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DRIVEN TO DRINK As new booze hike hits shelves we compare alcohol prices in Dundalk and Newry

NI businesses expect new customer influx as punters head north to escape Minimum Unit Pricing

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Jamie in Newry

Jamie in Newry

Jamie in Newry

It's a case of breaking for the border this week as punters try to escape the new alcohol price hike which isn't just hitting problem drinkers - it's hitting everybody.

We visited offies and supermarkets on both sides of the border this week just to see in real terms how much cheaper people in the North have it, and the results were enough to turn you to drink!

New Minimum Unit Pricing (MUP) introduced on Tuesday means that the cheapest can of beer is now €1.70 and the cheapest bottle of wine €7.40. Vodka and gin will cost a minimum of €20.70 and whiskey will rise to at least €22.

It's designed to hit problem drinkers and ease pressure on the health service from alcohol-related conditions, which are reported to cost us over €2bn a year.

So the Sunday World took to the road to compare prices between off-sales and supermarkets on both sides of the border.

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Jamie McDowell with his purchases

Jamie McDowell with his purchases

Jamie McDowell with his purchases

Both Newry and Dundalk were clearly in the midst of that nice New Year lull, with the madness of Christmas having subsided, and while Covid is still at the forefront of the minds of business owners, creeping signs of life, almost 'normal' life, were seen.

In Newry, one worker in an off-licence told us he, and other offie workers like him, had already seen what they believe to be the beginnings of an influx of southerners to northern border towns and cities to pick up drink ahead of this weekend.

Several of my pals who are originally from Belfast, but who are based in Dublin for their jobs, told me they'd be 'stocking up the boot' before they head down south again.

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Jamie went alcohol shopping in Dundalk to compare prices

Jamie went alcohol shopping in Dundalk to compare prices

Jamie went alcohol shopping in Dundalk to compare prices

Another source with his ear to the ground in the criminal underworld around the border in the Derry area said he was aware southern small-time drug dealers, who sell 'party packs' to drug users before and during each weekend, were considering hopping over the border to buy bottles of cheap spirits before heading back south to "make an extra few quid" when making house calls.

What we found on our travels was that more premium brands of alcoholic drinks were not as heavily affected by the new MUP laws than the cheaper brands - that is, the drinks that MUP was developed to target, so we focussed on the lower-priced products.

For example, a 70cl bottle of Bushmills in a supermarket in the North will cost you £20/€23.97, while in the Republic, in the same supermarket, it's €23/£19.18, so it actually works out cheaper in the Republic.

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Reporter Jamie McDowell

Reporter Jamie McDowell

Reporter Jamie McDowell

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It's important to note at this stage that certain brands and sizes of beer packs couldn't be compared like for like, as certain brands, supermarket chains and sizes of multi-packs differ when hopping back and forth over the border.

Also, we avoided drinks which were on special offer.

First we headed to the The Wine Company off sales in Newry, where we bought some of their cheaper offerings, to compare with similar products just over the border in Dundalk.

Our substantial carry out at The Wine Company consisted of a 70cl 'ten glass' bottle of Kulov Vodka (£12.49/€14.95), a two litre bottle of Strongbow (£3.49/€4.18), a bottle of Buckfast (£7.99/€9.56), a 12 pack of Carlsberg (£10.49/€12.56) and two cans of high alcohol alcopops called Four Loko Fruit Punch (£3.29/€3.94) each.

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Stephen Donnelly

Stephen Donnelly

Stephen Donnelly

We also stopped off at two major brand supermarkets in the town, which locals say have also seen a marked increase in the number of people living in the nearby Republic making 'booze runs'.

We picked up a 70cl bottle of own-brand blended whiskey for £10.79/€12.92. At another major supermarket we purchased an 18 pack of Carlsberg cans (440ml) for £18.99/€22.74.

With a boot full of booze, we headed over the border to see if there was a major difference for ourselves.

When we arrived in Dundalk, a mural on the outskirts of the town, aimed at people leaving for the north, said it all really: "Right, am away."

I couldn't help but think a small amendment underneath could read: "...for a carry-out."

There, we went to another major supermarket, and bought a bottle of own-brand whiskey for €22.50/£18.79, which had a significant difference in price with the northern supermarket bottle, of exactly €9.57/£8.

Comparatively, we bought a pack of 15 cans of Carlsberg (500ml) for €28/£23.38 in another Dundalk supermarket.

That's a difference of €14.84/£12.39 - and in the cheaper 'Nordie' pack you actually get slightly more beer (7L 920ml as opposed to the 15 pack's 7L 500ml).

Meanwhile at the offies in Dundalk, we picked up a 70cl bottle of Glen's Vodka for €20.75/£17.32. While the quality difference of the Glen's and Kulov vodka are up to the drinker to decide, both are towards the cheaper end of the spectrum, and the difference between the two was £4.83/€5.78. Though they can't be compared like for like, again, there was quite a large difference.

A bottle of Buckfast also saw quite a leap. In the local Dundalk offies, a bottle of the famous plonk cost €14/£11.69, a rise in price of £3.70/€4.43. In one supermarket we visited, 'Bucky' was actually more than this, at €15/£12.52.

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Booze was better value in Sainsbury’s

Booze was better value in Sainsbury’s

Booze was better value in Sainsbury’s

The drinks one might get the impression the new legislation was brought in to curtail, the alcopops, we were able to compare like for like.

A can of Four Loko Fruit Punch, a very strong alcopop at 8.5% volume, the same as some white wines, cost us €5/£4.17, a difference of 68p/81c between the can bought in the northern off-licence, which we did find surprising, given that it's one of the drinks we thought would have been strongly hit by MUP.

If you were to buy six of them, that's an extra £4.08/€4.88, so it would begin to add up very quickly.

This was obviously by no means a thorough evaluation of price increases brought in by MUP, but it did serve as an interesting litmus test showing just why many off-sales along the Northern Irish border are gearing up to make some serious money off the Republic's new fatwa on cheap booze.

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