Ireland’s anti-alcohol law: an extra cost for those on a budget

Eoin Ryan

The Government introduced the minimum pricing rule of 10c per gram of alcohol, 80c per unit, with a standard drink containing about 10g of alcohol in Ireland. This was done in an attempt to reduce alcohol addiction throughout the country by limiting the sale of cheaper drinks.
Ireland was ranked ninth globally for alcohol consumption according to research done by The Health Research Board (HRB) in 2019. The average person over 15 years old consumed 10.8 litres of pure alcohol in 2019, equating to either 40 bottles of vodka, 113 bottles of wine or 436 pints of beer. This is “significantly higher than the government’s 2020 target of no more than 9.1 litres of pure alcohol per person a year. Approximately 1.35 million people in Ireland are harmful drinking, defined as a pattern of alcohol consumption causing health problems directly related to alcohol.

This means One can of Galahad costs €1.57 from €0.75 and 24 cans of Budweiser goes from €15 to €40.80.

Store programmes promoting the sale or reducing the price of alcohol is now banned. This includes loyalty card programmes that reward customers for buying alcohol and promotions that allow for alcoholic drinks to be sold at a reduced price or given away for free when bought alongside other products
Short term price promotions where the price of an alcoholic drink is reduced for a period of less than 3 days was also made illegal.

The new law will not affect pubs, clubs and restaurants as they already sell alcohol well above the threshold for minimum unit pricing.

The first alcohol price cap law was introduced in Scotland during 2018 where alcohol prices were set at a minimum of 50p (60c) per unit (8 grams).
This saw an eight percent decrease in sales of alcoholic drinks, but this only affected low-income households as it did not change prices of expensive drinks according to Research from Manchester Metropolitan University.

Research published by Public Health Scotland reported it had no significant statistical changes in alcohol-related crime, disorder and public nuisance offences. This did not reduce addiction substantially in Scotland, but instead led to a significant increase in drug use due to the rise of alcohol prices. Drugs became the new cheaper alternative for those unable to afford drink, especially among its student population.

“On the whole, the limited discernible impact of MUP on alcohol-related crime, disorder and public nuisance suggests that the reduction in off-trade alcohol sales that followed implementation is below that required to deliver a reduction in crime,” Jon Bannister said, a criminology professor at Manchester Metropolitan University,.

“Or, if crime did reduce, it has done so at a scale that the evaluation could not identify,” Prof. Bannister added.

Irish students are now facing a similar situation where drugs may become the better economic alternative for many, especially for those renting in cities.

“Like I work a minimum wage job part time and my rent is €800 a month and I desperately need a new laptop for college but I just can’t afford it,” Ian Taylor said, a student in DCU.

A report by the Parliamentary Budget Office said house prices were now six to seven times average salaries, leading many young people to pay surging rent prices.

While lower-income citizens pay extra, higher earners are unaffected by changes despite a large amount consistently binge drinking. This group also includes TD’s and ministers who will not have to bear the brunt of their own anti-alcohol laws. They will continue their current lifestyle uninhibited while those struggling with rising costs of living suffer the consequences of this act.

Meanwhile, those on the Northern Ireland border are already making trips up and back with cars filled with cheaper drinks to last them months or even until 2023. This means stores close to the border in the Republic of Ireland are losing a chunk of revenue as those travelling up north are also doing their shopping there as well. It has now led to a leak of Irish revenue because people want cheap alcohol which is now illegal in Ireland.

For the majority of young people in Ireland, alcohol is a major part of their social life and very few will quit binge drinking because of added costs. Alcohol Price increases will only mean the cost of heading out or other social events involving drink will be more expensive for those already struggling in an environment already uninviting to any earning less than Ireland’s average annual income.

Pubs, clubs, and restaurants are the only groups that benefit from this as the lack of cheap drink will lead more to pay extra in these establishments. Under current restrictions, however, people are already buying drinks from stores to continue drinking after 8pm closures. House parties are on the rise and price caps will only add to the costs of these, and are not nearly enough to prevent them from happening.

Alcohol producers are also expected to profit as people pay more for less, but this is only speculation as there is no research currently on this.

High earners are much more likely to be regular alcohol drinkers than those on average incomes, as reported by The Guardian. Of the 1.35 million harmful drinkers, may already seek more expensive alcohol. “Middle-class drinkers are unlikely to pay attention to government health warnings as they may be less likely to get excessively drunk, and can withstand increases in prices,” says Steve Clarke, an alcohol addiction therapy services manager quoted in the article.

The alcohol price cap introduced in Scotland showed mixed results with alcohol use dropping, but drug use rising for low income households. Our government followed their path, and raised the price cap even higher, despite it being a proven red herring. Only those living on a tight budget will be the ones suffering the consequences with the addicted likely to pay extra for drink instead of other amenities. Ireland has an alcohol problem, but this is not the solution.

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