Varadkar: tough drink law will not 'cancel Christmas'
'Happy hour' cheap drink promotions will be banned and shops will no longer be able to display bottles of alcohol behind check-outs under radical new proposals revealed yesterday.
A can of beer cannot be sold for less than €1.97 and a bottle of wine with 12.5pc alcohol content must be no cheaper than €7.40 under the proposed legislation.
Health Minister Leo Varadkar, who said he hopes to get the legislation through one of the Houses of the Oireachtas before the general election, insisted he was not "cancelling Christmas" with the wide-ranging Public Health (Alcohol) Bill.
But the draconian measures are necessary to reduce the nation's levels of heavy drinking which are causing death, illness and other social misery, he warned.
"The evidence about Ireland's drinking habits is shocking," he insisted. He said the minimum pricing to stop cheap alcohol being sold in shops will be set at 10c per gram of alcohol.
Although Scotland's bid to introduce the same measure is being challenged in Europe, he said he expects the court ruling later this month will allow it through as long as it can be shown to be more effective than other actions.
Irish officials are already preparing a case to support this and while ideally he wants minimum pricing to be introduced here and in Northern Ireland at the same time, he said the Republic cannot wait.
The measures include:
- Confining the sale of alcohol to an area in a shop that customers will not pass through. Alcohol must be in a separate section.
- Alcohol ads will be restricted to giving information about the product. They cannot glamorise alcohol. In cinemas, the ads will restricted to when over-18 films are being shown.
Television ads such as the Guinness commercial featuring rugby players Gareth Thomas will not be allowed because it is linking drink with courage.
- Alcohol-related ads cannot be found within 200 metres of creches, playgrounds or schools.
- Breaches of the code will be a criminal offence with fines of between €5,000 and €250,000 or jail terms of up to three years.
Some of the measures will be phased in over three years.
Responding to the Bill, Alcohol Action Ireland said it was a landmark piece of legislation. Prof Frank Murray of the Royal College of Physicians also called it an "important first step."
"Every day doctors see the awful carnage as teenagers and men and women of all ages come to our hospitals as a result of road accidents, fights, falls and other incidents."
Padraig Cummins of the Vintners Federation of Ireland said they welcomed the introduction of minimum pricing.
The legislation addresses the issues of "availability, price, information and display all of which are crucial," he added.
However, Ibec, the group representing Irish business, said the new legislation " fails to provide effective measures to tackle the serious problem of alcohol misuse."
Chief executive Danny McCoy said that "instead it penalises responsible consumers and a sector that provides valuable employment across the country.
"It is yet another example of government regulation being introduced without any effort being made to establish the wider economic cost.
"Alcohol misuse is a serious problem that demands a coordinated, effective response."