The Irish Times view on minimum pricing for alcohol: a small and overdue step

The length of time it has taken to set a date for implementation is an indictment of our political system and its reluctance to stand up to powerful lobby groups

The Government’s decision to implement minimum pricing for alcohol is welcome but long overdue. The fact that the measure will not be brought into force until next January represents another unnecessary delay in implementing legislation that was passed in 2018 and originally drafted a number of years before that. The issue has been the subject of political debate for a decade and the length of time it has taken to set a date for implementation is an indictment of our political system and its reluctance to stand up to powerful lobby groups.

The introduction of minimum unit pricing (MUP) has met with fierce resistance from the drinks industry, retailers and some TDs who claim that people will cross the Border to buy alcohol. When the legislation was originally passed in 2018, it was the Government's stated intention to implement the measure at the same time as a similar one in Northern Ireland. However, it has not happened in the North and it will be at least another year before it does.

The Government decided this week to press ahead regardless but the disappointing decision to postpone the implementation of the measure until January was taken with an eye to preventing a cross-Border shopping spree next Christmas. That problem will have to be faced sooner or later and the delayed introduction of the plan is a response to intensive lobbying from the retail trade in the Border region.

This means that the cheapest bottle of wine will cost €7.75 while today a similar bottle can be sold for under €5

There were suggestions before the Cabinet meeting on Tuesday that the MUP would be introduced within weeks but the resistance of the drinks industry and retailers had an impact on some Ministers. The delay is part of a pattern of resistance to measures to control the sale of alcohol. One of the key provisions of the 2018 Public Health (Alcohol) Bill was the segregation of alcohol from other retail products but it was introduced at the beginning. Minimum pricing has now been kicked back to next year.

Minister of State at the Department of Health Frank Feighan has described minimum pricing as a targeted public health measure designed to ensure that alcohol is not available at "pocket-money prices". Under the plan there is to be a minimum price of 10 cent per gram for alcohol. This means that the cheapest bottle of wine will cost €7.75 while today a similar bottle can be sold for under €5. A 700ml bottle of supermarket gin or vodka which can now be bought for as little as €13 will cost €20.71 under the system. The measure is aimed at reducing the consumption of alcohol among young people, but they are not the only ones affected.

Alcohol consumption has been around 11 litres per person a year since 2015. This is the equivalent of 116 bottles of wine or 445 pints of beer per adult. Minimum pricing is a small step in reducing this level of consumption.