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Minimum pricing for alcohol legislation could be imminent

Róisín Shortall, Minister of State at the Department of Health, believes supermarkets and off-licences should sell alcohol for above the cost price plus taxes and excise

Jan 16 2012

Cheap alcoholRóisín Shortall, Minister of State at the Department of Health has recommended that a minimum pricing for alcohol should be brought into law to prevent the supermarkets using alcohol as a loss leader and to deter binge drinking.

Ms Shortall suggested that supermarkets and off-licences must sell alcohol for above the cost price plus taxes and excise.

The Minister believed that Irish people have an “unhealthy relationship” with alcohol and that it needed to change. While she admitted to Matt Cooper on The Last Word on Today FM on 9 January that she was not ‘anti-booze’ and that she ‘enjoyed a glass of wine’ as much as anyone else she believed that Irish people had an “unhealthy relationship” with alcohol and the availability of cheap alcohol was a major issue. Ms Shortall said that declining prices and more widespread availability of cheap alcohol in major retailers had become key factors in fostering a culture of excessive alcohol consumption. “Alcohol is available at an all-time-low price, and that causes or contributes to problems associated with drinking, particularly with younger people but also with people who are problem drinkers,” she said.

NOffLA Oireachtas Sub-Committee

In a recent presentation to the Oireachtas Sub-Committee on Health and Children, Evelyn Jones, chairperson of the National Off-Licence Association (NOffLA), explained that a retailer can apply for a VAT differential refund when alcohol is sold below cost price, meaning that taxpayers are subsidising large retailers to sell alcohol below cost price.

Jones explained that minimum pricing would reduce the retailing of cheap, obscure brands of alcohol, which is gaining in popularity in Ireland.

She also said that “an ad hoc approach to alcohol policy and voluntary codes of practice for retailers of alcohol has been proven not to work”.

She said that legislation brought in to deal with the ill effects of irresponsible alcohol sales and marketing had been drafted since 2008, but this has not been enacted. NOffLA called on the government to “end the reliance on voluntary codes of practice and enact legislation which already exists: Sections nine and 16 of the Intoxicating Liquor Act (2008)”.

Section nine provides for the structural separation of alcohol products from other products in supermarkets, convenience stores, petrol stations and other licensed premises deemed to be mixed-trading.

At the time of the act’s delivery, the Minister for Justice agreed to defer both sections in favour of a voluntary code of practice, on the condition that the industry code of practice was strictly observed and implemented by the responsible Retailing of Alcohol in Ireland group.

“We’re now seeing alcohol being sold in stores beside confectionery, snacks and magazines, which is a direct target on young people,” Jones said. The group insisted that there is nationwide evidence that the code is not being implemented in the spirit for which it was intended.

Shortall and Jones both believed that Ireland should follow in the footsteps of Scotland due to the country recently introducing an Alcohol Minimum Pricing (Scotland) Bill, a proposed legislation to establish minimum pricing for alcohol.

A report on these suggestions is expected to be brought out within the next two weeks and it will be put to the Oireachtas Health Committee in order to get all-party support for the initiative. Alcohol abuse costs the State an estimated €3.7 billion each year through illness, absenteeism and crime.

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