be charged with concern for public health. We may have differing viewpoints. I welcome the engagement the Minister proposes to have with various stakeholders because I have always found stakeholders in pre-legislative scrutiny, whether on this or other issues in respect of the retail industry, to be very responsible and capable. We cannot do nothing, as some people want us to. We cannot stand idly by. Our health is our choice and children, who are impressionable today, have an association with alcohol in various ways. Everyone must support this amendment.
I thank the Minister for the spirit in which he came into the House this afternoon and for his opening remarks. This is an important Bill. It behoves us, notwithstanding the many well-intended and well-meaning viewpoints, to pass this Bill and enact it for the betterment of our society.
I welcome the Minister for Health and thank him for his opening remarks. He set the tone for a constructive debate. It is a question of public health and nobody here, whether in the Visitors Gallery, the Dáil or the Seanad needs to be reminded of the pain and suffering the irresponsible use of alcohol causes, most of all to minors and children but also to families, husbands, wives and loved ones. We all agree on that.
The Taoiseach has charged the Minister with responsibility for this issue. I read some of the earlier debates on this Bill and was conscious of how he was driving this. This is Government policy. That is what we would expect of any government, that it would drive a policy. Some aspects of this Bill were not in the programme for Government but I broadly support it because it is worth supporting. I echo what the Minister said about there being many more strands to be dealt with in respect of educating people, dealing with alcohol and a range of other issues. This is a start. The spirit of the Bill is good but I have concerns about some of its measures which I will outline as we go through this process. I thank the Minister's commitment to engaging on this. I went to Greystones, to Quinsboro Road in Bray, to Arklow and Wicklow, four locations in the Minister's constituency, because I know them-----
The Senator is not going to run there, is he?
No. The Minister has it all to himself. I asked retailers about the issues concerned here. One point that was made everywhere was the lack of consultation. They have concerns. They are not all right but that is important. I am impressed that the Minister is telling us today that he will extend that period of consultation in the lead-up to Report Stage. I think 99% of this is good and needs support. We may need to tweak it but I wish the Minister well.
In thanking Senator Norris for his support for the Bill, I assure him that the Fine Gael Party fully supports this Bill. It was in the Fine Gael manifesto and the programme for Government. As Senator Boyhan noted, it was introduced by the present Taoiseach when he was Minister for Health and the Senator can read his comments on publishing this landmark Bill on the Department of Health's website. Members of the Fine Gael Party, like everybody in this House, have a duty to bring forward the views of its constituents. I am not one of those who believe that bringing forward their views and concerns is in any way inappropriate. Everyone has a right to have their voice heard. That does not mean that I will always agree. Many of the concerns that small shop owners in particular have, which we will deal with in section 20, can be clarified by engagement. There has been some misinformation and misunderstanding. My party, every party and everybody in this House wishes to see, in Senator Norris's phrase, "minimal disruption" to the shopkeeper. It is not a question of maximum disruption for the shopkeeper but it is a question of making the alcohol product less visible. That is the core of what we must do when engaging.
The Government is pleased to be in a position to support Senator Black's amendment to add children who are the subject of this Bill. Many of the measures deal with overexposure of children to alcohol at an early age and I can agree to adding children to the Title.
Amendments Nos. 11 and 12 are physical alternatives and were already discussed with amendment No. 2. If amendment No. 11 is agreed, amendment No. 12 cannot be moved.
I may be a bit slow on the uptake. Why can amendment No. 12 not be taken if amendment No. 11 is accepted? They both refer to an insertion after "18(1)," and amendment No. 12 proposes also inserting "19(4),". I do not see any great conflict. I seek clarification.
I am informed by our very learned and esteemed Clerk that Senator Norris is probably correct.
Therefore, we can have both.
Then it is a matter, perhaps, for the Government. Regarding the conflict that is indicated in my note, the Senator is correct is pointing out that there is some sort of anomaly in that.
So we can take amendment No. 12 as well.
Yes, I think so.
I thank the Cathaoirleach for that clarification.
I will rule on that.
Even though my note says that amendment No. 12 cannot be moved, the position has changed and we have said it can be moved and discussed.
I move amendment No. 12:
In page 9, line 17, after "18(1)," to insert "19(4),".
I will not press the amendment to a vote. I will reconsider submitting it for Report Stage.
Amendments Nos. 14 and 49 are related and may be discussed together by agreement.
I move amendment No. 14:
In page 11, between lines 25 and 26, to insert the following:
"(d) data from health services relating to alcohol related presentations at health facilities,".
This amendment relates to the importance of up-to-date, accurate data on alcohol harm. As Senator Devine, who has co-signed the amendment, will also to speak on this point, I will be brief. The primary aim of the legislation is to reduce the harm caused by alcohol to individuals, families, communities and society as a whole. Minimum unit pricing is an important part of that. The Bill already gives the Minister for Health the power to review this pricing level three years after the Bill is commenced and advises on the factors that should be considered when doing this, such as patterns of consumption.
This amendment would add "alcohol-related presentations at health facilities" - whether due to an alcohol-related illness or injury - to that list of considerations. This can provide us with important, up-to-date information on the scale of alcohol harm in our society, as well as the impact on the health services themselves. Knowing the number of presentations to Irish health facilities with alcohol-related issues is important information that can paint a clear picture of the daily reality, as well as the effectiveness of the Bill. Ultimately, we need to know the scale of the problem to tackle it and such data would be a big asset to health professionals. I hope the Minister will agree.
I also offer my support for Government amendment No. 49, which is better phrased. Alcohol harm does not just apply to any one group of people. Our concern is with harmful drinking for everyone in Irish society, and this wording better reflects that.
This is my first opportunity to speak on the Public Health (Alcohol) Bill. My party welcomes the provisions of the Bill. No one could deny that there is an issue with harmful drinking in Ireland, with 88 deaths every month directly attributable to alcohol. A 2011 HSE study estimated that alcohol-related costs, including those relating to emergency, GP and psychiatric care, amounted to €3.7 billion per annum. I can imagine how much the Minister would like to have those funds at his disposal. CSO figures released in October indicate that Ireland has the highest rate of binge drinking in Europe among those aged from 18 to 24. This is a ticking time bomb which I hope the Bill will go some way towards addressing.
There has been an effort on the part of various lobby groups to stop individuals or parties from making amendments to the Bill. I have received more than 1,000 items of correspondence on the Bill from entities on all sides. The common thread through some of the correspondence is that any amendments made to the Bill would somehow dilute or weaken it, but this is not the case. Those who made those accusations were, in effect, attempting to stifle debate, which is obviously part of democracy. I fully endorse all of the Minister's earlier constructive comments. I look forward to the Bill's progress through the Seanad today.
I support amendment No. 14, which proposes to seek data pertaining to the number of alcohol-related presentations at health facilities. For some time, general practitioners and hospital staff have been warning of the immediate need to address the health defects they have been diagnosing and treating in young people, including, for example, cirrhosis. Such problems were traditionally identified in much older people who had consumed alcohol for most of their lives. I have worked in accident and emergency departments and have seen my fair share of alcohol-related admissions to hospitals through the years. End-of-year statistics often do not convey the true extent of the problem. I commend Senator Black's amendment, which Fianna Fáil fully supports.
I appreciate the contributions so far on the amendment, the primary aim of which is to collect data on the harm caused as identified in our health facilities. Working in accident and emergency departments from Thursday through to Sunday feels like being in the middle of a war zone with alcohol-affected individuals coming in and demanding considerable resources and time. This needs to be monitored and we need to put a cost on it. It could be €43.7 billion that is spent. There is a significant cost if we include child and family supports due to alcoholism, all the front-line staff, the fire brigade and the gardaí; it is not just the GPs and primary care. Given all the destruction, the families and the individuals affected need to be supported at significant cost.
We need data to measure outcomes. We need data indicating where exactly all the services are and the weight that is given to protecting and improving outcomes for people with alcohol dependency and their families. I hope the amendment can be supported.
I strongly support minimum alcohol pricing. I know it has been resisted, but it is extremely important. I live in a small privileged enclave in the poorest area of the city of Dublin. I see people going to the supermarket and buying slabs of beer for ridiculously low prices. It is completely outrageous. As I said earlier, the idea of grocery shops and supermarkets selling alcohol is nonsense, but I suppose that is another day's work. I strongly support minimum pricing. The alcohol industry throughout the world has a record of opposing this. Some years ago when the Scottish Parliament introduced minimum pricing in Scotland, the Scotch Whisky Association took the Scottish Administration to court. The ruling from the senior Scottish courts was that minimum pricing of alcohol was a perfectly legitimate tool of government for social reform. That is an important precedent for us to bear in mind.
The specific amendment on gathering information from health services and so forth is very important. This is a report from the coalface.
This is where the people who are actually afflicted by alcohol come to the health services and make presentations. We need to know the nature of those presentations, the frequency and the number of people who are involved in this. Every scrap of information made available to the Minister is valuable and useful so I strongly support this amendment.
I welcome the Minister's opening statement, which was very positive. I will discuss the main issues that have been discussed with regard to section 20 but it is very important that we can look at and reflect on how we are going to enforce those issues when section 20 comes up.
I have an issue with minimum unit pricing in section 10. This is not because of the ability to be effective in the marketplace. The big issue is when it can be enforced in the marketplace. Unfortunately, this Bill was drafted pre-Brexit. The Northern Ireland Assembly is not operational. If we had minimum unit pricing, it has been argued that we would need the co-operation of the Assembly and an all-Ireland approach for it to work. There is the great threat that we might not be in that space for a long time. I have no idea how Brexit is going to turn out or when the Northern Ireland Assembly will be reinstated. Given this flux, this part of the Bill might not be implemented if passed. That is a problem. Traditionally, we had a groceries order, which was taken out by the former Minister, Deputy Micheál Martin, and Fianna Fáil back in the day. It is important that we realise that in the interim, we should look at something along the lines of a groceries order until the institutions in Northern Ireland are up and running and Brexit has been sorted out. Many Houses of the Oireachtas could sit and be disbanded before those two issues are sorted. We need to look at putting something like the groceries order in place. This would then put a floor or minimum price on alcohol. At the moment, someone can go into any shop in Ireland and buy a naggin of vodka for €6.50. Twenty years ago, someone could go into an off-licence and buy a bottle of vodka for €20. The person working there would get possibly €4 or €5 per hour. The minimum wage is now €9 or heading towards it and for that, a person can get such a volume of spirits, it is frightening. The big issue is price and we must tackle this issue. If we tackle the issue of price, we can really tackle the core issue of how we can stop the unfortunate spectacle of alcohol being sold at cost price. That is what is happening. Even if it is cost price-----
It is less than cost price in some cases.
The Senator is right. Unfortunately, it is probably well below cost price. I have a concern about minimum unit pricing that does not concern its effectiveness but its timing. If the timing of this will be some time in the future, we need to look at a measure like the groceries order which will, hopefully, put a floor on the level of alcohol.
Like others, I welcome the Minister to the House. As always, his approach is very appropriate. It is not one of dictatorship but is a communal approach. We live in a republic and that is why I am allowed to stand up and say what I would like to say openly and freely about what I firmly believe the Minister is attempting to do here. Like Senator Boyhan, I very much welcome 99% of what is contained in this Bill. I have some concerns about section 20 and we can come to these concerns at that stage. To follow on from what Senator Lombard said, which is an issue I raised quite a number of times, while I very much welcome the minimum pricing of alcohol, it is accompanied by difficulties, including economic difficulties, particularly for the part of the country from which Senator O'Reilly and I come - Cavan, Monaghan and the Border region. There is no point in putting a minimum price on alcohol in the Twenty-Six Counties unless the same is done in the Six Counties. We think that alcohol is below price at the moment in some of our supermarkets. There are still people who are able to cross the Border and get it far more cheaply and they are doing that. The danger with implementing this as a 26 county measure and not a 32 county measure is that it will intensify the numbers of people from the Border region in particular but also further afield, as has happened over the years, travelling over the Border. While they are up there buying alcohol, they will also buy their electric products and some of their groceries so we must take into consideration the full effect of this Bill. I very much welcome the health implications of the Bill and the thinking behind that but unless we approach this on a 32 county basis, it will have a detrimental effect on the economy in the Border region. I very much agree with what Senator Lombard said in this regard. I do not know how we would do it but we must come up with some way of ensuring that while we raise the price of alcohol here, it will not drive people to the Six Counties to purchase.
I very much welcome this Bill and the Minister's determination and that of the Taoiseach to see that it is carried through. I also welcome his opening remarks and his commitment to give clarification to those who have some degree of reservation about this. There are many striking resemblances between this public health policy initiative and that relating to our ongoing campaign, struggle and policy development regarding protecting people from smoking, particularly our children. Again, it is children who need protection and that is what this Bill is primarily aimed at. It is also aimed at addressing what are the well-known evidence-based facts, which show very clearly that the price of alcohol is very much a marker and people are very sensitive to it in terms of buying and consuming alcohol. More than any other group, children and young people are sensitive to the price of alcohol. The minimum unit pricing is an integral part of this and one of the most important parts of it. We know about the Scottish ruling and we know that we will face challenges from the industry, as we did with other industries when we took initiatives, but we must do this for our children.
