Minimum unit pricing push in NIBy Neal Baker
Northern Ireland health minister Jim Wells has said he plans to bring in minimum unit pricing, with plans for a public consultation to take place over the next few months.
The policy would set a threshold for the minimum price-per-unit an alcoholic product could be sold. At the minute, a 50p-per-unit ratio is being considered.
If passed, the cost of a two-litre bottle of cider containing 15 units of alcohol would go up from £3 to £7.50.
It is similar to the policy that has been echoing through other law-making chambers in the UK over the past 3 years.
While the policy for England and Wales has been shelved, the plans made by the Scottish government to bring in the policy are being contested in the European Courts of Justice.
Even after a consultation process in Northern Ireland, an introduction date will depend on the outcome of this case.
Wells has the support of another DUP minister Mervyn Storey, with the pair leading the campaign to counteract what they view as the “staggering” level of damage caused by alcohol consumption in Northern Ireland.
Storey is famous for his young-earth creationism, and his stance on having intelligent design taught in NI schools and exhibitions on evolution taken from museums.
The plan has been met with approval from some of the country’s on-trade representatives who feel that the availability of cheap alcohol to be consumed at home has been a major contributing factor to the closure of pubs across the UK.
Colin Neill, chief executive of Pubs of Ulster, told the BBC, “For too long, we have seen the damage caused by the proliferation of cheap drink in society and it is time that pricing was tackled in a serious way”.
“Alcohol is a restricted product for a reason and it is imperative that we all take measures to ensure it is promoted and sold responsibly,” he said.
Wells and Storey are basing their opinions on a University of Sheffield report into the policy that was commissioned by the Department of Health.
Mr Wells said that the “research carried out by the University of Sheffield demonstrates that minimum unit pricing (MUP) is a targeted measure, having a modest impact on moderate drinkers but a much greater impact on hazardous and harmful drinkers who make up around 20% of the population, but drink almost 70% of all the alcohol consumed in Northern Ireland.”
Storey said: “I share the health minister’s concerns in relation to alcohol misuse being a major public health issue and, having read the Sheffield report, I am in full agreement that minimum unit pricing should be adopted as the preferred policy option for Northern Ireland.”
However, the Northern Ireland Retail Consortium has said that most major retailers believed minimum pricing of alcohol was “unfair to responsible consumers and the wrong approach to tackling excessive consumption”.
“It will simply penalise the vast majority of consumers who already drink less than the government’s recommended limits,” the consortium said.