FAMILY grocers warned last night that many of their shops face potential closure if Justice Minister Alan Shatter forces them to fence off areas for the sale of alcohol in their premises.
They estimated that erecting separate structures within their shops and providing extra staff to sell the alcohol would cost them a minimum of €100,000.
This is one of three options that have been studied by Mr Shatter as part of an overhaul of the regulations controlling the sale and display of alcohol in retail outlets.
Mr Shatter has now indicated that he is not in favour of retaining the current voluntary code, which allows for the sale of alcohol in open areas, and said: "We need to do better than that."
An alternative option is to confine alcohol and its points of sale to an area that is separated from the rest of the premises by a wall or a similar barrier and access gained through a door, gate or turnstile.
But RGDATA, the representative body for 4,000 family-owned shops, is strongly opposed to this measure and said they should not be blamed for cheap pricing offers.
Director general Tara Buckley told the Irish Independent: "Offering cheap drink for sale is being used by the big multiples as a footfall driver and they can absorb the costs of separate structures.
"Our members provide a service for the local community, making a bottle of wine available to a customer on a Friday night, without having to travel out of town to the large multiples.
"The costs involved in this proposal will mean that the shops will have to lay off staff and also face potential shutdown."
Ms Buckley said there was a binge-drinking culture, which had to be tackled on several fronts, including the possible introduction of a minimum price policy.
But Mr Shatter has acknowledged that many of the smaller stores would not have the financial capacity to introduce alterations in the design and layout of premises and taking out loans to fund the changes would create additional problems.
"While large supermarkets could undoubtedly accommodate themselves to the new requirements without undue difficulty, small and medium-sized outlets would inevitably encounter practical difficulties and face higher adaptation costs," he said.
Mr Shatter added: "There are balances we need to maintain and we are giving consideration to that."
The overhaul follows a round of consultations involving the industry, the public and interested groups.
He said that while the voluntary code had improved conditions for the sale and display of alcohol in many mixed trading outlets, public health bodies and other licensed trade groups had called for the fencing-off measures.
The outcome of their study, he said, must ensure that the purchase of alcohol by young people was "de-normalised".
Mr Shatter added: "We must end some of the commercial inducements in place to encourage people to purchase and, perhaps, drink more alcohol than is wise."