Northern Ireland is to launch a ‘full consultation’ on minimum unit pricing (MUP) for alcohol, its health minister Robin Swann has announced. The decision follows a review of its alcohol and drug strategy carried out last year.
Northern Ireland’s new substance use strategy, Making life better – preventing harm and empowering recovery will be issued for consultation in the autumn, with the MUP consultation to follow within a year of its publication. Although the proportion of adults in Northern Ireland drinking above the recommended guidelines fell from 26 per cent to 20 per cent between 2010-11 and 2017-18, alcohol-related deaths have continued to rise while hospital admissions increased from just over 9,500 in 2008-09 to more than 11,500 in 2016-17. MUP has already been introduced in Scotland and Wales.
‘The impact of alcohol misuse is being felt by too many families and communities across Northern Ireland on a daily basis,’ said health minister Robin Swann. ‘We need to consider fully every option available to us to reduce this blight on our society. I have been closely following the Scottish Government introduction of minimum unit pricing on alcohol since 2018 and have been noting with interest the early positive evaluation reports. My department has been working in conjunction with key stakeholders on developing a new substance use strategy and this will be issued for public consultation later this year. As part of the strategy, there will be a commitment to holding a full public consultation on the introduction of minimum unit pricing for alcohol in Northern Ireland within one year.’
The announcement was a ‘positive step forward’, said chair of the Alcohol Health Alliance, Professor Sir Ian Gilmore. ‘If the measure is introduced in the north, then MUP will hugely benefit communities across the whole island of Ireland. Alcohol harm costs Northern Ireland £900m a year. By implementing MUP to raise the price of the very cheapest and strongest drinks on the market, the devastating impact of alcohol harm on families and communities across Northern Ireland can be reduced.
MUP already exists in both Scotland and Wales and legislation has passed for its introduction in the Republic of Ireland. England now risks being left behind in the race to tackle the alcohol harm crisis.’