The economic recovery saw an increase in the per capita consumption of alcohol in Ireland last year, according to the Health Minister Leo Varadkar.
Provisional figures from last year show that consumption per capita increased from 10.6 litres in 2013 to 11 litres in 2014. Speaking in the Seanad this evening, Varadkar said this was “probably related to the upturn in the economy”.
“If so, it is a matter of real concern as it indicates that without policy change, as people have more money in their pockets, they are likely to drink more of it,” he said.
In a speech on alcohol awareness in the upper house this evening, Varadkar said that Ireland has a “serious problem” when it comes to alcohol consumption and outlined the measures the government is taking to tackle the issue.
We drink too much overall and binge drink a lot. In spite of what we might like to think, alcohol is not abused by a small minority of individuals – the majority of people who drink do so in a harmful way.
“Our alcohol consumption is in the top five among the EU’s 28 Member States. Although alcohol consumption per capita declined between 2007 and 2013, it remains high and the damaging dominance of a harmful drinking pattern remains very high by European standards and is a major public health concern.”
He said that in Ireland, when we drink “we tend to binge drink” and cited WHO figures which show Ireland second in the European region in relation to binge drinking, with 39 per cent of the population misusing alcohol in this way at least once a month.
Varadkar said that studies had found that over half of adult drinkers in Ireland are classified as “harmful drinkers” the equivalent of between 1.3 and 1.4 million people.
In a wide-ranging speech on the issue, Varadkar outlined the measures contained in the Public Health (Alcohol) Bill.
The draft law, published earlier this year, includes restrictions on low prices and the advertisement of alcohol as well as as the introduction of warning labels and calorie details on drinks for the first time.
The bill will also provide for the legal regulation of sports sponsorship – but not an outright ban – as well as the introduction of a broadcast watershed for television and radio advertising.
The new legislation will also include provisions to prevent the sale of very cheap alcohol, making it illegal to sell or advertise alcohol at a price below the limit. This is commonly referred to as minimum unit pricing.
Varadkar said his department is currently considering proposals on what the appropriate minimum unit pricing in Ireland will be.
“Ultimately, the price needs to be set at a level that will reduce the burden of harm from alcohol use or it will be ineffective, but not so high that it increases the cost of a pint in the pub or a glass of wine in a pizzeria,” he said.