Pubs group backs 50p per unit alcohol price proposal
An organisation representing bars and nightclubs in Northern Ireland has given its backing to a minimum price for alcohol of 50p a unit.
Pubs of Ulster boss Colin Neill was speaking after the Scottish government announced it wanted to add 5p to the original 45p per unit figure that had been put forward in the previous parliament.
A 40p per unit minimum price is planned for England and Wales, and it is hoped the measure will reduce health problems caused by excessive drinking.
Here, Health Minister Edwin Poots is proposing to charge a minimum price of between 45p and 50p per unit of alcohol by 2013.
Mr Neill said he believed Northern Ireland – where dealing with alcohol misuse costs up to £900m every year – faces the same issues as Scotland.
"The availability of incredibly cheap alcohol, namely by the large supermarkets, is having a serious impact on issues such as health and antisocial behaviour," said Mr Neill.
"It has now become acceptable for large retailers to sell alcohol as a loss leader and offer customers alcohol cheaper than bottled water. One leading supermarket recently sold two-litre bottles of strong cider for only £1 — a staggering 50 pence per litre."
A Belfast Telegraph investigation recently found that cut-price alcohol was freely available across Northern Ireland — and not just in discount supermarkets. Bottles of vodka, rum, gin and whisky (700ml) were being sold at a huge number of outlets for under £10, while wine (750ml) was retailing for as little as £2.25.
Mr Neill added: "We have been working closely with Social Development Minister Nelson McCausland and Health Minister Edwin Poots to bring about minimum pricing in Northern Ireland and we have been greatly encouraged by the Health Minister’s commitment to introduce the measure by 2013.
"We must stress, however, that the introduction of minimum pricing will not hit the moderate drinker, as they will only pay an additional £8 per year more on alcohol under any new measures."
In addition to setting a minimum price for alcohol, Pubs of Ulster is also calling upon government to introduce a social responsibility levy for supermarkets to bring about greater equality in the system.
"Pubs are the only licensed premises that already pay a substantial social levy due to the current commercial rating system," Mr Neill said.
Mr Poots has said it will take until next autumn to bring in minimum pricing legislation for alcohol that could not be challenged.