Up to 9,000 jobs will be lost from pubs and off-licences this year because of plummeting alcohol sales, the drinks industry claimed today.
Trade representatives said last year was their worst in a quarter of a century because of the economic slump and increased cross-border shopping.
Kieran Tobin, chairman of the Drinks Industry Group of Ireland (Digi), said the industry was under immense pressure and appealed to the Government not to raise alcohol taxes in the emergency Budget next month.
"We call on Government not to increase alcohol taxes, to drive more people across the border and add to the coffers of the British Exchequer," he said.
"We call on Government not to increase taxes, so they will continue to get the revenue they are currently getting, because up to now they have been getting €2.2bn a year in tax revenue.
"That's declining quite rapidly. They really are reaching the laws of diminishing returns in terms of taxation."
Mr Tobin said drinkers in the Republic were already paying the highest alcohol taxes in the EU and any further hikes would be deeply unfair.
There was probably an argument for decreasing alcohol tax in future Budgets but for now the industry was simply asking for a freeze, he said.
Digi commissioned a report by Dublin City University economist Anthony Foley which shows alcohol consumption was down by 5.9% last year, in what it says was the worst performance for the industry in 25 years.
A fraction of this drop was attributed to cross-border shopping, with the report calculating the real decrease in sales in the Republic at around 5%.
Nevertheless, Digi said shoppers saving as much as €10 on a bottle of whiskey by travelling to the North were costing more than €100m in tax to the Irish Government.
If the trends continue, it is estimated as much as 10% of the 90,000 jobs in the Republic's drinks industry will come under threat this year.
"This will come on top of those losses that have already been sustained in the past year, meaning that the numbers employed in the sector will have fallen from 100,000 to approximately 80,000 in just over two years," said Mr Tobin.
"Increasing taxes will exacerbate this situation, and will also encourage more cross-border shopping with further loss of revenue for the industry and the State.
"The Government must take heed of the implications of this report and not increase the burden on a key industry that provides significant employment, revenue to the State and much-needed exports for the country."