Warning on low-cost alcohol as publicans call for minimum prices
Almost half of the alcohol sold in Ireland is being sold at "close to or below cost price", publicans have claimed.
And they called on the Government to get tougher on cheap alcohol sales in supermarkets, which they say are fuelling problem drinking.
The issue was raised in an Oireachtas Justice Committee with representatives of the Vintners Association of Ireland (VFI) and the National Off-Licence Association (NOffLA).
VFI Chief Executive Padraig Cribben told the committee that 60pc of the alcohol consumed in Ireland is now sold in the off-premises trade - a complete reversal of the figures since 1999. He said supermarkets make up the majority of this trade, adding that 42pc of the alcohol consumed in Ireland is being sold "close to or below cost price".
He added large retailers are able to make up the shortfall by increasing the price of other products. The VFI is calling on the Government to introduce a minimum unit price for alcohol.
"The Government have already said the sale of cheap alcohol is a problem. They have already said they are going to tackle it by introducing a minimum unit price and what we are saying is stop talking and go and do it," he said.
Mr Cribben said a section of the 2008 intoxicating liquor act, which has yet to come into force, would enforce retailers to ensure that alcohol is sold in a "physically separate area with a separate till" in shops.
NOffLA Chairperson Evelyn Jones echoed the sentiments of the VFI over the advertising and sale of cheap alcohol. She also added to the calls for the separation of alcohol from all other grocery products in mixed trading premises.
She said a "stringent application" of existing laws surrounding under-age drinking could help reduce public drunkenness and social order issues.
Mr Cribben said the rise in off-sales is having an impact on rural pubs.
"The effects are obvious in the sense that you end up with job losses and pub closures," he said.
"You end up with communities with very few places to meet."
He also called for restrictions on the sale of alcohol on Good Friday to be lifted.