We have a duty of care. This is not about a nanny state. It is about a duty of care to our children. It is also about a duty of care to the people who we have been asked to govern and legislate for with regard to protecting and educating them about the harm of alcohol. I know it has been said before but just as with tobacco, I will not start any conversation about alcohol without talking about the damage it does - the 88 deaths per month, the fact that alcohol is responsible for half of the suicides in the country every year and the €1.5 billion in health costs, not to mention the cost of domestic violence. We can put that in euro but how could we ever put a value on it in terms of the stress, hardship and horror it visits on families and young children? That can never be fully measured. We know about the cost to industry in terms of absenteeism but we now have strong evidence about "presenteeism" - people turning up for work who are not fit for work, people turning up for work and making mistakes and not engaging.
We know its role in road traffic accidents, assault, breaches of the peace and disorder. We also know its role in rape and unwanted pregnancies. It has huge ramifications in our society when it is abused, and people abuse it who become addicted to it. The earlier one starts drinking, the more likely one is to develop a problem with alcohol. Alcohol used sensibly is something in our culture that we all welcome and enjoy - most of us do anyway - but when it is used excessively and causes issues in one's life, whether it be in relationships, the law, one's work or one's health, then one has a problem with alcohol. This historical excuses given, namely, that "I never drink alone, therefore, I am not an alcoholic", or "I never drink at home, therefore, I am not an alcoholic", do not hold water any more. Only this week I have had two different situations involving serious problems related to alcohol in my surgery, and this is only Wednesday.
I very much welcome the Minister's initiative. I hope this Bill can pass Committee Stage today and that any further nuances and refinements can be handled on Report Stage. I believe most of the Senators here are fully in agreement with it. I do not know anybody who wants to see their child starting to drink earlier than is legally allowed in the country. I do not believe anybody wants to see people developing alcohol-related problems and yet we know that happens. We know that, as a country and a nation, we have a culture that has bred an unhealthy relationship with alcohol.
I want to comment specifically on minimum unit pricing. I speak as a former Minister for Health and subsequently a former Minister for Children. My view on the children's aspect of this Bill is that this is essential. I do not agree with my colleagues who might say that this should be handled in a different way from a grocery order. I would say to the Irish people and to the people in this Chamber that there is a time to follow and there is a time to lead. Let us lead on this and let our friends in the North of Ireland when they get their Executive re-established, as we all hope they will, follow us then, but let us not use a possibility of something happening or not happening as an excuse for us not doing what we know we should do. When it comes to minimum unit pricing, we must absolutely proceed. We will deal with all the what ifs and buts down the road but in the meantime let us show leadership, as the Minister has done. Let us take responsibility as legislators and let us give our children a chance to avoid what we already know are such damaging consequences of the excessive use of alcohol and addiction to alcohol.
I will contribute to later amendments but I reiterate my view that this Bill is one of the most important public health initiatives we have ever taken. The world is looking and we should be forceful, have the courage of our conviction and pass this Bill.
I join in the welcome extended to the Minister, Deputy Harris. I congratulate him on his proactive approach in this area. I gather he indicated a willingness to engage further with the relevant stakeholers to ensure this is a truly mutually agreed outcome, to which there is an overall buy-in.
One cannot ignore the words of our colleague, who is not only a doctor but a former Minister for Health and Minister for Children, which were very pertinent. I will state a few general interests and then get to the point of my real reason for addressing this issue now. I subscribe to the Bill's objectives. It is important legislation.
I warned Members at the start about wandering from what is before us.
I am coming specifically to the issue.
Two specific amendments are being discussed together. I will rule very quickly as many Members are wandering from the amendment before us, which was proposed and seconded.
There will be plenty more chances for Members to speak.
Many people are rightfully interested in this issue and there should be no ambiguity about any Member's position on this. My position is that I am as concerned as every other Member of the House about the abuse of alcohol and that it must be tackled head on. It is a serious health issue, as was outlined earlier. It has implications in a whole range of areas. I know this very well from having been a former educator, among other roles I have had. It is a very real issue.
I want to address the question specifically raised very eloquently by Senators Lombard and Wilson. I come to this from an experience I share with Senator Wilson, representing the people of a Border area. I point out to the Minister - I am not exaggerating or engaging in populism, this is a fact - that jobs could be at stake in the Border area. It is very difficult to replace jobs. If we do not co-ordinate minimum pricing in the Republic and in the North, we will run a risk of the dislocation of jobs in the Border counties. This is a significant concern. I was in a supermarket this morning-----
I do not mean to be rude but, on a point of order, we are now speaking to the amendment before us, not about minimum pricing. I do not want this legislation delayed and for the Senator to go on and on about-----
I am speaking to section 10. I did not interrupt the Senator.
I did not mean to be rude.
On a point of order, I am speaking to section 10. That is the section we are dealing with and I am doing my best in my contribution to be particularly relevant to it.
It was inappropriate of Senator Devine to interrupt Senator O'Reilly. I am ruling against Senator Devine's point of order because Senator O'Reilly has been speaking on the whole area of alcohol. I am warning Members not to wander from what is before us.
I am heeding the Cathaoirleach's recommendation. I have no difficulty with the smooth passage of the Bill and I will do nothing to thwart that, but it is important the Minister is conscious of our position and knows our various perspectives and the people we represent. I am genuinely concerned about jobs in the Border region, in the retail sector and local supermarkets. I visited a large supermarket in Cootehill town this morning and met and spoke to a senior board member of RGDATA there. He indicated the prices he can sell at and showed me slabs of Budweiser and other drinks that he can sell at €20. That is quite scary and quite a problem. I take the point that this is a problem for young people especially and for us all. Therefore, we need minimum pricing. That man also indicated - other people in the retail sector would also indicate this, and Senator Wilson also said this - that those in that sector are currently threatened by Northern Ireland trade, but were we to have a significant price differential here, we would have a flood of business. That supermarket in Cootehill town is an important employer. It employs 60 people and that man said he would have to lay off three staff immediately if there was a price differential. That would be replicated in all the villages and towns of the county and more specifically in the corner shops. It is a serious matter for that area.
We need to have the Assembly up and running and to have co-ordination on this with the North. I take the former Minister for Health's point that we must show leadership. There is a leadership factor in the passage of this legislation, but leadership does not necessarily mean dislocating jobs in an area where they are not replaceable. It is not easy to bring those jobs to that area when we cannot replace them or attract industry to the area. With great respect to my colleague, we are not lacking in leadership, and I know he would accept that. There is no lack of leadership involved here; it is a question of leadership while retaining jobs. Were we to solve one problem and create another, that would not be a satisfactory outcome. It is not beyond the genius of the Minister and the Department and interaction at governmental level to achieve uniformity on this and national uniformity on pricing. It should be done. I intuitively have a sense that our Northern brethren, from all I know about them and their culture and heritage, would be more likely to have an immediate buy-in to alcohol curtailment. One would assume that. We should be able to arrive at a consensus on this but, clearly, it is an issue in my area and it is a jobs issue.
It is not just a fanciful abstract thing; it is about real jobs for real people who will not get employment again.
There are ten more speakers on this issue. Some people will be asking why they have not gotten to speak but I am taking the names as I see them. Some people are being very leadránach.
I will be very brief. I reassure my colleagues that on the issue of pricing, this Bill is about setting up structures. The Minister and Government are very much aware of the issues that have been raised about the Six Counties and the Border counties. We have to get the legislation in place before we take any action. This is about putting the framework in place and making sure we can follow through on that framework.
I thank the Senators for tabling the amendment and for the amount of work they have done on bringing forward amendments. I believe the issue is dealt with in subsection 10(5) on the expert research available. The amendment would cause a duplication. It has to be given serious consideration but it is adequately dealt with in the-----
It concerns information from the coalface. It is quite difference from expert research.
The expert research relies on figures produced by the HSE and other health services. That is what expert research is based on.
I welcome the Minister and wish him well in bringing this Bill through the Houses of the Oireachtas. It is important that Senators are allowed the time and space to express any concerns they might have about landmark public health legislation. I commend the Government on bringing it forward. As legislators, we are entitled to raise concerns and seek clarifications and I make no apology to anybody for that. I think the Minister accepts that, as a legislator and Minister responsible for policy.
I want to put on the record my views on alcohol, alcohol abuse and alcohol addiction. It has caused untold problems in the history of Ireland. Binge drinking, the culture of excessive drinking, addiction and alcoholism have caused untold damage to people, families and health services. I have concerns about all of that. When we are bringing forward legislation, we need to bring people with us. I have no doubt the majority of people will support this legislation. The crux of the legislation is the minimum pricing of alcohol. Alcohol is available in excessive volume at too low a price. When one goes to a multinational supermarket at the weekend, one sees trolley loads of slabs of beer being brought out. It is being brought out because it is accessible, cheap and is being aggressively promoted by the alcohol industry and the multinationals. I will address my concerns about section 20 and the impacts it can have on local communities and shops later. The fundamental crux of the problem is access to low-cost beer in huge volumes. That is what is causing the problem. It is finding its way into every home and premises in the country. It is accessible for adults and, unfortunately, children as well. Until we grasp this nettle and aggressively tackle those who are aggressively marketing low cost beer and alcohol, the problem will remain.
We have a particular dilemma in Ireland, which was outlined by Senators O'Reilly and Wilson. We have to listen to their concerns. They are here to voice concerns on behalf of the people they represent. It behoves all of us to listen to them and then see how we can work within the legislation to address those concerns. We should work with our colleagues in Northern Ireland to see if we can bring them to a place parallel to us in addressing this problem.
I want to support the legislation. The Minister knows that. The impression has been given - we heard it in some of the earlier contributions - that there is division in Fine Gael. That could not be further from the truth. We are proud representatives of the Government that is bringing forward this legislation. We will also make our views known, raise our concerns, seek clarification and make no apologies to anyone for that. We are all independently minded people. We are responsible adults and we must respect the intelligence of Members of this House and the public. We can work together to bring forward this legislation in a way that is practical and balanced and which works to address all of our concerns about how alcohol is being abused.
I echo what Senator Coffey said. This is serious business. Nobody has a monopoly on zeal. Nobody in this House has a special pulpit to talk about the effects of alcohol on our society. We should consider this section and the amendment carefully. We are on Committee Stage. We are not in a position where we are simply making Second Stage speeches on the principle of the Bill or reiterating where we stand on these issues. We are entitled to ask questions and get answers to those questions because we are on Committee Stage.
I echo what Senator Wilson and others have said about the price differential in Border areas. That is a practical thing we have to consider. There is no point in codding ourselves. We have to consider it. I note the Bill provides for different commencement dates which may cover some of the concerns being expressed here. As somebody who agrees with the concept of the minimum pricing of alcohol products and bearing in mind that subsection 10(1) fixes a 10 cent per gramme minimum price of alcohol, I would like to ask the Minister how it translates into a can of Dutch Gold or Heineken? One can look at the formula in the Bill. It is a bit like looking at the Finance Bill when one wonders what the actual outcome is. How will it actually change the minimum price of these slabs of beer which we are all concerned about? I know from my student days that the biggest constraint on my drinking was the fact I did not have much money. Whatever money I had ran out fairly early on in the evening and that was it. I know also from being a family man that cheap beer is now so cheap it could not get any cheaper. Could somebody give us an indication of the actual difference it will make to an ordinary can of Dutch Gold or Heineken? I am not singling out those two brands. I mean the kind of beer that is sold in slabs. That is what I would like to know.
Is it okay if I talk about the section now or should I confine myself to the amendment?
We are discussing the amendment.
I will come back on the section. There was one thing I want to signal to the Minister. Subsection 10(7) says, "Where an alcohol product is supplied or offered for sale together with another product (other than an alcohol product) ... this section shall apply as if the alcohol product concerned is supplied or offered for sale on its own for that price." Many off-licences that I have dealt with often add in an extra bottle if one buys by the dozen. The phrase "other than an alcohol product" makes me wonder whether that kind of practice is caught by that provision.
I will be brief. Others have spoken eloquently on this issue. I emphasise that minimum unit pricing is an essential core aspect of the Bill. It is deeply evidenced and is not just a matter of opinion. We know it makes a difference to how alcohol is consumed and to how much alcohol is consumed.
Nobody is saying any different.
