Minimum unit pricing is a “very regressive measure” that will push people further into poverty and increase the use of illegal drugs, according to the NUI Galway Students’ Union president.
The cost of alcoholic drinks in supermarket, shops and off-licences is rising significantly from today as minimum unit pricing comes into force.
Under the rules, drinks must cost a minimum of 10c per gram of alcohol – meaning a standard can of beer (4.3% ABV) costs at least €1.70.
A standard bottle of wine (12.5% ABV) now costs at least €7.40 and a 700ml bottle of spirits (40% ABV) costs at least €22.40.
The Health Minister Stephen Donnelly said the measure aims to “reduce the harms caused by the misuse of alcohol and to delay the initiation of alcohol consumption by children and young people".
Alcohol Action Ireland, which has long campaigned for minimum unit pricing, welcomed the move as an “historical development” that will save lives.
On Lunchtime Live however, the President of the Students' Union at NUI Galway Róisín Nic Lochlainn said the “very regressive” strategy will do nothing to stop people drinking.
“There are going to be floods of people going to the North,” she said. “There were floods of people going to the supermarkets yesterday trying to stock up on all the alcohol before it increased. I do see the intention behind this, but it is not going to stop people drinking alcohol.
“All it is going to do is push people further into poverty and increase reliance on other unsafe substances.
“They rolled this out in Scotland and in Scotland it specifically said it was targeting those households that were on a lower income. That is all it is doing is targeting working class families and making things that bit tougher for them.”
The measure was introduced in Scotland in May 2018 and in Wales in March 2020.
It will not be introduced in the North until 2023 at the earliest.
Ms Nic Lochlainn said the measure will do nothing but line the pockets of supermarket shareholders – and questioned why the profits were not ringfenced for public health.
“Is it really a public health measure if none of the profits are going into rehabilitation or the mental health services that could actually tackle the root causes of Ireland’s culture of drinking and binge drinking?” she asked.
She said the measure targets struggling students and working-class people.
“This targets the ordinary families that work full time to put their kids through college or pay the rent – and you know how bad the rents are,” she said.
“It is punishing people who just want to have a glass of wine after a long week of work. It is making alcohol something that is only for the elite.
“People are still going to drink and the profits are going to line supermarket pockets. If this was really about tackling the culture or about health, the profits should be going to rehabilitation services or even to fund non-alcoholic events. Why not put more funding into community clubs or the GAA and sports clubs and things like that?”
You can find out all you need to know about the new rules here.