Drinks War must be addressed

In what the Alcohol Forum has hailed as a landmark case, Judge Kevin Kilrane has set a minimum price on alcoholic drinks, ending what had been called a “drinks war” in the seaside town of Bundoran.

In what the Alcohol Forum has hailed as a landmark case, Judge Kevin Kilrane has set a minimum price on alcoholic drinks, ending what had been called a “drinks war” in the seaside town of Bundoran.

As a result of the judge’s order, Bundoran clubs cannot charge less than €2.50 for any single measure, spirits or beer.

The judge warned that he would not tolerate a “race to the bottom” in drinks pricing, given the serious problems of anti-social behaviour that are alcohol-related. His order came in response to a price-war between local clubs that saw shots available at 50 cents each at one club, with another charging a €20 cover charge that included free drink all night.

Garda Superintendent Leo McGinn told the court that gardaí had carried out inspections at both premises and were satisfied that they were very well run. He also told the court that public order offenses in Bundoran had halved, with just 14 offenses in June, the month that saw Bundoran host the Sea Sessions festival.

But the judge stood firm. He called for a notice of the pricing change to be displayed prominently and to indicate that it was made by court order.

“The purpose of this is to ensure that there is a level playing field,” Judge Kilrane said. “This type of competition is no good for anyone – the licensees, consumers, the community – and it has to be stopped.”

Eamon O’Kane, North South strategist with the alcohol advocacy and action group, Alcohol Forum, welcomed the decision. The Forum said Judge Kilrane’s ruling would be imposed on the sale of all alcoholic drinks in licensed premises in the north west; the judge’s jurisdiction covers Donegal and Sligo.

“The courts see the impact of alcohol abuse on a daily basis and so understand the need for stronger regulation,” Mr O’Kane said.

Donegal people have also regularly seen the impact of alcohol abuse, evidenced through anti-social and aggressive behaviour. Of course, many factors contribute to the abuse of alcohol, though easy availability of drink and low pricing must be part of that discussion.

And while the judge’s ruling limits what clubs can charge, he cannot stop club-goers from availing of cheap drink in supermarkets if they want an early start on their evening. Joined-up thinking would suggest that if society is going to consider issues of low-drink pricing, they must be addressed across the board.

Mr O’Kane and Alcohol Forum have called on the government to reconsider the Joint Health Committee’s Report on the Misuse of Drugs and Alcohol, published in January. The majority view of the committee supported the decision to introduce minimum pricing on alcohol.

“We believe the courts system in its actions today has made this recommendation even more urgent,” Mr O’Kane said.

Judge Kilrane’s ruling has again put the spotlight on the effect of cheap drink on anti-social behaviour. It is time for the government to engage seriously in this discussion.