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Addiction expert criticises drinks company tourism link

Seanin Graham and Claire Simpson

A LEADING addiction expert has criticised a new £100,000 deal between a drinks manufacturer and the body responsible for promoting Belfast.

Drinks manufacturer Diageo announced it was to invest the money in tourism body Visit Belfast over the next two years to help promote the city as a visitor destination.

The deal was announced as Diageo officially opened new offices in Belfast yesterday.

Visit Belfast is a public private sector partnership funded by partners including Tourism Northern Ireland.

Dr George O'Neill, a GP who chairs Addiction NI, a high-profile charity which supports thousands of addicts and their families, criticised alcohol advertising at a time when his organisation has not yet secured government core funding for the year ahead.

The charity has been running for 30 years and for the first time is now operating a waiting list ­such is the demand for its counselling services.

“Alcohol abuse is costing the north's economy £900 million a year while the latest figures show there are almost 80,000 drinking dangerously. There is not a family in the north who isn't affected by the blight of alcoholism,” he said.

“There is simply too much alcohol advertising and I think there should be some type of watershed to control it. We should be investing more in educating our young people on the risks associated with drinking.

“As a city, Belfast should be well above using alcohol as a stimulus to attract tourists.”

The Department for Enterprise, Trade and Investment and Visit Belfast were both contacted for comment. Neither had responded by last night.

Enterprise, Trade and Investment Minister, the DUP's Jonathan Bell, attended the official opening of the new Diaego office yesterday.

"Northern Ireland's tourism and hospitality industry has never been in a stronger position. The commitment of Diageo to increased tourism and job creation plays an important part in the continued growth of the industry and the economic prosperity of Northern Ireland," he said.

John Kennedy, president of Diageo Europe, said at the launch that the company was keen to support economic growth in the north.

"Today we have officially opened our new state-of-the-art offices in the city centre and have also announced a new investment of £100,000 over two years with our partners Visit Belfast, supporting the great work that they do in developing and promoting Belfast," he said.

The funding announcement came on the same day as the British-Irish Council raised concerns about alcohol abuse.

The summit, hosted by Taoiseach Enda Kenny in Dublin, included a discussion on how to tackle alcoholism in Ireland and Britain.

In a statement, the council said it had held "a detailed discussion on the significant harm being caused by alcohol to individuals, families and society and was presented with a collaborative paper by the Misuse of Substances work sector".

"It was agreed that continuing action is required across Member Administrations to protect the health and well-being of the wider public, and especially children, from alcohol misuse," it said.

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