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Vintners call for minimum unit pricing on off-licence sales 'to curb house party outbreaks'

The VFI wants off-licence opening hours to be shortened and minimum pricing to be introduced.

Image: Shutterstock/Radu Bercan

THE VINTNERS’ FEDERATION of Ireland has called on the Government to immediately introduce Minimum Unit Pricing (MUP) to combat Covid. 

The VFI has also said that a new alcohol strategy is needed in Ireland if we are to beat the virus. Curtailing the availability of cheap alcohol as part of the overall strategy to reduce the country’s infection rate, the federation said. 

Its chief executive, Padraig Cribben, claimed that house parties are responsible for “the vast majority of clusters”.

Latest stats released by the CSO today showed that more than half (55%) of confirmed cases are now linked to an outbreak and for the last seven weeks outbreaks in private houses account for 61% of cases linked to an outbreak. The CSO did not say how many were linked to house parties. 

Cribben claimed that allowing people to consume alcohol in a controlled environment makes more sense than to for it to go unsupervised by those buying in bulk. 

He said: “If we’re serious about returning to Level Two as soon as possible, the Government needs to tackle the glaring anomaly that allows large-scale consumption of alcohol in uncontrolled environments go unchecked.

“The introduction of Minimum Unit Pricing, combined with restricting the sale of alcohol in the off-trade, would inhibit bulk purchasing of alcohol and send a powerful message that we are taking a consistent approach to beating the virus.

“If the ongoing closure of the hospitality sector – which are safe, controlled environments with strict social distancing guidelines – is to make any sense, the ‘off-trade’ selling of discounted alcohol must stop. In many instances, supermarkets are selling alcohol below cost, which is directly impacting the ability to fight the virus.”

Cribben said that it is not tenable for Government and NPHET to continually use the availability of alcohol to justify the closure of pubs and restaurants while not implementing any policies that target the consumption of alcohol in private homes.

“Our members have had enough of this shocking double-standard,” he added.

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The idea to curb off sales is currently being floated by a number of government TDs – although not believed to be a realistic runner.

Outlining the case on RTÉ’s Today with Claire Byrne on Monday, junior minister Patrick O’Donovan said alcohol consumption was having an impact on the spread of Covid-19 

He said: “We are asking people to exercise common sense here. When you see slabs of cans being taken home, you know that they are not being taken home for an after-dinner aperitif. We cannot pretend that house parties aren’t going on when they clearly are.”

The government is understood not to be considering curbs on opening hours for off-licences at this time, as it’s believed that it would have little effect as people would simply make their purchases earlier in the day.

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