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On a sunny Saturday afternoon, car-free Capel Street bustles with people shopping, eating or enjoying a coffee or a drink in the sun.
On the street in front of Fusciardi’s Italian restaurant, a few people are sitting at a table under a small red and white umbrella that says Birra Moretti.
Outside The Boar’s Head, large black Guinness umbrellas, with the trademark gold harp, stick out of Guinness-branded barrels.
At McNeill’s pub, the same giant black Guinness umbrellas are not yet unfurled. The tables advertise Jameson whiskey.
Hugh Hourican, owner of The Boar’s Head pub says that the drink suppliers provide this street furniture at a discount.
While he understands what they are doing, he hopes all the businesses on Capel Street will move to matching street furniture eventually, he says. “Presentation is everything.”
He is likely to find allies among local councillors, several of whom last week queried whether the council can restrict alcohol branding on the wind barriers and umbrellas and tables set up outside pubs and restaurants.
“Is there any way that we can move towards rules about alcohol advertising – particularly on umbrellas and windbreakers?” said Social Democrats Councillor Cat O’Driscoll, at a meeting of the Central Area Committee on 9 May.
Sheila Gilheany, CEO of Alcohol Action Ireland, says alcohol adverts on the street are particularly challenging for people in recovery because, unlike TV or radio ads, you can’t switch them off. “It’s literally your environment.”
On-street advertising normalises alcohol use for children too, says Gilheany.
Hourican says some of the drinks suppliers provide very high-quality street furniture, but others provide stuff that doesn’t look so well.
The council has changed the face of pubs and restaurants in the city by smoothing the way for on-street dining, he says.
“Dublin City Council have been very, very supportive to us,” says Hourican. “They came and they met us and they said about the branding. I can understand their point of view.”
The council has plans to revamp Capel Street in phases, which should eventually mean that the street furniture there will all be matching.
Lots of businesses support that, says Hourican. Prince’s Street in Cork shows how good that can look, he says.
At the Central Area Committee meeting, O’Driscoll said she would like plain street furniture across the city without drinks branding. “Something that is a bit less in-your-face.”
Said Green Party Councillor Janet Horner: “It would be great if we were moving towards something more uniform. In many cases, it looks a little cheap and a little tacky.”
Labour Councillor Joe Costello said he too would like to see controls around alcohol branding on street furniture. Maybe improvements to signage on shop fronts too, he said.
Dublin City Council is going to carry out a review of how the expansion of on-street dining is working throughout the city, said Frank Lambe, senior executive officer with Dublin City Council, at the meeting.
“I think we all appreciate the value,” said Lambe. “What on-street dining – if it’s done well – can bring to the city.”
The council wants to achieve a balance between supporting on-street dining and protecting public space, he said.
As part of the review the council will look at the issue of drinks branding on street furniture, he said.
“The furniture, in the main, is being provided free of charge to the hospitality industry by the drinks industry,” he said. “On the basis of the advertising.”
The council hopes to assist hospitality businesses to explore other options for high-quality street furniture instead, said Lambe.
“We’ve met with the drinks industry on a couple of occasions and made it very clear to them that the state of some of our streets from an alcohol advertising point of view is not acceptable,” he said.
Alcohol advertising is not allowed within 200 metres of a school, childcare facility or public playground, says a spokesperson for the Department of Health. It is also not allowed at sports events for kids.
In the future, there will be further restrictions, and alcohol ads will have to include warnings of the health risks, said the spokesperson.
It’s not clear how that will relate to the likes of branded umbrellas or other street furniture.
The umbrellas are a form of advertising, says Gilheany, and Alcohol Action Ireland would like to see them restricted. “Outdoor advertising is a very powerful marketing tool.”
“It exposes children to alcohol advertising and very much normalises the experience of alcohol as being an everyday item in their lives,” she says. Research indicates clearly that children who are exposed to alcohol ads may start drinking younger, she says.
The issue of on-street advertising was flagged by people in recovery in a recent report by Alcohol Focus Scotland, says Gilheany.
“From the start of the day when I’m at the bus stop, it’s there on the billboards as I get from A to B, it’s in the shops, most of them – it’s everywhere,” said one person in recovery who spoke to the researchers.