Belfast Telegraph

Calls for Northern Ireland to mirror Republic with minimum alcohol pricing

Minimum unit pricing will mean each drink sold in a shop is measured by the grammes of alcohol it contains (stock photo)
Minimum unit pricing will mean each drink sold in a shop is measured by the grammes of alcohol it contains (stock photo)

By Mark McConville

Minimum alcohol pricing set to be introduced in the Republic of Ireland will see a near 40% average price difference for the same products across the border, it has been warned.

Plans for new laws here have been delayed indefinitely by the Stormont impasse.

It has led to claims that Northern Ireland's hospitality sector is being "damaged with outdated legislation".

Colin Neill, chief executive of Hospitality Ulster, believes that the Republic is taking a "progressive approach" in tackling harmful drinking.

He also claimed that there is a "clear need" for Northern Ireland to follow suit and "modernise its liquor licensing legislation".

He added: "The Republic are also recognising the importance and responsible role the pub and restaurant industry plays in society and the tourism offer.

"Northern Ireland must introduce minimum unit pricing to reflect the needs of the modern marketplace and tackle the misuse of alcohol.

"We simply cannot continue with no decisions being made and the political paralysis stopping our industry from growing and developing.

"We are regressing through inertia and having to live with the consequences of the fact that the Assembly and Executive isn't in operation."

A report compiled by the Alcohol Beverage Association of Ireland claimed there will be a 38% price differential if Minimum Unit Pricing (MUP) is brought in on just one side of the border.

While price hikes will be targeted at the cheapest alcohol, they predict a "laddering" effect that will see prices on premium products also rise.

In some cases the difference in price will be stark.

Under the new laws in the Republic, a 70cl bottle of Tesco vodka will cost €21 (£18.80), making it 71% dearer than in Northern Ireland where it is available for £11.

A 70cl bottle of Tesco gin would mirror the figures of the Tesco vodka.

A 70cl bottle of Tesco Special Reserve Scotch Whiskey costs £12.50 in Northern Ireland but would be 62% dearer across the border once the new laws are introduced at €22.50 (£20.20).

The largest difference is seen in a 3l bottle of Frosty Jacks cider which costs £3.70 here but would cost €18 (£16) in the Republic - a 332% price increase.

The latest research in Northern Ireland shows that only 6% of the population consumes 44% of the alcohol, predominantly at home, according to Mr Neill.

He added: "The negative consequences are placing a huge strain on the health and social care system here, whilst our pubs are closing at an alarming rate, yet, we still do nothing about it.

"The Irish government is being responsive to one of the biggest health issues facing society and must be commended in its plans to introduce a ban on below-price selling of alcohol by the middle of next year."

Minimum unit pricing will mean each drink sold in a shop is measured by the grammes of alcohol it contains.

Major retailers will be forced to ensure any drink they sell is priced at no less than 10c per gramme of alcohol.

Paddy Malone, chief executive of Dundalk Chambers of Commerce, believes the Irish government risks creating "mayhem". He predicted "illegal organisations" will take advantage of the situation to smuggle "cheap booze" into the Republic.

He said: "I don't want a network that hasn't gone away involved in this. It's bad enough with cigarettes."

He dismissed suggestions that only the cheapest of alcohol will be affected, saying once shoppers go from Dundalk to Newry they fill their basket with groceries.

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