Ireland’s New Alcohol Pricing System and How We Compare to Other Countries.

As part of the 2022 budget, the Irish Government has introduced a new system for pricing alcohol. From 4 January onward, people living in the Republic are paying significantly more for their cans, pints, spirits, and wine. Yes, it is a nightmare! As if we haven’t been through enough in the last couple of years!

It is a Minimum Unit Pricing System, which has seen all alcohol products increase in price. The minimum price an alcohol product can be sold at is €1. I would like to think that most of us weren’t drinking anything that cost less than a euro anyway, so I don’t think that is a major issue. In terms of drinking out in a restaurant, pub, or club, you would struggle to find anywhere selling any drink for under a euro.

This controversial new measure sees Ireland become one of a small number of countries worldwide to introduce the legal floor price. You may be asking yourself (like I was), why on earth are they doing this to us? Well, the reasoning behind the introduction of this system is probably best explained by the Health Minister, Stephen Donnelly:

“This measure is designed to reduce serious illness and death from alcohol consumption and to reduce the pressure on our health services from alcohol-related conditions.”

“It worked in Scotland and I look forward to it working here.”

As alluded to by the Minister, Scotland also uses a similar system. Other countries that have adopted the Minimum Unit Pricing System are Wales, Russia, parts of Australia, and Canada.

Now, on to the important stuff, the price hikes. 

  • An average bottle of wine cannot be sold for less than €7.40.
  • The minimum price for a can of beer is now €1.70
  • 700ml of gin and vodka, typically priced between €14 and €18 is now set to a minimum of €20.70.
  • 700ml of whiskey now has a minimum price of €22.

Worst of all, slabs of beer that were sold at promotional prices of around €20 have doubled in price. Yes, doubled! For example, 24 cans of Budweiser in SuperValu were €18, but as of 4 January, they are selling for €40.71. What a travesty.

So, let’s have a look at how we compare to some of our neighbours. For context, I have gathered most of the prices of alcohol in other countries from the leading supermarkets in the respective countries.

Beer

Now that you have seen that shocking price of 24 cans of Budweiser, let’s have a look at what similar products are priced at in other countries. Firstly, let’s look at our closest neighbours, Northern Ireland. 18 cans of Budweiser in Northern Ireland can be bought for  €17.61. If you have more of a taste for cider, 18 cans of Bulmers will set you back a mere €12.61; we would have to pay €28.16.

Let’s expand our scope and look at Continental Europe. In the Netherlands, 24 bottles of Budweiser costs €17, whilst you can pick up six cans for €7.61. Spain is cheaper again, where 12 bottles of Heineken is €6.48, and the Germans are selling 20 bottles of Heineken for a modest €14.

Spirits

If you wanted to buy a litre of Smirnoff vodka in Northern Ireland you’d be looking at spending €24.50, whereas in the Republic it now costs €34. Furthermore, a litre of Jameson whiskey in the North costs €36, compared to €43 here. These price differences are pretty significant.

If the price differences in the North are significant, you don’t want to see some of the countries in mainland Europe. A 700ml bottle of gin in Spain can range from €6-€13, the latter being your better quality gins, such as Beefeater and Tanqueray. Whilst in Germany, you can purchase a 700ml bottle of Vodka for as little as €5.50. To make it even worse, you can buy a 700ml of Kilbeggan Finest Irish Whiskey in German supermarkets for €11 (It’s €27 here). Somewhat ironic.

However, all is not lost! We still do not hold the title of the most expensive country in Europe for alcohol. We fall in fourth, behind a Scandinavian trio of Iceland, Norway, and Finland, in that order. A 700ml of Jameson in Norway would cost you a staggering €40 if you can find any comfort in that.

Wine

The cheapest bottle of wine I could find in Tesco’s, Northern Ireland was a bottle of Blossom Hill for €6. The very same bottle from Tesco in the Republic is €10. If you have ever had Blossom Hill wine you would understand how that is an outrageous price.

Unfortunately, wines on the continent do not make for pretty reading. In the Netherlands, the cheapest bottle of wine that I found was around €2. Whilst wines in Spain can be bought for as little as €1 in some cases. Even in Germany, the average price of good quality red table wine in Berlin is a tame €6. Thankfully, Norway is there to save our blushes once again. The cheapest bottle of wine that I could find being sold in Norwegian supermarkets was a hefty €16.80.

Controversial Consequences

One of the controversies that this new system is causing is the negative effect it will have on off-licenses here in the Republic. This is particularly the case in the border counties. As explained above, the prices in the Republic cannot compete with that in the North. Northern Ireland off-licenses are expecting a huge influx of shoppers, at the expense of small businesses on this side of the border. 

Some of you may think it will not affect the off-licenses that badly, but almost certainly people from all over the country will flock to the North to buy in bulk. People in the Republic have been doing that for years anyway when there was only a small price difference, so there’s no reason why it wouldn’t be worse now.

I understand how this article may seem like it is almost rubbing salt in the fresh wound which is Minimum Unit Pricing. You probably would have preferred to be blissfully unaware of how we compare to other countries around us. However, it does add some perspective for anyone who is not quite sure how things have changed.

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Ronan Kirby

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