‘The Drinks Industry Can Turn Nasty When You’re Not On Message With Them’


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Last night, Fergus Finlay, chairman of the the Stop Out-of-Control Drinking campaign – which is being funded by drinks company Diageo – was on Prime Time with Senator Jillian Van Turnout, a member of the Oireachtas Committee on Health and Children, to discuss the issues around a drinks company funding a campaign to curb problem drinking.

Here’s what was said..

Jillian Turnout: “My difficulty is that we actually have plenty of reports in Ireland, you know, on what we need to do and we need to get about doing it. And that’s why I wonder why this organisation and grouping is about. We have this Strategic Task Force and Alcohol Report from 2002, the Substance Misuse Strategy Group which the drinks industry frustrated, delayed, tried to stop that report coming out. And eventually the report came out in 2012, what does the drinks industry do? Produce a minority report. The Public Health Alcohol Bill is now on the table, I want to see that into legislation. That’s about pricing, that’s about availability..”

Fergus Finlay: “So do I, so do I, Gillian, so do we.”

Van Turnout: “But the reality is Diageo in Scotland are taking the Scottish government to court over minimum pricing. So, my belief is, with this campaign, which Diageo initiated, they’ve funded, they’re sitting on the board of it. My belief is, it’s great because Diageo can say, when minimum pricing comes in, but we’re trying to do this great thing, let us do this.”

Miriam O’Callaghan: “OK, let Fergus come in. And the Scottish point, they are part of that class action.”

Finlay: “So I believe, I don’t know how long that is going on. They have, you know, I hold no truck with them, I don’t support it, I am totally in favour, as is our campaign of the alcohol bill that Leo Varadkar produced. And I’ve said that, I’m on record as saying that.”

Van Turnout: “Not everybody on your board is in favour of it. Because Diageo are on the board of the campaign, Fergus, that’s…”

Finlay: “One vote in 12, if we ever have a vote, Jillian.”

Van Turnout: “Yes, but they hold the purse strings.”

Finlay: “Look, Jillian, we are a group of independent people.”

Van Turnout: “I have no doubt. But get behind the campaign, get behind the public…”

Finlay: “Well, I’m not sure you’ve no doubt, I’m not sure you’ve no doubt.”

Van Turnout: “I do, Fergus. I’ve never questioned that but get behind the public health experts. We see the Royal College of Physicians in Ireland today, the alcohol…”

Finlay: “You see the problem, there is a particular problem and, with the best will in the world,  with all the activists, all the campaigns, all the things that we’ve been involved in now down through the years haven’t cracked this problem.”

Van Turnout: “Has got us to the stage of this bill. This bill will make the difference, we’ve got there.

Finlay: “We haven’t cracked the problem of  out of control drinking and this bill won’t do it on its own.”

O’Callaghan: “People would say… the Out of Control Drinking, it’s almost the result of out- of-control marketing, as somebody said to me today. And what the drinks industry, maybe, is trying to do is make it look like it’s not their responsibility what’s happened. In fact, it’s the responsibility of a couple of crazy out-of-control drinkers. Nothing to do with them.”

Finlay: “You see, what we’re doing, what we’re doing, I’ve just come from a public meeting. A hundred ordinary people gathered in a room, full of ideas…”

O’Callaghan: “Well intentioned, I don’t doubt that.”

Van Turnout: “Absolutely.”

Finlay: “Stop being so patronising. They are decent, ordinary people…”

O’Callaghan: “They’re being funded by Diageo.”

Finlay: “They’re not being funded by anybody. The people who came up to that meeting tonight are ordinary members of the public and they came up, full of ideas about how we can change this. We’re going to produce a plan. And I really, really…”

Van Turnout: “But we’ve plenty of plans.”

O’Callaghan: “Just let him say this and I’ll bring you back in.”

Finlay: “I really think it’s kind of unfair, at this stage, to be rushing to judgement, before anybody sees the plan.  We want to produce a plan that will challenge people, challenge Government, challenge the industry, challenge all of us, to do something once and for all, about a problem that is destroying Ireland.”

O’Callaghan: “Can I just say there is irrefutable, scientific evidence that upping the price of alcohol reduces consumption. Diageo and the drinks industry are against that?”

Finlay: “There’s irrefutable evidence aswell…”

Van Turnout: “Maybe I could have an opportunity to speak…”

Finlay: “Sorry. Yes, of course.”

