Belfast Telegraph

Minimum alcohol price considered for Nothern Ireland

By Claire McNeilly

Tackling the problems associated with the availability of cheap alcohol in Northern Ireland has become a political priority.

Environment Minister Alex Attwood yesterday vowed to make it tougher for pubs and clubs to get and retain entertainments licences.

The move follows recent Executive proposals to introduce minimum pricing for alcohol and plans to abolish cheap drinks.

In Northern Ireland there are restrictions on pub opening hours; from 11am until 11pm on Monday to Saturday and 10pm on Sunday. Bars and clubs that sell alcohol until 1am on Monday to Saturday, and until midnight on Sunday, must obtain separate licences from the magistrate’s court and the local council.

Meanwhile, venues open until 3am must be covered by an entertainment licence — but this does not permit the sale of alcohol after 1am.

The Department of the Environment (DoE) is responsible for policy legislation at local government level.

Local councils are required to take DoE guidance into consideration before granting entertainment licences, although they are not legally bound to act on it.

Drinks promotions are currently unregulated in Northern Ireland, which means bar owners can choose which deals to offer.

This is set to change, however, following an act which passed through the Assembly last year that provides for the introduction of regulations banning drinks promotions and it is understood the Social Development Minister Nelson McCausland will be issuing a consultation document next week outlining his proposals.

With no minimum price for alcohol at present it can be sold at any price, but there are plans to charge consumers between 40p and 70p a unit.

That means the cheapest price of a six-pack of beer would be £4.40 if 40p per unit was adopted, or £7.70 if it was 70p per unit.

Likewise, a litre bottle of vodka, containing 40 units, would have to cost at least £16, and a bottle of wine containing nine units would cost £3.60.

The Department of Health is conducting research into what the actual impact of this would be in Northern Ireland.

It is understood the results are expected at the end of this year.

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