The Global Alcohol Policy Alliance (GAPA) will take place in Dublin Castle next month with the aims of providing an opportunity for government ministries and agencies to participate and exchange knowledge. However, drinks industry representatives have accused the organisers of excluding them from the event.

The introduction of the Public Health (Alcohol) Act 2018 aimed at reducing alcohol consumption was the motivation for bringing the GAPA conference to Ireland. The new regulations that clamp down on alcohol promotion, means that speakers will primarily include health advocates, physicians, researchers and child protection specialists. The act includes restrictions on alcohol advertising, minimum pricing per unit of alcohol, the introduction of cancer warning labels, and the separation of alcoholic products from retail areas inside shops.

According to chairwoman Sally Casswell, GAPA’s goal “is to build a constituency of advocates, from civil society organisations and academics, and increase their understanding of the factors driving alcohol harm globally and regionally, and the possible ways forward to reduce that harm”.

However, the failure to invite the drinks industry is proving controversial.

“We welcome open dialogue, discussion and debate about tackling alcohol misuse and underage drinking”, said Patricia Callan, Director of Drinks Ireland. “It’s important that all relevant stakeholders, including the drinks industry, are part of developing solutions to both. We have concerns that industry stakeholders will not be part of the discussion, which means the discussion is likely to be unbalanced.”

Patrick Rigney, founder of The Shed Distillery in Drumshanbo, Co Leitrim, said he would be “concerned with any group, no matter how well intended, who wouldn’t engage with the industry”, reports The Sunday Times. “We’re a small producer. We’re proud of what we do. We sell our brands around the world. We comply with all the laws. I would be concerned about any organisation trying to censor or discriminate against people like us, who have legitimate products.”

Suzanne Costello, Chief Executive of the Institute of Public Health in Ireland, and a former campaigner for Alcohol Action Ireland (AAI), is among speakers at the event. “We are taking strong measures to address alcohol-related harm and that has attracted attention”, she said.

In a 2019 pre-budget submission, AAI stated that Ireland’s consumption of alcohol is 80% above the global average. Callan, however, claims that the average per adult alcohol consumption has fallen by 23.2% in Ireland, according to the Central Statistics Office.

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