Currently at Report Stage in the Seanad, the Bill proposes a waist-high physical barrier of 1.2 metres in height which was brought forward by Fianna Fáil and accepted by Government.
This barrier would be all that separates alcohol from other products in a large mixed-retail/supermarket, claims the Association, “…hardly the structural separation that was originally envisaged when the Bill was introduced in 2015.
In fact, such has been the extent of dilution of this proposal, that Government was forced to rename Section 22 from ‘Structural Separation’ to ‘Separation and Visibility of Alcohol Products and Advertisements for Alcohol Products in Specified Licensed Premises’, continued NOffLA.
According to UK statistics, 1.2 metres equates only to the average height of a seven-year-old boy and NOffLA questions the rationale and merits of such a 1.2m barrier; whether it is evidence-based and supported by scientific best-practice. It further asks what possible impact this will have on the de-normalising of alcohol if an eight or 9 year-old, “… not to mention 15 or 16 year-old remains exposed to alcohol? It’s worth noting that children under 18 are not permitted to be in an off-licence unless they are accompanied by a parent or guardian, NOffLA continued.
While it welcomed recent comments by the Minister for Health Simon Harris in the Dáil that the ultimate goal of Section 22 is to make alcohol less visible, NOffLA now claims to be confused as to how Government can reconcile this claim with the amendments which it has accepted regarding Section 22.
“The amendment was apparently brought forward in response to claims from small retailers that the cost of compliance with the original proposals would be too high,” stated NOffLA’s Government Affairs Director Evelyn Jones, “We understand the need for compromise and industry consultation in legislative drafting, in fact we welcome it.
“However, this amendment is designed solely to the benefit of large international supermarket chains and cuts against the Minister’s comments that the ultimate aim of the Bill is to reduce the visibility of alcohol.”
NOffLA does not have any objections to the remainder of clauses under Section 22 which were added for the benefit of genuine SMEs and small retailers, rather than large multinational supermarkets.
The Association believes that if the amendment is to have any real impact at all, the minimum height of the physical barrier must be increased to at least 1.8 metres, the average height of a 17/18 year-old.
“To have come this far and prevailed against such strong opposition throughout the process, only to succumb at this late stage is extremely disappointing,” remarked Evelyn Jones, “We understand that compromise is necessary in politics but when you’re on the right side of implementing real and necessary reform, something that will change forever our relationship with alcohol for the better, we would ask the Minister to remain steadfast in his objective and be true to the Bill’s original principles by increasing the height to 1.8m”.