AN expert in public health is calling on the Taoiseach to press ahead with plans for minimum unit pricing for alcohol.
Dr Joe Barry, Professor of Public Health in Trinity College Dublin, says Micheál Martin made a huge mark on Irish society by banning smoking in the workplace in 2004.
Dr Barry believes that the introduction of minimum unit pricing for alcohol would be another groundbreaking move if the Taoiseach were to pursue it in his time as head of the government. Such a move, which would prevent the selling of alcohol at cut-prices by some retailers, would lead to a reduction in house parties, he says.
House parties have received attention in recent weeks, as Covid-19 figures rise again.
“It all comes down to our national relationship with alcohol, which is unhealthy,” Dr Barry said. “Before Covid came here, we already had a lot of harms associated with alcohol.”
“The safest place to drink is in the pub. Home drinking is very cheap and you can go to your local off licence, supermarket or corner shop to get alcohol.”
He said that the lockdown has resulted in difficulties in some homes, including domestic violence arising out of alcohol consumption.
Dr Barry urged the Taoiseach to take action on commencing the legislation relating to minimum pricing in the Public Health Alcohol Bill.
“He is now the Taoiseach for the next two and a half years,” he said. “If he brings in minimum unit pricing, that will be another positive achievement for him.
“He has the opportunity to do this. All he has to do is give a commencement date for it.”
He said that as a GAA fan, the Taoiseach would have his own opportunity to create a personal double by bringing in such a measure.
“It would be a really big legacy and would be really important,” he said.
“Because alcohol is so cheap in supermarkets, it facilitates damaging home drinking. I would hope that the government would stand up to businesses and introduce minimum unit pricing as quickly as possible.”
Dr Barry stressed he is not in favour of prohibition.
“The people of Ireland do need to have a social life and the pub is a part of that,” he said. “Unfortunately, pubs are businesses that are a bit stuck at the moment because the product they sell is problematic.”
Late last year, some elements of the Public Health Alcohol Bill came into effect, including a ban on alcohol advertising on public transport, at stations and stops. It was also banned at under 18 movies in cinemas, while there can be no alcohol promotion on children’s clothing, or within 200 metres of schools, creches, or playgrounds.
Minimum unit pricing was introduced in Scotland over a year ago, in a bid to help cut alcohol-related deaths.
According to Alcohol Action Ireland, the high level of alcohol consumption in Ireland results in 1,000 deaths per year.