Cabinet to consider third-level governance and minimum alcohol prices
Donnelly to bring memo to Cabinet on measure targeting cheap alcohol
Under the plan, the cheapest bottle of wine would cost €7.75 where previously it could cost under €5. A 700ml bottle of supermarket gin or vodka costing between €13 and €14 would cost €20.71 under the system. A 440ml can of lager would cost a minimum of €1.32.
The Cabinet is expected on Tuesday to approve draft laws on university governance, which would increase centralised supervision and give a regulator the power to fine colleges for breaching rules.
The laws, to be introduced by Minister for Higher Education Simon Harris, aim to redraw the relationship between government and the institutions for the first time since the 1970s.
The Bill would transform the Higher Education Authority (HEA) from a funding body into a regulator with powers to punish universities through fines or by withholding funding. It is expected to be enacted later this year.
Government sources said the HEA was established in the 1970s to channel funding to a handful of institutions catering for some 20,000 students. However, there has since been a huge expansion in the number of colleges, which now have a student population of some 200,000. The higher education budget is almost €1.9 billion this year.
Wariness of ‘control’
The proposed Bill would have three main planks – a reduction in the numbers on college governing authorities; provision for data sharing between colleges and the authority; and stronger powers for the authority to regulate colleges.
Government sources say they are keen to protect the autonomy of higher education institutions but that as the principal funder of the institutions, they require more oversight.
Universities are wary, with a representative body recently raising concerns about the emphasis on “control” in the proposed legislation.
The Cabinet is also due to discuss minimum unit pricing for alcohol, which is due to be introduced in September despite drinks industry opposition. The measure aims to reduce the harm caused by alcohol by setting a minimum price of 10 cent per gram.
The cheapest bottle of wine would cost €7.75 where previously it could cost under €5. A 700ml bottle of supermarket gin or vodka costing between €13 and €14 would cost €20.71 under the system. A 440ml can of lager would cost a minimum of €1.32.
Price of drink
Minimum pricing legislation was approved in 2018 but was not implemented as the last administraton intended to introduce it at the same time as Northern Ireland. However, Stormont has indicated it will not be proceeding in the near future and Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly is due to bring a memo on the issue to Cabinet on Tuesday.
There has been significant lobbying against the move, with Drinks Industry Ireland warning that prices in the State could be twice those in the North. Some Border politicians have expressed concern about the possible impact of this on businesses in their constituencies.
However, Minister of State for Public Health Frank Feighan said the measure would have implications on cheap alcohol sold in supermarkets rather than pub prices and should affect “only a limited amount of alcohol products”.