The Report of the National Substance Misuse Strategy Steering Group, 2012 is the road map for the future direction of policy to deal with the use and misuse of alcohol. The Report specified that adults in Ireland drink in a more dangerous way than in any other country. In effect, Irish adults drank 11.6 litres of pure alcohol per capita in 2011. The Steering Group reported that if every adult drank at the low risk ceiling quantity of alcohol every week the per capita consumption would be reduced to 9.2 litres of pure alcohol. It also reported that one and a half million Irish drinkers drink in a harmful pattern.
Proposals are currently being finalised on foot of the Steering Group's recommendations. These proposals cover all of the areas mentioned in the report, including measures on access and availability of alcohol; controls on alcohol advertising and sponsorship; labelling of alcohol products, and legislation on minimum unit pricing. Minimum unit pricing is a mechanism of imposing a statutory floor in price levels per gram of alcohol that must be legally observed by retailers. Its primary function would be thus to discourage at risk levels of alcohol consumption and is targeted in particular at harmful and hazardous drinking. The Report also recommended that new low risk limits for alcohol consumption be introduced based on Irish standard drink of 10 grams of alcohol i.e 11 standard drinks or 112 grams of pure alcohol per week for women and 17 standard drinks or 168 grams of pure alcohol per week for men.
The Department of Health has consulted and negotiated with Government colleagues extensively, since the publication of the Report, in order to reach consensus on the most effective way to tackle the problem of alcohol misuse in society. The Cabinet Committee on Social Policy has considered these proposals and it is intended to bring forward a finalised package of proposals for consideration by Government shortly.
In the meantime, work on developing a framework for the necessary Department of Health legislation is continuing. A health impact assessment is being commissioned in conjunction with Northern Ireland as part of the process of developing a legislative basis for minimum unit pricing. The health impact assessment will study the impact of different minimum prices on a range of areas such as health, crime and likely economic impact.