Van Turnout: “My difficulty is, Fergus, that we already have plenty of reports. My experience is that the drinks industry love us to have reports and to discuss about having reports because then they can delay and stop us actually taking action – where we should be putting all our energies and resources. My difficulty with the campaign is that the credibility, the reputations of the organisation are a smokescreen. And I really believe, we, as civil society, should be getting behind public health experts.”

O’Callaghan: “Should you give him the benefit of the doubt?”

Van Turnout: “Well, I’d love to be doing that and maybe, Miriam, I would have done that 10 years ago but I’ve written two European reports on alcohol-related harm. And, at the first stage, the drinks industry met with me. They were charming, they said all the right things, they said everything. When I started producing the reports, based on evidence, they changed their tactics, they personally tried to undermine me, the organisation I worked for, the European Economic Social Committee, they can turn nasty, very, very quickly when you’re not on message with them.”

O’Callaghan: “Ok, let Fergus come back on that.”

Finlay: “We’re going to be on message with the people of Ireland and we’re going to be on message with our own campaign. Do you know, Gillian? The thing I’ve always admired most about you, when you left an independent job to become a Senator, you vowed that, notwithstanding taking a Senate seat from Fine Gael, that you would retain your independence and you’ve done it. You’ve been absolutely independent and honest and open and I utterly respect that. And I think you have to respect the independence of people, many of whom you know and worked with, who are sitting…”

Van Turnout: “I do and I love your energy behind the public health professionals, the doctors, the practitioners, they’re the people…”

Finlay: “Our energy is behind anything that will work…”

Van Turnout: “They’re the people, they’re not in that campaign, the doctors, the practitioners.”

Talk over each other

O’Callaghan: “Whoever pays the piper plays the tune, don’t they?”

Finlay: “Well, let’s see, Miriam, let’s see.”

O’Callaghan: “Do they talk to you at all about this controversy? About what you should say? Have you had any discussions with Diageo?”

Finlay: “I had discussions at the very start with Diageo. I said we’ll…”

O’Callaghan: “During the current controversy?”

Finlay: “We’ll do this campaign, we’ll do this campaign on the basis of a guarantee, an absolute guarantee of independence and no interference. I’ll be honest with you. I’m not going to apologise to anybody for spending as much of Diageo’s money as I possibly can with my colleagues, to try and reduce the harmful effects of alcohol abuse.”

O’Callaghan: “But have they talked to you, Fergus, about this controversy that’s going on right now.”

Finlay: “Which controversy?”

O’Callaghan: “The fact that people, like Jillian and a number of people have written letters..”

Finlay: “No, no.”

O’Callaghan: “They haven’t.”

Finlay: “No.”

O’Callaghan: “Ok.”

Finlay: “No, they’ve they haven’t…I mean, you know, I’m working around the clock with my day job and this…”

Van Turnout: “Yeah, but it’s interesting that Diageo won’t provide a spokesperson to be on any of the programmes that I’ve been on. They won’t provide somebody…”

Finlay: “You’ve been attacking the campaign and I’ve been trying to defend that campaign.”

Van Turnout: “Attacking the involvement of Diageo in a public health campaign.”

O’Callaghan: “Thank you for coming in. Fergus Finlay, I appreciate you coming in too.”

Listen back in full here

30 thoughts on “‘The Drinks Industry Can Turn Nasty When You’re Not On Message With Them’

  1. bisted

    …here Fergus…whatever Diageo are paying you it’s not enough…but then you’ll have already told them that..

  2. Mr. T.

    I can’t stand the phrase “have no truck with”.

    It’s the least Irish way of expressing that sentiment.

    1. Tony

      I’d be havin’ divil a bit a’ thruck wit dat class of oul’ Sassanach blether, sorr, to be sure

  3. Bernard

    I’ve absolutely no idea what that conversation was about.

    Is the issue not that the minimum price of cans and wine will drive out the non-diageo brands of beer and wine and create a monopoly for the diageo brands that are already above that price and well marketed?

    1. Bobby

      No it’s Diageo funding and being on the Board of a group campaigning against drinking to access. People are pointing out the conflict of interest, and the group are trying to make it sound like these people are complaining about the goals of the group.

