Royal row for Diageo as top Irish lawyer slams Guinness 'PR coup'

By Ben BOUCKLEY contact

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Guinness

Picture Credit: Esther1616/Flickr
Picture Credit: Esther1616/Flickr
The director general (DG) of the Law Society of Ireland has reportedly said that the Irish government should stop foreign dignitaries like Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip from being pictured with a pint of Guinness, branding it the ‘greatest PR coup ever’ for Diageo.

Speaking against the backdrop of arguments for and against a possible ban on alcohol advertising in Ireland, Ken Murphy told national newspaper Irish Independent​: “One political thing that could be done in relation to Diageo is the next time a head of state comes, they should not be photographed for the world’s media in the greatest PR coup ever”.

“Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip at 10am in the morning had to stand and admire a pint of Guinness,”​ Murphy added. Diageo was unavailable for comment this morning regarding Murphy’s position.

Murphy’s mention of politics comes after Diageo’s head of Irish operations, David Smith, warned yesterday that any such possible ban on alcoholic drinks companies sponsoring major sporting events sought “political headlines”​ and said the firm did not have to make Guinness or Bailey’s in Ireland.

Danger of damage to Irish brands

Last year, an Irish Department of Health Steering Group proposed phasing out alcohol sponsorship of sporting and cultural events by 2016; around €30-40m is spent annually on such events in Ireland.

Diageo has since played down these comments, and a spokeswoman told BeverageDaily.com: "Our company wants to be able to continue with further investments in the future, but to do so requires a sustainable environment in which to promote our Irish-manufactured products responsibly.

"We want to work with Government to find the effective solutions to reduce alcohol misuse further, rather than some of the measures currently under consideration, which won’t work but will damage Irish brands and an important sector for the economy,"​ she added.

A Diageo spokeswoman told BeverageDaily.com that the firm was "absolutely committed to Ireland"​, and was currently investing €153m in a new brewing centre of excellence, which will open next year, while the firm is also investing in a €3m Smithwicks visitor’s centre for  Kilkenny.

That said, despite political pressure for a sponsorship ban – from the likes of Alcohol Ireland, who are due to release a statement in relation to Diageo’s comments later today, and politicians such as Eamonn Maloney TD – an influential government report is likely to recommend against a ban.

The Oireachtas (Irish National Parliament) Committee on Transport and Communications is due to publish a report at the end of this month, after examining recommendations by the Ireland’s Substance Misuse Strategy Steering Group to phase out drinks industry sponsorship by 2016.

Government report will advise against ban

Paul Hand, communications officer for the Houses of the Oireachtas, told BeverageDaily.com this morning: “We don’t comment on leaked reports – the recommendations have not been finalized, and a sub-group is meeting tomorrow to discuss this issue, the report should be launched towards the end of the month.”

A copy of the committee’s draft report has been leaked to the Irish press, and although we have not seen a copy, we understand that the committee will advise against a ban.

Despite anxiety among medical experts, it warns that the current poor economic climate in Europe means that principal sporting organizations would suffer it legislation were introduced.

During consultations in March and April with sports bodies, all said that if alcohol sponsorship were discontinued, no replacement sponsors could be found.

Peter O’Brien, corporate relations director for Western Europe, welcomed the leaked news regarding the committee's report.

Ireland is Diageo’s third largest market, and St James's Gate brewery is the second-largest in Europe; it produces 35% of Diageo's global beer for domestic and international consumption. The firm also employs 1500 staff across the island of Ireland.

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