Home > Seanad Eireann debate. Register of Lobbyists Legislation: Motion (Continued).

[Oireachtas] Seanad Eireann debate. Register of Lobbyists Legislation: Motion (Continued). (26 Jun 2013)

External website: https://www.oireachtas.ie/en/debates/debate/seanad...

….[Senator John Crown] There is, I hope, a cultural lesson in this for the Taoiseach and the Ministers in question for whom, as individuals, parliamentarians and leaders of Government I have a lot of respect. I hope they understand that on this occasion they made a colossal blunder and that they never do it again. I hope it will inspire some degree of soul searching within the higher levels of Government and an understanding that the only interaction we should ever have with the tobacco industry is in the context of trying to put it out of business. The Government should not be trying to save any part of the tobacco industry's business. It should not be trying to save the domestic aspect of the business at the expense of the illegal importation part of it. While the Government might wish to save the retailers, it should be trying to get them to stop selling tobacco. Although we do not deal much with money issues in this House and are above all of that, being more cerebral creatures, perhaps one of the ways we could do this is through incentives like exemptions from or reductions in VAT for shops, pubs or clubs that make a commitment not to allow tobacco commerce to take place on their premises. That would be a wonderful incentive for those who, while making most of their money from selling newspapers or coffee, might be wondering at night how many people's lung cancer they have contributed to by selling cigarettes. This is the reality. People who sell cigarettes are drug dealers, pure and simple. Tobacco contains drugs and those drugs are for sale. If one sells something, one is a dealer. People who make cigarettes are drug manufacturers and people who import them are drug runners. These are legal activities but that is what they are. The only interaction we should ever have with the industry is to say "No more". That is why I hope that in the area of tobacco specifically, there would be an absolute zero tolerance policy. Members of this Parliament should never meet representatives of the industry. If the shopkeepers want to come in here to talk about tobacco smuggling in Border areas, we should say "No". If the manufacturers want to come in here to talk about trading conditions, we should say "No". We should be telling them that we want them out of the business, pure and simple. There should be no compromise on this. Another issue that arises is alcohol. I believe we have little successful lobbying by the tobacco industry in this country. Most people are smart enough not to engage. The Minister for Health, Deputy Reilly, to his great credit, has, as in so many other areas related to tobacco policy, taken the high road on this and his actions have been right. However, the situation regarding alcohol is somewhat different, I am afraid. We are much softer on alcohol.

I know I am going to lose one or two friends when I say this but what other parliament in the world has three lots of drug dealers acting as nominating bodies? None, but we have. The Licensed Vintners Association, the Vintners Federation of Ireland and the National Off-Licence Association are all nominating bodies for Seanad Éireann. While I am not advocating making the sale of alcohol illegal, we must recognise the facts. The national consumption of alcohol from the 1960s to the height of the so-called Celtic tiger - which according to the Taoiseach was caused by Seanad Éireann - went up four or five-fold, from approximately three or four litres to a maximum of 17 litres of pure alcohol per citizen per year. Consumption has reduced a little since then because of the contraction in the economy but our consumption is still colossally high by comparison with the 1960s. As a result, we are seeing, as my good friend and colleague, Professor Frank Murray, has pointed out, a colossal increase in alcoholic liver disease. Many things would improve if we all stopped drinking, although I am not saying we should stop. Nor am I saying we should make it illegal and mea culpa, I like a drink as much as the next person. However, if we all stopped drinking, we would see decreases in liver disease and cancers of the liver, head, neck, oesophagus, pancreas and colon, as well as decreases in levels of violence, domestic violence and rape. We would also have a smaller prison population. We would have an increase in the availability of domestic discretionary funds for feeding, clothing and educating our children. We would have an end to waiting lists in our health service. In terms of public policy, our attitude to the alcohol trade should be: "We need your business to be doing less well than it is." We should not be doing anything to protect alcohol sales. We want sales to drop and for business conditions for the alcohol industry to be more challenging in the future. We should be saying: "Sorry about that, but that is the deal." We need to get back down to consumption levels of two to four litres of alcohol per person. We need to get back to where we once were, with consumption more evenly spread.

On the issue of lobbyists, I have had a great deal of contact with the pharmaceutical sector over the years. I am sure I have taken and will take more credit for it. However, a simple rule of thumb I have applied since coming into this House is to tell the industry that I will not deal with its lobbyists. I insist that if the industry has clinical data to present, it should sent a medical director in to make a doctor to doctor medical presentation to me. I have no interest in meeting public relations companies. However, that shoe fits both feet. This Government and every previous one, as well as every Department, is spending tens of millions of euro of public money on PR contracts which are, essentially, for reverse lobbying. The Government is lobbying the people to tell them how great it is. We should have zero PR contracts in the public service. Every public servant should be prepared to speak for her or his own track record. Every senior public servant, on a rotating basis, should make one hour available once a month to do press conferences and press briefings. We need to get rid of all of the PR companies. We do not need to have press secretaries plus communications company contracts plus corporate affairs departments. The National Cancer Control Programme does not need to bring two PR experts every time its chairperson addresses a meeting. We do not need a PR team of six to eight people in HIQA. We do not need to have separate PR contracts in every hospital. If we are going to make truly open and transparent Government, we need to get rid of the lobbying on both sides.


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