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the drink link TDs fear a break for the border if Government bring in ban on cheap booze

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The Government is to introduce a plan which will increase the price of cheap wine, beer and spirits within weeks

The Government is to introduce a plan which will increase the price of cheap wine, beer and spirits within weeks

The Government is to introduce a plan which will increase the price of cheap wine, beer and spirits within weeks

Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael TDs, including former Cabinet ministers, are objecting to plans to press ahead with the  minimum unit pricing (MUP) of alcohol without Northern Ireland.

The Sunday Independent revealed last weekend that the Government is to introduce MUP which will increase the price of cheap wine, beer and spirits within weeks.

The public health measure aimed at tackling harmful drinking is being pursued despite a programme for Government commitment to introduce it in tandem with Northern Ireland. Minister of State for Public Health Frank Feighan believes the Government cannot wait until 2023 — at the earliest — when it is likely to be introduced in the North.

However, Coalition TDs have raised objections.

Donegal TD Joe McHugh, a former education minister, said it would result in people crossing the Border not just to buy cheap alcohol but other goods.

“It has the potential of hemorrhaging a lot of customers and having a high impact that we're not factoring in,” he said. “If there is a perception that drink is cheaper [in the North] that will create a trend and pattern and with that will be the domino effect.”

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Joe McHugh raised concerns

Joe McHugh raised concerns

Joe McHugh raised concerns

Mr McHugh said he supported the public health rationale, but added: “The timing is not good, Border businesses are dealing with the fallout from Brexit and the pandemic and this is to throw another thing in the mix.”

Former rural affairs minister Michael Ring, a TD for Mayo, said: “I don’t disagree with them bringing it in but not until they do it in Northern Ireland.”

Fine Gael TD for Louth Fergus O’Dowd said ideally both jurisdictions should introduce the measure at the same time, while Fianna Fáil TD for Cavan-Monaghan Niamh Smyth said the proposal should be “shelved for the moment”.

“I have been inundated with calls from retailers all over the Border who are really concerned about the impact this is going to have and concerned that it will initiate a culture of cross-Border shopping again,” she said. “It's obviously a good idea, it's not the policy, it's the timing I have a concern about.”

Mr Feighan and Tánaiste Leo Varadkar came under pressure over MUP at a Fine Gael parliamentary party meeting last Wednesday. A briefing note sent to TDs after the meeting said Mr Feighan aims to ensure there is sufficient time to allow retailers to introduce this measure and noted it was a “Fine Gael Public Health measure” started by Mr Varadkar and advanced and enacted by Simon Harris, the former health minister.

“The intention was to move with NI but times have changed and in the interests of public health and saving lives we couldn’t wait two-and-a-half years,” Mr Feighan said.


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