The conclusions of a consultation on the minimum price of alcohol in Northern Ireland are expected to be published in early 2022.
This is because the retail value of alcohol in some supermarkets in the Republic of Ireland more than doubled with the entry into force of new minimum price laws on Tuesday.
All alcohol in the south now has a minimum price based on the number of grams of alcohol, with one gram costing at least 10c (8.5p).
This means that some brands of spirits will cost several euros more, while tins of beer sold at promotional prices of around â‚¬ 20 (Â£ 16.80) will double in price.
Opponents have said it will drive consumers to Northern Ireland for their alcohol, while others say the measures will bring about a much-needed change in society’s relationship with alcohol.
In July 2020, Minister of Health Robin Swann pledged to launch a public consultation on the introduction of a minimum price for alcohol here.
The move would see a minimum price set per unit (8 mg or 10 ml) of alcohol. This will ensure that a drink cannot be sold for a price lower than the number of units multiplied by the minimum unit price (MUP).
A spokesperson for the Department of Health (DoH) said yesterday that the introduction of the MUP for alcohol has the “potential to be a key population-level health measure” to address the harms associated with Alcohol consumption.
â€œTo this end, action has been included in the new substance use strategy, ‘Prevent Harm, Strengthen Recovery,’ to launch a consultation on MUP,â€ the DoH continued.
“Work on developing this consultation is ongoing and it is expected that it will be published in early 2022.”
The head of treatment at the Northlands Addiction Treatment Center in Derry, Tommy Canning, welcomed the Republic of Ireland’s decision, but said a holistic approach was needed to tackle alcohol addiction.
“In itself, the minimum unit price is not a panacea for the devastation we are seeing,” he told BBC Radio Foyle.
“It raises the question of the decisions that are made in health matters, for example, on one side or the other of the border and the implications of that.”
Addressing the problem of people crossing the border to Northern Ireland to buy cheaper alcohol, Mr Canning said it was “obvious” that this was happening.
â€œIt doesn’t approach it in that sense and I’m sure the bigger supermarkets along the border in the north and the smaller ones outside licenses will think their trade will increase,â€ he said.
“It is not ideal in this situation and I think it would make a lot of sense that this is an all-island problem in the sense that the two governments are working together to introduce the same legislation concerning the minimum unit price. “
Mr Canning added that people might be forced to take a deeper look at alcohol in Irish society if “we think alcohol is a staple in our weekly baskets”.
â€œThere is work in progress at the moment within NIADA [Northern Ireland Drugs and Alcohol Alliance] both regionally and nationally around a minimum alcohol price and they bring it to our local executive and local assembly, â€he said.
â€œNorthlands would like the Assembly to raise this issue and seriously consider it, once again, as part of the puzzle that would help alleviate and reduce alcoholism on the island of Ireland. “
The Republic joined Scotland, Wales, Russia and parts of Australia and Canada in introducing this decision.
Scotland were the first in Europe to introduce it in 2018, followed by Wales in 2020.
Seamus McNamee, the manager of the first and final non-license at Jonesborough, has said that while the price change will benefit his business, he wants the same changes to be made in Northern Ireland.
“Over time we would like it to be introduced in Northern Ireland as well. Everyone will be on the same ground when it comes to health services and alcohol abuse,” added Mr McNamee.
â€œWe are in a position where we can benefit from the minimum prices that have been put in place in the south.
â€œThe only thing going against me is the exchange rate. When people have the chance, in a few months after Christmas, I would expect to see a significant influx of trade from the South.
â€œThe southern government expects the northern government to align with them, but it is questionable whether they will.
“Similar laws have been successful in Scotland with regard to health services because they have stopped people from abusing alcohol.
“The Irish government is trying to prevent people from abusing alcohol on a daily basis by buying low value cider.
â€œIf the price goes up, it means they drink less during the week. These people may have low incomes.
â€œPeople won’t be driving from Dublin to the border to buy a few bottles of cider either, so they just get less for their money.
“I can’t see people traveling on loaded buses to buy alcohol across the border.”