What I am saying today, to my colleagues in both Fine Gael and Labour, is that this Government must hold tight to the pressure and continue to push ahead with this alcohol legislation, as it is both long overdue and urgently needed.
I am proud of the commitment we have made with regard to the minimum pricing of alcohol, and one aspect which has been overlooked is the co-operative aspect with Northern Ireland. Most radio programmes discussing this seem to have missed this point, but it’s an important one: The Minister said there was an agreement with Northern Ireland that similar measures would be introduced at the same time so that a cross-Border trade in cheap alcohol would not develop. This vital part has been overlooked in much of the commentary on the issue, and I believe it’s an important element of what is a well thought out piece of this strategy.
Other elements of the Bill are provisions to prevent the sale of very cheap alcohol; health labelling and warnings, including calorie counts; powers for environmental health officers to enforce the separation of alcohol within stores and to police minimum unit pricing; legal regulation of sports sponsorship; and restrictions on the advertising and marketing of alcohol, including a broadcast watershed.
It will also be illegal to market alcohol in a manner that is appealing to children. I have, at one stage or another, called in this Chamber for every single one of these things to be implemented and I am glad to see the Government taking action.
The tabloids will report this as “the end of cheap drink”, but the reality is that this is simply a package of mechanisms – including calorie counts, restrictions on advertising, and more – that ensures people treat alcohol responsibly. I know, as with the legislation on plain packaging of tobacco, that the lobbyists are going to pile pressure on our backbenchers in the coming weeks – especially ahead of an election – but I urge them to hold the line and support these actions, as they are badly needed.