There is widespread support in Dáil Éireann for the introduction of minimum unit pricing (MUP) for alcohol amongst the main political parties. The main Government parties, Fine Gael, Fianna Fáil and the Green Party all support the introduction of MUP, whilst opposition parties, Sinn Féin, the Labour Party and the Social Democrats support its introduction.
The only opposition party which does not support its introduction is Solidarity – People Before Profit, based on its classist bias against young people and working class people. This is also a measure which has been supported by Alcohol Action Ireland as it wants to tackle the overconsumption of so-called cheap alcohol, particularly amongst young people, which it has been calling for, previously.
According to BreakingNews.ie, ‘minimum pricing for alcohol will reportedly be brought in from January 2022 under proposals signed off by Cabinet… With a minimum pricing for alcohol it will mean stores will not be able to choose the lowest price they sell alcohol… There will be a minimum price limit… The plan is to introduce a minimum price of 10 cent per gram… This would mean the cheapest bottle of wine would cost 7.75 where it previously would cost under 5 euro… A 700ml bottle of supermarket vodka now costing between 13 and 14 euro would cost 20.71 under the system… Meanwhile, the cheapest 330ml can of lager will be at least 1.12’.
According to the Irish Independent, this means that ‘the price of an average can of beer is going to rise far higher than the 1.32 indicated by the new Minimum Unit Pricing (MUP) plan… The formula for calculating MUP takes into account the alcoholic strength of the product as well as the volume…
The alcoholic strength of beers may vary, therefore the MUP will be different even if the volume is the same… The formula is set out in the Public Health (Alcohol) Act 2018… It stipulates a minimum price of 10c per gram of alcohol, which could be increased in future… Under the new rules, a standard bottle of spirits – gin, whiskey, vodka, rum – cannot be sold for under 20 euro’.
According to BreakingNews.ie, ‘it only applies to alcohol being sold in stores and not pubs and restaurants… The idea is to hit heavy drinkers and young people who are more likely to seek out cheap drink… There has been resistance to MUP from the drinks industry, retailers and some TDs who feared people will cross the Border to buy drink'.
The drinks industry has warned that prices in the State could be twice those in the North. Meanwhile, this MUP measure was due to be brought into force, at the same time as the North, but it appears it is more unlikely that this will happen.
According to Minister Donnelly, his ministerial counterpart, Minister Swann, in Northern Ireland, ‘does not believe he will be able to introduce a similar measure in this mandate, which is due to end next May… According to Minister of State for Public Health, Frank Feighan, ‘MUP is a targeted health measure which will ensure that cheap strong alcohol is not available to our most vulnerable people, children and young people at ‘pocket-money’ prices’. Evidence from Scotland and Canada suggests that it is a measure that has worked.
However, in summary, I do not believe that it is a measure that will reduce alcohol consumption levels and I do not believe it will have its desired effects. It is somewhat surprising that there is a consensus in the current 33rd Dáil that minimum unit pricing is a good thing as it only relies on evidence from Scotland and Canada.
However, in the case of both Scotland and Canada, they both rely on public health systems, compared to Ireland’s two-tier health system, which also has an impact and makes it more likely that MUP would work in both of those countries. If this Government’s main aim is to cut down the amount of young people who binge drink alcohol that is available at cheap prices, it is unlikely to work.
As well as that, this measure was meant to be introduced together with Northern Ireland, but it appears that Northern Ireland will not be introducing MUP until at least, 2023, at the earliest. As a result, it makes no sense for us to introduce MUP, at a separate time to Northern Ireland.
Therefore, one of the main worries associated with the introduction of MUP in the South is that it would increase the amount of people, crossing the border to the North to get access to cheap booze. However, according to Evelyn Jones, of the National Off-Licence Association (NOffLA), ‘based on three years of data, we know that cross-border shopping has not meaningfully increased between Scotland and England since implementation of MUP by the Scottish government in 2018’.
This does not necessarily mean that the same occurrence will take place in Ireland, as people could easily cross the border to the North to get access to cheaper booze.
As a country, Ireland already has the highest alcohol prices in Europe, so tackling the issue by price, is not necessarily the way to go. It would be worthwhile for the Government to focus on prevention measures, as opposed to monetary measures to cut down consumption of alcohol, such as more funding for 24/7 support services, aimed at tackling alcohol misuse.
In short, focusing on prevention measures, as opposed to punishing people through monetary increases, is the proper solution. It remains to be seen whether the Government does a u-turn on the introduction of MUP before January 2022, due to possible pressure from the drinks industry, despite support from NOffLA. However, it is highly unlikely to do so now, as cabinet has signed off on it in the last few days already. It is unlikely that this will be a popular public health measure for the public. Despite this, whether or not, Ireland replicates the successes of Canada and Scotland with MUP, it remains to be seen, as it is due to come into force in January 2022.