The price of alcohol

 

Sir, – There is of course a strong case to be made to control the consumption of alcohol, but minimum unit pricing is a very blunt instrument in the wrong hands. In this instance, many who do not misuse alcohol will have to do without what might be the only pleasure they have. Pensioners, for example, who enjoy as few as six beers a week, will see the cost rise by €5, which will wipe out the entire recent pension increase. Surely with a little imagination and tweaking of the Bill, they could have been spared.

Alas, it seems those in need of such protection are in the wrong income demographic to register on this Government’s radar. – Yours, etc,

JIM O’SULLIVAN,

Rathedmond,

Sligo.

A chara, – Had the Minister for Finance chosen to put extra duty on alcoholic drinks in the last budget, few could have objected. The extra tax revenue could have gone to fund our health services. Instead, the Government has chosen to force retailers to increase their margins on cheaper drinks. Not only have they done so in compliance with the law, but my local supermarket has increased the prices of mid-range alcoholic drinks as well, presumably to maintain the price differential between mid-range and budget brands.

Only the most expensive brands have been spared a price increase.

Not only will this increase inflation, which is already at very high levels for hard-pressed consumers, it only serves to increase the profits of already very profitable supermarket chains and other retailers. It hits the less well-off disproportionately, while leaving the well-heeled and their top of the range beverages untouched. A duty increase would at least have increased prices across the board, but our Government has again chosen to protect the rich at the expense of the less well-off. – Is mise,

FRANK SCHNITTGER,

Blessington,

Co Wicklow.

A chara, – Like your correspondent Billy Hannigan (Letters, January 4th), I would agree that the introduction of minimum unit pricing for alcohol is being presented by this Government as a health measure, but will result only in poor people paying more for their wine and beer. According to a 2021 report by Eurostat (Comparative Price Levels of Consumer Goods and Services), Ireland has the highest price level index for alcoholic beverages and tobacco in the EU, at 88 per cent above the average. We therefore need to ask ourselves how the country with the highest prices of alcohol anywhere in the EU, bar Finland, can achieve any kind of a reduction in consumption levels by introducing a minimum price per standard unit of alcohol.

This is especially important because minimum unit pricing will have its greatest impact on the type of alcoholic drinks used by supermarkets as “loss leaders”. These tend to be mostly wine and beer products and these are currently incredibly expensive in Irish off-licences by comparison to most other European countries. No other western European country has introduced minimum unit pricing for alcohol apart from the UK, which has been initiated only in Scotland, Wales and Jersey. The history of licensing and regulation around the sale of alcohol in this country has closely followed the approach of the British, and had this measure not been introduced in the UK, I have no doubt that it would not have been introduced here either.

If this Government was really serious about the damage that alcohol does to sections of our society, access to addiction treatment programmes would be available to those suffering from alcohol addiction and freely provided through our health service. Currently in Ireland, addiction treatment is mostly accessed through fee-charging, private, for-profit treatment centres and also through fee-charging and non-fee charging registered charities, both of which need to avail of State funding to survive. While this sector supplies important services, these are not available to many addicts, either because of financial issues or because these services are unable to meet the demand for them locally.

In the absence of any real change by the State toward the development of easily accessed, publicly funded addiction treatment programmes provided by our health service, the recent introduction of minimum unit pricing for alcohol in this country is at best a mere window-dressing pretence and is at worst a tax on the poor. – Yours, etc,

LIAM O’GRADY,

Galway.

Sir, – As a poor engineering student, my goal was always to optimise my alcohol consumption. I aimed to consume the most grams of alcohol per euro spent. Under the new minimum alcohol pricing, a standard drink (10 grams of alcohol) should cost at least a euro. My lovely, efficient Lidl Excelsior would have to increase its price from €0.79 to €2.05 a can to meet this minimum price. That’s a 180 per cent increase.

The petrol cost for a return journey from my home in Dublin to Newry in Northern Ireland at current fuel prices is about €15. If I buy more than 11 cans in the North, it makes more financial sense for me to drive up North, buy my cans and bring them home.

Even if I value my time at €15 an hour and the whole affair took three hours, I would only have to buy two slabs of cans to save money. To add to that, my car has the capacity to hold far more. I have many friends unwilling to pay the new extortionate prices.

By pooling our money to cover the fixed costs, making the cross-Border journey makes further sense.

I have no doubt that the Government will see a reduction in the consumption of alcohol. However, I wonder how much of this will be from the bringing of cans across the Border or from the production of home-brews (another source of alcohol I’m examining). – Yours, etc,

MICHAEL KELLEHER,

Swords,

Co Dublin.