• Democratic will of the Oireachtas is being subverted to benefit powerful vested interests
Alcohol Action Ireland, the national independent advocate for reducing alcohol harm, has today (Monday, 1 March), criticised the Minister for Health, Stephen Donnelly, for his cavalier deferral of minimum unit pricing (as reported by Sunday Times, 28 Feb).
Minimum unit pricing for alcohol products is a crucial measure within the Public Health Alcohol Act, enacted over two year ago, which ensures that alcohol products, sold in the off-trade, cannot be sold beneath a certain price.
This proven price measure to reduce alcohol use is robustly supported by the WHO, and evidence from other states demonstrate its capacity to reduce acute alcohol episodes, overall consumption and lessen alcohol harms.
For over two years, government has refused to implement minimum pricing of alcohol products. It is our view that the democratic will is being subverted by an ideological reluctance for market intervention on price. However, this ministerial inaction only supports the alcohol producers flooding the market with cheap drink, sustaining a monopolistic distortion that favours three or four dominant retailers, while the licensed trade struggles to survive.
The most recent sales data indicates that alcohol purchases in the off-trade for the 4 week period to 24 January, show a 57% increase, year-on-year. This continuing surge, that has seen our homes awash with cheap drink, has consistently been the pattern throughout the pandemic.
The decrying of cross-border trade implications by opponents of MUP is largely spurious, as the principal fiscal drivers of such trade – currency fluctuations, differing VAT regimes and the proximity of consumers to daily border trade – are constant and ensures a substantial pricing differential is retained.
Commenting on the matter, Prof Frank Murray, chair of the Alcohol Health Alliance Ireland, said
‘the further delay to implement a proven public health measures is completely unacceptable and frankly, ii is unbelievable that proven public health advice would be ignored. I call on the Taoiseach to clarify the position of the government on this matter immediately. More lives will be lost for every day this is measure is delayed. As demonstrated in Scotland, implementation of MUP greatly improves public health outcomes.
If we have learned anything from the dreadful impact of COVID, it is the clear need for a decisive public health approach. MUP can, and will, save lives; it will reduce alcohol use across society and reduce the huge demand for limited health resources generated by harmful alcohol use.”
Eunan McKinney, Head of Communications, Alcohol Action said:
By deferring the measure for a further 18 months, Minister Donnelly is effectively endorsing ten years of unfettered market growth for 3 or 4 monopolistic forces in alcohol retailing and a government facilitation of a complete distortion of market forces.
Minimum unit pricing is a public health measure. By refusing to implement the democratic will of the Oireachtas, this government is allowing powerful vested interests to prosper while the lives of thousands of citizens and the futures of many children, who have to navigate the chaos of parental problem alcohol use in their daily lives, continue to be endangered.