Alcohol Action Ireland today (Tuesday 4th September) published its Pre-Budget Submission 2019 and called on Minister Paschal Donohue not to reduce current excise duties on alcohol products and to consider a series of measures that could curb Ireland’s rising alcohol consumption and enhance the capacity of under resourced treatment services.
- Calls for fiscal measures to curb expanding Off Trade alcohol market
- Proposes new measures to ensure fresh revenues for innovative proposals to tackle children drinking and enhance alcohol treatment services
- Recommends an end to unnecessary state supports to flourishing alcohol industry, and
- The immediate commencement of Minimum price for alcohol products and the enactment of the Public Health (Alcohol) Bill.
Proposing two innovative measures, Alcohol Action Ireland highlights the need to recalibrate the Off-Trade alcohol market in Ireland, which they assess being worth €3.74bn in 2017. By increasing the annual off-licence renewal charges, and by imposing a Social Responsibility Levy on all future sales from the Off Trade, over €78m additional receipts could generated to fund action on delaying under-age drinking and enhancing public alcohol treatment programmes.
Commenting on these measures, Eunan McKinney, Head of Communications and Advocacy, said:
Alcohol products continue to be sold at remarkably affordable cost throughout the Off Trade, where over 50% of alcohol revenues are generated but over 65% of alcohol consumed is purchased. This continuous flow towards the availability of cheap alcohol from our small shops, convenience stores and supermarkets must be tackled if we are to make any progress in curbing the rising alcohol consumption, which is leading to such harms across society.
Given the €3.74 billion scale of this market, the modest measures we propose will go some way to recalibrate the weight of responsibility on those licenced to sell such products. This will establish a clear line of funding for further public initiatives that can seek to delay the onset of early drinking by children and enhance under resourced alcohol treatment programmes.
Citing the example of a dramatic turnaround in two decades of Iceland’s crisis with children drinking, he said:
With innovative and radical intervention, Ireland too has an opportunity to recapture the futures of three quarters of our children, who struggle every day to swim against an all-pervasive culture and a tsunami of alcohol marketing and promotion. 60,000 children will regrettably commence too early drinking alcohol this year. This can be avoided if adequately funded measures were established to provide meaningful activities and adopted with implementing the advertising and promotion measures contained within the Public Health (Alcohol) Bill. We simply cannot continue to allow our children to be the source of easy market recruitment by the alcohol industry.
Alcohol Action Ireland (AAI) propose Budget 2019 could establish a 2% Social Responsibility levy on all Off-Trade sales, which potentially could raise €74 million annually, as well as seeking to increase the annual licence renewal fee for a liquor off licence, that could raise an additional €3.6 million.
Additionally, AAI propose the establishment of an innovative ‘Youth Recreational Activities’ allowance that would afford every child in Ireland (12-16 years old) an opportunity to participate in meaningful extra curricula activity, with additional monies also been allocated to enhanced Alcohol Treatment Programmes both in the community and our frontline hospital services.
Alcohol Action Ireland believes the flourishing alcohol industry, especially the craft breweries and distillers, highlights that previous state supports should now be limited, and the benefit afforded to other sectors, more aligned with the Government of Ireland’s Healthy Ireland initiative. Since 2005, the Exchequer has afforded the microbrewing sector a subsidy (tax foregone) of €20.081 million, with 86 businesses benefiting in 2017 to a value of €5.674 million. The Oireachtas also expedited the recently passed Intoxicating Liquor (Breweries and Distilleries) Act 2018, which permit sale by distilleries and breweries of their own product to premises visitors.
Regrettably, 1000 days after it had commenced its passage through the Oireachtas, the Public Health (Alcohol) Bill has yet to be enacted. The introduction of Minimum Unit pricing for all alcohol products is a very important policy instrument within the Bill and will significantly curb the sale of cheap, strong alcohol throughout the Off-Trade market. This, along with all the other evidence-based measures with the Bill, if implemented coherently and cohesively, will reduce alcohol consumption and lessen the impact of alcohol related harms throughout society.
Notes to Editor
The full submission as published is available at
Overview of proposed Budgetary considerations
Rising Alcohol Consumption in Ireland
Analysis of Revenue data demonstrates that alcohol consumption since 2013 has steadily increased, reflecting the welcomed recovery of the domestic economy. Using the most contemporary data, and the corresponding data for the previous six years, the underlying trend is evident (Figure 1: Underlying Alcohol Consumption pattern Ireland 2013-18.)
Figure 1: Underlying Alcohol Consumption pattern Ireland 2013-18.
Unnecessary State Supports to the Alcohol Industry
- 2015-2017: Enterprise Ireland, and Local Enterprises Offices awarded €3.82m to fledgling alcohol enterprises
- €20.081m foregone in tax receipts as relief on Alcohol Products Tax grows to €5.674m in 2017 for Craft breweries.
AAI advise that Budget 2019 would begin the process of tapering this relief both in terms of the qualify hectolitre limits and the percentage reduction of Alcohol Product tax. Equally, we would advise the Minister that public monies invested as equity funds should be placed in business enterprises more conducive to the objectives of Healthy Ireland and better public health outcomes.
Establish a set of responsibility levies on specific aspects of the alcohol market
The Alcohol Action Ireland Market Review and Price Survey, 2018, assessed the domestic 2017 Off-Trade market at €3.74bn
The Central Statistics Office (CSO) most recent data from the National Income and Expenditure Annual Results 2017, published in July 2018, has determined the total Consumption of Personal Income on Alcohol Beverages (incl. pubs) was €7.306 billion, a 7.39% increase on 2016.
