Why is the HSE calling around to shops over alcohol pricing?

Here’s a funny question for you; what exactly is the HSE?

That seems like a silly thing to ask, I know. “The Health Service Executive,” you say. “Ireland’s public healthcare system. Duh.”

Of course, if you consult the HSE’s “About Us” tab on their website, they say that “The HSE provides all of Ireland’s public health services in hospitals and communities across the country.”

Which seems straightforward enough on paper. They run public health services in Irish hospitals – it’s not rocket surgery.

But with that in mind, why then do HSE officials seem confused about their own function and jurisdiction?

As reported by CorkBeo this week:

“A West Cork shop owner has had to call last orders on a very cheeky beer promotion after getting a visit from HSE officials earlier today.

Colm O’Sullivan of Sam’s Gala store in Dunmanway made national – and international headlines – when he came up with what seemed like a genius way around the Minimum Unit Pricing laws that have seen the price of a slab of cans double in the past week.

As CorkBeo was first to report, Colm hit on the idea of a special offer whereby anybody who bought 24 plastic glasses would get a ‘credit note’ worth €47.34 – coincidentally enough, the exact price of a slab of beer in his store.

However, shortly after that, Colm got a visit from HSE officials, who advised him, he says, that the promotion was ‘breaking the spirit of the law’ which has been framed as a way to reduce harmful drinking.”

Now, we’ll put aside for a moment the merits of the minimum unit pricing thing – I’ve spoken at length about how I believe it’s mad, but love it or hate it, the policy is now in place and we have to accept as much.

What’s much more interesting is the HSE’s reaction to this guy and his clever financial maneuvering.

Keeping in mind that the HSE’s job is to run hospitals, it’s a little unusual that they would be calling around to private businesses to scold them about compliance with the law, isn’t it?

I mean, what’s next? Getting a knock on the door from An Post because you wrote an ethically questionable letter? That’s not their function or job – they are stepping outside their jurisdiction massively.

More importantly, when have you ever, in your life, heard of someone getting a visit from the State because they broke the “spirit” of a law?

There’s only one question that actually matters here: Did he break the law or not? If he did something illegal, then the Gardaí or the courts should intervene. If he didn’t, then why exactly are officials from the local hospital bothering this man?

The purpose of tax law is to take a certain portion of your income. But if you consult an accountant and manage to pay less legally, are you going to get a visit from Revenue for breaking the “spirit” of Irish tax law? Hardly.

If the government left openings for loopholes in the law due to insufficient legislative scrutiny, and people take advantage of it, that’s the fault of the politicians who signed off on a poorly worded law – not the business owner. If the HSE has an issue with the shop’s alcohol policy, they should take it up with the government for doing a sloppy job as legislators.

There’s a bizarre trend emerging in Ireland since the start of the Covid panic, and that’s a scenario where unelected medical officials and advisors have begun to almost eclipse the government in their role.

Just 2 weeks ago, we heard the following headline: “HSE considers ban on sale of tobacco in State.”

Now, you might agree or disagree with such a measure. But either way, who are the HSE to make such calls? Since when are the HSE in the business of legislating and setting the policy agenda for the country? What ballot paper did figures like Paul Reid appear on in an Irish election?

During the 2021 byelection, Fianna Fáil candidate Deirdre Conroy essentially admitted on Virgin Media that the government just rubber stamps orders from NPHET when it comes to their covid response.

State just follows orders from NPHET, admits FF candidate

“You seem to imply there that you regard NPHET as making the decisions,” Matt Cooper said to her.

“That effectively the government rubber stamps the recommendations of NPHET. Is that the correct way of going about things?”

Conroy appeared flustered.

“Well, they are the experts,” she said.

“The government will then be in communication and participation with them, but definitely, yes, that is the expert advice on healthcare, especially to do with Covid.”

Around the same time, Tánaiste Leo Varadkar asked NPHET to consider a phased return to offices in August.

Why does the elected Tánaiste have to ask the permission of an advisory group before making a decision he believes is necessary for the good of the country? Why are the HSE and NPHET effectively taking over the government’s role?

These medical officials and advisors have gotten much too big for their boots. If the government wants to save itself some embarrassment, it would do well to put them back in their box and remind them who is in charge here.




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