I said I was going to speak on that issue but I will not. It is an essential part of the Bill and I hope it will go the full distance so we will not see it challenged on later Stages. Scotland showed leadership. Minimum unit pricing was not in place in other parts of the United Kingdom. Scotland showed leadership and made that commitment. We should be modelled on Scotland in showing leadership, even though we may have territories, as Scotland does, that border our jurisdiction. It is my hope that Northern Ireland will follow the example and take it on board, given some of the commitment in the Good Friday Agreement on human rights equivalence. We cannot wait for that or make it a condition of us taking action.
It is vitally important that we continue to apply pressure towards the good, rather than contributing towards any race to the bottom. That applies to any area of regulations and good standards. We need to ensure that we uphold our duty as legislators to push for the highest standards.
I would like to conclude by speaking specifically about the amendment before the House. Our hospital services and health facilities carry the cost of the measures we introduce. They carry the huge cost of alcohol-related harm. Our health facilities are carrying the cost of alcohol damage, regardless of whether that alcohol is purchased in Northern Ireland or elsewhere. That is why we have to legislate in respect of health facilities. I encourage Senators to support this amendment. Senator Colm Burke referred to the important evidence that exists. All of the international health evidence is pointing largely in the direction of regulation. We have a specific contribution to make in the context of alcohol-related presentations at our health facilities. I am thinking of amendment No. 14 when I say that. I urge the Minister to consider information about the pressure our services are under when this legislation is being reviewed in the future.
I fully support the introduction of the Bill as a reflection of one of our public health policy objectives. As a Government, we need to move forward as unanimously as we can to address issues like binge drinking and alcohol addiction in this country. We have to be courageous as we try to change the way things operate at the moment. When we attempt to change the status quo, there is fallout. We cannot throw logic or reason out when we are taking measures and steps. We all want to reduce the level of alcohol abuse in this country. It has to be reasonable, proportionate and based on evidence. We have to keep going back to that.
Like Senator Higgins, I think the evidence with regard to minimum unit pricing is compelling. It is fair to say that the advent of binge drinking was linked to the arrival of cheap or below-cost alcohol. It seems that the abolition of the groceries order some time ago allowed multiple retailers that could afford to do so to sell alcohol at a price below its actual cost as a loss leader to get people in. We know that this practice involved the retailers reclaiming from the State the VAT on the alcohol they induced people to come in and buy. It was compelling to learn that most of those who buy cheap alcohol engage in binge drinking. International evidence shows that there is a correlation between alcohol becoming more expensive and a reduction in drinking. This is a very important element of this legislation. It arises from the most compelling evidence we have seen. Many of the other proposals in this Bill seem to involve taking steps in the hope that they will achieve something rather than in light of evidence that they will do so.
I suppose we have to be honest about minimum unit pricing as it has been set out. This is very critical. There is a great deal of confusion among members of the general public. Everybody thinks we should do something about alcohol, but most people do not understand this Bill. We do not know when this is going to come in. I understand the argument of colleagues from Border counties who have pointed out that the introduction of minimum unit pricing in this jurisdiction in the absence of a similar measure in Northern Ireland will lead to changes in people's shopping practices. At a time of concern about Brexit, this will cause even more problems in Border counties and elsewhere.
Why are we not seeking to reintroduce a ban on below-cost selling? The multiple retailers are engaging in this activity. Small and medium-sized retailers that could never afford to do this have the most issues with it. The evidence is there. It behoves us to achieve what we want to achieve, namely, to try to tackle binge drinking. This is the most straightforward argument. There is no dissent here in respect of it. I cannot get my head around why we cannot take this step.
As already stated, we have to be courageous. This needs to be borne in mind as we proceed with our debate. We have introduced various admirable anti-smoking measures, including the smoking ban. There is no doubt that this has changed mindsets among those of us who do not smoke and those who do. The end result we desire in the case of cigarettes is that nobody would ever smoke. I do not think anybody would make the same argument in the case of alcohol. Maybe some people would. We are not suggesting that nobody will drink.
We have to navigate a road that provides assistance and support, pulls people away from addiction, reveals weaknesses in the system and tackles binge drinking. We have to deal with the businesses that sell alcohol and the industry that manufactures it. All of these efforts are part of the solution and not part of the problem. Everyone must be spoken to. I was watching this debate on the monitor before I came to the Chamber. Concern has been expressed about engagement with all stakeholders. The Government must participate in such engagement when it is formulating its policies. I know we will discuss section 20 later. I welcome the Minister's commitment to engage with people who will be affected by the Bill. The people to whom I refer are as genuine as those who are trying to solve this problem. They want to be part of a solution. I hope that does not sound somewhat cryptic.
This is a complex issue. Nobody can say that any measure we introduce right now will solve this problem. If we all agreed to ban alcohol immediately, it would not solve the problem because people would find a way to drink. We have to apply a high degree of common sense here. We should look at arguments from all sides and listen to health professionals and market researchers. We should apply some common sense to see how we can coexist and achieve the very worthwhile objectives of this legislation.
I congratulate the Minister on the introduction of this Bill. In the good old days, when there were no off-licences or pubs nearby, we found ways of manufacturing drink. We distilled poitín in our gardens. People who want drink will get drink. They always do. The impression that has been given here is that Dutch Gold is the great mortal sin we need to control.
I thought one smoked it.
As I no longer smoke, although I still desire to do so every day, I went into a shop yesterday to buy a few sweets.
Were they for personal consumption?
A young teenager who was standing beside me asked for two naggins of gin. That is not as cheap as Dutch Gold. She must have noticed that the assistant behind the counter was paying particular attention to her features - I mean from the point of view of her youth - because she immediately reached into her pocket and pulled out some sort of identification card to satisfy the shop assistant that she was old enough to purchase drink. She got the drink and she left.
Everybody here has spoken about alcoholism and what it does. I have seen alcoholism in my professional career in two military set-ups. I have seen how it destroys people and families. Most of us would be aware that alcohol has destroyed families. While it can be said that there is something of the nanny state regarding the introduction of legislation that tries to limit, restrict or control the purchase of alcohol, I do not subscribe to that notion in this case. I think this Bill is needed.
Cross-Border alcohol purchases have been mentioned. On my way home from a trip to Northern Ireland recently, I pulled into a Sainsbury's car park to purchase some groceries. There were cars there with Kerry, Cork and Wexford registrations.
That is importation, not cross-Border shopping. People are driving hundreds of miles to buy trolley-loads of booze such as those I saw being wheeled out to cars. If we introduce legislation in respect of alcohol on this side of the Border we must be acutely aware that those who want it will find it on the other side.
There should be no alcohol-related loss leaders. A good job has been done in combatting cigarette smoking in recent years although it is beginning to reverse itself. My concern regarding the Bill is that when it is finalised and enacted, many of the adults who I and all others in this room have witnessed outside supermarkets handing over booze they have purchased for some young teenager will continue to do so. I see it every day of the week. I see adults who some kid has given a couple of euro and asked to get him or her a couple of bottles of some type of hooch going into their local Centra or Spar to do so. More is required than just the Bill. The Minister will also have to bring forward an advertising campaign and an entire education programme. He will have to enlighten people to what it actually means. I am speaking as a person whose father took him out on his 15th birthday and asked him what he would have to drink. I asked for a bottle of Coke. Daddy used to buy me a bottle of red lemonade instead of a bottle of Coke-----
Did he not buy the Senator some sweets?
------but that day he bought me a pint of Guinness and told me I was going to learn to drink like a man and need never be afraid to have a drink. I was violently ill that night and am delighted to say that I have never drank Guinness since and probably never will. I am sorry if I have damaged the Guinness brand in some way.
It is about education. Some people now think it is rather funny for their teenagers to have what are called "prinks" or pre-going out drinks, which is when they get half sloshed in the house before going out. An education programme is needed in that regard. I congratulate the Minister on the Bill. We may have some words on section 20. However, education is needed as well as the Bill. Any of us who have lain in an accident and emergency department, as I have when I was ill, will have seen guys being carried in, getting sick all over the place and causing disruption everywhere. That is a real problem in terms of alcohol. I see Senator James Reilly looking at me. He probably knows better than I what damage such people cause in accident and emergency departments all over the country. In that context, the Bill will not solve the problem by itself. There is a lot more work to be done.
I want to speak to section 10 of the Bill------
That is the section we are on.
Section 10, yes. I was going with protocol. Before I do so, I welcome the Minister to the House. I commend him on how he has dealt with this issue and the openness of his approach. The Bill was never going to be easy to bring in because there is a certain historic relationship with alcohol in Ireland. People are entitled to drink in a moderate fashion. If a person wants to buy a bottle of wine or a beer, he or she should be able to do so. However, there is binge drinking among many of the youth. We cannot deny the existence of severe alcoholism and we want to reduce it in terms of health.
There is no doubt but that students are going out and buying alcohol from large multiples. There seems to be the crazy situation, if it is to be believed, whereby many of the multiples are getting VAT refunds on alcohol and are selling it for below cost. That is a ludicrous situation and cannot be allowed to continue. It is extremely important that the section of the Bill dealing with minimum pricing is implemented as quickly as possible.
I agree with Senator Craughwell on the need for an education and advertising programme. The message must be sent that this is about public health and people. Since the scrapping of the ban on below-cost selling, many people now drink at home. At least if people drink in pubs there is moderation in some cases, although that depends on the landlord. However, binge drinking prior to going out is now prevalent among students and alcohol no longer has a social element. As Senator Reilly said, that aspect must be addressed.
Section 20 has become the contentious element of the Bill but it is only a portion thereof.
The Senator will have an opportunity to address that section.
I may not get the opportunity. I welcome that the Minister-----
I am anxious to progress amendment No. 14 and section 10.
------will engage with the various retail groups. I hope the Bill is implemented as quickly as possible. We must take heed of the obvious issues in regard to the North. However, the prerogative should be for the Bill to be enacted and implemented as quickly as possible in a practical way such that it achieves the import the issue needs.
The groceries order was abolished with the aim of feeding the masses with cheap bread and milk. However, as all Members are aware, alcohol has become the favoured lure. Some very good points have been made by speakers. As Senator McDowell said, this is very important legislation. He touched on minimum unit pricing, as did Senators Wilson and Mulherin. Senators Wilson and O'Reilly spoke on the complications of cost differentials across the Border. Those are two serious problems that will not be easily dealt with.
The most important aspect of the Bill and the relevant way to deal with issues in terms of alcohol, as has been said by a couple of Senators, is to address the below-cost selling of alcohol. This is the elephant in the room. Only the large retailers are able to avail of low-cost selling and to use it as one of their weapons to entice people into their supermarkets. A ban on below-cost selling is the way forward as that is doing the most harm in terms of alcohol. It is going to be very difficult to police minimum pricing or the differential in pricing across the Border. We are already facing many problems in terms of Brexit. Addressing the below-cost selling of alcohol is the way forward on this issue.
There are costs and choices. This section deals with minimum pricing. I very much appreciate the Minister's opening remarks and got great confidence from them. He mentioned an opportunity cost of €1.5 billion in 2012 in respect of the fallout in hospitals. That is only the minimum opportunity cost and there are many others. The current disability budget in health is just over €1.5 billion.
We are dealing with amendment No. 14.
I will conclude now. If the Minister of State, Deputy Finian McGrath, had another €1 billion he would be so busy he would not have time to go anywhere. There is a real cost associated with alcohol, whether that is borne by services for those with disabilities, the elderly, children or otherwise.
I do not know of any Senator who is against the Bill. We all welcome it and I congratulate the Minister for bringing it forward.
In respect of section 10(6)(a), what is the penalty if an offence is committed? That is not included in the Bill.
Will it be a small fine or a prison sentence? Section 10(6)(b) refers to advertises, promotes or causes to be advertised. In a situation where a supermarket advertises below-cost selling on Facebook, is that covered by this Bill? What is the position in relation to fake product sales? For example, if, to encourage people into a store a supermarket advertises in its windows that it is selling a particular product at below cost even though it does not actually stock that produce in store, is there an offence committed there and, if so what, is the offence that is committed? In most Bills that are enacted offences are outlined.
I believe that below cost selling is a real issue. There is a lot of alcohol being purchased in Northern Ireland for sale in the South. Binge drinking is associated with below cost selling.
During the pre-legislative scrutiny on this Bill Professor Joe Barry said that minimum unit pricing is a proven effective measure with gains in the short term. That is the reality. This part of the Bill is probably the most important. I welcome that there is cross-party support for it in the Seanad. I note there was a minority viewpoint in that regard in the committee report but there is widespread support for this measure. The Department needs to square-off the VAT issue and the use by supermarkets of alcohol as a loss leader.
The cross-Border issue was raised at the committee and it remains a pertinent issue. Senators Reilly and Wilson also raised the issue of the potential smuggling of illicit alcohol. We are following the Scottish model. I was heartened by the remarks of the former Northern Ireland Minister for Health, Mr. Jim Wells, who would not be so friendly in regard to other matters, that be believes there should be co-ordination between North and South on this matter.
