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Home > Statement by Minister Varadkar on the European Court of Justice ruling.

[Department of Health] Statement by Minister Varadkar on the European Court of Justice ruling. (23 Dec 2015)

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The European Court of Justice has ruled today on proposals by the Scottish Government to introduce Minimum Unit Pricing (MUP).

The Court judgment is broadly in line with the Advocate General’s opinion in October this year when it states that the legislation may be justified on the grounds of the protection of health if it is proportionate to the objective pursued, and cannot be achieved by other measures such as taxation.

The Irish Government knows that a strong and convincing case can be made in favour of MUP over other measures. We believe that MUP is a proportionate measure and the only measure that would effectively target the widespread access to alcohol that is very cheap relative to its strength. This was backed up by the research conducted by Sheffield University which showed that MUP changes behaviour in those most at risk.

Minister for Health Leo Varadkar stated: “As I have always said, Minimum Unit Pricing is one of the measures in the forthcoming Public Health Alcohol Bill. The Bill completed second stage in the Seanad last week and I remain committed to the introduction of Minimum Unit Pricing and other measures in the Bill. I have asked my officials to study further the implications of the judgment in conjunction with the office of the Attorney General.

“The recent Healthy Ireland survey provided yet more evidence that Ireland has a problem with alcohol and that we need to take action. Separate research from Sheffield University shows clearly that Minimum Unit Pricing is the most effective way to address harmful drinking. We will continue to pursue this measure through the legislative process and remain convinced that Minimum Unit Pricing has a very important role to play in addressing this major public health challenge. Meanwhile, the Scottish legislation will now revert to the Scottish courts for a decision.”

Further information on Minimum Unit Pricing

Addressing the price of alcohol is an important component of any long-term strategic approach to tackling alcohol misuse.  The price of alcohol is directly linked to consumption levels and levels of alcohol related harms and costs i.e. as the price increases, consumption rates and harms decrease.

The Public Health (Alcohol) Bill will make it illegal to sell or advertise for sale alcohol at a price below a set minimum price.  Minimum Unit Pricing (MUP) sets a minimum price per gram of alcohol.  The minimum price of an alcohol product would be based on the number of grams of alcohol in the product.  The sale price of the alcohol product, in both the on and off trade sector, could not be below this minimum unit price.

MUP is a targeted measure, aimed at those who drink in a harmful and hazardous manner, and designed to prevent the sale of alcohol at very cheap prices.  MUP will target cheaper alcohol relative to its strength because the minimum price is determined by and is directly proportional to the amount of pure alcohol in the drink.

Alcohol products which are strong and cheap are those favoured by the heaviest drinkers, who are most at risk of alcohol-related illness and death and young people who have the least disposable income.

The University of Sheffield study (Model-Based Appraisal of Minimum Unit Pricing for Alcohol in the Republic of Ireland, 2013 (2014) noted that MUP would only have a small impact on alcohol consumption for low risk drinkers.  Somewhat larger impacts would be experienced by increasing risk drinkers, with the most substantial effects being experienced by high risk drinkers.

MUP is not expected to affect the price of alcohol in the on-trade.  The University of Sheffield study reported that the alcohol products most affected by this policy are those that are currently being sold very cheaply, often below cost prices, in the off-trade, i.e. supermarkets and off-licences.

Discussion on the commencement of this measure is ongoing with our colleagues in Northern Ireland.

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