The decision by Cabinet to introduce Minimum Unit Pricing (MUP) of alcohol in Ireland has been marked this morning by members of Government.
Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly, Minister of State with responsibility for Public Health, Well Being and the National Drugs Strategy, Frank Feighan and Tánaiste Leo Varadkar welcomed the decision at this morning’s briefing.
The introduction of Minimum Unit Pricing will see the prices of low-cost, high-alcohol own brands increase in what Minister Donnelly described as a necessary public health measure.
Minister Donnelly, who will be signing the order of section 11 of the Public Health (Alcohol) Act 2018 later this week for commencement in the first week of January next year, said that alcohol is “a significant burden of disease and death in Ireland”.
The Public Health (Alcohol) Act 2018 legislates for alcohol from a public health perspective. The Act is designed to reduce alcohol consumption, to reduce the harms caused by the misuse of alcohol and to delay the initiation of alcohol consumption by children and young people.
“Ireland had the third-highest level of adolescent binge drinking in the world according to data from a global study published in The Lancet in March 2019, while 2018 saw an 80% increase in the number of children under-16 admitted to Irish hospitals because of alcohol intoxication. 36 children in 2018 compared to 20 such cases in 2017.
“Addressing the availability of cheap strong alcohol products will reduce the disease and death caused by the harmful use of alcohol and will ensure that cheap strong alcohol is not available to children and young people at pocket money prices,” he said.
Minister Donnelly said that the Government is also making an investment of €1.08m to expand alcohol services, an expansion that will include the establishment of two community-based teams to provide counselling and supports to adults with problem alcohol use and to their families.
Minister of State with responsibility for Public Health, Well Being and the National Drugs Strategy, Frank Feighan said that minimum unit pricing is “a targeted measure that will help those that need our help the most”.
We know from our modelling and from the evidence from Scotland that minimum unit pricing impacts the most on high-risk harmful drinkers. If we can remove cheap strong alcohol from our stores, we can reduce the burden of disease and we can put strong alcohol out of the price range of our children and young people.
Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment, Leo Varadkar TD, said that the consequences of taking the decision should result in around 200 fewer alcohol-related deaths and 6,000 fewer hospital admissions per year which he said will “relieve pressure on our health service as it battles Covid-19”.
The Tánaiste also said that it will help to reduce excessive drinking in the home which he said has increased during the pandemic.
CEO of Alcohol Action Ireland, Dr Sheila Gilheany, welcomed the decision and said that the universal availability of cheap, strong alcohol products has contributed to Ireland's problematic alcohol use and poor public health-related outcomes.
“By commencing MUP, and establishing a floor price for alcohol, we can expect to see less alcohol being purchased by those who cause themselves, and others, the greatest harm. This will reduce alcohol harm and save lives,” she said.