Government, NI Executive under pressure over alcohol pricing

Wales follows Scotland to set base cost for drink to reduce harmful consumption

 

Minister for Health Simon Harris has written to his northern counterpart Robin Swann about implementing minimum unit pricing on alcohol on both sides of the Border.

Pressure is increasing to introduce a base price in Ireland below which alcohol cannot be sold after Wales commenced minimum unit pricing this week.

Scotland implemented the measure in 2018 to cut the levels of abuse of alcohol and while the Oireachtas passed legislation the same year, the Government wants the measure to be introduced on both sides of the Border simultaneously.

Mr Harris said “research on the introduction of the policy in Scotland shows that it works to reduce alcohol consumption and that it particularly targets those who buy the most alcohol”.

The Government postponed the implementation of the measure in 2018 because the Northern Ireland Assembly and Executive were in abeyance at the time.

In December, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar told the Dáil that if the measure was introduced in the Republic but not in the North people would cross the border to buy cheap alcohol and “this measure will not work economically or in public health terms”.

The Northern Ireland Minister for Health confirmed on Wednesday that Mr Harris had written to him about the measure and said that “given the potential for this to impact on cross-border trade element I am keen that we discuss this issue further with colleagues in the Republic of Ireland”.

Mr Swann said legislation on minimum unit pricing could be a key health measure and he will “be giving this active consideration as part of the development of a new substance misuse strategy for Northern Ireland”.

He acknowledged that “the harms caused by the misuse of alcohol are a major public health issue in Northern Ireland”.

Under the legislation, the minimum price per gram of alcohol would be 10 cent. A pint of beer containing 20 grams of alcohol would have a minimum price of €1.98.

The change would not affect craft beers, premium brands or the average bottle of wine.

Head of communications and advocacy at Alcohol Action Ireland Eunan McKinney said the introduction of the measure in Wales was very significant in the effort to reduce alcohol-related harm and to support the wider population to consume less alcohol.

Mr McKinney said there are more than 3,000 alcohol-related deaths on the island of Ireland every year.

“With Scotland, and now Wales, introducing MUP, we will have strong regional evidence of the efficacy of the measure. This must encourage our government, and the Executive of Northern Ireland, to expedite matters on implementing the measure on an All-Island basis.”

Alcohol Health Alliance UK said that one in 20 deaths in Wales is linked to alcohol and the minimum unit pricing “will go a long way in saving lives”.