NOffLA Speaks: Time, Minister, please!
Chairman Jim McCabe calls on the justice minister to set forth a meaningful code of practice for the responsible sale of alcohol
11 March 2009
As ShelfLife goes to press, the long-promised code of practice is expected from the Minister for Justice on 5 March.
The code, for mixed traders that sell alcohol, is the proposed alternative to legislation which restricts the sale of alcohol to segregated areas of these shops and supermarkets. In the absence of proper legislative regulation on the sale of alcohol in Ireland, the National Off-Licence Association calls on the minister to publish and implement a meaningful code of practice for responsible sale of alcohol across the retail sector.
The code has been put forward as a voluntary alternative to the aspects of the Alcohol Licensing legislation that sought to deal with problems related to the sale of alcohol in environments where it was being promoted, priced and sold as if it was any other retail product. The necessity for a code of practice, albeit as a poor alternative to legislation, is underlined when one considers that, as NOffLA chairman Jim McCabe puts it, “alcohol is a drug and must be treated as such”.
Those who sell alcohol in the independent off-trade are aware of the distinctive nature of the product and the need for distinction in the manner in which it is sold. All members of the National Off-Licence Association must successfully complete education and training in the responsible trading of alcohol.
In addition, all NOffLA members are monitored through spot checks on their businesses to ensure that they adhere to their commitment to Responsible Trading in the Community.
The Minister for Justice Dermot Ahern fulfilled a promise made by his predecessor, Brian Lenihan, that he would introduce measures to curb binge drinking and anti-social behaviour. Sadly, the Intoxicating Liquor Bill (June 2008) was amended under pressure from larger retailers.
Having been Minister for Children, Brian Lenihan was aware of the real need for legislative control over the sale of alcohol in Ireland. In a Department of Health and Children report, it was found that Irish 15-year-olds had the third-highest rate of binge-drinking and illicit drug use in a European schools survey.
Even if the current Minister for Justice heeds his predecessor’s wake-up call and implements the promised code of practice at this late stage, there is concern that, once again, it will not be as stringent as was originally intended. NOffLA Chairman, Jim McCabe, who was a member of the Government Alcohol Advisory Group (GAAG) that prompted the legislative changes, believes that “the code is likely to be a much less effective instrument than was intended by the legislation”.
Failure propagates alcohol abuse problem
The continued failure by Government to properly regulate the sale of alcohol in Ireland is maintaining the very environment criticised by the Government’s own advisory body.
In a recent letter to the Taoiseach, Jim McCabe said: “In the absence of this code major national and international multiple groups such as Tesco, Dunnes and the discounters are blatantly promoting bulk purchasing of cheap alcohol and thereby undermining the very task that the GAAG was charged with addressing. Bulk purchasing was identified by the GAAG as being at the heart of the nation’s alcohol abuse problem.”
The NOffLA Chairman also expressed concern about the narrow focus of the expected code. “The latest draft of the proposed code, as we understand it, makes no mention whatsoever about the issue of below cost selling and the need to address excessive purchasing of alcohol”.
Despite the acknowledged success of NOffLA’s Responsible Trading in the Community scheme, based on proper staff training, Jim McCabe believes that “the code also fails to deal adequately with the need to set specific standards for special training for staff charged with responsibility for selling alcohol.”
The expected code of practice must deal with all aspects of the sale of alcohol, including its advertising and promotion. The National Off-Licence Association is committed to Responsible Trading in the Community and calls on the Minister for Justice to show a similar commitment, urgently.
The NOffLA Chairman has been calling for genuine reform in this area for many years.
“What is urgently needed is action, not words. The Minister has been told by people who work day in, day out in this specialist area, what needs to be done in terms of pricing, availability and responsibility. It is time to get on with tackling the issue, rather than simply talking about it.”
If you have any queries regarding NOffLA membership or services, please contact our Administrator, Reggie Walsh, at Block D, Unit 6, Nutgrove Office Park, Rathfarnham, Dublin 14, by telephone on 01 – 296 2326, by fax on 01 – 296 2451 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. The NOffLA web site can be found at www.noffla.ie
Dates for your diary
10 – 13 Cheltenham Racing Festival
14 Scotland v Ireland, Murrayfield
17 St Patrick’s Day
21 Wales v Ireland, Millennium Stadium
22 AGM, Red Cow Hotel, Dublin
The association’s 16th Annual General Meeting will take place at the Red Cow Moran Hotel Business Centre on Wednesday 22 April at 7.30pm.
The future development of the association depends on the involvement of the council, which will be elected at the AGM. It is from these members that the association’s executive (which does much of the legwork of the association) is formed. In addition to shaping your organisation and having an impact on the future of this industry, your participation on council has benefits too. As members gather to discuss and plan, they all gain from the exchange of ideas from members around the country. In sharing knowledge and experience, the trade improves and so too do the individuals involved. NOffLA is your association, it influences your future. Make your voice count – get involved!