Northern Ireland is looking at the idea of MUP

Northern Ireland is looking at the idea of MUP

Northern Ireland is moving ahead with plans for a minimum unit price (MUP) for alcohol based on what a minister has called “compelling” new evidence. 

Jim Wells, the country's health minister, said today that he will launch a public consultation over the “next few months” on MUP, subject to the approval of Northern Ireland's executive. He pointed to a new, government-commissioned University of Sheffield study, which claims that a floor price could cut drink-related hospital admissions by “more than” 2,400 a year.

The study also found that MUP would lead to an estimated reduction in alcohol consumption among Northern Ireland's overall population of 5.7%, or 46 units per drinker, per year.

“The evidence in the University of Sheffield’s report is compelling," said Wells. "I intend to put the issue out to public consultation and will be keen to see what feedback we get on this important issue.”

The Department of Health stressed that the level at which MUP would be set would be part of the consultation and will not necessarily be GBP0.50 per unit.

However, Aodhán Connolly, the Northern Irish Retail Consortium's director, said MUP was the “wrong approach”. He added: “It will simply penalise the vast majority of consumers who already drink less than the Government’s recommended limits."

Northern Ireland could also face problems with the measure under EU law. The Scottish Government is currently locked in a legal battle with the drinks industry over its bid to introduce a floor price on alcohol. The Welsh Assembly and Republic of Ireland are also considering the measure.

Meanwhile, the UK coalition Government in Westminster last year shelved its plans for mimimum pricing, citing a lack of evidence that the policy would work. Instead, it introduced a ban on the sale of alcohol below the cost of duty plus VAT in May this year.