Urgent action needed to address alcohol harm in the budget

Alcohol Action Ireland

Media release 5 Sept 2023

Urgent action needed to address alcohol harm in the budget

Global alcohol giants are making enormous profits from their sales in Ireland while there is a lack of government urgency to address the nearly 1500 deaths annually from Ireland’s cheapest and most widely available drug.

In recent weeks there has rightly been huge concern expressed about the rise in deaths on Ireland’s roads. There has been focussed activity across a number of government departments taking a public health approach to reducing the level of crashes. A similar concerted approach is needed to reduce the scale of devastation caused by alcohol.

In its pre-budget submission, AAI sets out the harm that alcohol –  Ireland’s cheapest and most widely available drug – causes and makes a number of recommendations to offset that harm.

Alcohol Action Ireland’s pre-budget submission calls for:

  • development of a ‘polluter pays’ model for alcohol taxation
  • establishment of an Office for Alcohol Harm Reduction
  • increased funding for services for all impacted by alcohol harm

Dr Sheila Gilheany, CEO of AAI said:

“Four people die every day in Ireland from alcohol, hundreds of thousands of families are severely impacted by alcohol harm, while the economy is held back by billions with the OECD estimating a 1.9% reduction in our GDP annually. Meanwhile global alcohol producers are making billions in profits. Given that alcohol places such a heavy burden on public finance and spending, it is vital that the government uses all of the policy measures at its disposal to reduce alcohol use and employs a ‘polluter pays’ approach to raise the funding necessary to ameliorate the harm caused by alcohol.

Alcohol excise duties have not been increased in a decade and their value has now been eroded by inflation. We are calling for a 15% increase in excise duties just to restore their value to 2014 levels. In addition, there is a need for a ring-fenced social responsibility levy on the alcohol industry similar to plans for the gambling industry. For example, a levy of 1% on sales in the On-trade, and 2% on Off-Trade would raise approximately €100 million in the first year of operation and should be revised annually in line with the level of harm to the state.

For comparison, Ireland’s most popular beer is made by Diageo, whose global operating profits grew by 5.1% to £4.6 billion last year. In the same year, alcohol cost the state at least €3.7 billion yet excise duties only raised €1.2 billion.

AAI is also urging the government to address the enormous gap in the provision of treatment services compared with the level of need. 15% of the population in Ireland have an Alcohol Use Disorder – nearly 600,000, with 90,000 having a severe problem. Yet only 3265 new cases received treatment in 2022. There is an equally huge gap in support for families of those with alcohol  problems. If we do not create and fund a positive recovery environment yet more deaths from alcohol will occur and the generational impact will be enormous.” Dr Gilheany said.

Mental health issues are very often intertwined with problem alcohol use and AAI strongly supports the call from Mental Health Reform that the Government in this budget finally commits to a long-term funding strategy, bringing the mental health allocation to 10% of the health budget by 2030.  This was promised in the Programme for Government and must be fulfilled in this budget cycle.

The submission also recommends, given the huge issues around alcohol and the costs associated with its harm, that government establish an Office for Alcohol Harm Reduction within the Department of Health to take the lead across government in developing the policy measures needed to address alcohol harm. Estimated cost €1.5 million annually.

“The scale of the societal problem around alcohol is such that it now needs a dedicated resource to drive change. In Ireland, alcohol issues are currently spread across a number of government bodies. This spread of resources and the lack of a dedicated staffing complement within one office/unit, dilutes progress for a robust strategic response to reducing Ireland’s alcohol harm burden, now and into the future. It also gives space for vested interests to exploit and to stymie a coherent response.

There is much to be learned from the Road Safety Authority and its focussed approach to reducing deaths on Irish roads. While not perfect, at least it is clear who is taking the lead in this area. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for alcohol harm reduction.” Dr Gilheany said.


Full submission available here.

For all media enquiries and interview requests, please contact:

Sheila Gilheany

M: 086 2600903

Other useful resources: Media guide re non-stigmatising language