Tá áthas orm deis a fháil labhairt ar an ábhar seo. Gabhaim buíochas leis an Aire Stáit as ucht teacht isteach anocht agus éisteacht leis an gcás atáim ag déanamh. Nílim in aghaidh óil ach táim in aghaidh an iomarca óil de bharr an dochar a dhéanann sé do dhaoine. Is é sin atáim ag iarraidh a mhaolú. Mar a deirtear i nGaeilge, nuair a bhíonn an deoch istigh, bíonn an chiall amuigh.
There is a saying in the Irish language that when the drink is in, the sense is out. We know the truth of that statement. There can be no doubt that cheap alcohol is having a damaging effect in our country. The vast majority of the Oireachtas agreed with that in 2018 when we passed the Public Health (Alcohol) Act 2018. That Act included provisions setting a minimum price for alcohol. If implemented or commenced, this Act will have no effect on the cost of most alcohol, which is already sold at prices in excess of the proposed minimum. However, the Act will work to stop sales of really cheap drinks with very high alcohol content.
The Act sets a minimum price per gram of alcohol. A standard drink has 10 g of alcohol in it. A standard drink is a half-pint of beer, lager or stout, a small 100 ml glass of wine or a pub measure of spirits. The Act sets the cheapest price for a gram of alcohol at 10 cents. This would mean, for example, that a glass of lager or beer could not be sold for less than €1 and a pint could not be sold for less than €2. We can extrapolate the minimum cost of bottles and so on from that. Since most drinks are sold at higher prices than this, the Act would mainly affect very cheap drinks with a strong alcohol content. It is not a tax and it will not affect the price of drink above the minimum price level.
In July 2019 the then Minister for Health, Deputy Harris, said he hoped to implement minimum unit pricing of alcohol in order to reduce the significant health harms and financial costs of the way alcohol is consumed in Ireland to the greatest extent possible. These harms and costs include alcohol-attributed deaths from motor accidents, domestic violence, liver disease, breast cancer and other issues. These account for 21.2 deaths per 100,000 in this State, compared to 15.09 deaths per 100,000 in the North. To put that in context, the Global Burden of Disease Study finds that up to 20,000 deaths in this country could be attributed to alcohol diseases and other related deaths since the Act was first mooted in 2013.
The excuse given for not acting on this was that people would travel across the Border for cheaper drink. This might happen but it would not undermine the general effectiveness of the law. The same argument could be made in the case of Scotland, which has a land border with England. However, the Scottish are happy to note that their legislation is having an effect. According to statistics published following the introduction of the relevant Act there, alcohol consumption has dropped to the lowest level on record. Again, let us not forget that Scotland has a land border with England. When Covid-19 is added to the mix, it becomes even more important for people to keep their wits about them. It is time that we commence this section, which was passed by the House. We should not put it on the never-never, but take action.