Alcohol reforms will create trade barriers - warning

Colin Neill, CEO Hospitality Ulster, with Jarlath Watson, finance director Echlinville Distillery
Colin Neill, CEO Hospitality Ulster, with Jarlath Watson, finance director Echlinville Distillery

Changes in Irish alcohol labelling law will create cross-border barriers for the drinks trade, the industry has warned.

Reforms include proposals for mandatory cancer warnings and a requirement that health information takes up at least one third of the label.

The Ireland Public Health (Alcohol) Bill, which is currently before the Dail, would require businesses to produce bespoke descriptions for alcohol products sold in the Republic.

Hospitality Ulster chief executive Colin Neill said: “The Republic of Ireland is the key export market for the majority of Northern Ireland’s alcohol producers.

“If the Irish Government introduces this particular element of its planned legislation, it would represent a significant impediment to the growth of those businesses, including a number of craft distillers.

“With the challenges that Brexit has created and the commitment to regulatory alignment in key areas, it is incumbent on all parties to ensure that they do not create new barriers to trade on the island of Ireland.”

He urged the Irish Government, the UK and the EU to ensure that policy introduced now and in future does not affect the free movement of goods across the island.

The province has seen a resurgence in the number of microbrewers and craft distillers in recent years and around 40 could be hit by legislation the industry said will impose a significant financial burden by creating new barriers to trade on the island.

Co Down-based Echlinville Distillery, a producer of gin and whiskey, is concerned about the proposals.

“Our exports south of the border have played a major role in that success with our bottling, packaging and labelling systems being streamlined across all our markets and based on the long-standing premise that regulatory requirements within the EU will be aligned,” said finance director Jarlath Watson.

“The implementation of the Irish Government’s planned legislation would require us to deliver a major upheaval to our production systems costing time and money, reducing our margins within a key export market and putting future job creation at risk.

“In short, it will create an unnecessary barrier to trade at a time of considerable uncertainty.”