Government must prioritise public health over profit – response to DIGI claims

“The Drinks Industry Group of Ireland is asking our Government to put the health and wellbeing of Irish people at risk by lowering the price of alcohol in the interests of profit,” said Suzanne Costello, CEO of Alcohol Action Ireland.

“While publicans may wish to portray excise duty as the reason for their struggles, we know that the number of pub licences decreased by just 1.3% between 2011 and 2013, when there was an increase in excise duty. The vast majority of the 1,000 pub closures referred to before the Committee occurred between 2007 and 2010, when there was actually a cut in excise duty on all alcohol products, in 2010.

“It was the recession and the availability of much cheaper alcohol in the off-trade that have had the greatest impact on pubs, as our consumer spending decreased greatly over that period and drinking habits changed. The claim that increases in excise duty have made our tourism offering ’less competitive’ is also misleading, given that CSO figures show that overseas visitors to Ireland increased by more than 10% in the first half of 2014 and Failte Ireland’s most recent Tourism Barometer reports that ’from 2010 growth has continued year-on-year and 2014 is no exception’.

“With Revenue figures indicating that Ireland’s alcohol consumption is beginning to rise again this year, to cut prices now, as the economy continues to recover and personal spending increases, will come directly at the expense of the health and wellbeing of the Irish people. It is also worth remembering that the alcohol industry’s total contribution to the Exchequer, from VAT and excise, is just around half what the harm caused by its products costs the Irish taxpayer every year, an estimated €3.7 billion.”

Ms Costello also pointed out that as excise duty applies across the board a cut would also allow the off-trade, particularly supermarkets, to further cut their already extremely low prices.

“This could have disastrous consequences for the public health, as we know that it is the very cheap, strong alcohol products in the off-trade that are favoured by two vulnerable groups – the heaviest drinkers among us, who are most at risk of alcohol-related illness and death, and young people, who generally have low levels of disposable income and high levels of binge drinking.

“The alcohol industry’s concerted campaign for a cut in excise duty is seeking to focus everyone’s attention on its economic contribution while encouraging them to ignore the significant harm caused by its products to the people of Ireland, with three people dying every day due to alcohol; while it also remains a major driver of ill-health and crime, and a significant risk factor for self-harm and suicide. The objective of the alcohol industry is to maximise its profits through the sale of its products. However, the Government has a responsibility to prioritise the health of the Irish people.”