Dáil debates

Thursday, 7 February 2008

Priority Questions

Alcohol Advisory Group.

3:00 pm

Photo of Damien EnglishDamien English (Meath West, Fine Gael)
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Question 5: To ask the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment his views on the Competition Authority submission to the Government's alcohol advisory group recommending there should be no ban on below cost selling of alcohol; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [4417/08]

Photo of Michael AhernMichael Ahern (Minister of State, Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment; Minister of State, Department of Education and Science; Cork East, Fianna Fail)
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I welcome the establishment of the Government's alcohol advisory group by my colleague the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy Brian Lenihan. I understand this group invited public submissions on the following matters: the increase in the number of supermarkets, convenience stores and petrol stations with off-licences and the manner and conditions of sale of alcohol products in such outlets, including below unit cost selling and special promotions; the increase in the number of special exemption orders permitting longer opening hours which are being obtained by licensed premises around the country; and the use, adequacy and effectiveness of existing sanctions and penalties, particularly those directed towards combating excessive and under-age alcohol consumption.

As the group is currently considering all submissions received, I do not consider it appropriate to comment on any submission made to it. I understand the group is due to report to the Minister, Deputy Brian Lenihan by 31 March 2008.

Photo of Damien EnglishDamien English (Meath West, Fine Gael)
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I am disappointed with the Minister of State's answer. I did not ask him to comment on the alcohol advisory group. I asked for comment on the submission by the Competition Authority, about which I have grave concerns. Does the Minister of State agree with the Competition Authority's recommendation to allow below cost selling of alcohol? The dog on the street knows the abolition of the groceries order and the below cost selling of alcohol has increased binge drinking. It encourages the purchase of slabs of beer and people have told me they double their consumption of alcohol in order to get a deal. It is wrong of the Competition Authority to let ideology overrule common sense. Will the Minister of State speak to the authority before it is too late?

Photo of Michael AhernMichael Ahern (Minister of State, Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment; Minister of State, Department of Education and Science; Cork East, Fianna Fail)
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Reports in the media have suggested that the abolition of the groceries order has resulted in the wide availability of low-cost alcohol and an associated increase in consumption. The order was abolished primarily because it allowed wholesalers and suppliers to determine minimum retail prices for consumers, thereby constraining price competition in the grocery trade. It was not designed to address the issue of alcohol abuse and there is no evidence from studies to suggest it was capable of doing so.

The high level development interdepartmental committee established to examine the recommendation made by the consumer strategy group considered the issue of alcohol and its report contained a number of recommendations including the abolition of the limit on the number of pub licences, the introduction of new forms of licence designed to cater for changing consumer tastes and the interpretation of retail planning guidelines in a manner promoting competition. This is consistent across local authorities, with the result that planning regulations are not used as a barrier to entry in respect of pub and other licences.

Statistics do not support the hypothesis that the abolition of the groceries order has resulted in the increased consumption of alcohol.

4:00 pm

Photo of Damien EnglishDamien English (Meath West, Fine Gael)
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I might get a reply to my question when the Minister, Deputy Martin, returns from Dundalk. I understand the groceries order was not intended to cover alcohol but the Minister received advice to the effect that it might have a negative effect on the promotion of alcohol. The Minister's agency is claiming it is not an issue but that is not the case. This matter must be given careful consideration. The Minister has taken responsibility in respect of other issues, so I hope he will not let us down in respect of this one.

The report of the Competition Authority recommends that we should increase the tax and excise duty on alcohol. I do not agree with it in this regard. Below-cost selling encourages the promotion of alcohol, which is wrong. However, increasing the tax will hurt everyone, moderate as well as binge drinkers. I would like, at some stage, to hear the Minister's opinion on this matter. I would not want to be associated with a Department that wants to penalise everyone — people who drink in moderation and those who binge drink. The Competition Authority stated in the introduction to its report that it does not want to see the introduction of mechanisms that will penalise all drinkers. As already stated, however, in its recommendations it advocates an increase in the tax on alcohol. That is strange.

Photo of Michael AhernMichael Ahern (Minister of State, Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment; Minister of State, Department of Education and Science; Cork East, Fianna Fail)
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I have taken note of Deputy English's comments and I will bring them to the attention of the Minister.