Senator Pauline Oreilly calls on Ireland to co-sponsor Brazil on a WHA Resolution on Digital Marketing.

21st March 2024

Fantastic  speech by Senator Pauline Oreilly just now in the  Seanad Éireann. *


Minister Niall Collins, responded for Government saying that they will consider co-sponsorship once the draft is circulated and agreed by all WHO Member States,


  • the upper house of the Oireachtas (the Irish legislature), which also comprises the President of Ireland and Dáil Éireann (the lower house).

Transcript of the Debate: 

Senator Pauline Oreilly : To our shame in Ireland we have the lowest rates of breastfeeding in Europe we have one of the lowest rates of breastfeeding in the world in fact.

A recent study by The Lancet showed that 800,000 babies a year and 20,000 women a year die as a result of not breastfeeding. This should be a shock for us in a first world country. We know that measures have been taken in Ireland in terms of putting in place more lactation consultants, in terms of supporting peer-to-peer support on the ground but so much more needs to be done.

As a result of all of that we in the women’s caucus set up a committee on breast feeding and I am the chair of that committee. Yesterday I was delighted that we had members from UNICEF, we had members from Bainne Beatha and indeed experts from TU Dublin come in to us and present a World Breastfeeding Initiatives report. I was also delighted that Minister McConalogue came and proudly put up a picture on social media of himself with a sign saying ‘I support breastfeeding in Ireland’. Mr. McConalogue is obviously the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, and I think it’s a really good step in the right direction that we see this being taken seriously by the government.

Now last year we had the Online Safety and Media Regulation Bill and I was thrilled that Minister Catherine Martin took on board a request by ourselves to put into that, a restriction on breastmilk substitutes. Why is that important? Well we know that when there is unlimited marketing of breastmilk substitutes that breastfeeding rates go down. And we also know that we have a heavily marketed industry here in Ireland. So what is online marketing of breast milk substitutes? Well what it is, is targeting t women over particular age:  they might be struggling in the middle of the night with breastfeeding a small infant, they go to the Internet for support, they might type in that they’re looking for breastfeeding support. What pops up is an ad for formula milk.  And there’s no doubt but that it’s easier when you don’t have support to think that this might be the solution,  but actually we’re letting women down. We’re letting the women who want to breastfeed down by having this heavily marketed product. We absolutely shouldn’t restrict access to formula milk at all, because  it’s families individual choices as to which way they want to feed.

But we should take note of the fact that over 60% of women want to breastfeed. They go into hospital wanting to breastfeed and yet the numbers who actually do are half of that. We are letting people down when they’ve made a conscious decision and the State is not supporting them. So one thing that we can do Minister is to follow on from that Online Safety and Media Regulation Bill and say that we are Co-sponsors of this published World Health Organization Guidance on Regulatory measures,  aimed at restricting digital marketing of breast milk substitutes. I know that Brazil for instance is is willing to sponsor it. I think it would send a really strong signal that Ireland is a Co-sponsor. This resolution is coming before the World Health Assembly in May 2024 so,  Minister,  I’d like to hear that the Department are supporting that and in line with Minister McConnell’s support yesterday and in line with the Government’s support on measures such as lactation consultants. Although I will say that I think we need a lot more than lactation consultants. We need more midwives to have more time to spend with women because that’s what I hear from both the health professionals and the women who are often left without that support.


Minister Niall Collins

Importance of breastfeeding is recognized in …HSE National Health policy and including Healthy Ireland Framework, Healthy Ireland Strategic Action Plan, the National Maternity Strategy, the Obesity Policy and Action Plan and the National Cancer Strategy –  all emphasise the importance of supporting mothers who breastfeed as well as taking action to increase breastfeeding rates in Ireland.

HSE Breastfeeding in a Healthy Ireland Action Plan is the framework for progressing support for breastfeeding in Ireland. The Department of Health works closely with the HSE national breastfeeding coordinator who has responsibility for the implementation of the HSE Breastfeeding Action Plan 2016 to 2021, which has been extended out to 2025.

One key action of the HSE Breastfeeding Action Plan is to strengthen compliance with the World Health Organization International Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes and subsequent WHA resolutions. The HSE implemented its national policy to support compliance with the Code in 2021.

Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes and new standards for infant feeding in maternity services requires that there is no advertising of formula milk teats bottles and soothers in any part of the maternity services and that staff take active measures to protect themselves and parents by not participating in formula industry sponsored training and events. Further measures to improve and monitor compliance with the WHO Code are necessary across government departments and in partnership across sectoral agencies.

Such advertising and marketing through media falls under the remit of the Department of Tourism Culture Arts and sports and Coimisiún na Meán (CnaM) was established in March of 2023 to further to the provisions of the Online Safety and Media Regulation Act of 2022. This Act amended the Broadcasting Act of 2009 to establish CnaM and dissolved the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland (BAI) in addition to undertaking the functions as the regulator for broadcasting in Ireland.

CnaM is to establish a regulatory framework for online safety, update the regulation of television broadcasting and audio visual on demand services, and transpose or reviseaudiovisual media services directive into Irish law. Officials from the Department of Health have contributed to the public consultation on the draft safety code and met officials from on Commission to discuss implementing codes that would restrict the marketing of high fat sugar and salt foods and beverages to children, that includes infant formula.

The WHO Guidance on regulatory measures aimed at restricting digital marketing of breast milk substitutes highlights that digital environment environments are fast becoming the predominant source of exposure to milk and to the promotion of breast milk substitutes globally practices that are diverse and constantly evolving.

The WHO Guidance outlines clear recommendations for implementation of regulatory framework in member states which Department of Health officials can consider in future consultations with CnaM going forward.

The resolution which is currently being drafted by the Ministry of Health in Brazil has not yet been shared with Member States of the World Health Organization. However, following circulation of the draft resolution, and agreement by all WHO member states, Ireland will then consider Co Sponsorship.

Until such time that Online Safety Codes are developed by CnaM,  the HSE provides evidence based impartial information and support for feeding options in infants and young children on website and social media channels.


Thank you very much.  Well I’m pleased to hear the acknowledgement that the Code has not been fully implemented by Ireland. However this was adopted in 1981 by the World Health Assembly and many many years later,  over 40 years later, and we are now seeing at the World Health Assembly an attempt now to update it so that includes digital marketing.

I think the fact that Ireland hasn’t fully implemented the Code from 1981 I think it’s shocking. Is it any wonder that we have such low rates of breastfeeding in Ireland. We need to get moving on this. I fully appreciate what the minister is saying. I think that it is good news that Ireland will consider Co sponsorship. But we must then actually implement it once it is adopted, rather than let it sit on the shelf which is what seems to have happened in relation to the original one from 1981

Minister Collins

Infant formula research indicates that breastfeeding gives the child the optimum start of life and that increasing our breastfeeding rates will contribute to improvements in child and maternal health, it can contribute to the reduction in childhood obesity and chronic diseases.

Your question has indeed highlighted the need for a regulatory framework for restricted marketing of breastmilk substitutes and this work will be progressed in consultation with CnaM and in the development of new online safety codes. The HSE breastfeeding implementation plan runs to 2025 and the Department of Health will continue to work with the HSE national coordinator in delivering on the five point action plan. The vision of Healthy Ireland is that everyone can enjoy physical and mental health and well-being to their full potential and the Government remains committed to improving breastfeeding rates and moving towards normalizing breastfeeding within our community. Promotion of breastfeeding as part of healthy lifestyle choices will remain a priority for new policy development over the coming years.

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