The 12 seeking amendments to the Bill are Fine Gael’s Peter Burke, Tony McLoughlin, Pat Deering and Peter Fitzpatrick, Fianna Fáil’s Bobby Aylward, Kevin O’Keeffe, Eamon Scanlon and Declan Breathnach, as well as the Independent TDs Noel Grealish, Michael Fitzmaurice, Carol Nolan and Michael Collins, indicating the level of cross-party interest in these aspects of the Bill.
The cancer warning requirement is one of the most hotly contested elements of the Bill, with the potential to jeopardise exports of Irish whiskey and beer as such a requirement would make this country unique in the world and put it at a considerable disadvantage to competitor products from outside the country, claims the drinks industry.
But one of the country’s top liver specialists Professor Frank Murray, a consultant in hepatology and gastroenterology who’s also chairman of Alcohol Health Alliance Ireland, rejected the industry’s argument.
“This is complete nonsense,” he claimed, “because we’re talking about labelling products in Ireland — not labelling Irish products around the world.”
Over the last few months the industry has been involved in a great deal of lobbying of TDs to try to prevent the cancer warning label requirement being made law.
This requirement was introduced by Independent Senator Francis Black and Labour Senator Ged Nash, who got the backing of the Seanad for the amendment requiring the introduction of the cancer warning label.
However, the Minister for Health Simon Harris TD may be considering the format that the cancer warning will take in what he considers a “clear link” between alcohol consumption and fatal cancers.
“Only question is best way to highlight this — regulations or primary legislation. Looking forward to teasing this through,” he tweeted last week.
According to a report in the Irish Times, he may introduce compromise proposals to include Irish in alcohol health warnings without further delaying public health legislation which has already spent nearly three years going through the Oireachtas.
The Irish Times reports senior sources as having argued that even if the cancer warnings were kept in the legislation, the regulations would still have to be referred to the EU where it’s likely that the nature of the specific warning would be seen as a barrier to trade.
General health warnings would not be affected but the Minister is likely to resist all attempts to introduce exemptions to the advertising and broadcasting restrictions introduced in the Bill. This includes advertising in pubs and restaurants and the Minister also seems likely to block attempts to prevent the addition of general health warnings on products.
The Minister has agreed an amendment from Louise O’Reilly, Sinn Féin’s Spokesperson on Health, which calls for data collection from hospitals on beds that are taken up with alcohol-related illnesses. This would help quantify the impact of health policy, linking it to a Minimum Unit Price of 10 Cent per gram of alcohol.