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Ireland can't wait forever to ban the sale of cheap alcohol, says Varadkar

The government wants to introduce minimum pricing at the same time as the North.

Image: Shutterstock/Nadya So

IRELAND CANNOT WAIT forever to ban the sale of cheap alcohol in the absence of a functioning administration in Stormont, according to Taoiseach Leo Varadkar. 

He said the government may press ahead to introduce minimum unit pricing of alcohol if the talks to restore power in the North are not successful.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said “we cannot wait forever” to introduce the minimum unit pricing of alcohol, which is one of the central measures provided for in the Public Health Alcohol Act. 

The legislation sets out minimum pricing – prices beneath which alcohol cannot be sold  – in a bid to ban low-cost sales of alcoholic products.

In 2017, Health Minister Simon Harris told TheJournal.ie that it has long been government policy to introduce the measures on an “all-island basis” so as to ensure border counties are not impacted by differing regulations. 

However, Labour’s Brendan Howlin told the Dáil yesterday that he is very concerned about the lack of progress in implementing the legislation since it was enacted.

He said the measures if introduced would have an impact on young people who are involved in the “binge drinking of cheap alcohol and people who are addicted to consuming high volumes of spirits”. 

Varadkar said it has been government policy to enact the pricing provisions at the same time as similar provisions are enacted in Northern Ireland.

“We do not want to encourage cross-Border purchases of alcohol. If people are crossing the border to buy cheap alcohol, this measure will not work economically or in public health terms,” he said. 

The Taoiseach said talks with the Northern Ireland parties are now under way, having kicked off on Monday.

“We would like a date for the introduction of minimum unit pricing in Northern Ireland to be part of any agreement among the Northern Ireland parties. We could then agree to do it on the same date.

“We cannot wait forever. If it does not prove possible to adopt the approach I have set out, we may need to go ahead with the introduction of minimum unit pricing unilaterally. We would have to bear in mind the consequences of such a decision,” he said. 

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