Economic recovery could lead to drinking surge, claims Varadkar
The pick-up in the economy is having a bad influence on our boozing habits, as we drank more alcohol last year.
Health Minister Leo Varadkar warned that new figures show we drank 11 litres of alcohol per person last year - up from 10.6 litres in 2013.
The rise is at least partly related to the upturn in the economy.
And renewed efforts must be made to ensure we don't abandon one of the health spin-offs of austerity as we have more money to spend, he stressed.
Mr Varadkar, who was addressing the annual conference of the Alcohol Forum in Croke Park, said: "Despite Ireland having relatively high excise duty rates, the price of alcohol remains affordable, particularly in supermarkets.
"A woman can reach her low risk weekly drinking limit for just €6.30, while a man can reach this weekly limit for less than €10."
His aim is to reduce annual alcohol consumption in Ireland to 9.1 litres per person by 2020, to bring it down to the OECD average.
He expects to have the legislation on minimum alcohol pricing - which could see a bottle of wine not being sold for less than €9 - to be passed before the General Election, which will happen early next year.
But he pointed to the risk that it could be blocked by the European Court of Justice on the grounds it impedes free trade.
Responding to calls by experts at the conference to ban drinks sponsorship of sport he said it will happen in the next five to 10 years.
The legislation will, however, put curbs on marketing and advertising of alcohol, some of which is extraordinary, he insisted.
It can give the impression someone can drink seven bottles of beer and go on to throw a rugby ball, be gregarious or make them better at music or sport. He said: "The Dormant Accounts Action Plan for 2014 and 2015 includes provision of €1m for a specific substance misuse measure."
Task forces involved in education and prevention of alcohol abuse can apply for €41,600 in funding for a range of activities.
Also speaking at the conference, US public health experts Thomas Babor and David Jernigan said there was growing evidence to show that young people regard alcohol as an ordinary consumer product due to repeated exposure to ads, billboards and company logos.
They argued that self-regulation by the industry is not protecting youth.