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Irish government set to introduce minimum alcohol price and restrictions on promotions in effort to reduce drinking

| Legislation

The Irish government yesterday laid out plans to introduce minimum alcohol pricing in a bid to reduce the country’s high drinking levels.

Ireland has one of the highest alcohol consumption rates in Europe with Health Minister Leo Varadkar set to submit a bill to parliament later this month aimed changing “Ireland’s damaging attitude to alcohol”. The bill sets out legislation to introduce a minimum price of 10 euro cents per gram of alcohol, meaning a bottle of wine will cost a minimum of around €8, whilst a 500ml can of beer will be priced at no less than €1.95. 

The proposed measures also include an end to price-based promotions, the introduction of health labels, strict separation of alcohol products in shops, curbs on ‘happy hours’ in pubs and a ban on advertising for drinks near schools and public transport. Alcohol advertisements will also only be broadcast on TV after 9pm and will be banned from sports grounds where most of the participants are children. 

The proposals are expected to hit alcohol bought in off-licences and supermarkets the most rather than Ireland’s famous pub sector. 

Varadkar said: “The evidence about Ireland’s drinking habits is shocking. Four out of ten drinkers typically engage in binge drinking. This Bill addresses alcohol as a public health issue for the first time by tackling price, availability, marketing, advertising, and labelling. By taking this approach and confronting the problem in a wide range of ways, I am confident that we can make a huge difference to public health. We have talked about these measures for long enough. Now is the time to make it happen.” 

The bill is unlikely to become law before next year’s general election when the current government is expected to be returned to power. It will also face considerable opposition from the drinks industry, as well as sporting and media groups who are highly reliant on alcohol advertising. It could also face legal obstacles in the Irish and European courts, particularly in relation to minimum pricing. 

Proposals by the Scottish government for minimum unit pricing for alcohol received a setback last September when a preliminary ruling by the European Court of Justice found they could be discriminatory and could also breach free trade rules.


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