Cheap alcohol – Irish Times Editorial

From The Irish Times

Just what is necessary to make the Government address the sale of excessively cheap alcohol? Powerful vested interests, involving manufacturers and retailers, are opposed to regulation. But the harm being done to society through alcohol abuse has been so well catalogued that remedial action can no longer be postponed. Legislation on minimum pricing was to have been introduced last year. But disagreement among Ministers and pressure of work on other matters intervened. The sale of alcohol as a “loss leader” in supermarkets and elsewhere has now to be confronted.

Successive governments have made commitments to tackle the international perception of “the drunken Irish” but with little effect. Alcohol sales have, it is true, fallen in recent years. But that reflects the state of the economy, rather than legislative intervention or social change. A special Government task force considered what should be done to address the clear link between excessive drinking and mental health and the cost to the State of €3.7 billion in related illnesses, absenteeism and crime. Following three years of deliberation, it recommended minimum alcohol pricing; a ban on outdoor advertising and the phasing out of sports sponsorship. Subsequently, an Oireachtas committee suggested that online purchases of alcohol be banned and that sales from supermarkets and garages be phased out.

Broad public support exists for a minimum pricing regime, even if the European Commission is uncertain. Scotland passed such legislation, but it has not yet been enforced. Contact has been made with Northern Ireland Minister for Health  Edwin Poots  to ensure the simultaneous introduction of controls on both sides of the Border. Irish people have had a long and serious problem with excessive drinking that has migrated to the privacy of the home because of the availability of cheap alcohol. It is time for it to be addressed.