Timetable for introduction of cheap alcohol ban 'uncertain' despite UK ruling

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Eilish O'Regan

The timescale for the introduction of minimum pricing to outlaw cheap drink here remains uncertain despite the legal path being cleared for the same law to be imposed in Northern Ireland.

The UK Supreme Court ruled yesterday that Scotland can set a minimum price for alcohol, rejecting a challenge by the Scotch Whisky Association (SWA).

Legislation was approved by the Scottish Parliament five years ago but has been tied up in court challenges. In a unanimous judgment, seven Supreme Court judges said the legislation did not breach European Union law.

The challenge had meant that minimum pricing proposals were put on hold in the UK, including Northern Ireland.

Health Minister Simon Harris has said the plan is for minimum pricing in the Republic to coincide with its introduction in the North to avoid an exodus of shoppers across the Border.

The provision is part of the Public Health Alcohol Bill which recently returned to the Seanad but has now been parked again to allow for more consultation with retailers about how alcohol will be displayed in small to medium-sized shops.

‘Important legislation’: Health Minister Simon Harris. Photo: Steve Humphreys

Mr Harris said yesterday: "I welcome the fact that Scotland is set to become the first country in the world with a minimum price for alcohol sales. They have shown real global leadership on this issue. We want to do the same here in Ireland.

"Our Public Health Alcohol Bill is a very important piece of public health legislation and it is my hope that following an engagement with retailers we will be in a position to return to the Seanad for report stage before Christmas.

"In relation to minimum pricing what is important is that we get this into legislation. The Government took the decision some time ago, for a number of reasons, that it would try to align with its introduction in Northern Ireland. However, we may have to reconsider that if there continues to be political stalemate in the North. It is important to note that Northern Ireland has already taken a number of steps in relation to minimum pricing.

"I do take great encouragement from the fact that in the debate in Seanad Éireann last week there was huge support for minimum pricing as a way to tackle the real harms caused by alcohol in our society."