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  • News

Alcohol bill using a sledgehammer to crack a nut

Monday, 2nd October, 2017 7:59am

Story by Tony McCullagh
Alcohol bill using a sledgehammer to crack a nut

The Government is seeking to de-normalise the purchase of alcohol. PHOTO: BIGSTOCK

Alcohol bill using a sledgehammer to crack a nut

The Government is seeking to de-normalise the purchase of alcohol. PHOTO: BIGSTOCK

IT’S fair to say that Ireland had a bit of a reputation for the demon drink long before you could pick up a bottle of wine at your local petrol station or enjoy a glass of bubbly while you treated yourself to a wash and blow dry at the salon.

That’s why I’ve mixed feelings about some of the measures contained in the Public Health (Alcohol) Bill, which is currently winging its way through the legislative process and, all going to plan, could become law by the end of 2017.

I’ve no doubt that the bill is well-intentioned on the part of the Government, even if it appears to be a case of using a sledgehammer to crack a nut.

There is something of the nanny state at play when we hear talk of clamping down on barbers offering beer to their customers or our favourite Christmas ads falling prey to tough new regulations.

The relationship between the drinks industry and sporting organisations is a trickier one. 

On one hand, it can be argued the prominent branding of alcohol at major sporting events is setting a bad example for young people in attendance. The counter argument is that sponsorship from drinks companies helps financially sustain local clubs and, in doing so, provides amenities and diversionary activities for our youth.

Young people who are passionate about sport recognise the importance of a healthy lifestyle and are educated by their coaches about the negative impact of alcohol on their performance.

In terms of a healthy lifestyle, our new Taoiseach is a positive role model for clean living and is more likely to be photographed doing a triathlon than posing with a pint in his hand (certain former Taoisigh come to mind!).

Based on his media profile, I’ve no idea whether or not Leo likes the occasional pint – and fair play to him if he does – but he seems to drink a lot of bottled water.

While it might seem tokenistic, the Government should lead by example and start by removing the availability of alcohol in our national parliament. Do our hardworking TDs, ministers and senators need the distraction of two bars in the Dáil, taking their focus off the job of actually running the country?

Forget about unpaid bar tabs, late night drinking and even the ‘Lapgate’ scandal (Google it!). It just seems wholly inappropriate that our legislators can consume alcohol in their workplace while at the same time seeking to blame supermarket owners and hairdressers for the ills of the nation.

Alcohol abuse has caused devastation for generations of Irish families and it is only right and proper that the State looks at solutions to contain what is a significant public health and societal problem. But in targeting the low-hanging fruit, the Government runs the risk of overshadowing the many positive measures contained in the bill. With so many headlines focusing on hair salons and TV commercials, the real danger is that the message will be lost on the public.

The Public Health (Alcohol) Bill may well prove to be the most important piece of legislation since the smoking ban - it just needs to be fine-tuned.

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