Alcohol Action Ireland today (9 March) published a research paper ‘Industry capture of political leadership’ as part of its contribution to the Global Alcohol Policy Conference, which is being held in Dublin Castle, over the coming three days (9-11 March).
The paper explores the development of alcohol policy in Ireland over the last decade, and highlights how corrosive an alliance of the alcohol industry and political interests was in hindering meaningful progress.
In particular, the paper researched the level of lobbying conducted by the alcohol industry during the year that the Public Health Alcohol Bill was debated in Dáil Éireann.
After a two-year delay in the Seanad, Dáil Éireann debated the proposed legislation throughout much of 2018. By then the ire of the alcohol industry was full blown and lobbying activity to stop, or delay, the legislation was being crafted by many interested parties including a range of public affairs consultancies, drinks and allied business representative groups as well as the domestic and global alcohol producers.
In 2018, when this legislation finally completed all stages, áil Éireann sat for only 108 days. In that short time, the alcohol industry gained access to the elected Members and principals of the political system on 361 occasions.
Examining the detail of who secured these meetings the research paper reveals there were:
- 8 alcohol producers including four of the top 10 global alcohol businesses,
- 4 Public Affairs consultancies including one international firm, and
- 14 were the Drinks, and Allied Businesses, representative groups including Retailers, Advertisers, Vintners and Tourism interests
Together these 26 entities registered 96 lobbying returns for 2018.
In examining the granular detail of these, the capacity of the alcohol industry to reach the principals of the political system, is truly remarkable and demonstrates the continuing ‘unhealthy alliance’ between an indifferent state and an ever-cunning industry, who left no stone uncovered!
In that one parliamentary year, the alcohol industry and its surrogates, gained influential time with:
- 8 Cabinet Ministers (there are only 14 Members the Cabinet)
- Had ‘one-to-one’ discussions with the Prime Minister’s Chief of Staff, the country’s top civil servant – the Head of Government, as well as the Government’s Chief Whip and Assistant Chief Whip.
- Held 36 separate engagements with Ministers of State, across all portfolios
- And had 12 meetings with ministerial Special Advisors across eight portfolios including Health,
- Met with individual Members of the Lower House (TDs) on 309 occasions, and to top it all
- On 17 separate occasions – practically once a week – communicated with each of the 158 Members of Parliament through letter and emails.
The onslaught of pressure on Irish parliamentarians to stall and/or amend the alcohol legislation was incessant and unrelenting.
Commenting on the paper, its author, Eunan McKinney, Head of Communications and Advocacy at Alcohol Action Ireland said:
“This has been the principal source of delay to enacting a framework for alcohol control and probably the reason, now, for the further delay in its implementation; 510 days on, Ireland still does not have minimum unit pricing for alcohol products, it still is not informing its citizens of the known risk between alcohol and fatal cancers, and it still is allowing alcohol brands pitch their chat-up lines to the nation’s children.”