Furthermore, the Household Budget Survey 2015-2016 provides an insight into average weekly household expenditure. From that data, we can extrapolate that of the household expenditure on alcohol, 51.2% is spent on the Off Trade (‘Drink consumed at home’). The previous Household Budget Survey 2009-2010 indicated 41% of household expenditure on alcohol was in the Off-Trade.
In this context, we believe it is reasonable to estimate the value of the 2017 Off-Trade market in Ireland at €3.74 billion.
Given the significance of Off-Trade sales to rising alcohol consumption and the enhanced affordability of alcohol products, Alcohol Action Ireland believes greater weight must be placed, by way of levy, on these sales.
The following table demonstrates what a modest levy on these sales (2017 market value assessment), applied as a ‘Lid Levy’ or Social Responsibility Levy’’ could yield annually:
Equally, by way of curbing the continuous expansion of the Off-Trade licence holder (a view expressed by Vintner Federation Ireland), Alcohol Action Ireland advise the Minister to increase the annual cost of renewal of a Retailer’s Off Licence from €500 to €1000.
This measure could yield an additional €3.663m in a full year to the Exchequer.
These additional funds – approx’ €78 million – collectively could fund two major public initiatives, one that would target better outcomes for our younger citizens and help reduce our rising alcohol consumption as a nation, and another to support the recovery of another cohort of our citizens whose lives have been blighted by the impact of alcohol.
Initiative One: Healthy Children
Every year approximately 60,000 children will commence drinking, promising what Business Representative Groups refer to as a ‘lifetime of income from responsible drinking’. Research has demonstrated that two thirds of all Irish 15 years old have taken alcohol and one third will have experienced being drunk.
Following the innovation of Iceland, who in the early 1990’s grappled with similar experiences with children using alcohol and drugs, Ireland could instigate a radical plan to re-engage its youth with a positive engagement on group activity: sport, music, art, dance and other such activities.
CSO data identifies that in 2016 census, the age cohort between 10 – 14 years was 319,476.
In Ireland, if every child in Ireland aged between 12 and 16, capturing that crucial period of early drinking initiation, was afforded an opportunity to participate in an organised sport, music, art, dance and other activity-based clubs, providing alternative ways to feel part of a group, and to feel good, rather than using alcohol or drugs, we could place a significant backstop on the slide into harmful alcohol consumption. Studies have shown that children involved in organized recreational activities are less likely to become involved in antisocial behaviour and/or become socially isolated; granting an annual €200 ‘Youth Recreational Activities’ allowance, and assuming a 70-80% take-up,
Projected Annual Cost: < €50m
By ensuring a simple online application process through the HSE/askaboutalcohol.ie, parents/guardians could be introduced to the basic principles of how to avoid an early initiation with alcohol, and a confident community could be established of informed advocates for change.
Initiative Two: Supporting Recovery
The Health Research Board (HRB) has estimated that there were somewhere between 150 – 200,000 dependent drinkers in Ireland in 2013. International studies suggest that only 10% at any one time is likely to seek intervention or treatment, which would indicate that perhaps somewhere between 15 – 20,000 may seek support in Ireland annually.
The latest data from the HRB on alcohol treatment 2016 (published 30 August 2018) indicates that only 7,643 cases were treated for problem alcohol use, with 48% reporting as new cases: 3,668 (52% as outpatient; 39% as residential). This may indicate a significant shortfall in the capacity of available services to manage the underlying demand for treatment.
A parliamentary question (PQ 38989/16) in Dec 2016, identified that only 105 Addiction Service Counsellors were available throughout the nine HSE Community Healthcare Organisation and that the average waiting time was approximately 5 weeks; an individual seeking assistance with alcohol dependency cannot be expected to wait such a time.
Each Primary Care Team could be served by an Enhanced Alcohol Treatment Team, embracing current capacity, who can provide an integrated range of preventative, therapeutic and rehabilitation services to meet the needs of those who seek support with alcohol dependency in a timely manner.
Projected annual cost: €16m
Each tertiary hospital, within the seven Hospital Groups that make up the HSE acute hospital division, could have an Alcohol Liaison Nurse.
An Alcohol Liaison Nurse can assess the presence of alcohol use disorder, advise on withdrawal protocols, motivate action, undertake brief intervention, and collaborate with community-based addiction services.
Currently, Ireland’s acute hospital have over 10% of its bed occupied with patients suffering alcohol related illnesses and 30% of ED admissions are alcohol related.
Projected annual cost: €1.8m
Tax relief for health expenses
Furthermore, by way of supporting those who seek or require problem alcohol use intervention as a residential treatment programme, Alcohol Action Ireland would advise that such incurred private health expenses qualify for tax relief at the upper 40% rate rather than the current standard rate at 20%.
 Healthy Ireland is a Government-led initiative which aims to create an Irish society where everyone can enjoy physical and mental health, and where wellbeing is valued and supported at every level of society. http://www.healthyireland.ie/
 Socio- Economic Impacts of Proposed Regulations under the Public Health (Alcohol) Bill, DKM Consultants, 2017, pp 12.
 ESPAD Study 2015.
 The percentage of Icelandic 15- and 16-year-olds who had been drunk in the previous month plummeted from 42 per cent in 1998 to 5 per cent in 2016.