Belfast Telegraph

Survey shows most people don't want alcohol price rise

By Brendan McDaid

The majority of people in Northern Ireland are against measures which would see cheap alcohol prices rise, a new government study has revealed.

The initial findings of the survey were revealed during yesterday's sitting of the Social Development Committee at Londonderry's Millennium Forum theatre.

Several committee members noted that it was hardly surprising people who enjoy a tipple would not advocate paying more for the pleasure.

The results of the research emerged during a presentation by representatives from the Department's Social Policy Unit (SPU).

It found that 61% of those who responded were against raising prices.

DSD Minister Nelson McCausland and his Health counterpart Edwin Poots have yet to decide on whether to introduce new measures to tackle cheap alcohol and alcohol misuse.

Liam Quinn from the SPU told the committee that at present around three in every four adults over 18 in Northern Ireland drink alcohol.

Of these, a staggering 80% drink more than recommended limits.

The SPU was tasked to consult on two issues - drinks promotions and minimum pricing of alcohol, including the introduction of minimum pricing per unit.

Mr Quinn's colleague Caroline Hobson said the consultation asked people for their views on the introduction of minimum pricing, alternative pricing methods and a possible social responsibility levy.

Ms Hobson said: "The majority disagreed with the introduction of minimum pricing - 39% agreed.

"The majority who were in agreement were organisations and bodies such as the Public Health Agency, Royal College of Psychiatrists, British Medical Association and the PSNI. Alcohol brewers, producers and retailers were not in support of it."

More than 60% of people were also against raising taxation on alcohol, and the majority disagreed with introducing a social responsibility tariff on the basis that it could harm small businesses if applied equally to everybody.

SDLP Committee member and Foyle MLA Mark H Durkan said that more people should be made aware of the nuts and bolts of the proposals. He said: "They have to be aware that this is more about the cost of alcohol to health and so on rather than the price of alcohol."

Mr Durkan added that the measures should be aimed at larger businesses who are able to sell alcohol at a loss "just to get people into their supermarkets".

Mr Quinn clarified that the proposals wouldn't have any impact at all on pub or hotel drink prices, but rather on supermarkets and off sales.

Consultation and legal advice is due to be issued to the ministers by Christmas before they decide on how to proceed.

Background

Scotland is planning to press ahead next year with legislation on alcohol pricing - the first country in Europe to do so.

A previous attempt by the Scottish National Party to introduce such measures, which settled on a levy of 45p per unit, was blocked by other political parties.

It's claimed the proposed measures would cost a normal, moderate drinker in Northern Ireland around £10 a year extra, and would only really impact on those consuming the cheapest, 'own brand' alcohol.

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