NOffLA chairperson, Evelyn Jones, has accused the Minister for Justice of treating specialist off-licences like sex shops in the recently published Civil Law (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill.
Section five of the proposed legislation will act as a policing mechanism for what is now a voluntary code of practice for the “mixed trade” retailers of alcohol, i.e. supermarkets and other non-specialist off-licences. These retailers are currently attempting to operate under the RRAI (Responsible Retailing of Alcohol in Ireland) voluntary code of practice, but is recognised as much for its liberal application as for its proper practice by many of their members.
The mixed trade retailers would prefer that the government force its members to act responsibly, rather than activate regulations under section nine of the Intoxicating Liquor Bill that would see the physical separation of alcohol from all other products in supermarkets across the country.
Unfortunately, the proposed legislation will stigmatise specialist retailers of alcohol, who have long since adopted a policy of Responsible Trading in the Community (RTC), by preventing the display and merchandising of products in the windows of off-licences. Although the Irish retail sector continues to be decimated, NOffLA members, as independent specialist off-licences, have maintained a strong commitment to the responsible sale of alcohol.
This was recognised in the report of the Alcohol Advisory Council and in the Intoxicating Liquor Bill 2008. The separation of alcohol from general retail goods was forestalled in 2008 on the understanding that supermarkets would recognise that alcohol must be marketed and sold in a distinct manner to other goods. If this hasn’t happened voluntarily, then the RRAI should accept that the default should be the activation of section nine of the Intoxicating Liquor Bill, providing for the separation of alcohol from other products.
The NOffLA chairperson isn’t alone in her scepticism of the implementation of the RRAI voluntary code of practice. Opposition Justice spokesman, Dara Calleary, highlighted the issue in recent Oireachtas debates: “A code of practice is fine and is a good start, but we all know what happens with regard to codes of practice in the supermarket industry. The code is something nice that goes up in a frame inside the door, but that is it. The frame is cleaned once a week, and nobody heeds the code once it is put on the wall.
Supermarkets, in particular the multiples, have ridiculous offers on beers, spirits and many other alcoholic drinks. To make no bones about it, alcohol is being sold in many of our major supermarkets at below-cost level. This is hidden and the offers are dressed up in various ways. There is gross negligence of the law in supermarkets and supermarket multiples throughout the country.”
Evelyn Jones contends that the mishandling of this issue by the RRAI will mean that “Minister Shatter will be forced to implement section nine which will ultimately prove expensive for the smaller players in the grocery trade, but that will suit the retail giants just dandy as there will be less competition for them”.