Health Minister James Reilly says he “absolutely supports” the introduction of minimum pricing for alcohol.
His comments came as the Cabinet prepares to consider a long-awaited Government action plan on alcohol which is set to include proposals on minimum pricing, alcohol sponsorship and advertising.
Alex White, the junior health minister responsible for the alcohol strategy, publicly conceded yesterday there would be opposition to some of the measures, decisions on which would be made “shortly”.
Speaking at the National Alcohol Awareness Week conference, Mr White said the Government was “not going to wait” to see how alcohol measures in other countries fared and would take a lead. This was being interpreted as a possible reference to events in Britain last week where prime minister David Cameron did a U-turn on plans to introduce minimum pricing in England and Wales. Observers have speculated on whether it might affect the decision of the Cabinet here, where four ministers have already expressed opposition to, or concern with, key proposals.
There is also uncertainty as to what, if any, effect Downing St’s decision will have on plans by the North’s administration to introduce minimum pricing. The Government here has pushed for an all-island approach to minimum pricing, to avoid cross-border trade developing. It is also keeping an eye on events in Scotland which has passed legislation on minimum pricing but has not yet enforced it.
Speaking at a health conference, Mr Reilly said he “absolutely supports” minimum pricing for alcohol and said he had been in talks with his Northern counterpart Edwin Poots to introduce it simultaneously.
Mr Reilly said he wanted to see alcohol prices fall in pubs and for prices in off-licences and big supermarkets to go “way up”.
Mr White said he had heard arguments against “every single measure” being proposed. He said this included arguments that sports sponsorship doesn’t increase consumption — a claim made by Sports Minister Leo Varadkar.
Mr White told the conference, organised by Alcohol Forum, that the Government would announce “actual decisions” on pricing and sponsorship shortly.
He said governments across Europe were considering the same solutions.
“We won’t be deferring our decision, we’re not commissioning more research or see how other countries get along.”
The action plan is based on a Government expert group, which sat for three years before publishing its report a year ago.
The plan was initially supposed to go the Cabinet last summer and, again, last September. Since November, Mr White has stated it would be before the Cabinet in a matter of weeks.
The latest prediction is for next Tuesday.
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