Minister to continue with drink price law despite EU ruling
Health Minister Leo Varadkar has vowed to pursue plans for a new minimum price for alcohol, despite a European Court of Justice (ECJ) ruling that such a measure would contradict EU law.
The minister said he remained committed to bringing in the law to address Ireland's difficult relationship with drinking, if the Coalition is re-elected in the coming months.
The ruling comes during one of the busiest times for bars and off-licences around the country, as many celebrate the festive season with pub crawls and house parties.
Minister Varadkar said a recent Healthy Ireland survey provided yet more evidence that "Ireland has a problem with alcohol and that we need to take action."
The Department of Health said the proposed introduction of Minimum Unit Pricing (MUP) was the only measure that would target widespread access to very cheap, strong alcohol.
The ECJ's decision related to laws in Scotland that introduced a minimum price per unit of alcohol in 2012.
The Court said it "considers that the effect of the Scottish legislation is significantly to restrict the market", acting as an obstacle to the free movement of goods.
But it added that MUP would be legal if "less restrictive" measures like tax increases were impossible. It is now up to Scotland's national courts to make a new decision on the 2012 law.
The judgement has sparked debate on whether or not a minimum price for alcohol is the best way to address the abuse of cheap drinks.
Professor Frank Murray, President of the Royal College of Physicians of Ireland (RCPI), said those who drink sensibly would not notice price changes and that it would have no impact on the price of drinks in pubs, clubs and restaurants.
"It's very sad that this Christmas, families and communities across Ireland will be grieving for the more than 1,000 people who died because of alcohol use over the past 12 months," he added, stating that three people die in Ireland each day due to our "harmful relationship" with alcohol. But European drinks association, spiritEUROPE, said the ruling confirmed that MUP was "a barrier to trade and therefore illegal" if there are other measures available.
Paul Skehan of spiritEUROPE said: "This is an early Christmas present for moderate drinkers everywhere, who already pay astronomical levels of tax on every sip they take."
Meanwhile, the Alcohol Beverage Federation of Ireland (ABFI) said a ban on the below-cost selling of alcohol would be a better move.
Children and Youth Affairs Minister James Reilly also welcomed another ECJ interim judgement in favour of the plain packaging of tobacco.
Dr Reilly said packaging with graphic images of the effects of tobacco was "worth the fight" if it discouraged children and young people from smoking.