He told the Committee, “It is a certainty that alcohol consumption will continue to grow as the economy grows in the absence of any policy change and that is part of why these measures are so important”.
He continued, “This legislation was bandied about Government for three or four years and it was not possible to get agreement on it. We are in year five of the Parliament and I wanted to get good stuff done”.
The Minister expects that provisions will be made in the Bill for Minimum Unit Pricing alongside tigher controls on advertising alcohol although a ban on sports sponsorship by alcohol companies is not likely to be part of the Bill.
Instead, the Bill will put the present Code of Practice for sponsorship by drinks companies on a legal footing with enforcement powers and penalites.
“The legislation will contain a commitment that the provisions on marketing and advertising will be reviewed after three years,” he told the Committee.
The Bill also includes provisions for structural separation in retail outlets, labelling on alcohol products and the issueing of enforcement powers for Environmental Health Officers. Provisions to be enforced by EHOs include MUP, health labeling, the control of marketing and advertising, structural separation of alcohol from other products and regulations relating to the sale, supply and consumption of alcohol products under section 16 of the Intoxicating Liquor Act 2008. These pertain to restrictions on advertising, promoting, selling or supplying alcohol at reduced prices or free of charge.
However no price had yet been agreed for MUP.
“It needs to be low enough so that it eliminates very cheap alcohol but not so high that it affects the price of a glass of wine in the pizzeria,” he stated, “Despite Ireland having relatively high excise duty, alcohol remains very affordable, particularly in supermarkets,” he said, “A woman can reach her low-risk weekly drinking limit for just €6.30, while a man can reach this weekly limit for less than €10.”
But further increases in excise rates would render premium and higher-priced alcohol more expensive, which is unnecessary for the purpose of targeting hazardous and harmful drinkers who purchase larger quantities of cheap alcohol, he explained.
He pointed out that MUP is not expected to affect the price of alcohol in the on-trade in the main. “However, it will prevent large multiple retailers from absorbing increases in excise rates and from using alcohol as a loss leader“.
Officials in his Department are also looking at possible mechanisms to ensure that some of the financial benefits of MUP may flow back to the Exchequer.
The Minister also wanted to introduce structural separation
in a manner that is not too onerous on retailers and that will not impose excessive cost on them in order to comply.
The Bill will provide that alcohol labels contain health warnings and alcoholic content indications as well as calorie counts.
“Under the Bill pubs and restaurants will also be obliged to provide this information to customers for alcohol products sold on draught or in measures eg pints, glasses of wine and measures of spirits,” he stated adding that health warnings will also have to be included on all promomtional material.
2014 statistics show that pure alcohol consumption had increased from 10.6 liters to 11 litres which was worrying because it indicated that the economic recovery would see a rise in alcohol consumption, he pointed out.
He also pointed out that even should the legislation be enacted before the end of the year, giving people one year’s notice to comply with it would bring us to the end of 2016 “… which is not all that far away”.