Northern Ireland commits to a consultation on minimum unit pricing

The Department of Health in Northern Ireland has announced that they will be going ahead with a consultation on minimum unit pricing (MUP) later this year.

Legislation to introduce MUP in the Republic of Ireland already passed in 2018, but the Irish government has been waiting to implement the measure at the same time as Northern Ireland in order to prevent people from crossing the border to buy cheap alcohol.

Health Minister Robin Swann said: “The impact of alcohol misuse is being felt by too many families and communities across Northern Ireland on a daily basis. We need to consider fully every option available to us to reduce this blight on our society.  A review of the current Alcohol and Drugs Strategy was undertaken in 2019 and indicated that alcohol-related deaths continued to rise over the course of the strategy and alcohol-related admissions to hospital also increased from 9573 in 2008/09 to 11,636 in 2016/17.  The impact alcohol has on our health service is clear and we must try to address the issue.”  

Professor Sir Ian Gilmore, Chair of the Alcohol Health Alliance UK, said:

“It is a positive step forward that the Department of Health in Northern Ireland has committed to a consultation on minimum unit pricing. If the measure is introduced in the north, then MUP will hugely benefit communities across the whole island of Ireland.

“Alcohol harm costs Northern Ireland £900 million a year. By implementing MUP to raise the price of the very cheapest and strongest drinks on the market, the devastating impact of alcohol harm on families and communities across Northern Ireland can be reduced.

“MUP already exists in both Scotland and Wales and legislation has passed for its introduction in the Republic of Ireland. England now risks being left behind in the race to tackle the alcohol harm crisis. More than 24,000 people die in England every year from alcohol-related causes with those from the poorest backgrounds being disproportionately affected. It is time for Westminster to step up and prove it takes our nation’s health seriously by implementing MUP as a matter of urgency.”

Eunan McKinney, Head of Communications at Alcohol Action Ireland, said:

“This is a welcome development by Minister Swann. We understand that there has been early engagement between Ministers Donnelly and Swann and we would hope that both Ministers can how work quickly to advance the implementation of this proven public health measure as cohesively as possible.”