The role of pricing in this Bill is critically important. The greater the availability of cheap alcohol the more people will buy and drink. As the price of alcohol increases, there is less consumption of it. We learned this from the Health Research Board during its attendance at the pre-legislative scrutiny meeting on this Bill.
I agree with Senator Craughwell that the volume of alcohol being consumed by young people in terms of pre-drinking at home before they take a taxi or bus to a nightclub or pub is frightening. My former office was located in the heartland of the universities and institutions of technology in Cork. The number of people who go out drinking on a Thursday night in particular is staggering. During my time in college students who had money bought a pint and a bag of chips on the way home or we save our money to go to the nightclub, where we got curry and chips.
I am sure the Senator had more than that.
I am showing my age now.
These days, young people are being encouraged to drink more. I would like to see a return to the pub being the only place where a person can drink alcohol because it was controlled and relatively safe. The barmen in the pubs at the time I was in college would not have tolerated any indiscretion. Minimum unit pricing is about setting a floor price below which alcohol cannot be sold. That is a pertinent point.
We must embark on the education aspect. If the Minister does nothing else, he should do that. I note Dr. Holohan, chief medical officer, is sitting behind the Minister. I would like to take this opportunity to compliment him on the work he is doing as chief medical officer and, in particular, in regard to Healthy Ireland. I have huge admiration for Dr. Holohan. We are driving the Healthy Ireland model to ensure we have a healthy state. I encourage everybody to read the Healthy Ireland document and to issue newsletters about it across their constituencies.
The education piece is critical. Dr. John Holmes and Mr. Colin Angus from the University of Sheffield also contributed to the pre-legislative scrutiny on this Bill and gave a present on the issue of minium unit pricing. These men are not Johnny come lately, they are leading international researchers. They have no vested interests in this area. There has been much reference to the many academics and health professionals that have been consulted on this Bill. We are dealing with a public health Bill. A €1 increase in the minimum price will reduce the consumption of alcohol by 8.8%. What does that mean? It means that the money Senator Dolan wants for disability services and home care packages or the mental health services mentioned by Senator Divine will be more readily available. It will also mean a reduction in the number of hours wasted in hour hospitals and health centres treating people for alcohol-related issues and a reduction in the number of days lost at work owing to alcohol-related issues. Minimum unit pricing is effective. This is about people who buy alcohol regularly and not the person who buys it occasionally.
I am glad that there is widespread support for this Bill.
I, too, welcome the Minister to the House. I commend him on his efforts in terms of what he is trying to achieve by way of the introduction of this Bill. Based on all of the contributions to date, nobody here has an issue with what he is trying to achieve, which is to reduce the consumption of alcohol where possible.
In a previous existence I worked in an area where I saw first-hand the ills of over-consumption and addiction to alcohol. It leaves a lasting impression upon one. I would hazard a guess that there is not a family in this country that has not been touched by over-consumption and addiction to alcohol and the horrors that come with that.
The Senator should stick to the issue of minimum unit pricing.
In regard to the consumption of alcohol, consumption among young people causes me great concern. Previous speakers mentioned pre-drinking. What scares me is that drinks, mostly spirits, are brought to a location and consumed and no measures used. Young people do not know what the word "measure" means because they have not been educated in that regard. Some people say that all alcohol products for sale should have attached to them a measure to ensure people know exactly how much they are consuming.
The word "education" has been mentioned many times today. Education is key. We have all failed in terms of educating our young people, and older people, on the dangers of alcohol. Below cost selling is a key issue and it is hoped this Bill will address it. Coming from a Border county, I can leave my house, turn left, and be in a different jurisdiction within four miles. We must be cognisant of that fact. Border counties in terms of the very volatile jobs that exist there will be affected by Brexit and I must be cognisant of that. Whatever we do in the South must be similarly brought in at the same time North of the Border.
There is one other point I would like to raise with the Minister.
The Senator should confine his remarks to the section.
I will sum up on this point.
The key issue here is that we are all, I hope, after the one goal, which is to lower the consumption of alcohol among the population. If a person wants to get a drink, the reality is that he or she will borrow, beg or steal to get it. Here we are looking for a bit of common sense which will get us to where we all want to go and I hope that we will end up with legislation that reflects that by the time the Bill goes through the different Stages.
I would like to speak briefly on the Public Health (Alcohol) Bill 2015 and to congratulate Senator Black for her sincere dedication in driving forward a policy which is long overdue in addressing the advertising message our manufacturers employ when distributing alcohol. I am coming at this from a mental health perspective, as most of us are, when we refer to this as a health Bill. Any legislation with the primary purpose of regulating the supply of alcohol has my complete support. It is vital that we as a society no longer treat alcohol as another grocery item. With free and open access to alcohol comes responsibility with consumption. The policy behind the Bill is important in that it seeks to curtail a certain type of drinking culture in Ireland which has been unexamined and sanctioned for too long. This is the type of culture we all know and one which encourages two for the price of one drinks and shrugs off the long-term consequences of binge drinking. Drinking to excess in this country is sometimes seen as a badge of pride when, in fact, it reflects a harmful dependency, particularly in young people, which is damaging for their development. There is a huge need to address our drinking culture in Ireland and the Bill goes a significant way towards doing that.
Alcohol harms our health and worsens our mood. It is a depressant which severely exacerbates underlying mental health issues. Numerous reports have been highlighted in the past, most recently Dr. Geoffrey Shannon's child protection report under section 12 of the Child Care Act 1991. He reviewed more than 500,000 fields of PULSE data and noted widespread mental health issues underpinned by alcohol and substance abuse.
I do not like to remind the Senator but we are on section 10 specifically and amendments to it.
I am sorry, a Leas-Chathaoirligh, I am coming from a committee meeting. I want to show my support to Senator Black, however.
That is much appreciated and I ask the Senator to forgive my interrupting her-----
That is okay.
-----but I am trying to be strict here. Many Members wish to speak.
I have a little more to say.
For some reason, as a nation we have not tackled this problem and that of cigarettes with the same haste. I am conscious that there are many amendments to get through today. Therefore, I do not propose to go through them further.
We are dealing with these amendment.
Again I reiterate my complete and utter support to Senator Black.
At this stage, I will allow the Minister to respond to what he has heard so far.
I have heard a lot today. I thought legislation was complex until I started hearing about Senator Buttimer and Senator Craughwell's trips to nightclubs.
Perhaps we should focus on section 10, a Chathaoirligh.
It does put things in perspective. I want to be brief as well because we are not on Second Stage and I am conscious that we have to get through a lot in quite a time efficient manner.
On amendment No. 14, I agree fully with what it is trying to do. I do not think anyone here could disagree with it. It is clearly trying to ensure that the Minister of the day has regard to data from health services relating to alcohol-related presentations at health facilities. That makes sense. I have examined the matter in a supportive manner but I believe section 10(5), as Senator Burke stated, provides the Minister for Health with that opportunity. I assure the House that the data is available to my Department and this subsection will mandate the Minister of the day to take that into consideration. The data is available through the hospital in-patient enquiry, HIPE, system. I am happy to further engage between now and Report Stage, if the Senator wishes, but I am satisfied that I have the information.
We have had a significant round of contributions on minimum unit pricing. Contrary to what I sometimes read or hear, or people whisper, on Senators' views on the Bill, I am after hearing extraordinarily strong support for the fundamental principle of minimum unit pricing from Senators on all sides of this House, and the significance of that should not be lost on us. The Leader, Senator Buttimer, mentioned Professor Barry's strong comments during pre-legislative scrutiny on the Bill, and I thank him for his work. I also note the World Health Organization's view in its report of 2009 and thank Senator Mulherin for her comments on the need for an evidence base to what we are doing. The World Health Organization stated that there is indisputable evidence that the price of alcohol matters and that alcohol related-harm goes down if the price of alcohol goes up. Therefore, we are following an evidence base in what we are trying to do.
I wish to make it absolutely clear that minimum unit pricing is a key part to the Bill and an important tenet of the change we need to bring about. The influence of price on alcohol consumption in Ireland, particularly on young people, and many Senators have spoken about young people, was also highlighted by the Health Research Board. It carried out a survey, Alcohol: Public Knowledge, Attitudes and Behaviours, in 2012. Interestingly, it found that 24% of respondents said they would buy more alcohol if the price of alcohol was to decrease further. The figure increased to 50% for respondents in the 18 to 24 years age bracket. Therefore, we know that price is an issue in terms of how much alcohol we consume and we know that price can be a particular deterrent in terms of consumption and over-consumption for those who are young but legally old enough to drink.
Minimum unit pricing is about targeting cheaper alcohol relative to its strength, which is how this is different to past models. It is about targeting alcohol products based on the amount and strength of alcohol in it. The price is directly proportionate to the amount of pure alcohol in the drink which is why it is such an important policy framework. It means that the price of individual products will depend on their strength. It sets a floor price beneath which alcohol cannot be legally sold and it targets products that are currently very cheap relative to their strength. Strong and cheap drinks, as we all know, are alcohol products favoured by the heaviest drinkers among us. An interesting statistic to put on the record of the House is that at current prices it is possible for a woman to reach her weekly recommended low risk limit of 11 standard drinks for €4.95. That is quite astonishing. It is possible for a man to reach his weekly recommended low risk limit of 17 standard drinks for €7.65.
Spurious arguments put forward by some in the drinks industry about me trying to put up the price of a pint are complete and utter baloney. This is about ensuring that drinks which are extraordinarily cheap yet extraordinarily high in alcohol content have a floor price. Senator McDowell rightly asked me to translate that into what it actually means in a practical sense for people. Therefore, let me put a few figures on the record of the House. The majority of alcohol products sold in an off-licence premises will not be impacted at all by the proposed application of minimum unit pricing of 10 cent per gram of alcohol. A 500 ml can of Guinness will have a minimum unit price of €1.66; a 440 ml can of Tesco lager will have a minimum unit price of €1.32; a 750 ml bottle of Jacob's Creek classic Chardonnay will have a minimum unit price of €7.52; a 700 ml bottle of Gordon's dry gin will have a minimum unit price of €20.71; a 700 ml bottle of Smirnoff Ice will have a minimum unit price of €20.71; and a 700 ml bottle of Jameson whiskey will have a minimum unit price of €22.09. These are just examples but, in other words, the only product whose price will be affected is Tesco lager. The Senator asked specifically about Dutch Gold. A 500 ml can of Dutch Gold will have a minimum unit price of €1.58. As of May this year, it was retailing at €1.13. These are practical measures.
We need to debunk the accusation that we are trying to increase the price of a pint and that the Minister will put up the price of the gin and tonic of the man or woman on the street. Let us debunk that myth as well because we have a lot of myths but not many facts in some of the arguments put forward by industry. In pubs the proposed minimum unit pricing of 10 cent per gram of alcohol will mean that a price of Heineken will have a minimum unit price of €2.25 cent. I have never seen it retail for that. A pint of Budweiser will have a minimum unit price of €1.80; a pint of Bulmer's will have a minimum unit price of €2.02; a measure of Jameson whiskey will have a minimum unit price of €1.12; and a measure of Huzzar vodka will have a minimum unit price of €1.05. This is about targeting the cheapest drinks which have high alcohol content and, in the session we just had, we all noted it is about ensuring that we are having a particular impact on our younger citizens and the next generation of citizens and decision makers in this country.
I take the point about Northern Ireland and acknowledge Senators from the Border area, including Senators O'Reilly, Wilson, Gallagher and any I have missed, who raised this issue. I understand that we always have to be conscious on the island of Ireland of the impact of what we do in one area on the other. We are asking Senators now to put the legislative framework in place. There is a Government decision on trying to do this alongside Northern Ireland. We need a government to talk to in Northern Ireland but that is for another day. Northern Ireland was moving in this direction but the Government will commence this at an appropriate time. The purpose of the Bill is to put the legislative framework in place to enable the Government do that.
I have heard about below-cost selling and I thank colleagues for wanting to see an impact on price because of the evidence base and considering other options. The Department did copious research on the most effective way and that is how minimum unit pricing came out. It published a report in 2013, prepared by CJP Consultants, which found that minimum unit pricing was much more effective than the ban on below-cost selling. That is why it is a fundamental tenet of the Bill.
I take Senator Lombard's point on what to do if there is a large lacuna, because people are eager to see movement on this. Minimum unit pricing needs to be in this Bill. I think there is cross-party support for it. As Minister for Health, I will always consider other opportunities. There are some opportunities in respect of regulating some of the promotional issues that can help, particularly for promotions which are often aimed at young people. Senator McDowell asked me particularly about price-based promotions. I am informed that sections 21(1)(a)(i) and 21(1)(a)(ii) of the Bill give the Minister for Health of the day the ability to prohibit that price-based promotion, such as six for the price of five. That is an important tool that we need to use.
