The Minister’s decision to move forward with MUP was based on what he called “compelling” new evidence provided by the University of Sheffield, following an academic piece of research commissioned by the Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety and the Department for Social Development.
Jim Wells is to launch a public consultation on MUP in the “next few months” after learning from the research that a floor price could cut drink-related hospital admissions by over 2,400 a year.
The research also demonstrates MUP to be 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.
“The evidence in the University of Sheffield’s report is compelling and subject to Executive agreement, I intend to put the issue out to public consultation and will be keen to see what feedback we get on this important issue,” stated the NI Minister.
Minister Wells is being supported in his decision by Mervyn Storey MLA, Minister for NI’s Department of Social Development which is responsible for liquor licensing.
“While Minimum Unit Pricing cannot be expected to solve all of our society’s problems with alcohol, the evidence now clearly demonstrates that it has the potential to have a significant, positive impact and ultimately save lives,” he stated.
A policy paper will be developed for consultation over the next few months and will be brought to the Executive for agreement. This consultation will shape and inform future decisions on any legislation needed to bring MUP into law.
The Department of Health also pointed out that the MUP will not necessarily be put at 50 Pence per unit, either.
Commenting on the announcement, Evelyn Jones, NOffLA’s Government Affairs Director, stated, “This decision by Minister Wells is further confirmation that the introduction of a MUP on alcohol is one of the most effective mechanisms by which we can promote the responsible retailing and consumption of alcohol. We’re calling on the Government of the Republic of Ireland to follow suit as part of the Public Health (Alcohol) Bill.
“Given the cross-border discussions on MUP between the Government and the Northern Irish Executive at the North-South Ministerial Council and the British-Irish Council, we call on both Ministers for Health to continue this co-operation in the setting of a unified, high MUP (such as £0.60p/€0.75c) so as to eradicate the sale of dangerously cheap alcohol across the entire island.
“MUP is not an answer in itself” she continued, “and it’s important to note that it can only be effective if the unit price is set high enough to curb the deep discounting of both branded and non-branded alcohol, particularly in the multiples. It’s also important to note that the selected MUP must be effective across all categories of alcohol, allowing for the differing strengths eg wine, spirits and beers. Minimum pricing set incorrectly will give the appearance of action without the required reaction, namely a reduction in alcohol abuse.
“While we welcome the introduction of a MUP, we’re calling on the Republic of Ireland Government to go further to promote the responsible sale and consumption of alcohol. The Government has the power to enact legislation, Section 9 (introduction of structural separation) and 16 (a ban on discounted promotion of alcohol) of the Intoxicating Liquor Act 2008 that would make a real impact to the everyday lives of people all over the country, at absolutely no cost to the exchequer”.
However Northern Ireland’s plans to introduce MUP could prove just as difficult as Scotland’s have been under EU law and just as likely to be challenged. The Scottish parliament is currently engaged in a battle with the Scots drinks industry on the introduction of MUP with the Irish government and the Welsh Assembly looking on before committing themselves.
Last year the government in England ditched plans for MUP citing a lack of evidence that it would work, introducing a ban on the sale of alcohol below duty plus VAT last May instead.