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Fixed Price Drinks Promotions are to be Banned in Northern Ireland

September 26, 2012

Fixed price drinks promotions are to be banned in Northern Ireland, it has been announced. Social development minister Nelson McCausland said the ban was expected to come into force next January. Promotions such as “all you can drink for £20” will be outlawed. He said the decision followed a public consultation which showed strong support for the move.

The announcement was welcomed by the industry’s leading voice, Pubs of Ulster. Chief executive of the umbrella organisation Colin Neill said: “We have lobbied for this change and we welcome the announcement. Our approach is that legitimate and responsible promotions are important in a commercial operation, but irresponsible promotions have no place in our industry.” He said the industry had worked hard to stamp out fixed price “all you can drink” promos. 

Mr Neill said such events promoted drunkenness and represented a “race to the bottom”, that did not meet consumers’ needs or those of the industry. He said the Minister’s initiative was part of a wider review that was also examining the low pricing of alcohol in supermarkets, which he said was also important.

The Minister’s announcement was also welcomed by the Northern Ireland Drinks Industry Group. A spokeswoman said: “This is something that NIDIG very much welcomes. When he consulted on it earlier in the year, we very much supported the Minister’s view to ban fixed price promotions. “There is no place for them in Northern Ireland. They are not necessary.”

Colin Neill, chief executive of Pubs of Ulster, said the ban marked a significant step forward in bringing an end to irresponsible practices within the industry.  He said: “Whilst ‘all you can drink’ promotions are rare and the majority of licensees continually demonstrate best practice in this area, we do recognise that there are some premises that choose to offer such promotions. This will no longer be tolerated and we will ensure all licensees are aware of the change in the law before it comes into effect early next year.”

The ban complemented the Responsible Retailing Code NI which came into effect at the start of the month and would help reinforce any legislation to tackle irresponsible promotions. Mr Neil said he was also encouraged that the minister had recognised the role supermarkets played in the sale of alcohol. He added: “We hope that measures to control the price of bulk purchases of alcohol in supermarkets will also help address the wider issue of alcohol misuse and abuse.”

SDLP Social Development spokesperson Mark H Durkan said any proposal to ban multiple product discounts showed no evidence of being effective. Mr Durkan said: “I have no problem whatsoever with financially incentivising responsible drinking by levying a minimum price per unit of alcohol and we as a society have seen in recent times the very real human cost of reckless drinks promotions. This ban on fixed-charge all-you-can-drink promotions seems in keeping with a healthy attitude towards alcohol consumption and discourages corporately encouraged binge drinking. However, I am glad that the other proposal, which would ban outright the sale of two or more liquor products for less than the cumulative individual cost of the products has not been carried through. This seemed to me to be the kind of one-size-fits-all policy which ignores factors which might actually exacerbate the problem. 

“While I can understand the desire to curb irresponsible loss-leading supermarket offers of, for example, large numbers of cans of strong lager being sold together for a very low price – to both protect consumers’ health and independent licensed traders – I do not accept that a reckless offer such as that is worth the same penalty as, for instance, offering two bottles of wine at a 50p discount on the individual price. I am fully aware of the importance of independent pubs and other licensed traders as part of community life and of a responsible attitude towards alcohol consumption and I believe that sound regulation, exercised prudently and targeted wisely, can help both”