Senator Colm Burke asked me three questions about the offences. I have been told that in section 10(6) a person who "sells or causes to be sold an alcohol product at a price that is below the minimum price of the alcohol product" or "advertises, promotes or causes to be advertised or promoted the sale of an alcohol product at a price that is below the minimum price" on summary conviction receives a class A fine or up to six months imprisonment or both. A conviction on indictment has more serious consequences with a fine of up to €250,000 or up to three years in prison, or both Facebook, regardless of where that is promoted, is a factor that can be taken into account. It is included. On the third question about a fake product, that is, a product advertised that is not for sale, is not included in this Bill. Whether it is included in other legislation is beyond my knowledge.
I do not believe in shutting down debate. It is right that people question and get this landmark Bill right. I refer Senators to the edition of The Lancet of 15 April 2017, which contains a rapid evidence review of the effectiveness and cost-effectiveness of alcohol control policies. It is an English perspective. It goes through a variety of policy measures including cost, taxation, marketing, advertising, regulating the marketing and their impact. I will arrange for it to be circulated to Senators between now and Report Stage.
I thank Senator Black and others for their support for the Government amendment in this section, amendment No. 49, which is a better wording of what we are trying to achieve.
I am grateful to the Minister for explaining how the pricing section will impact. At 10 cent per unit it is a minimal impact from what we can see. Would the Minister agree that there may be something to be said for having different classes of drink attract different minimum prices? A bottle of gin might be €20 and a can of Dutch Gold, €1.35.
It is €1.58.
There should not be a necessary connection between increasing the price of beer, which has one particular target market, and that of gin. For instance, if a unit price is increased to 15 cent the price of a bottle of gin would go up to €30, in order to make a can of Dutch Gold almost €2 a can. Is there something to be said, and maybe we can consider this on Report Stage, for allowing different classes of drink to attract different unit prices? If the aim of the game is to stop people carrying slabs of beer out of supermarkets, the effect of the 10 cent rule is minimal. That should not necessarily imply that, if this power is used to increase the price of beer to €2 a can, as an iron rule the price of a bottle of spirits goes from €20 to €30. There is a rigidity in the section and the mechanism that could be avoided if it allowed the Minister to apply this differently.
I know that in another context different classes of drink are dealt with differently. In this section it seems to be an iron rule that the price per unit of alcohol applies right across the drink sector. Members of this House might feel more comfortable if there was a possibility of increasing the price of beer to approximately €2 a can while not increasing the price of a bottle of wine by a fiver or a tenner or not increasing the price of spirits by €10 from €20 to €30. Mathematically it is all fine but the Minister has handcuffed the unit price to alcohol in whatever shape it is sold. I know that many youngsters have naggins of vodka and gin in their handbags and back pockets. I am not naïve but if the Minister is serious about targeting abusive consumption of alcohol in some areas and if there is going to be a minimum unit price for alcohol, subject to its being permissible under European law and I think it probably would be-----
He should allow himself the right to apply different rates to different classes of drink.
I think Senator Reilly has already made his point.
I will be very brief.
The Minister has accepted the amendment.
I accept that but I am sure that being a fair minded person if the Leas-Chathaoirleach allows one person speak twice to the amendment he will allow another.
This is a Committee Stage debate. Members can speak as often as they like, subject to not being repetitious.
I did not want the Senator to be going on because I thought he over-laboured it. With respect, Senator Reilly.
I will allow Senator McDowell digest that comment before I speak.
Senator McDowell is missing the key point here. I know he speaks from a certain point of view but the bottom line is that alcohol is the substance that is the mind-altering, body-damaging agent which we are attacking here, not any form or container of alcohol. We have been through all of this. The damage is done by alcohol in whatever form it comes and this is a way of making it difficult for people to buy slabs of beer below cost or the cheap bottle of, for instance, Polish or Russian vodka and I do not mean to pick out any nation. The core of it is to protect people and in particular, children, from that. With due respect, I support the argument that the Minister should not change this Bill when it comes to minimum unit pricing.
We will hear the Minister answer very briefly now.
I said I would be brief and I will finish with this because it will save me speaking on the next section. Alcohol is an agent that damages one's mitochondria, which are the engines of every single cell in the body. That is why it is so damaging throughout the physical system. We have heard Senator Freeman speak on the damage it can do to mental health as well. This Bill concerns alcohol the substance, not the form it takes.
I fully accept what Senator Reilly has said but I want to support my colleague, Senator McDowell. If it were the case that we were talking about alcohol as a generic product as against specific types of alcohol, there would not be a problem. I think we can agree, however, that young people buy a naggin of vodka or whiskey because it will give them a hit much quicker than a can of Dutch Gold, Heineken or something else. I am inclined to agree with my colleague, Senator McDowell, that there should be a differentiation to discourage the taking of what I would call hard-hitting alcohol substances like spirits. I do not want in any way to derail the discussion or the Bill, but why are they going in and buying two naggins of vodka as against a slab of beer? It is because they can slip the two naggins of vodka into their pocket, as Senator McDowell has said, and they can walk down the street and drink it down the street. I see it every evening in south County Dublin in different supermarkets with kids coming out with these naggins of whiskey, vodka and gin. They are drinking the stuff neat, which is even more worrying. I am inclined to think that there should be a way of using the price, which is an economic factor in that if the price is raised, consumption is reduced, as a way of differentiating the quantity of alcohol by measure-----
The Senator has made his point.
I apologise for taking up the House's time.
Would the Minister like to respond to those two points?
I respectfully disagree with the policy alteration that Senator McDowell and Senator Craughwell are putting forward, albeit for genuine reasons. The idea, as Senator Reilly very eloquently said, is that there is a direct link between the price and the gram of alcohol in the product. I would be fearful of decoupling that very important link in terms of minimum unit pricing. It might be useful if I were circulate the document that I was reading from in terms of the actual impact on the different drinks and-----
I accept that point.
-----I would be happy to try to convince the Senator or discuss it further between now and Report Stage. It is a very fundamental link between the amount of alcohol in the product in terms of grams and the pricing of it. Looking at the practical examples, it obviously hits the products that some of our shops and many of our multiples are selling well below what I think any of us would accept as a minimum unit price.
Is the amendment agreed?
I would like to make a clarification.
The Senator wishes to make a clarification.
Is the Minister in support of health facilities being included in amendment No. 14?
I am entirely in support of what the amendment is trying to do.
However, on advice and reflection, I genuinely believe that section 10(5) enables me already to have that information. In a practical sense in my Department, that information is available through the HIPE system directly from our health services already. I am happy to share what is available with Senators between now and Report Stage. I fully agree with what the amendment is trying to achieve, but I think, respectfully, that it is superfluous. Perhaps the Senator might consider withdrawing it and perhaps I can convince her between now and Report Stage. It is entirely her own call.
Does Senator Black wish to press the amendment?
I will withdraw the amendment and resubmit it on Report Stage.
Amendments Nos. 15 to 21, inclusive, and 24 are related and may be discussed together by agreement.
I move amendment No. 15:
In page 13, between lines 11 and 12, to insert the following:
“(iii) a warning that is intended to inform the public of the direct link between alcohol and fatal cancers,”.
I support what my colleague, Senator Reilly, said about the general approach around minimum unit pricing and I support the Minister's position. That has been the consistent position for at least five or six years. An enormous body of work has gone into researching this legislation and reflecting on it in great detail over recent years. I pay tribute to the former Minister, Senator Reilly, for his commitment to this legislation going back quite a number of years. It would be remiss of me as well not to acknowledge the role of my former colleague, Alex White, played in the drafting of this legislation in 2012, 2013 and 2014.
On the amendment, most people would accept that there is irrefutable evidence that there is a direct causal link between certain fatal cancers and alcohol misuse. An analysis of ten-year data, published in 2013, indicates some very concerning figures indeed, for example, that 900 new cancer cases are diagnosed each year that are attributable to alcohol consumption. That same piece of research states that 500 cancer deaths a year are caused by alcohol. That is about ten deaths per week, which I think most would agreed is an unacceptably high level. We need labelling to draw public attention to the causal links between alcohol use and certain fatal cancers. I think the need for that labelling is self-evident. If it is agreed to, this can contribute to the saving of lives and the protection of families and communities, and it is something I appeal to Members to support.
Labelling alcohol products is not new. There are labelling regimes in France and Russia, there is a voluntary code in the UK, and there is a regime in play in Germany. This is not something new and, to the best of my knowledge, it is not something the European Commission, for example, has commented on in the context of our approach in this country towards achieving this particular and critical public health objective. However, I was astounded, when I delved into to this in a little more detail, to read of the lack of knowledge that people in this country and in analogous jurisdictions have about the link between fatal cancers and alcohol use. A huge body of work has been carried out in recent years on the harm as a result of the use of tobacco products, in particular. While I do not have the figures available, I imagine that understanding the harm caused by tobacco products in terms of developing certain cancers and so on is evident. While I am sure we all accept that anecdotally, I am also sure the figures are available to convince us that that is the case. Labelling of tobacco products has had a huge impact in terms of people's attitudes to tobacco use, and I think the same should apply to alcohol.
I implore the Minister to consider this amendment seriously. It is an approach that I think will find favour with the public. Research carried out in 2012 by the Health Research Board indicated that 95% of people, the vast majority, favoured seeing more information being displayed on cans and bottles about the harm caused by alcohol products. It is something this House should consider very seriously.
In the interests of brevity, we will support amendments Nos, 17, 19 and 24, tabled by Senator Nash, and I will not move amendments Nos. 16 and 18.
This measure is vital, especially for women in terms of the direct correlation between the incidence of breast cancer and increased alcohol consumption. Senator Craughwell and several other Senators spoke a lot about education. Education has been one of the ways to get this message across to allow informed decision-making by individuals when it comes to drinking or not drinking at all and to allow them, where they are informed, to help family members. We need, however, to put this information on the product itself. It is done with every other product. Let us make the drinks industry be responsible as well and make it pay for that health information. It should not always have to be our own public health service that does it.
We spoke about what advertising campaigns need to do to get this information across.
When it comes to deaths that are caused by over-consumption of alcohol, the drinks industry also needs to take its responsibilities seriously. We do not want anything along the lines of the superficial Drinkaware campaign, which is steered, supported and, perhaps, manipulated by Diageo. I ask the Minister to take this measure into consideration and to agree to it. Let us get some money from the drinks industry to carry out this advertising and education campaign.
I would like to speak to amendments Nos. 15 to 21, inclusive. I commend Senators Nash and Black on tabling these amendments. The link between alcohol and cancer is undeniable. Those who seek to question it are arguing against science and fact. End of story. It appals me to hear and see lobbyists from the alcohol industry claim that there is no such link. Those who repeat these claims are propagating the kind of mistruths peddled by the tobacco industry in the 1960s, 1970s, 1980s and 1990s before we in Ireland, along with those in other countries, started to take tobacco control seriously. Senators will know how I feel about tobacco investments, particularly in the context of the National Treasury Management Agency, NTMA, the Courts Service and so forth. The Seanad has passed motions on this matter.
Alcohol is known to cause seven types of cancer. Not enough people are aware, unfortunately, that it is not just those with drinking problems who are affected by this. Even small amounts of alcohol can increase one's risk of cancer. There needs to be a better public awareness campaign, through whatever forum, to complement the work of the Irish Cancer Society and other organisations with the best interests of the health of the Irish people in mind. I fully support these amendments and credit is due to Senator Nash.
I also welcome the Chief Medical Officer. I meant to do so earlier.
I welcome the amendment on labelling tabled by Senator Nash as well as the detail he has provided. I suggest that we adopt the amendment in principle but refine it somewhat. One of the problems with labelling is to make sure that one can communicate the message with the shortest make-up of information so it is important that we refine this down. Too much information on a label can cause the message to be lost. It is important that we examine this matter and I ask the Minister consider it in that light. We need to work together to arrive at a solution that would incorporate Senator Nash's proposals.
I strongly welcome amendments Nos. 15 to 19, inclusive, and amendment No. 24, tabled by Senator Nash. I am very happy to support them. They have the same purpose as my amendments, Nos. 16 and 18, which is to inform the public of the direct link between alcohol and cancer. I think the wording is a bit stronger so when it comes to voting, I will be looking to withdraw my amendments and urging everyone to get behind those from Senator Nash. Politics is good when we work together across party lines. This is something we can all get behind.
During the past year, it has been really shocking and disheartening to see the intense lobbying and misinformation that has been spread regarding this Bill. This is especially true when it comes to cancer. Like the tobacco lobby in the 1960s and 1970s, the link between alcohol and cancer, an empirical medical fact, has been regularly denied. I could barely believe it when I watched one of the most senior and vocal lobbyists against this Bill on our national broadcaster just a few weeks ago flat out denying the link between alcohol and cancer. This is shameful behaviour and we have to call it out.
