The stresses of Covid-19 and lockdown may have undermined the “dry January” resolve this year, as figures showed a 57pc year-on-year increase in drinks sales for the first month of the year.
Alcohol Action Ireland (AAI) said the level of off-licence sales shows “our homes [are] awash with cheap drink”. This has consistently been the pattern throughout the pandemic.
Spokesman Eunan McKinney condemned the decision by Health Minister Stephen Donnelly to defer minimum-unit pricing of alcohol as “cavalier”.
He said: “By deferring the measure for a further 18 months, Minister Donnelly is effectively endorsing 10 years of unfettered market growth for three or four monopolistic forces in alcohol retailing and a Government facilitation of a distortion of market forces.
“Minimum-unit pricing is a public health measure. By refusing to implement the democratic will of the Oireachtas, this Government is allowing powerful vested interests to prosper while the lives of thousands of citizens and the futures of many children, who have to navigate the chaos of parental problem alcohol use in their daily lives, continue to be endangered. “
Prof Frank Murray, chair of AAI, warned that the further delay to implement the public health measures is completely unacceptable.
Prof Murray said: “Frankly, it is unbelievable that proven public health advice would be ignored. I call on the Taoiseach to clarify the position of the Government on this matter immediately.
“More lives will be lost for every day this measure is delayed. As demonstrated in Scotland, implementation of minimum-unit pricing greatly improves public health outcomes.
“If we have learned anything from the dreadful impact of Covid, it is the clear need for a decisive public health approach. Minimum-unit pricing can, and will, save lives. It will reduce alcohol use across society and reduce the huge demand for limited health resources generated by harmful alcohol use.”
A spokesperson for the minister said: “The 2013 Government decision which approved the drafting of laws on minimum-unit pricing agreed to it on the basis of simultaneous implementation with Northern Ireland.”
They added that the intention is to work alongside the Executive in Northern Ireland “has not changed”.