Ireland and alcohol: Are we really different?

The National Off-Licence Association says that this represents a major breakthrough in its campaign to even the playing field between independent off-licences and supermarkets
Support Your Local says excise on alcohol is damaging the industry

Helen Coburn examines the reasons behind Ireland's inclusion in Europe's top five heaviest drinking nations



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17 June 2015

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Some news media have recently suggested that Ireland is “sliding back to dangerously high levels of alcohol consumption” and stated that Ireland is amongst the top five heaviest drinking countries in Europe.

Is it time to panic? Probably not. The dramatic fall in the euro value has wiped out much of the alcohol price gap between Northern Ireland and the republic, encouraging northern shoppers to buy drinks here, thus raising consumption figures. Our tourism sector has been growing, also helped by the euro fall, both through the year and for winter breaks. This has inevitably led to a boost in alcohol consumption, especially as the tourism sector is large in Ireland relative to the natural population.

The trouble about alcohol consumption figures is that they tend to focus on supply of alcohol only, assuming that all alcohol supplied to a market is drunk within that market and by local buyers. This can skew the picture, meaning that the 11 litres per capita that Irish people are said to consume could be lower.

World Health Organisation figures published in 2014 take account of the fact that only 38% of the world’s adult population actually drinks alcohol. According to its calculation, Ireland is well below the international average consumption figure of around 17 litres per capita. WHO has noted that, globally, around 16% of drinkers engage in heavy episodic drinking, harmful to health.

Accurate national figures are hard to estimate as information is often a couple of years old by the time it is published. Different bodies may also use different methodologies in research and calculation, making the picture even more obscure. Nevertheless, if Ireland’s current consumption figure is taken to be around 11-11.5 litres per capita, it is not in the top 10 of Europe’s heaviest drinkers. According to WHO figures, first place goes to Belarus at 17.5 litres, while Czech Republic is tenth at 13 litres per head, with Portugal close behind at 12.5 and France at 12 litres. Belgium, Germany, the UK, Denmark, Bulgaria Slovenia and Spain consume between 11 and 11.6 litres each, broadly similar to Ireland. Overall consumption figures can mask problem drinking in certain groups, but taken as a whole, Ireland’s alcohol consumption is within international norms.

Indications are that Irish wine consumption has risen during the first quarter of 2015 by around 6%. An increase in restaurant business has probably been a factor here. Globally, only 8% of the world’s alcohol is consumed as wine but in Europe it’s almost 28%.



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