A LABOUR DEPUTY has claimed that powerful lobbying groups from the drinks industry were successful in getting a decision on alcohol sponsorship in sport indefinitely delayed.
Labour TD Eamonn Maloney was part of the The Oireachtas Transport and Communications Committee that, last year, looked at the issue of alcohol companies sponsoring sporting events. The Dublin South representative believes alcohol is a protected species as ‘the national drug’ but admits he is a user.
Deputy Maloney told TheScore.ie, “The committee decided, with one dissenting voice — my own, and more or less came out in favour of the status quo; to leave it where it is for the moment.” During the discussions at Leinster House last year, Fine Gael TD Tom Hayes, the committee chairman, highlighted that the FAI and IRFU had a heavy dependence on alcohol sponsorship.
Deputy Maloney said, “A lot of [the other committee members] felt that if the alcohol industry pulled the money from the main sporting bodies that they would not be in a position to recoup it elsewhere, and that the state wasn’t in a position to fund them. I don’t agree with that position because the drinks industry, because of the financial resources they have, are able to prevent other brands [from sponsoring] and are able to out-bid.”
He believes it is ‘a complete contradiction’ for the State to ask people to drink responsibly and spend millions on health campaigns while ‘turning a blind eye’ to the alcohol industry putting its name to major sporting events. Deputy Maloney argues that the principal reason why the alcohol industry sponsors national events is “status” and to fuel ‘the perception that alcohol is not that bad’. He said:
The fact that one person in Ireland dies every seven hours from alcohol-related issues is ignored. The State should do something about the fact that alcohol-related crime, the health service, policing, the courts service, costs the taxpayer €3.4bn a year. A year. What could a government do with €3.4bn?
“I acknowledge that’s not going to change overnight but if some politicians were brought, some Friday night, into an A&E in a hospital or a Garda station and see what members of An Garda Síochána have to put up with… ”
Deputy Maloney (right) pictured campaigning with Labour Party Eamon Gilmore at The Square Shopping Centre, Tallaght in 2011. Photo:Leon Farrell/Photocall Ireland
Deputy Maloney believes ‘very powerful’ lobbying groups from the drinks industry were a key factor in the committee’s decision to revisit the sponsorship issue at a later date. “The drinks industry can get someone to speak to a colleague of yours in the same party, which is what happened to me — they didn’t come to me directly. [The colleague] comes to you and says ‘What are you on about, this thing about taking away sponsorship?’ It’s only because they’ve been got to themselves.”
He continued, “The drinks industry always wants to shy away from the fact that alcohol is a drug. They don’t like the use of that [link]. But alcohol is a drug. Medically, it is indisputable. It’s a drug but the drinks industry don’t want it classed as such. It’s often called the national drug. There are a collection of other drugs out there but the only problem is alcohol is a legal drug.”
Deputy Maloney did not rule out the possibility that a future sponsorship ban on sporting events could see the drinks industry train its sights on high-profile, sporting individuals. He remarked:
I think there is something distasteful about sportspeople promoting a drug. If we decide to legalise cannabis, I can’t see too many great footballers coming on your television promoting it and saying ‘Buy this type of hash’. There would be an outcry.
“But a guy comes out with a can or a glass of whatever it might be; that’s [seen as] a completely different thing. It sends out a message, especially to young people, that alcohol is cool. It’s not. As a lifelong drinker myself, I enjoy it. I’m a user. People ask me if I don’t drink myself. I do; I’ve been drinking all my life. I enjoy it but I’m not blind to what it does around me.”
in response to Deputy Maloney’s assertions, Kathryn D’Arcy, director of the Alcohol Beverage Federation of Ireland, commented, “The Irish drinks industry is proud of the quality products that we make and believes that their moderate consumption is entirely compatible with a healthy lifestyle. A minority of people in this country abuse alcohol — by binge drinking or drinking to excess — and the industry fully agrees this needs to be addressed.
She added, “An evidence-based approach to alcohol misuse is required, and the industry welcomes an opportunity to engage with all stakeholders to identify such an approach. There is no clear link between sponsorship and alcohol misuse.
“In order to tackle the root causes of alcohol misuse and to effect long-term cultural change, a collaborative approach is required. This requires impactful information and education campaigns in addition to effective enforcement. A truly collaborate approach with all stakeholders working together is the key to affecting genuine societal change.”
Deputy Maloney concluded, “Historically, politicians have run away from this issue. That’s why I think it’s so bad. People pop up and talk about binge drinking and how horrible it is — ‘Isn’t it dreadful, this binge drinking? We have to talk to these young people’. But there’s always been binge drinking. Kids now are only doing what my generation did — drink a lot. It just has a different name.”