  4. SOMK

    “Stop being so patronising. They are decent, ordinary people…” Early front runner for unintentionally ironic sentence of the year!

    “We want to produce a plan that will challenge people, challenge Government, challenge the industry, challenge all of us, to do something once and for all, about a problem that is destroying Ireland.”

    Doesn’t he mean ‘change’? He’s on national television, he doesn’t need a plan to ‘challenge’ people, complete the sentence, “I challenge the government, people and drinks industry to __________ before the end of the year”, maybe he doesn’t have any ideas and they should put one of those fantastic ordinary people full of plans in charge instead? I’ve never met an ordinary person “full of plans” in my life, so it would be really interesting to see one on television!

    1. donkey_kong

      F them all – i want cheap booze.

      In fairness the government wants cheap booze too – with the theft of people’s salaries with USC, VAT, Property tax , water charges etc… without booze to placate them the proles will revolt.

  5. ReproBertie

    What cut does the government get from minimum pricing? If they are adding 50c (let’s say) to every can of lager then where does that 50c go? The government, the retailer or the bewery? If the retailer and brewery are getting the 50c then the government are bringing in a law forcing consumers to increase retailers profits on a whimsy. If it’s to the government then is it not just an extra tax in which case why not just increase the duty and be done with it.

    1. edalicious

      I would also be fairly wary of the minimum pricing being brought in to benefit the Vintners Assoc. More expensive offy prices will mean that people will be more likely to head to the pub. And god knows there has been a history of legislation being brought in in this country under the guise of “health benefits” when in reality it’s just a way to encourage people to go to the pub rather than drink at home.

  6. ahjayzis

    “Can I just say there is irrefutable, scientific evidence that upping the price of alcohol reduces consumption. Diageo and the drinks industry are against that?”

    Outright banning poor people from drinking would reduce consumption too – wouldn’t stop excessive drinking though.

    Such a monumentally dim argument, from the people who brought you the idea of “That your third pint? You’re officially on a drinking binge”

    Upping the price, so a broke couple can’t enjoy a bottle of wine or a few cans at home on a Saturday night will reduce consumption alright – but it’s not targeted, it discriminates against lower incomes and it’s the bluntest of blunted instruments.

    1. Spartacus


      Mandatory minimum pricing won’t cause the problem drinkers to moderate their intake.

      “O’Callaghan: “Can I just say there is irrefutable, scientific evidence that upping the price of alcohol reduces consumption.” I call that horseshit.

        1. Spartacus

          You appear to be better read, care to share?

          p.s. Did you know that the *cheapest* budget supermarket alcohol brands in Ireland aready costs more than the proposed minimum prices in Scotland? Or that the current price of a very average beer or bottle of wine from an Irish off-licence is significantly more expensive than the £1.10 per unit cited as the upper threshold for “low risk drinkers” by the Royal College of Physicians?

          If it looks like horseshite, and it smells like horseshite…

          1. Don Pidgeoni

            They invented this thing called Google, whereby you can find out all kinds of things you didn’t know before like the current evidence for minimum pricing. You should try it, it’s amazing!

  7. Anomanomanom

    All the nonsense about binge drinking is exactly that nonsense. Leo is a mupett plain and simple. Easy to raise the price of alcohol which is the only cheap enjoyment some people can afford after working all week. It’s just to try force people to make their mates(publicans) rich when. Easy when the tax payers pay for your enjoyment. If Leo ever knocks on my door canvassing he’ll regret it (not that he would stoop so low to canvas)

  8. Clampers Outside!

    WHO says Diageo should have nothing to do with that campaign, that’s good enough for me. Let them jkust hand over the money to a truly independent body if they are serious about it…. otherwise it’s just tepid PR bullcrap.

  9. dylad

    I heard the radio spot for ‘Stop Out-of-Control Drinking’. Sounded a bit iffy, now I know why.

  10. mthead

    I doubt the “out of control” drinking is anything like the stuff seen at rugby games, middle and upwards class stags and hens, and official functions such as retirements and such, it’s all that drinking in bars that are near betting shops, people wearing tracksuits, people who call their kids “you” when addressing them.

  11. TransOpTrans

    Fergus Finlay. Jesus, if ever there was a more odious, portentous creep, let us know. And this Lord of Self-entitlement and Opinion is looking for the Labour nomination for Pres next time out. He has blood on his hands.

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