CSO figures show €6.5 billion was spent on alcohol in Ireland in 2014

Personal spending on alcohol in Ireland was €6.47 billion in 2014, when consumption increased to 11 litres per capita, according to the CSO.

Our spending on alcohol accounted for 7.4% of our total spend on goods and services.

  • We spent 8 times more on alcoholic than non-alcoholic beverages (of all kinds).
  • We spent more than twice the amount on alcohol than on clothing and footwear.
  • We spent almost twice as much on alcohol as we did on fuel and power.
  • We spent just 15% less on alcohol than the amount we spent on food (excluding meals out).

Spending and availability

The widespread availability of cheap alcohol has caused a dramatic shift in our consumption of alcohol from the on-trade to the off-trade in recent years and means that we are now buying a lot more of our alcohol from large multiple retailers.

  • The off-trade in Ireland (e.g. supermarkets, convenience stores etc) now accounts for 60% of all alcohol sales.
  • We spent more than €50.6 million on alcohol in the week prior to the National Alcohol Diary Survey.
  • In the week prior to the survey 43% of drinks were consumed at home, 42% in a pub/nightclub and 10% in restaurant or hotel.
  • There was a five-fold increase in the number of off-licenses in Ireland between 1990 and 2006.
  • Between 1998 and 2010 there was a 161% increase in the number of full off-licences, while pub licences decreased by 19 per cent over the same period.
  • In a survey of drinking behaviour among European 15 and 16-year-olds, 84% of Irish respondents said that alcohol is ‘easy’ or ‘fairly easy’ to get.
  • More than one quarter of 15 and 16-year-olds (26%) reported that they purchased alcohol for their own consumption in an off-trade outlet in the previous 30 days.
  • 37% of 15 and 16-year-olds reported that they purchased alcohol for their own consumption in an on-trade outlet in the previous 30 days.
  • Only 11% of parents of teenagers aged 13 to 17-years-old said they had given a drink to their teenager at home, while 63% disagreed with introducing children to alcohol at home.
  • A separate survey found that only 11% of parents agree that it’s okay for parents to buy alcohol for their 15, 16 or 17-year-old.
  • At current prices a woman can reach her low risk weekly drinking limit for €6.30, while a man can reach his low risk limit for less than €10.

Follow this link for Alcohol Action Ireland’s view on the need for structural separation of alcohol from the other products for sale in supermarkets and other mixed retail premises.

Follow this link to find out about minimum unit pricing and how it works to save lives and reduce alcohol harm

Alcohol affordability in Ireland

Affordability has been an important driver in the growth of alcohol consumption in Ireland, which has doubled in the past 50 years. Alcohol affordability seeks to measure people’s ability to buy alcohol, which is a function not just of price, but also of disposable income.

While much is made of Ireland’s relatively high excise duty rates in relation to other countries, the reality is that alcohol remains very affordable, especially when bought in the off-trade (where excise duty can be absorbed and offset against other goods), which means that people can drink to harmful levels for relatively little.

Real alcohol prices have decreased rather than increased in the EU member states during recent decades, as price trends have strengthened rather than limited the effects of growing disposable income on alcohol affordability. The steep decline in real alcohol prices in Ireland was brought about by a prolonged period of rising disposable income, no change in excise duty and the abolition of the Groceries Order in 2006, which has led to the widespread availability of very cheap alcohol in the off-trade, particularly supermarkets.

The Steering Group Report on a National Substance Misuse Strategy reports that there was a dramatic increase in the affordability of alcohol relative to disposable income between 2002 and 2007. In 2002, one week’s disposable income would have purchased 162 cans of lager (500ml) from the off-trade, whereas in 2007 one week’s disposable income would have purchased 234 cans – a 44% increase.

Alcohol affordability increased in all EU member states except Italy between 1996 and 2004 and in Ireland it increased by 50%. This change in affordability was, in turn, accompanied by substantial increases in levels of alcohol consumption, with corresponding increases in all the main indicators of alcohol-related problems.

An analysis of alcohol affordability in Ireland showed that between 1995 and 2007 the affordability index increased by 102%, driven by an increase of 111% in real disposable incomes. Between 2008 and 2012, affordability fell by 11%, due to a decline in real disposable incomes. However, with economic recovery, this situation is changing again. The increase in alcohol consumption during 2014 is an indication of this change and is a cause for concern given our high levels of alcohol harm.

The Minister for Health warned that the increase in alcohol consumption in 2014 is “probably related to the upturn in the economy and represents the first increase in alcohol consumption in a number of years. If that is the case, it is a matter of real concern, because it indicates that without policy change, as more people return to work and they have more money in their pockets, they are likely to drink more of it”.

For further information see Alcohol Action Ireland’s Pre-Budget Submission 2016.

So what does the Irish public think?

The Health Research Board’s Alcohol: Public Knowledge, Attitudes and Behaviours report (2012) found that:

  • 76% of respondents had purchased alcohol in a supermarket in the last few years
  • 52% believe the price has decreased
  • If the price in supermarkets was to decrease further, 24% of respondents said they would buy more alcohol, while 50% of those aged 18 to 24 said they would buy more alcohol
  • 45% agree that they buy more alcohol when it is on special offer or when the price is reduced, but 65% of those aged 18 to 24 agreed with this statement
  • It would require a 25% increase in price to get 67% of those purchasing alcohol in a supermarket to buy less alcohol and a 10% price increase to get 35% of those buying alcohol in a supermarket to decrease the amount of alcohol they purchase
  • 58% of respondents support minimum unit pricing for alcohol, with support strongest among those aged 35 to 64 at 65%
  • 21% would not support a minimum price for alcohol, with lack of support highest among those aged 18 to 24 at 33%
  • 47% agree that the Government should reduce the number of outlets selling alcohol, while 28% disagree. Agreement is strongest among women (50%) and those aged over 44 (54%)
  •  40% agree with selling alcohol in a separate premises to food and other household products, while 32% disagree