Irish back alcohol plan

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From The Herald
SCOTTISH ministers have received strong support from the Irish Government in their battle with Brussels to avoid having minimum unit pricing of alcohol declared in breach of EU rules.

Health Secretary Alex Neil had a day of talks with EU bureaucrats last week after reports they were expected to rule against minimum unit pricing on trade grounds.

But Dr James Reilly, the Irish health minister, backed Scotland’s position, saying: “I wish to express my full support for the Scottish proposals on minimum unit pricing of alcohol.

“This is an important policy measure to reduce the harmful consumption of alcohol, and in this regard, the Irish Department of Health is preparing proposals for similar legislation in Ireland. The introduction of a regime of minimum unit pricing per gram of alcohol was one of the main recommendations of a published report on alcohol earlier this year.”

Last week, Catherine Day, the EU’s top official, said Scottish plans to enforce a minimum price of 50p per unit of alcohol would discriminate against French brandy imports and European drinks companies which needed to offer discounts to establish a foothold in the Scottish market. She also cited examples of cider from Sweden and Ireland, which added significance to comments from Dublin.

Mr Neil said: “We believe that the introduction of minimum pricing will be an effective and efficient way of tackling alcohol misuse, targeting those who are drinking the most.”

He described his discussions with EU officials as constructive, adding: “The commission’s preference for a price-based policy to tackle alcohol-related harm is through alcohol duty. However, we consider minimum unit pricing provides a more targeted approach and we are confident that minimum unit pricing complies with EU law.

“The commission is looking forward to receiving our formal response, which we are currently preparing, and to the dialogue between us which will follow.”

The UK Government is also planning minimum pricing. As the EU member state, the UK has until December 27 to make a formal response but it is understood the Scottish Government will present the case given that the legislation has been passed here.

Prime Minister David Cameron has proposed a 45p per unit minimum alcohol price in England and ministers there say they will stand “shoulder to shoulder” with Holyrood counterparts in challenging the Brussels ruling.

The 50p-a-unit minimum price proposed in Scotland would make it illegal to sell a 70cl bottle of whisky for less than  £14. A normal-strength bottle of wine would be at least  £4.69.