THE Government is planning to make it more expensive to get drunk on cheap alcohol by introducing minimum pricing aimed at outlawing controversial alcohol discount deals.
However, the proposal could yet be shot down if it is found to be contrary to EU law.
The proposed measure, which is already well behind schedule, was described as "radical" by Junior Health Minister Alex White. It will see a minimum price set per gram of alcohol, which means the higher the strength, the more expensive the product.
However, the legislation will not be ready until well into next year.
Health Minister James Reilly said pub drinkers would not see a difference, as it is aimed at cheap booze in supermarkets and other retail outlets.
The minimum cost per gram has not yet been set and talks are under way with authorities in Northern Ireland with a view to agreeing on one set price which both jurisdictions would introduce at the same time.
The price changes – which are part of a package of proposals – were broadly welcomed by doctors and other campaigners against alcohol abuse, who said there was a proven link between price hikes and reduction in alcohol consumption.
However, plans to introduce minimum pricing in Scotland are being challenged by the courts and could yet be found to be in contravention of EU law.
Mr White warned that if the plan to introduce the legislation failed, "plan B" would be to hike excise duty on drinks.
"We prefer minimum pricing but excise is in there as well as an option in the future," he said.
The proposals come in the wake of several task force reports and other documents on alcohol abuse, showing that the average person over the age of 15 is now downing the equivalent of a bottle of vodka a week.
It is taking a horrific toll on health and is responsible for 88 deaths a month, while also contributing to a range of diseases, such as cancer.
However, the Government has responded cautiously to the strong recommendation of the steering group on substance misuse to phase out sponsorship of sport by drinks manufacturers.
The proposals, which have caused divisions in Cabinet, will be examined by a working group which will look at the health and financial impact on sporting organisations and will report in a year.
Other proposed measures include:
* Health warnings and calorie counts on alcohol products.
* Limiting advertising of alcohol on television and radio from 2016 to "evening hours." Ads in cinemas could only be shown for films classified for over-18s.
* Retail outlets will have to "structurally segregate" alcohol from other products.