The Bill proposes to introduce Minimum Unit Pricing and measures that affect the labelling of alcoholic beverages by the inclusion of minimum-sized health warnings as well as the separation of alcohol from other goods in premises selling alcohol.
Over 40 TDs contributed to the Second Stage debate on the Bill in the Dáil and everyone seemed to welcome it by-and-large, indicating a continued high level of interest in the legislation.
But while almost all contributors welcomed the legislation in general, most of the contributors spoke of their concerns in regard to the proposed new cancer warning labels, the extensive advertising restrictions, MUP and structural separation.
Minister of State for Health Promotion Catherine Byrne TD, who responded on behalf of the Government, offered little by way of conciliation and made no reference to potential changes or amendments that would help to address some the concerns raised by TDs.
Any further Amendments to the Bill will now have to be tabled at Committee Stage for consideration by the Health Committee which includes Fianna Fáil TD Billy Kelleher and Labour TD Alan Kelly.
But once the Bill gets to the Report Stage (around May or June this year) it will be much less likely that any further Amendments will be accepted so there is a clear responsibility on the Government to get this right now, believes the industry.
In the meantime Europe – the elephant in the room – remains in the background in all this. The Bill’s contents were notified to the EU Commission two years ago and despite objections from 10 Member States, there has been no response to them from the Department of Health where a response to these countries would be the norm.
But it’s understood that the Department has responded to a submission from the Commission itself but this remains known only to the Department at this time.
Furthermore, Amendments on labelling (including the demand for the inclusion of a cancer warning label and that at least one-third of ‘printed materials’ is allocated to health warnings) added to the Bill subsequently need to be presented afresh to the Commission and the industry hopes that the Commission itself will put in a stern objection to these Amendments on the basis that these measures are disproportionate and represent a clear barrier to trade within the EU.
Their observations, which to date have not been unanimously positive, are likely to be delivered around the 20th of April.