The link between alcohol and cancer is clear. I thank Mr. Donal Buggy and the Irish Cancer Society for their research and hard work on this. They have shown that, every year, 900 new cases of cancer and 500 cancer deaths are attributable to alcohol. At a global level, the International Agency for Research on Cancer has classified alcohol as a group 1 carcinogen alongside tobacco. Lobbyists, however, try to deny this in the name of profit. Alcohol consumption can cause cancer of the mouth, pharynx, larynx, oesophagus, liver, bowel and breast. The impact on women is particularly important and is too often forgotten. Every one standard drink a woman drinks a day brings a 7% increase in breast cancer. A woman drinking between three and six standard drinks a day increases the risk by 41%. This means that in 2013, for example, 12% of breast cancers were caused by alcohol. That amounts to 353 cases a year. That year, 69 women died in Ireland from breast cancer caused by alcohol. The statistics show that 40% of cancers are preventable, and prevention is the key to the national cancer strategy. A modest cancer warning would help prevent such needless deaths.
Sadly, the level of public awareness remains shockingly low. Research in the UK has found that almost 90% of people in England do not associate drinking alcohol with an increased risk of cancer. The Healthy Ireland survey from 2016 showed that only 27% of women, and 16% of young women, are aware of the increased risk of breast cancer from drinking. We need to ensure that people have the facts and can make informed choices. I often hear critics of this Bill talk about the need for education and I agree with them on that. We certainly need better information both at the point of purchase and the point of consumption. Research from the World Health Organization, WHO, has shown that health warnings like the one we are proposing can achieve this. It is no great demand and I urge colleagues to support Senator Nash's amendments.
Some have also claimed that this may contravene EU trade rules but again this is untrue. Many EU countries, including France and Germany, already have various health warnings. The purpose of amendment No. 20 is to ensure the inclusion of evidence-based health warnings on a minimum of one third of the printed material. Mandatory health warnings on product labels are a cost-effective way of countering positive and unproblematic depictions of alcohol use. As is the case with cancer, we are aware of the strong link between alcohol consumption and more than 200 health conditions. Despite this, the perception of risk is still low. I am glad that the Bill will introduce health warnings to change this position in this regard but these warnings must be substantial in size and in clarity. They will not be effective if they are small and unnoticeable. As such, we are proposing that this warning should comprise at least one third of the product label.
Amendment No. 21 deals with data collection on alcohol-related presentations at health facilities. We discussed this point earlier so I will not speak about it at length here.
I wish to speak to the section, which relates to labelling, rather than commenting on the amendments. I would be happy to come back in when we discuss the section.
We can discuss the section when the amendments have been disposed of.
I will come back in then. I thank the Acting Chairman.
We have a lot of work to get through so I will keep things simple. I fully agree with Senator Nash and I think that he has set out his views on this matter very eloquently, as indeed did Senator Black. It is clear from the dialogue that we have had with the Irish Cancer Society that there are enormous links involved.
I have listened to a number of Senators talk about lobbying and engaging. Lobbying is a regulated profession and people have a right to lobby, be they from the Irish Cancer Society, health professionals or whoever. Lots of people do this. We are elected to decipher and to ask questions so let us not keep going on about lobbying for the next two days. This is quite ridiculous.
Senator Nash set out the issues regarding alcohol and cancer very clearly. This Irish Cancer Society has also set these out. That should be enough for us, so I will be fully supporting the amendments.
I welcome this section on labelling and consider it critically important. Information is power; knowledge is power. The public has not been getting information. I am particularly pleased about the attention drawn here to the calorific content of alcohol and the amount of obesity it causes. As I have mentioned before, alcohol causes gastritis, which makes one want food; it causes hypoglycemia or low blood sugar, which makes one want to eat; it is full of calories; and it interferes with the individual's self-control. All of these are major factors when it comes to obesity. The section would be improved by Senator Nash's suggestion, though I hope that he would allow the Minister time to refine the wording between now and Report Stage so that we can get the best final wording possible. There will be a huge impact on people if they come to realise that this product does in fact cause cancer of the mouth, the pharynx, the gullet, the liver, the colorectal area, and so forth. Many do not realise that this is a very serious issue. If they understood that, they would be more careful about the amount of alcohol they consume.
I welcome the amendments on the link between alcohol and fatal cancers. However, alcohol is also a huge risk factor for high blood pressure, diabetes, obesity, atrial fibrillation, stroke and liver damage.
While it has a major implication as regards the direct impact on cancer, it is equally important to recognise that it is also a major risk factor in respect of those conditions.
I thank Senator Nash for tabling these important amendments, along with Senators Black, Devine and others who tabled similar amendments trying to achieve the same things. The Senators are highlighting the link between alcohol and cancer. There is, of course, a proven causal link between alcohol and several types of cancer, with the risk of cancer increasing steadily in line with the increased volume of alcohol consumed. Between 2001 and 2010, one in ten breast cancer cases were attributable to alcohol. It is a very real risk, and it is estimated that alcohol related cancers will more than double for females and increase by 81% for males up to 2020. It is a very serious issue and it is right that Senator Nash and others are endeavouring to address it through these amendments.
Adults obviously can and must make informed choices for themselves. I think we all agree with that. They must also take personal responsibility in respect of the choices they make. The Bill will ensure that we are provided with information on the effects on our health of consuming alcohol. The public is keen to see the additional labelling requirements on alcohol containers as envisaged by the Bill. All the research has shown that. In 2012, the Health Research Board report, "Alcohol: Public Knowledge, Attitudes and Behaviours", found there is strong support for more labelling on cans and bottles containing alcohol. The report found that the vast majority, in fact 98%, of people surveyed support the inclusion of labelling information on the strength of alcohol and 95% support the inclusion of labelling information on alcohol-related harms. Under section 11(10) of the Bill, I propose to introduce a regulation setting out the health warnings to be displayed on labels and relating documentation. As Senators may be aware, my Department commissioned research to inform these regulations. I assure Senators this evening that the link between alcohol and cancer will be one of the messages considered in the development of these regulations on labelling and of the similar regulations to be made in respect of the warnings to be contained in advertising.
The point made by Senator Hopkins is important, and it is one I would make also. While there is absolutely a causal link between alcohol and cancer, there is also a causal link between alcohol and many other diseases. In light of the strong feeling the Seanad has on a cross-party basis, I am happy to suggest that it accept Senator Nash's amendments. I would just ask that we might further reflect, as a collective, between now and Report Stage on the issue of whether this is best done through regulations or legislation. In terms of the direction in which we wish to go, I would be happy to accept the amendments.
I ask that the Senator might consider withdrawing amendment No. 20 because I genuinely believe that matter should be dealt with by regulations rather than primary legislation. Getting into that degree of specificity in terms of the size can certainly be done through regulations but I am not sure it is best placed in primary legislation. The form of warnings and information to be included on labels and related documents can and will be prescribed by regulations to be made by me under section 11(10) of the Bill. The Bill already provides for the Minister of the day to determine the form of the warnings and information, including to prescribe the size and font type of these warnings. I am just worried that we might put too much granular detail into the legislation. I am very happy from a policy perspective to accept the amendments from Senator Nash. However, I would suggest that he might consider withdrawing amendment No. 20 and we can have further discourse between now and Report Stage.
I thank the Minister for his contribution. Clearly, he understands and accepts that the entirety of Seanad Members accept the objectives we laid out in the context of this amendment. It is important that there is a legislative basis for this commitment. I was anxious to ensure that the proposed amendment was sufficiently broad to allow the Minister to accept it, and to give him and his officials in the Department of Health the opportunity to identify the best way to approach it. I propose that we engage further between now and Report Stage to identify what the Minister thinks is the best way forward. I am not in the business of just making a point; I want to make a difference. If the Minister has some suggestions, I and others who support this general approach, and who have very generously withdrawn their own amendments, might engage over the next short period to finesse how we will address this very important issue. I understand that is a commitment the Minister is making here on the record of the House. Knowing him as I do, I know that he will follow up on it. This is a very welcome development and I think we can all row in behind the Minister.
I move amendment No. 17:
In page 13, between lines 30 and 31, to insert the following:
“(c) a warning that is intended to inform the public of the direct link between alcohol and fatal cancers,”.
I move amendment No. 19:
In page 14, between lines 1 and 2, to insert the following:
“(c) a warning that is intended to inform the public of the direct link between alcohol and fatal cancers,”.
I move amendment No. 20:
In page 14, line 26, 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 will withdraw the amendment and reserve the right to resubmit it on Report Stage.
I move amendment No. 21:
In page 15, between lines 8 and 9, to insert the following:
“(d) data from health services relating to alcohol related presentations at health facilities,”.
I will withdraw the amendment and reserve the right to resubmit it on Report Stage.
I invite Senator Buttimer to speak on the section.
I feel a little out of place in doing this, but I feel I must. Notwithstanding that the committee that I chaired recommended that duty free and retail travel trade outlets be subject to the same labelling requirements and that the committee was very strong in its views in that regard, I am seeking clarification on the actual impact of section 11 of the Bill on duty free travel retail outlets. It was under head 5 of the general scheme of the Bill before the committee. At the time and since, I have spoken with people from Cork Airport and Dublin Airport Authority, who have serious concerns. While I fully support everything that has been discussed under section 11, we need to seek clarification on the issue of duty free travel and retail. They are of the view that they will be put at a disadvantage. They are talking about duty free exclusives for the duty free shop in the airport, which are not in the domestic market. They are of high retail value but of low volume.
I do not fly a flag but feel I have to make refer to this issue. I am told 87% of international brands that are stocked do not sell at a very high volume in the stores. The duty free people pointed out that it would not be possible for the supplier to continue with these Irish exclusives if there is comprehensive labelling. I stress again that I support the labelling. However, they said they would pull the supply of some of these brands and products. I have met with some of the artisan brewers and distillers from Ireland, indigenous industries that are also affected. They said it would put them in a greatly uncompetitive position. The airports of Cork, Dublin, and Shannon are competing, as are Knock and Waterford perhaps although not with other domestic markets but with airlines and other airports. I am not sure how accurate this figure is, but they said that alcohol accounts for 20% of sales in the duty free travel retail sector.
I agree with Senator Boyhan that it is important for us to engage with different lobby groups that are for, against or whatever. It is only by engaging that we can learn and perfect the argument and the Bill. Could there be a look at the labelling requirement in terms of the duty free shops? If it cannot be done, that is fine.
It is important, in the spirit of engagement, that we might look at this because it could be an unintended consequence of the Bill. Just in case anyone thinks I do not support the section that deals with labelling, I stress that I strongly do so. By the way, I do not have any vested interests in this regard.
I would not have imagined so.
I ask the Minister to give us an outline in advance of Report Stage of the extent of the success of the no-smoking campaigns. I used to smoke, but I have given up cigarettes. I would not know where to go to get cigarettes at the moment. I am told that the number of smokers is nearly as big as it was some years ago. The HSE spends approximately €50 million on no-smoking campaigns each year. Cigarette advertising has been banned. Cigarettes have been banned everywhere. When one goes into a supermarket, they are behind shelves. I ask the Minister to outline to us how much the HSE spends on no-smoking campaigns and how successful these campaigns have been. More and more people in this country are going on holidays and bringing back duty-free cigarettes from other countries. Cigarettes have never been more expensive in this country. We have done so much on the cigarette issue. We have increased the cost of cigarettes, banned them and put them behind shelves so that people cannot find them anywhere. There is no advertising. The State is spending a considerable amount of money on no-smoking campaigns, but many people are still smoking. I ask the Minister to give us some details in this regard.
I would like to make a point about education. As I was listening to the radio the other day, I heard an advertisement suggesting that people who want to find out about the risk that alcohol poses to them should visit the HSE website. I would like to know whether it is a very active website. Do many people visit the HSE website to find out about the damage caused by alcohol? I have seen the biggest change ever in the GAA, which is probably the biggest organisation in the country. When I was playing football in the 1970s and 1980s, after every match both teams met in the local pub to drink.
Was the Senator a bad footballer?
The Senator knows well that what I am saying is true. Nowadays, very few teams meet in local pubs after matches. The vast majority of GAA players do not drink at all. I have proposed here previously that we should use young GAA, rugby and soccer players who do not drink to promote this issue, for example, by explaining why they do not drink. They should get scholarships, or maybe they should be paid. Rather than broadcasting radio advertisements for the section of the HSE website that sets out the dangers of alcohol, it would be much better to take a proactive approach involving representatives of the considerable number of young people in this country who do not drink. Many young people have given up drink. They should be used as role models for those who do not drink. They could be incentivised through funding, including third level education grants. I would like to see the Minister take on this campaign. I know he could take it on. Maybe he will take it on.
