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Sunday 18 August 2019

Now cheap drink ban – which would see wine costing at least €7.50 – faces delay over concern about 'booze trail' to the North

  • Proposal will force alcohol to be sold no cheaper than 10c per gramme
  • Immediate concern that the shift in pricing would send shoppers north of the Border
  • Health Minister would like 'an all-island approach'
  • Warning over role of alcohol in teen suicides
(Stock photo)
(Stock photo)

Eilish O'Regan and Gareth Morgan

The law banning the sale of cheap alcohol looks set to be delayed until the measure is in place in Northern Ireland.

But Health Minister Simon Harris has been warned that any further watering down of the Public Health Alcohol Bill will cost lives.

The Irish Independent yesterday revealed that controversial legislation aimed at outlawing cheap drink would see the price of some beers and ciders double in the supermarkets.

The proposal will force alcohol to be sold no cheaper than 10c per gramme, pushing the cost of a bottle of wine to a minimum of €7.50.

Health Minister Simon Harris
Health Minister Simon Harris

But there was immediate concern that the shift in pricing would send shoppers north of the Border in their droves.

A spokeswoman for Mr Harris confirmed "he would like to see an all-island approach to minimum unit pricing and notes that there has been considerable support for minimum unit pricing in the North".

However, there is no sign of devolved government in Northern Ireland being restored following the collapse of the assembly in January.

And the introduction of minimum pricing across the UK has had to be put on hold due to a legal challenge to proposed legislation in Scotland.

The prospect of yet another delay in the Public Health Alcohol Bill, which eventually returned to the Seanad this week, drew heavy criticism from health experts last night.

They warned they are witnessing at first hand the damaging effects of excessive drinking, including suicides.

"The legislation has already been delayed for long enough. At this stage, it is at risk of dying from a thousand cuts," warned Dr John Hillery of the College of Psychiatrists.

He added that if the legislation was passed by the Oireachtas, it needed to proceed without delay.

"We see children experiencing severe emotional problems against a background of abuse and neglect caused by parental heavy drinking," he said.

"Teenagers are drinking two years earlier than a generation ago and this is linked to an array of mood and psychological problems.

"Suicidal behaviour can emerge in the teenage years with one-third of episodes alcohol-related.

"Half of all suicides are alcohol-related.

"Many of our adult patients with depression have their problems greatly exacerbated by their own, or by their partner's, drinking."

Alcohol is already more expensive in the Republic compared to Northern Ireland, due to differences in Vat, excise duty and pricing strategies by retailers in both jurisdictions.

It means that a €2.05 can of lager in the Republic costs the equivalent of €1.70 in the North.

A €24.89 bottle of whiskey in the Republic costs €21.46 in the North.

Even if minimum pricing is introduced in Northern Ireland, it would need to be a considerable hike to bring the threshold on a par with that planned for the Republic.

A spokesman for the UK Home Office told the Irish Independent yesterday: "The minimum price of alcohol is under review pending the outcome of the legal case between the Scottish government and the Scotch Whisky Association, and any subsequent introduction in Scotland."

Meanwhile, there are also indications that other unpopular elements of the legislation may be toned down.

It would mean shops would be spared having to structurally separate alcohol if they introduced turnstiles at the stores instead.

Meanwhile, the majority of readers have said that the new proposal won't change their drinking habits.

Almost 16,000 people responded to our poll and 80 pc said it won't make a difference to them.

17 pc of respondents - 2,697 - said the measures will impact on how they drink, while 5 pc said they aren't sure how it will affect them.

Irish Independent

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