Attwood in bid to tackle binge drinking

Image caption,
Mr Attwood wants to end all-you-can-drink promotions

Social Development Minister Alex Attwood has said he wants to end happy hours and all-you-can-drink promotions in licensed premises.

Members of the public are to be asked their views on whether alcohol promotions should be banned.

An eight week consultation on the draft proposals begin on Monday.

In July, an independent report said excessive drinking was costing the public purse in Northern Ireland almost £700m a year.

Mr Attwood said:"My latest figure for the cost of alcohol abuse in Northern Ireland - health, social, legal, policing costs is close to £700m a year and in those circumstances, I think this is a proportionate, reasonable and necessary step to take.

"I think that when it comes to drink, people have to realise drinking in moderation is the principle and that there is responsibility upon government and myself as minister that where it becomes irresponsible, where it goes beyond what people would normally do, then that has to be outlawed.

"We have to do a lot more in bringing to the attention of parents, children and teachers and everybody else with any influence, the consequences and dangers of alcohol abuse."

Mr Attwood said a number of practices deemed "irresponsible alcohol sales" had been outlined in the consultation document.

'below cost'

He said these included happy hours, all-you-can-drink promotions, two drinks for the price of one, and people sitting in a "dentist's chair with a drink gun firing alcohol into their mouths".

Colin Neill, who is chief executive of Pubs of Ulster, the trade body which represents more than 70% of the licensed trade in Northern Ireland, said the proposals did not go far enough.

"Unfortunately I think the big problem is that the majority of this bill and the promotions they talk about are now uncommon, yet they still do happen and have to be stopped," he said.

"The biggest challenge is going to be that with 70% of alcohol drunk at home, although the bill says they are going to tackle on and off sales it still falls short of tackling the selling of alcohol below cost."

Mr Attwood said he had wanted to go further with the proposals but would not be able to "in the lifetime of this Assembly".

He said he hoped the next social development minister would "go further" and deal with the issue of licensees selling "below cost".

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