Most people in this country would like to see our abuse of alcohol really tackled, especially amongst our more vulnerable groups and especially amongst teenagers.
So when Fergus Finlay, a man respected for his terrific work as CEO of Barnardo’s and as a great commentator in his weekly Examiner newspaper column, took on the lead role in the the Stop Out Of Control Drinking campaign, most people thought, yes, this is a good start, with real leadership from a person with good standing and great communications skills.
Except it wasn’t, because in no time we discovered a major flaw in the campaign: who was behind it. It was a surprise to most people that the expert media commentator and former Labour Party spin supremo didn’t see that weakness from the start: the Diageo funding.
You can’t run an anti-alcohol campaign with funding from one of the biggest alcohol companies in Ireland. Irish people are not that gullible. So the impressive coalition that was the campaign began to fall apart, and still Fergus Finlay keeps defending it.
Today, the CEO of Diageo, David Smith, announced he’s to step down from the board of the campaign, but the funding will remain. Another public blow. Another media relations disaster.
Already, the TV doctor Ciara Kelly has resigned from the group, having called on Diageo to leave the board on RTE Radio’s Claire Byrne programme. Over 50 other groups and individuals, including the Union of Students in Ireland, Dr Mick Loftus, and comedian Des Bishop, have stated there is an “inherent conflict” in Diageo funding the campaign.
The lesson? People are more cynical now than ever before. They want real transparency when they are asked to support a cause. And this is a really important cause to support. What makes it worse, for Finlay in particular, is that his and his colleagues’ reputations are being damaged by this controversy.
There is huge public support for some real initiatives that will tackle the issue of alcohol abuse in Irish society. It is a real disgrace that the Government – Fine Gael in particular – did not have the gumption to ban alcohol sponsorship of sport and entertainment-related events.
Meanwhile, it is left to doctors, parents and groups that don’t have massive funding to continue the campaign for a more moderate and mature approach to alcohol consumption in Ireland.