Government proposals to separate alcohol from other food products in small shops have been criticised by Fine Gael senators.

The Health Minister Simon Harris has promised to consult with small retailers who are concerned about measures included in the Public Health Alcohol Bill.

Small shopkeepers have raised concerns about proposals to segregate alcohol, away from other household and food products, in smaller shops.

A number of senators voiced criticism of the proposals during a debate on the bill this evening.

Senator Paudie Coffey said the bill should not "make pariahs out of responsible shopkeepers who are trying to manage their businesses".

"Let's have that engagement and can we come back to the table with something workable" he said.

Senator Tim Lombard also said he was concerned that the legislation would threaten the existence of small retailers.

Fianna Fáil senator Keith Swanick said the legislation would require small shops to put in place new shelving units, fire exits and work barriers.

But independent Senator Frances Black urged the minister not to weaken on this part of the legislation.

She said this part of the legislation was about the woman who walks into the shop "and just putting a bottle of wine, like as if it was a pint of milk and that bottle of wine could cause that woman breast cancer".

"One glass of wine every night can cause breast cancer, that's what we're dealing with, its evidence based stuff" she said.

Claims that Alcohol Bill could cost border area jobs

A number of Fine Gael senators have claimed the Government's Public Health Alcohol Bill would cost jobs in the border area.

The legislation was debated for one day last year, but stalled after heated exchanges over proposals to segregate alcohol from other household and food and products.

The bill, which has now been reintroduced into the Seanad, would introduce minimum unit pricing, place restrictions on alcohol advertising and sponsorship, provide for strict labelling on alcohol bottles and cans, and would lead to the separation of alcohol in shops.

Minister for Health Simon Harris said he is amending the bill to address the concerns of small retailers about the separation of alcohol from other products.

Under the proposed amendment, a retailer will be permitted to visibly display alcohol products in not more than two adjacent storage units with limitations on the size of the unit.

Addressing the Seanad this afternoon Minister Harris said he was "bringing an amendment to provide an alternative for the smaller retailers which is a genuine effort to meet the concerns that were raised".

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However he said his "bottom line" was that he wants to see alcohol made less visible in shops. 

"It is not the same as buying bread or milk," he said.

He said there is "significant misinformation and misunderstanding" surrounding the issue of segregation.

He promised to "engage with small shops and their representatives to provide clarity on the flexible options available to meet the requirements of the legislation".

Minister Harris also said he did not believe the bill was "nanny state" legislation.

"Protecting the health and welfare of our children is a duty of the State. We need to acknowledge and address the harms associated with the misuse of alcohol.

"If this were a discussion on legislating to control the exposure of children to other substances with an equal potential for harm I doubt that accusation would be made" he said.

A number of senators raised concerns about minimum unit pricing.

Fine Gael Senator Tim Lombard asked how it could be enforced in the border area.

He said minimum unit pricing would need an all Ireland approach in order to work.

"I have no knowledge of how Brexit is going to turn out and in that flux we do have that situation that this part of the bill might not be implemented if it was to pass" he said.

"We should look at something along the lines of a groceries order until Brexit is sorted out," he said

Fianna Fáil Senator Diarmuid Wilson said he agreed with Senator Lombard.

"While I welcome the minimum unit pricing, there comes with that, economic difficulties for the part of the country that I come from" he said.

"Like Senator Joe O’Reilly - I believe unless this is tackled there is no point in putting minimum unit price on alcohol unless the same is done in the six counties," he said.

However Fine Gael Senator James Reilly said "there is a time to lead and a time to follow" and he urged his colleagues to support minimum unit pricing.

Senator Joe O'Reilly said jobs could be at risk unless "minimum pricing was coordinated in the Republic and in the North."

However he said he would do nothing to thwart the smooth passage of the bill.