Varadkar to push ahead with cheap alcohol prohibition

European ruling on Scottish plan fails to sway Minister on minimum unit pricing

Leo Varadkar said it was important to point out that the European judgment did not strike down minimum unit pricing. Photograph: PA

Leo Varadkar said it was important to point out that the European judgment did not strike down minimum unit pricing. Photograph: PA

 

Legislation to outlaw the sale of cheap alcohol is to be introduced in the Dáil early next year, despite a European court ruling which has cast doubt on the proposal.

Minister for Health Leo Varadkar said he would press ahead with the legislation for minimum unit pricing, which has already come before the Seanad. He was responding to a judgment of the European Court of Justice, which ruled that the Scottish government’s plan for a minimum alcohol price would breach EU law if less restrictive tax measures exist.

The judges concluded that the policy would restrict the market, and it recommended the introduction of an alternative tax measure.

The matter has been referred back to the Scottish courts for a final opinion.

Questions

Mr Varadkar said it was important to point out that the judgment did not strike down minimum unit pricing. “It’s still permissible, but it does require us to look at alternative measures, such as taxation.”

There remained a strong case for proceeding with the measure as currently envisaged, he said. “Having weighed up the options – which range from a ban on below-cost selling to increased taxation to minimum unit pricing – we’re still convinced that minimum unit pricing is the most effective.”

He promised the State would build up a defence of the measure in the courts if necessary. Mr Varadkar agreed it would be prudent to await the decision of the Scottish courts on its government’s plans for minimum unit price before proceeding.

There was better news for the Government’s public health policy after the European Court of Justice rejected a case brought by tobacco companies against plain packaging.