I am a bit mystified by section 11(1)(b), which proposes to make it an offence for a person to "import, for sale in the State" an alcohol product if its container does not bear a warning in the prescribed form. How is that going to work out? I do not think it has been thought through. If it is an offence to bring into this State a product that does not bear this warning, people outside the State will have to attach Irish warnings to bottles and cans, etc., before they come into this State. With respect, that is a bit crazy. We cannot ask a vineyard in France to label everything in the Irish version. We have not yet got to the Irish language, which is another day's work. We cannot make it an offence for somebody to import a product in these circumstances. Surely we should require the label that will be prescribed by the Minister to be attached to the bottle or can after it has come into the State. It cannot be right that a French brewery, vineyard or spirit manufacturer will have to stick an Irish label, as decided by a Minister in Ireland, onto a product before it arrives into Dublin Port. We cannot possibly say that it will have to be done in France. I imagine that such a requirement would be a huge problem under European law. Therefore, I suggest that there is a flaw in the drafting of this section.
I join colleagues in supporting the principle, concept and objectives of labelling as set out under section 11. Senator Colm Burke's point that labelling should be simple, and messages should be short and easily understood, is a good one. I commend to the Minister that the need for simple messages should be taken on board in a big way in the later regulatory stages. I suggest that market research or qualitative research could be done to establish the facets of illnesses that most affect people in a popular sense. It is not possible to chronicle all the illnesses in a label. Perhaps those that most capture the public imagination could be mentioned on labels. Market research can be done to throw up that information. Senator Hopkins has eloquently made the point that a whole catalogue of illnesses are related to alcohol. As Senator Reilly delineated earlier, a number of cancers are associated with alcohol. While that is the case, we could not possibly have a label with all of that information. There should be a focus on the illnesses that are most likely to have an impact.
Although I am speaking in support of labelling provisions, I would also like to make a point about advertising. I think this is the section under which I can most reasonably raise this issue in keeping with Standing Orders. I am very impressed by the current radio advertising campaign. It is part of an alcohol education campaign. I have not seen it on television, but I have heard it on radio in my car. It is an example of very effective messaging. It is very effectively done. I commend it. I suggest to the Minister that he should take this message to the people who are responsible for it. When I listen to it on the radio, I think it is very impactful. It is one of the most effective advertising campaigns to have been run in recent times. I support the concept of labelling, with the proviso as nuanced or delineated by Senator Colm Burke that it must initially be very simple and catchy. It should focus on the most common phobias in order to get to people in a general sense. A long technical label that lists all of the possible illnesses would not or could not work.
As always, Senator O'Reilly is ahead of himself. Advertising is dealt with in the next section. The Senator has covered it well in this context of this section.
I am always worried when I have to speak after Senator O'Reilly. It is quite hard to keep up to that standard. The question of the most effective way to use labelling needs to be looked at in the context of section 11. I have listened to what Senator Colm Burke said about simple and appropriate labelling. A whiskey tourism trail has been launched in my part of the world. There is a huge Jameson visitor centre in Midleton.
I do not think that is the kind of industry we are trying to affect with this labelling system. When we consider the promotion of the Irish whiskey trail, overly offensive labelling could damage the tourism outlook of those towns and of the product itself, which, to say the very least, has a high alcohol content. Any labelling requirements should be sensible and appropriate to the product. As a Government, we are putting money into a tourism strategy for this product and are promoting it. Some of these whiskeys cost hundreds of euros per bottle and have exceptionally high alcohol content. Most of them are bought never to be drunk but to keep. As we have seen in Scotland, it is a lucrative market, so we need to be sensitive about this. If we are not, there could be a knock-on effect on what is a thriving tourism market. In the southern part of the island, the tourism numbers of the Jameson visitor centre in Midleton are second only to Fota Island. It is a huge industry and we need to protect it. If we are to bring them in, labelling requirements should be sensible and suitable to the product.
I apologise for not being here earlier. My committee is having a short break so I came up here and am glad I did. I have a few points I wish to make. It seems that a lot of those speaking are Members on the Government side, which is unusual on Committee Stage. Nonetheless I will say what I have to say and probably disappear again, for which I apologise.
We do not think twice about labelling food. We accept it. We must be careful not to reduce the efficacy of the Bill by suggesting liquid that goes into our mouth and affects us in a similar way to food does not have the same requirements. I would be in favour of similar nutritional information requirements for alcohol. The need for warnings can be compared to that in the tobacco industry. We do not need to go as far as having pictures of livers with cirrhosis on whiskey bottles but we need sensible warnings which are not hidden given they are supposed to be warnings.
To an extent I agree with Senator Lombard on the whiskey point, which I mentioned to the Minister's officials earlier. Far be it for me to think of exceptions to the Bill because I advocate for the Bill and want it enacted as close to its current state as possible, but Senator Lombard referred to what are often rare whiskeys. In particular, these rare whiskeys are being sold in duty free shops. This is a big market all over Europe and around the world and they are competing with duty free shops for that market. Unless one is a multimillionaire, one is not going to be necking or binge drinking on whiskey that costs €150. There is a distinction to be made for that market, which is important, but the other important factor is that any drink made in Ireland will have warning labels on it. Therefore, it is more of an issue for foreign producers than our own producers of high end whiskey.
It is important to remember that any drink which is to be sold in any kind of volume in Ireland will go through distributors. In the same way as food that is being sold from other countries to Ireland, it will go through distributors. Those distributors will have to ensure it complies with EU laws and, in this case, Irish laws. It will not be a huge burden on companies selling Irish-produced drink if it is sold in any kind of volume, as it will be an easy thing for them to do. High end whiskeys, which are very expensive and collector items, have to be distinguished. That is fair enough. However, anything that has a reasonable cost, whether produced in Ireland or elsewhere in volume, should contain warnings. As far as I am concerned, if warnings are to be placed on alcohol, they should be on those that are affordable and that people can drink in volume.
I do not entirely agree with Senator Lombard. I do not think that we need to be sensitive; we need to be clear, definitive and effective. "Effective" is the important word. People need to register the dangers. I am glad that the amendment on cancer went in while I was occupied elsewhere. It is extremely important. As I said to my colleagues, I am surprised there is no mention of cancer in the labelling requirement. It should be specifically referred to in the labelling. The World Health Organization's International Agency for Research on Cancer classifies alcohol as a group 1 carcinogen. In other words, the most significant level of carcinogenic activity is attributable to alcohol. That means it is carcinogenic to humans. It is a direct cause of cancer of the mouth, pharynx, larynx, oesophagus, liver, pancreas, bowel and breast. Every year 900 new cases are diagnosed that are related directly to alcohol, which is astonishing. I had no idea of the relationship between alcohol consumption and breast cancer until recently. I think it causes one in eight cancers of the breast, which is a very serious disease. I used to think until fairly recently that it was reasonably easily cured. It is not. I have known three people within the past year who have died of cancer of the breast. It is, therefore, something we need to take seriously. As I say, to me it is not a question about being sensitive about whiskey trails but about getting an effective message right on to the bottle.
I want to reference Senator Lombard and Senator Noone's comments on high end whiskeys. This morning I travelled back from London on Cityjet. I have the magazine because, when I opened it up, there was a four page marketing spread on Irish whiskey. It states that alcohol is a focal point of holidays in Ireland in a way which is different from any other country in the world. That was in the Cityjet Velocity magazine I got today. Every second page is an alcohol advertisement in this magazine. Senator Noone rightly pointed out that there was a lot of engagement from that side of the House. It is a huge industry. The Government speaks about a national plan to create an Irish whiskey trail. This would be a marked route across the entire country that would take tourists to Ireland's most significant whiskey related sites. There is something in it. There is the economics in it but there is also the dichotomy with health and all that. I was interested in both Senators' contributions. Therefore, I would like the Minister's clarification. Perhaps he will share with us his response to those two interventions.
I thank the Senators for their important contributions. In particular, I thank Senator McDowell for highlighting an issue on which I will seek further legal clarity. I wish to assure him about what we are trying to provide for in section 11(1) of the Bill. It is intended that it will be an offence to import a product for sale without the labelling information. Where a product is imported, the label changed and the product then sold, we do not wish to make that an offence nor would it be an offence if it were imported for one's own personal consumption. The idea is that people who would import a product into the country and then sell it would not have an advantage over those selling Irish indigenous products. I will seek further legal clarity on the current wording in the Bill before Report Stage. However, that is the policy aim we are trying to achieve.
Senator Buttimer had to pop out but, for the record, there has been a lot of back and forth on the issue of airports. The Senator decently and honestly admits his own all-party committee had a clear view of the issue of labels and we have very much inputted that into the Bill. However, some concerns were expressed that airports would be significantly impacted by the requirements of the Bill. I wish to put on the record of the House, as I think it is important, that there have already been a number of concessions and changes and people have taken cognisance of the slightly different position airports are in. However, they are not entirely different. If alcohol is a danger in one place, it is still a danger in others, but airports will have exemptions from the minimum unit pricing requirement in the Bill.
The provision relating to the separation and visibility of alcohol products in mixed retail outlets, as it applies to other outlets, will not apply to airports. There is a modified version of the requirement and one that reflects the display of alcohol in airport shops currently is all that will be required under the provisions of the Bill. The requirements are that cabinets containing alcohol products should not contain non-alcohol products unless packaged together and that a non-alcohol product container should not adjoin a container with alcohol products. In response to Senator Boyhan, that is generally the norm at our airports. As a result, there is a variation regarding the separation and visibility at our airports reflecting the way they carry out their business.
Regarding advertisements for alcohol products at airports, the Bill provides that such advertisements can be displayed in or around the relevant container and the labelling provision is applicable to alcohol sold at airports. It is important that this is the case. It means that a customer in an airport shop will be provided with the same health information and other information about the product he or she is buying as his or her fellow customers in non-airport shops. Regardless of whether a person is going through the airport or the supermarket, he or she is entitled to the same factual information from a health perspective in terms of alcohol.
Senator Lombard said people are drinking high-end whiskies. This is obviously about the consumption of alcohol. I will reflect and engage further on that between now and Report Stage to familiarise myself further with the issue highlighted by the Senator.
Senator Paddy Burke asked a lot of questions, some of which involve getting information from the HSE about how much it spends on advertising campaigns relating to smoking. I can tell the Senator that it definitely spends far less on campaigns encouraging people to quit smoking than it does on dealing with cancers that arise from smoking. I would hazard a guess that it also spends far less on advertising campaigns to encourage people to drink responsibly than it does on campaigns dealing with the cost to the health service of cancer. However, I will get the Senator a statistics document on that. It is very fair to say that there has been very significant success regarding the no-smoking campaigns. I have a document with me - the Healthy Ireland Survey 2017 - which was published in recent weeks and which shows that approximately 22% of our population are smokers. There was a time when that number was in the region of 40%. A total of 18% of people smoke daily while 4% say they smoke occasionally. Men are still more likely to smoke than women. Interestingly, 35% of smokers who saw their GP in the past 12 months discussed ways of quitting smoking while 25% of those who saw a hospital doctor had this discussion, as did 22% of those who had the conversation with a nurse. More people living in Ireland have quit smoking than currently smoke so it has been a very successful campaign. I will get information on traffic to the website. It is important to say that, obviously, smoking is highly addictive so while the numbers are consistently coming down, we cannot be complacent in any way.
The Senator makes a very valid point about the idea of role models in our communities, particularly male role models for young men. I would be very interested in exploring the use of the GAA structure along with that of other sports clubs. I am sure our Healthy Ireland unit would have a view on that because it makes sense from a range of points of view, including mental health, obesity, physical health, good practice relating to drinking and not smoking. I thank the Senator for that constructive suggestion.
I take the point Senator Boyhan makes about whiskey trails. Once they comply with the advertising and marketing standards, it is okay. We are not banning marketing or advertising. It is a matter of complying with marketing and advertising standards, which is an important differentiation.
I do not know whether every station carries it but if we look at the advertisement for Coors beer, which shows people tobogganing down the Rockies and all sorts of funny things happening, how does the Minister envisage what is proposed working? Will a voice be heard at the end of the advertisement saying-----
Is the Senator dealing with advertising?
Sorry, I strayed into the next section.
I was just not sure.
Two legally-minded fellows on the same wavelength.
I very much welcome the progress of the Bill so far and the tone in which it is being debated on all sides. Labelling was discussed. There seem to be some anomalies and I ask for them to be examined. A vineyard in Italy is expected to put the labels we have put into legislation on its wine. Similarly, in the context of airports, if people are leaving the country, that should be looked at as well. I am not saying it may not be possible to tweak it. Everyone wants to reduce the amount of alcohol but whatever can be tweaked in order to reduce the problems we have with alcohol should be tweaked. I have met people who felt that they needed a separate entrance into their small outlets or that they had to build walls like the one suggested for the border between Mexico and the US. This is not what is at issue either. It is not just about educating people about alcohol. There is a meeting of minds on this issue in many respects. It is just that we need to discover that meeting of minds. Today has been a good start.
