Coordination, Framing and Innovation: The Political Sophistication of Public Health Advocates in Ireland
Background and Aims
This study explores the role of the public health advocacy coalition in alcohol policy development in Ireland. Compared with industry actors, much less is known about the membership, activities and influence of public health advocates in alcohol policymaking. To address this gap, this paper identifies several advocacy strategies, drawn from the advocacy coalition framework and other policy theories, and then analyses them in the context of recent Irish developments.
The study used theory-building process-tracing to construct a record of the public health advocacy coalition and its campaign to promote the Public Health (Alcohol) Act 2018 in Ireland. Specifically, the study drew upon 131 primary documents produced by advocates, 464 newspaper articles and 18 semi-structured interviews with key advocates, public health experts and elected officials to undertake a thematic analysis.
Public health advocates in Ireland have developed sophisticated political strategies to foster major alcohol policy change. First, public health advocates led the formation of a broad-based advocacy coalition that helped members to effectively pool their limited resources as well as coordinate their strategy and messaging. Secondly, issue-framing and message discipline played a key role in the coalition’s success. Advocates strategically focused upon the policy problem, specifically health harms, rather than the detailed content of the proposed measures. Finally, there is evidence of political learning, where advocates’ prior experiences and knowledge of the political system in Ireland spurred innovations in campaigning. These strategies were interdependent and mutually reinforcing, and succeeded in building support for public health advocates’ preferred policies among politicians and the general public.
There are distinct capabilities that public health actors can mobilize in the policy process to win alcohol policy debates and capitalize on the constraints on industry influence on alcohol policymaking.