The Government has been accused of “inertia” over its failure to enact legislation to stop retailers using the lure of cheap alcohol to drive footfall, with a leading lobby group warning that harmful amounts can be bought for little more than €5.
Alcohol Action Ireland (AAI), an advocate for reducing alcohol harm, also said the coronavirus crisis had led to a significant shift in alcohol use in Ireland with "hyper-competitive pricing" fuelling a massive surge in sales and an increase in domestic drinking.
The AAI said its annual off-licence price survey confirmed the “exceptional affordability of alcohol to everyday shoppers and the urgent necessity to commence minimum pricing of alcohol products that will ensure the strongest, cheapest alcohol at very low cost is eliminated from the market”.
The survey, conducted over two weeks in July in one urban and two regional centres, found that cider remained the cheapest alcohol product available to consumers, with beer the second cheapest ahead of wine and spirits.
The report said the Irish consumer could spend as little as 44 cent for a standard drink of cider and 52 cent for a standard beer, with a standard drink of wine costing as little as 59 cent.
The AAI pointed out that that a man could drink the weekly low-risk limit of 17 standard drinks for as little as €7.65, while a woman consuming alcohol within the same guidelines could reach the weekly low-risk limit of 11 standard drinks for just €4.95.
“The exceptional affordability of alcohol . . . across a retail landscape dominated by a few major corporations continues to sustain Ireland’s excessive use of alcohol,” said AAI spokesman Eunan McKinney.
“As long as alcohol can be purchased at ‘pocket money’ prices and so easily, the public health objectives to reduce alcohol harms will not be reached.”
He pointed out that Ireland was almost two years on from the enactment of the Public Health (Alcohol) Act and said “inertia marks the implementation of the central policy measures on pricing, promotion and product information”.
The chairman of the alliance, Prof Frank Murray, said Taoiseach Micheál Martin had demonstrated as a previous minister for health that he had "a strong commitment to objectives of public health alcohol policy".
Prof Murray said the price survey would have to act as a catalyst for the Government and Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly “to honour, without further delay, its long-standing commitment to introduce minimum pricing of alcohol products”.
"Throughout the Covid-19 crisis we have witnessed a significant shift in alcohol use, with hyper-competitive pricing fuelling a massive surge in off-trade sales and an increase in domestic drinking," said Dr Joe Barry, adjunct professor of public health medicine at Trinity College Dublin.
“This temporary behaviour may well become a permanent lifestyle for many, which in time will only add to the already enormous public cost burden to care and manage the corrosive impact on individuals, their families, enterprise and across the whole of our society of alcohol harms.”