Senator McDowell raised an interesting point about importing wines from France, Italy or elsewhere. However, it would not kill the wine producers to slap on a label. It is a perfectly simple procedure. If they are exporting to a country like Ireland, why should they not put labels on bottles? I do not see any reason why that should not be a requirement. It would not kill them.
The European Union would not agree with the Senator.
Do not get me started on the European Union. We will be here all night if the Senator gets me started on that.
Amendments Nos. 22, 23, 25 and 30 to 35, inclusive, are related and may be discussed together by agreement. Is that agreed? Agreed.
I propose to take Government amendments Nos. 22, 25, 30 to 35, inclusive, with Opposition amendment No. 23 as they all relate to the content of advertisements. A number of these amendments are quite technical in nature.
Amendment No. 22 replaces the word "in" with the phrase "attached to" in section 12(1)(b) to ensure that the language used in the Bill is consistent. In addition, it specifies that this exemption from the content of advertisements provision will apply to on-licence premises only. The exemption will facilitate the retention of existing fixtures and fittings, for example, beer taps, mirrors and heritage advertisements, in pubs. For example, one could find a certain pub with a sign about how Guinness puts hair on your chest. That is effectively a heritage sign. We are not going to around withdrawing them so that is largely my layman's way of explaining the amendment.
Amendment No 25 is a technical amendment to section 12(11). The first revision under this amendment will replace the word "sponsored" with the word "produced" regarding advertisements or public service announcements associated with the Road Safety Authority or the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport. My Department or the HSE might often sponsor an advertisement. While we have many skills in the Department, we are not in the business of production of advertisements so the amendment clarifies the role of the Department as distinct from the role of the production company. The second revision will add the word "produced" in the context of advertisements or public service announcements associated with the HSE or the Department of Health. This is an entirely technical amendment to ensure that appropriate terminology is used in the Bill.
Amendment No 23 in the name of Senator Swanick proposes to provide a further exemption from the advertisement content requirements for visitors centres. The Senator is referring here to visitors centres that focus on the history of manufacturing of alcohol products. Perhaps this is linked to our previous discussion as it relates to whiskey museums. Section 12 provides that advertisements for alcohol products must include health warnings on the dangers of alcohol but it already excludes premises where alcohol products are manufactured or available to buy wholesale. On that basis, it is likely that many of these museums will already be exempt. Some of the examples mentioned by the Senator would very much fall into that category. Manufacturing is, therefore, already exempt and a museum, in that sense, is covered. In the public interest, we have an obligation to inform all consumers of the health risks associated with alcohol consumption. We cannot say that we believe there is a causal link between some illnesses and alcohol but that we should not inform tourists of this when they come to our country and then give them different bottles with different labels in order to circumvent the problem. There must be consistency in terms of public health policy. I see no reason why persons attending a visitors' centre or some other tourist attraction should not be made aware of the risks of alcohol consumption.
Nor do I envisage that an awareness of the health implications of alcohol consumption would necessarily detract from the visitor centre experience. I have seen a number of these and people can enjoy their visitor centre experience with the same level of awareness we as Irish citizens will have after the Bill on the dangers of alcohol.
Amendments Nos. 30 to 35, inclusive, relate to advertisements in publications. Amendment No. 30 is a technical amendment to ensure consistency of language in the Bill. The amendment makes clear the provisions relating to the importation of publications apply only to those imported for sale in the State. This goes back to the idea that if people bring in something for their own personal use from abroad, such as a magazine, once they do not sell it on it is not covered with regard to the other advertisement restrictions. Amendments No. 31 to 34, inclusive, are technical amendments arising from a different lead-in time for advertising provisions. There is one lead-in time for ensuring the warning is on the advertisement, and there is a longer lead-in time for making the advertisement factual only. This is purely to make sure our language is consistent.
Amendment No. 35 proposes to allow for a further extension from the provisions in section 17 for a specialist publication that relates exclusively to alcohol products. People could produce a flyer to sell alcohol products for something local or bring in a trade magazine. The word "solely" means that a magazine which relates to wine, food or travel would not be exempted. It solely exempts specialist publications.
With regard to amendment No. 23, we believe a visitor centre for the purpose of tourism should be exempt from the advertising restrictions referred to only in this section. This would exempt locations such as the Guinness visitor centre from the advertising restrictions. I accept the Minister's bona fides on this.
I have a quick query, which may not be for here. Senator Swanick mentioned Guinness, which is in the area where I grew up . We also have Teelings and Pearse Lyons, and two more are planned. There is saturation and we are becoming known as the drunk Dublin 8 area. This is something for local authorities, but I wonder whether the Minister would give guidance on it. The saturation in the area is quite overwhelming.
Arising out of Senator Swanick's point, he may be thinking of the Guinness Storehouse, which is one of Dublin's great tourist attractions. Closer to where I work, and I work in a distillery building, there is the Jameson distillery. No manufacturing is carried on there and I want to make that point clear. In so far as Guinness may have an extended campus, which includes its Storehouse, the exemption would not apply to the Jameson visitor centre in Dublin. Members would not believe the crowds of people who go to the Jameson visitor centre in the summer. It is one of the main tourist destinations in Dublin from what I can see.
Are we discussing the entire section or just the amendment at this stage?
Just the amendments at the moment and we will come to the section in a minute.
The Minister has made a very good case for the rationale of his amendments and I am happy to support them.
I thank Senator Swanick for his understanding on this and I hope we have captured what he and others wish to be reassured on. I take very much the point made by Senator Devine. As she alluded to, it probably is a planning matter for county development plans or local area plans in terms of what people want to have developed in their communities. I very much take the point she made.
Senator McDowell's contribution goes back to my original point. Visiting tourists have a right to the same information as people not visiting. In that sense we are taking a consistent approach that whether one is Irish or not, or a domestic tourist or not, people visiting these premises have a right to the factual information.
It will not apply to Guinness but it will apply to Jameson.
That is true. We have taken a different approach if there is manufacturing.
To follow up on Senator McDowell's point and the Minister's response, Jameson is manufactured in Midleton, so the tourism centre there would be exempt, but the one in Dublin, which is its biggest tourist centre, would not be exempt even though it is the same product. This anomaly might need to be teased out.
Beamish is also from Cork.
Quite a good point has been made on this. Perhaps tourist centres are what should be considered, as production on site might not be the way to clarify the issue. I believe the Guinness factory is the second biggest tourist attraction in Ireland. As Senator McDowell pointed out, we have the Jameson centre in Dublin. We also have Teelings in the same area referred to by Senator Devine. I very much doubt it produces anything there. It is a fine facility. We also have the Irish whiskey centre opposite Trinity College. A lot of these are tapping in on the tourist trail. This is possibly something the Minister could look at. If they are being used solely to attract tourists the exemptions should apply.
I want to tease out whether, if a facility was previously involved in manufacturing and is now a visitor centre, an exemption would be incorporated in this case. I am not clear whether this would deal with the issue. It is something that might be teased out.
I am not sure why there should be these exemptions at all, to be quite honest. It sounds like a load of rubbish to me. I have been to one or two of these places and most of them feed people whiskey when they get them in, and whether they manufacture it or not they give people a couple of good dollops of whiskey. People will be ingesting the stuff that is damaging so why should there not be warnings in all of these places? I do not see any reason for exemptions. The Minister does apparently, so let him have them, but I do not think there is any reason for exemptions at all.
Senator Norris is probably right. On the back of what Senator Davitt said, it might be better to tweak it as a tourist centre or something along those lines. Guinness used to be massive and all-encompassing, completely taking over James's Street and Thomas Street, but now it has downsized. At some stage it may well take the decision to go elsewhere, so what happens to a massive production such as this? If one bottle is produced a year is this considered manufacturing? Are there ways and means of getting around it? We might need to look at different wording and perhaps "tourist centre" is the phrase to go with.
None of these places is Irish any more anyway. They are all multinationals.
One way around it is to sell alcohol wholesale on the premises.
Advice on tap as well.
If it is available wholesale there will be an exemption anyway under the section.
It is highly unusual to get a senior counsel giving free legal advice.
I find myself closer to Senator Norris's view on this than others. I do not want too much collegiality and consensus breaking out here. I do not see the difficulty. I do not buy into the idea that the tourist experience would be destroyed by a premises that is advertising having to put in some factual warnings about alcohol. Quite a good bit of domestic tourism goes on. People might want to take their families out for the day. We have all talked about children and young people. If people want to explore this further on Report Stage they can do so. The idea here was not to interfere with a place manufacturing. I do not see what the issue is if a place is advertising. I do not buy into the idea it will destroy the tourism experience in any manner or means. I genuinely do not, but if people wish to explore it further on Report Stage that is their prerogative.
Did Senator McDowell indicate that he wished to speak on this section?
Yes. Two points struck me, one of which is related to the provision "a vehicle owned by a person who manufactures, or sells by wholesale, alcohol products". This will include travelling radio vans. I will give free advice to the whiskey people at a later stage.
There are elaborate television advertisements. Will this apply to television? If so, and there is an advertisement for Coors showing people in the Rockies, how will this section apply? Will there be at the end a monotonous voice telling us that Coors or alcohol can cause damage to the oesophagus, liver or colon? Will there be some symbol on television advertisements that is recognised generally as a warning? I find it very annoying that at the end of every advertisement for anything to do with the financial sector there is a long announcement about who controls and regulates it, terms and conditions apply, and all the rest of it. Most people switch off at that bit. How will this affect television advertising and radio advertising? Will there be a special section in each advertisement including a warning and will it be standard for all drink? Will there be the same little lecture about drinking Mateus Rosé or Casillero del Diablo at the end, five or ten seconds of moralising or preaching? I would like to know how it is intended this will work.
This is largely unworkable. Forget about the Irish stations, because the Minister can do something about them. but there are many commercial television stations broadcasting into this country. I do not give a damn about television. I have an old-fashioned television set and I get five stations which is plenty for me. There are a couple of hundred stations out there and they will not give a damn what the Irish Government proposes in its legislation. They will be broadcasting advertisements into the State goodo. It will be largely ineffective. Does the Minister have any ideas on this area and whether we are creating a double standard, with one standard for television companies broadcasting from abroad into the country? Perhaps we could set up jamming. That would be wonderful - jam CNN and Fox News, today, yesterday and forever. That would be great.
I want to speak to amendment No. 24 which Senator Nash was not here to move.
The amendment was not moved. The Senator can speak on the section.
I am informing the House that I may propose a similar amendment on Report Stage which may deal with cancers and some of the issue raised by another Senator about issues such as strokes.
Advertising is being dealt with in other jurisdictions. I lived in America for five years and saw warnings attached to certain gambling and financial products. There are many jurisdictions that have found many ways to attach not what I would regard as sermonising but important information to advertisements. There are many approaches to doing that. Those are issues that the Advertising Standards Authority will be able to deal with and I do not think they should concern us or slow us in placing the requirement in the legislation.
Senator Norris has never been known as a sheep and it is a question of whether we want to lead or follow. I have enough challenges being Minister for Health in Ireland without being Minister for Health for the entire European Union or beyond, heaven forbid. This is a question of leadership. This country showed great leadership on tobacco. I have already credited Deputy Micheál Martin's leadership in that regard. The same argument could have been made then. Somebody has to be first and say they are going to do this. Ireland as a leader in public health, which we want to be and have shown we can be, should lead. That will mean that the anomaly will exist. A person can turn on the BBC and the advertisers will not be bound by these restrictions but hopefully-----
The BBC does not carry advertising.
That is correct. The Senator is definitely safe.
CNN and Fox.
Fox is gone.
Is it? Good.
Perhaps public representatives in other countries will hear from their citizens just as we heard from our citizens about the need to act in respect of alcohol.
I take Senator McDowell's point but there is a three-year lead in for this.
That is kicking the can down the road.
It is not kicking the can down the road at all.
The beer can.
Certainly not the beer can. It is recognising that there are many very well-paid people working in advertising and creative concepts. I was told recently that one of our largest drinks companies does not have the ingenuity to change one of its advertisements at Christmas time. I never heard the like of it. We need to consider the digital marketing departments of these companies. People can modify ads. As Senator Higgins said more eloquently than I, this is not an absurd concept. We do it in respect of much. Senator McDowell raised the point about the very fast thing at the end of the financial ads and how effective it is. The Broadcasting Authority of Ireland, BAI, will be responsible for this. People will have three years after commencement, which is plenty of time for advertisers to understand it and use their creativity within the new requirements. From a primary legislative point of view, we are putting the restrictions in place. How they are implemented is a matter for advertisers to satisfy. There could be a variety of ways in which they could do it and we do not to prescribe for that in primary legislation. We do, however, need to set the overall principal objective. I have no doubt that it is not beyond their ingenuity.