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NOffLA Speaks: Change on the horizon?

The association looks forward to the enactment of legislation which will make responsible trading a reality across the entire off-trade sector

Apr 16 2012

Roisin Shortall, Minister of State at the Department of Health

Roisin Shortall, Minister of State at the Department of Health

After many commitments to a philosophy of responsible trading, it would appear that there is a momentum in favour of reform that may deliver in the coming months.
 
The run-up to St Patrick's Day focused the minds of many people on the promised reform of the availability and pricing of alcohol in Irish retail outlets. Minister of State at the Department of Health, Roisin Shortall, appeared again before the Oireachtas Committee on Health and Children. The Minister was unequivocal about the need for action. “At this point we have little choice but to deal comprehensively with the problem… The evidence is very clear and we can no longer ignore it. There is no room for equivocation on this.” The Minister even committed to a time scale for action on the matter. “[A very clear action plan] …that will be brought to Cabinet in the coming months in order to move forward with a public health bill later this year.” Such a commitment was reiterated in a RTÉ radio interview the following day, when Minister Shortall said that she supported all of the steering group's recommendations and that she expected the passage of related legislation by the summer of this year.
 
The Oireachtas Committee was also addressed by Dr Tony Holohan, chief medical officer at the Department of Health and chairperson of the steering group on the national substance misuse strategy. Dr Holohan expressed the specific concern of the group about “supermarkets and other mixed traders whose core business is not the sale of alcohol”, pointing to the ”the normalisation of alcohol among a range of other products, such as bread.”
 
Dr Holohan also outlined five key recommendations of the steering group. Two recommendations underline issues that had previously been highlighted. One is “to introduce a legislative basis for a minimum price per gram of alcohol.” For which, he explained “there is good evidence to support the effectiveness of such measures from other countries, including Canada.”
 
Dr Holohan outlined another of the group's recommendations, which demonstrates the pragmatism of the steering group. This relates to section nine of the Intoxicating Liquor Act that provides for structural separation. “The legislation exists on the statute book and its commencement would provide for a requirement to have structural separation in a shop or retail environment between alcohol, as a product, and all other products being sold.” Dr Holohan later expressed the specific view that the group “would prefer to see the structural separation commencing and to replace the voluntary code.”
 
Minister Shortall demonstrated her support for the steering group's approach and showed the extent to which she has considered the impact of the proposals when she made the contention that the structural separation of alcohol in mixed trading environments “has very minor implications for jobs - negligible, in fact.”
 
The Minister, the Oireachtas Committee and the steering group on the national substance misuse strategy have built up quite a momentum on the realisation of “Responsible Trading”. The National Off-Licence Association looks forward to the enactment of legislation to make this a reality.

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