Ireland to implement minimum pricing from next year

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The Republic of Ireland will introduce minimum unit pricing (MUP) for alcohol from next January, according to health minister Frank Feighan.

‘MUP is a targeted public 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,’ he announced on Twitter. ‘The lead in time for this measure will be January 2022.’

Northern Ireland also plans to launch a ‘full consultation’ on minimum pricing this year (DDN, September 2020, page 4), in response to rising rates of alcohol-related deaths and hospital admissions. As was the case in Scotland, Ireland’s plans have met with resistance from the drinks industry, with some trade bodies criticising the government’s intention to press ahead without alignment with Northern Ireland and stating that it would simply result in a ‘surge’ in cross-border shopping. ‘We have seen in the past that consumers will travel long distances to save money,’ said director of Retail Ireland, Arnold Dillon. ‘While the retail sector understands and appreciates the public health rationale for MUP, it is vital that the measure is done in coordination with Northern Ireland.’

A minimum price of 50p per unit was introduced in Scotland in 2018 following almost a decade of legal wrangles with the drinks industry. However, Alcohol Focus Scotland is now calling on the Scottish Government to review and raise the price to ‘optimise its benefits’. While there have been ‘encouraging’ falls in alcohol-related deaths and hospital admissions, the impact of the 50p minimum price has been ‘significantly eroded’ by inflation since the amount was approved by the Scottish Parliament almost a decade ago, says the charity. The government’s plans to review the price last year were delayed as a result of COVID-19.

‘Minimum unit pricing is working,’ said Alcohol Focus Scotland chief executive Alison Douglas. ‘It has reduced alcohol consumption and there are early signs it is preventing illness and saving lives. But the policy has the potential to deliver even greater benefits. Now is the time to increase the minimum price to not only account for inflation since the Parliament approved MUP nine years ago, but also set it at a level that will save more lives and prevent a new generation from developing a problematic relationship with alcohol. We need the next Scottish Government to increase the minimum unit price to at least 65p per unit and to future-proof its positive effects by ensuring that the price is increased in line with inflation.’