Minimum alcohol pricing on way in bid to fight abuse

Proposed ban on sports sponsorship by drinks companies is postponed

The introduction of a minimum price for alcohol will be the centrepiece of the Government’s national substance misuse strategy to be announced tomorrow.

Minimum pricing is one of a range of measures that will be unveiled by Minister of State at the Department of Health Alex White following agreement at the Cabinet yesterday.

One of the most controversial elements of the plan, a proposed ban on the sponsorship of sporting events by drinks companies from 2020, has been postponed after a battle between Mr White and key Fine Gael Ministers.

A working group involving representatives of the key departments concerned will now consider the issue over the next 12 months.


Another element of the plan will be a ban of drinks advertising on television during the day and early evening. A watershed time limit of 9pm has been advocated by some Ministers but there could be difficulties in getting agreement on a specific time.

The restrictions will be decided in consultation with the Department of Communications but it has pointed out that more than half the television watched in Ireland comes from outside the State. The department is concerned that a ban on advertising before 9pm would put RTÉ and TV3 at a competitive disadvantage with foreign rivals.

A spokesman for Mr White said last night that a range of policy measures were discussed yesterday and it had been agreed to establish the working group which would consider all aspects of the proposed sports sponsorship ban.

“The Department of Health acknowledges that there is a lot of work to be done in persuading people to accept the need for a ban but there is a year to do it,” he added.

Varadkar opposition
Sources close to Minister for Sport Leo Varadkar, who is strongly opposed to the ban, emphasised that it would not come into force until 2020 and they insisted that it would only be considered if and when other means of funding sport had been identified.

One of the major concerns of the Minister is that a sponsorship ban could damage Ireland’s aspirations to hold the Rugby World Cup in 2023.

It is estimated that a successful bid for the tournament, which is being made on an all-Ireland basis, would contribute close to €1 billion to the island economy.

Mr White addressed the Cabinet yesterday outlining the full range of measures that his department believes is essential for an effective strategy to combat the abuse of alcohol.

Serious concerns
However, there are serious concerns that the European Commission will block the introduction of minimum pricing on the basis that it would be a barrier to trade. The legislation giving effect to the measure will have to go to the commission for approval.

The devolved parliament in Scotland passed a law in June 2012 introducing a minimum price for alcohol but in a preliminary opinion the European Commission argued that the measure was a barrier to trade.

A final decision from the commission is expected shortly. It will have a crucial bearing on the fate of the measure in this country.

Government sources said yesterday that if minimum pricing is approved there will be close consultation with the authorities in Northern Ireland to ensure that differences in the pricing regime on both sides of the Border are minimised.

If minimum pricing is found to be illegal by the commission, the Government is expected to ban below-cost selling of alcohol as an alternative.

Stephen Collins

Stephen Collins

Stephen Collins is a columnist with and former political editor of The Irish Times