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Minimum beer prices could be on the way for Ireland

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Fifty cent a can beer may be no longer.

That's the stark reality facing Irish youth and college students if Dublin Lord Mayor Andrew Montague gets his way.

The Lord Mayor claimed yesterday that enforcing minimum alcohol prices would curb alcoholism and anti-social behaviour among Ireland's youth.

The move, if implemented, would mark the first time that such measures have been introduced in Ireland, and the second major government initiative in recent history to curb problem drinking, after the swift and successful passage of the Intoxicating Liquor act through the Dáil enforced a national 10pm curfew on off-trade (liquor store) alcohol sales.

Montague said yesterday that he believed there was a 'strong case' to be made for implementing such measures, citing '50 cent' cans of beer on sale in supermarkets as an example of the sort of bargain basement beer the measures would directly target.

He also claimed that such incredibly cheap larger was almost the sole preserve of 'young people, often underage drinkers, and people with drink problems,' before hastening to add that more sensible drinkers would still be able to enjoy a leisurely 'glass of wine' at home (which can, actually, be almost as cheaply acquired as beer, often found on sale at prices as low as €5 a bottle; realistically, however, such distasteful wine would probably fall foul of anyone but young drinkers' undiscerning palettes..)

What do I have to say about this? While I can understand the Lord Mayor's sincere and well-intended plan to control the levels of alcohol related anti-social behaviour in Irish cities (some would say it's becoming a 'scourge', though in my experience living abroad it isn't significantly worse than what's found in other countries), perhaps imposing greater penalties on retailers found selling alcohol to underage patrons would be a less draconian measure to consider?

While like most people my age the days of drinking 50c supermarket beer have long been supplanted by slightly more lavish delights, it still doesn't seem fair that all of society should be made pay the price of the recklessness of a few retailers for whom selling a bit more 'drink' to boost profits factors as a higher priority than ensuing that that 'drink' doesn't get into the wrong - principally, underage - hands.

Any such minimum pricing policy is also going to have to target vodka, wine, whiskey (all budget varieties needless to say), gin and cider if it's going to have chance of being successful, for if not people will simply make the transition to these drinks after the supermarket beers get the ministerial chop.

With the ever-burgeoning number of liquor stores sprouting up around Ireland, many of which now import 'exotic' drinks not previously available (often to cater to the tastes of the various immigrant communities) enforcing an effective minimum cent-per-unit-alcohol policy may also prove unworkable.As I said in a previous blog,Ireland's newfound penchant for over-regulation (a ban on smoking while driving is also under consideration at the moment) seems to be blazing an unstoppable trail.

Ultimately, though, I think it all boils down to the point that the ultimate responsibility for the enterprise of drinking alcohol (with the exception of the underage) rests with the drinker: a well-to-do thirty something professional on a stag party is as likely to get uncontrollably drunk on on-trade or premium drink as a freshman (admittedly a very cheap one) guzzling the supermarket beer. Should all drink, perhaps, be banned!?

Implementing stricter measures against those found dangerously intoxicated (ie public order offences) and selling drink to underagers might be a smarter policy than stripping society of fifty cent supermarket lager.

Extra: Below a picture of the famous 'Dutch Gold', a notoriously cheap Irish import synonymous with cheap beer in Ireland .

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