Tuesday 25 October 2016

Leo Varadkar plans for minimum pricing for alcohol face EU setback

Leo Varadkar
Leo Varadkar

IRELAND'S plan to introduce minimum prices for alcohol is facing a setback after it emerged the move could breach EU rules.

The plan to introduce a minimum pricing level is part of a range of measures being introduced in legislation by Health Minister Leo Varadkar that also includes restrictions on advertising and marketing.

Under the proposals unveiled earlier this year, a bottle of wine could cost a minimum of €8.80 and a can of beer at least €2.20.

The Scottish government also wants to introduce minimum pricing.

However, the European Court of Justice's advocate general said it would only be legal if it could be shown that no other mechanism - such as increasing tax - could deliver the desired public health benefits.

Now Ireland could be bound by the same constraints.

However, in response, Mr Varadkar insisted the Irish Government "welcomes the opinion" and was encouraged by "some aspects".

It indicates that minimum unit pricing may be compatible with EU law if it can be shown to be more effective than other alternative measures.

"Therefore, I will be asking my officials to study his opinion and its implications as we wait for the final judgment of the court, which is expected towards the and of the year," Mr Varadkar said.

"In the meantime, the publication of the Public Health (Alcohol) Bill remains a priority. This bill is now at an advanced stage and I look forward to publishing it in the coming weeks."

He said the proposed legislation also includes separation of alcohol from other products in shops, health warning labels and the regulation of sports sponsorship.


Prof Frank Murray, chair of the Alcohol Health Alliance, appealed to the Government not to lose its resolve to introduce minimum pricing.

"Each day's delay in enacting this law costs lives and damages health," he warned.

Vintners' organisations expressed disappointment, saying below-cost selling has been a huge problem, particularly for young people, for over a decade.

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