Diageo's 'Arthur's Day' faces backlash in home of Guinness

By Padraic Halpin

DUBLIN (Reuters) - The Irish are famous around the world for their convivial drinking culture and the cosy pubs that have been copied around the world - but it seems they do not want to be cajoled into an annual celebration of their best-known beer.

An Irish minister on Tuesday criticised the international drinks firm Diageo for inventing a "pseudo-national holiday" to market its products, not least the Dublin-brewed Guinness - part of a growing backlash against "Arthur's Day".

Diageo began the celebration in 2009, to mark the 250th anniversary of the opening of Arthur Guinness's first brewery in Dublin on September 26. This year it will be marked in 32 countries with events including free concerts by the likes of The Script, Emeli Sande and the Manic Street Preachers.

Diageo says the event is a "showcasing of Ireland's talent and creativity", but it has been derided by some of Ireland's most famous musicians as a cynical marketing ploy, attacked by doctors concerned with high levels of binge drinking, and criticised by music fans who have called for a boycott on social media sites.

"It seems to me that Diageo has invented Arthur's Day as a pseudo-national holiday for the purposes of marketing," Alex White, a junior minister responsible for alcohol, was quoted as saying in the Irish Times.

"There is a serious problem, not only with the amount of alcohol we drink, but also with the harmful patterns in which it is consumed," said White, whose department has been urged to bring in minimum pricing on alcohol and curb the industry's sponsorship of sports events.

AMBULANCE CALL-OUTS

According to the Dublin ambulance service, there was a 30 percent increase in call-outs during last year's Arthur's Day compared to the same day a week earlier, prompting Ireland's Royal College of Physicians to launch a vocal campaign against Diageo.

Mike Scott of the band The Waterboys has joined the protest with "A Song For Arthur's Day".

Another tune written for the occasion, by the Irish folk singer Christy Moore, paints a picture of overwhelmed hospital emergency departments picking up the pieces of an evening's heavy drinking: "The A&E will be like a drunk tank in the firing line/ While Diageo goes AWOL at closing time."

Marketing experts have admired the slickness of Arthur's Day as a promotional campaign, but Diageo has been on the defensive all week, with representatives making regular radio and television appearances to justify the event.

"It's a fantastic example where we bring together three great things in Ireland - a great brand in Guinness, the pub, which is an iconic part of Irish culture, and music," Diageo spokesman Peter O'Brien told the Newstalk radio station.

"On Thursday, the vast majority of people will go out and enjoy all of those three things and enjoy them sensibly."

But 74 percent of the 7,000 listeners who texted RTE national radio after it asked their opinion said they were not in favour of Arthur's Day.

"With high rates of alcohol consumption and binge drinking, we don't need another reason to drink," said Professor Frank Murray, chairman of the alcohol policy group of Ireland's Royal College of Physicians.

(Additional reporting by Sam Cage; Editing by Kevin Liffey)

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