A number of recent changes in Irish law have had an impact on college students in Ireland, with new legislation bringing both positive and negative effects for young people. Some has brought in more radical changes, while other regulations created a more subtle albeit positive effect.

On 4th January 2022, the government’s new rules on minimum alcohol pricing took effect in a radical move to reduce the harm caused by alcohol in Ireland. This new legislation, introduced under the Public Health (Alcohol) Act 2018, means that all alcohol, no matter whether it is sold in a bar, supermarket or restaurant, will have a minimum price per gram of alcohol it contains. Alcohol now cannot be sold anywhere for less than the prescribed price per unit. One standard alcoholic drink in Ireland contains 10 grams of alcohol and under the new regulations, €1.00 is the new minimum price for one standard drink. Most drinks in bars and restaurants are sold above this price so it will be of a lesser effect in these environments, however, alcohol that was previously sold for cheaper prices in supermarkets and off-licenses now must be sold for a higher price to satisfy the new rules. For example, as a bottle of wine at 12.5% volume contains 7.4 standard drinks, it cannot now be sold for less than €7.40. before January 4th, it was entirely possible to purchase a bottle of wine in a supermarket for as little as €3.00, so consumers and indeed students will feel the effects of this price increase. 

The aim of this new legislation, according to the HSE, is to reduce the damage done by alcohol in Ireland and to reduce the illness, violence, self-harm and hospitalisations that it causes. According to the HSE, in 2019 the average alcohol consumption for a person over the age of 15 in Ireland was 10.8 litres of pure alcohol or 40 bottles of vodka. This culture of drinking can be exacerbated for college students given the peer pressure to consume alcohol and the amount of socialising around alcohol. The Sheffield Alcohol Research Group’s research predicts that the introduction of minimum unit pricing will reduce overall alcohol consumption by 9%. The core idea behind the legislation is to stop heavy drinkers from being able to purchase vast quantities of cheap, strong alcohol and therefore reduce harm to themselves and others caused by drinking excessively. The HSE predicts that the new legislation will reduce alcohol-related deaths in Ireland by 200 per year, and reduce hospital admissions by 6,000. 

Similar laws in Scotland and Canada have demonstrated positive effects on alcohol consumption and harm caused by alcohol. In 2018, Scotland became the first country in the EU to introduce minimum unit pricing on alcohol and the year after, alcohol sales in the country fell to the lowest level since records began in the early 1990s, dropping by 7.6%. 

The impact of this legislation will be felt by those who consume alcohol to a harmful level and not the moderate drinkers, hopefully bringing our alcohol consumption as a country to a safer level and encouraging students and young people to enjoy alcohol safely. 

Another recent positive change in regulations regarding close contacts means that a lot more students can take part in the return to on-campus learning and the college experience. As of 17th January 2022, close contacts of a confirmed Covid-19 case who have received a booster vaccine and are asymptomatic are no longer required to isolate for a 5-day period as was previously the case from late November 2021 due to the Omicron variant. These new rules will allow thousands more students to attend college even if they are a close contact, however, the Chief Medical Officer has warned that high grade and well-fitted medical masks should be worn by close contacts, as well as regular antigen tests and reduction of social contacts for the 10 days after the close contact. The high level of the Omicron variant in the community and increased socialising in the month of December meant that hundreds of thousands of fully vaccinated people were required to restrict their movements or isolate before and over Christmas, missing work, social events and college. The high levels of people required to isolate were causing staffing issues for businesses and schools, supply-chain issues and service interruptions, so the government and NPHET were forced to re-examine the issue alongside the positive landscape of a high level of booster vaccinations and steady ICU numbers. The relaxing of these close contact rules will have a positive effect on student attendance on campus for college and in the workplace as we hopefully take a step in the right direction towards normality. 

Unfortunately, legislation governing the closure of nightclubs and bars has not yet been lifted and continues to have a negative effect on student employment and socialising. Having been closed for the first 20 months of the pandemic, nightclubs and late bars were finally permitted to re-open in October 2021, restoring employment for many students and allowing them to socialise fully for the first time since March 2020. After just 4 weeks, restrictions were re-introduced that forced nightclubs and bars to close their doors at 12 pm. Unfortunately, owing to the rapid spread of the Omicron variant and pressure on the hospital system, further rules were re-introduced on 3rd December 2021 compelling the closure of nightclubs once again, resulting in many claiming the Covid social welfare payment again due to the sudden closure. These rules also imposed an 8 pm closing time for bars and restaurants, and are set to last until at least January 30th 2022. There is growing optimism in the country regarding the winding down of Covid restrictions in the near future, hopefully allowing nightlife in Ireland to re-open to its fullest effect, restoring jobs for students and social experiences.

Amy Doolan – Law Writer