The Northern Ireland Executive has seven months to consider the introduction of minimum unit pricing (MUP) for alcohol at the same time as the Republic, according to Taoiseach Micheál Martin.
Mr Martin appealed to parties in the North to give “serious consideration” to such a move before the State implements the provision from January next year.
It was originally planned that the two jurisdictions would synchronise the implementation of a base price, below which drink could not be sold.
But Northern Ireland Minister for Health Robin Swann signalled the Executive would not be in a position to do so until 2023 at the earliest. Ireland passed the legislation in 2018 but waited to implement MUP on an all-island basis.
Mr Martin was responding in the Dáil to Independent TD Peter Fitzpatrick, who appealed to the Government to delay the introduction of MUP until it could be done with the North, because of the “devastating” impact it would have on businesses in the South, particularly those along the Border.
Mr Fitzpatrick said the cost of drink would be almost double that of alcohol in the North. “That will lead to shoppers from the South going in their droves north of the Border to buy cheap alcohol”, which would impact many businesses in the South, but particularly in the Border area, he said.
Mr Fitzpatrick said “this legislation is right, but it comes at the wrong time”.
“The problem is that when shoppers head north for cheap drink, they will also buy goods that they could buy at home, such as groceries, clothes and other goods,” the Louth TD said, adding that businesses in his home town of Dundalk were particularly concerned.
He reminded the Taoiseach that years ago people from Co Cork as well as Limerick, Dublin and Galway were going in their busloads to Northern Ireland in order to buy alcohol.
“Such people do not just buy enough for the week but instead they go to bulk-buy. This will be devastating for families, as we all know the damage alcohol can do.”
However, appealing to the North’s Executive to align with the Government’s policy, Mr Martin said “it is really designed to help young people and children, while avoiding the exploitation of below-cost selling, to be frank, and the patterns of alcohol consumption it creates, particularly among children and teenagers”.
He said that some of the alcohol-related health figures are “quite horrendous”.
“Ireland had the third highest level in the world of adolescent binge drinking, at 61 per cent for females and 58.8 per cent for males.”
There were an estimated 10,000 alcohol-related deaths from cancer between 2008 and 2017, the Taoiseach said.
He added that the National Cancer Registry estimates that at current consumption levels, by 2035 male cancer cases attributable to alcohol will increase by 37 per cent and female cancer cases will increase by 110 per cent.