The University College Dublin Students’ Union (UCDSU) and UCD political societies have banded together to oppose the impending implementation of the Public Health (Alcohol) Act 2018. In particular, the student organisations are in opposition of the minimum pricing of alcohol, which they say will unfairly impact students and low-income earners.

The Public Health (Alcohol) Act 2018 would see the minimum price of alcohol per gram be set at €0,10, meaning that a standard measure of alcohol according to the HSE, which is eight grams per drink, would cost a minimum of €0,80. The standard measure of one alcoholic beverage can be found in a half pint of beer (3.5%ABV) or a small glass of wine (100ml) or a single measure of spirits (1/6 gill).

In a statement issued by the UCDSU on Friday morning, UCD Students’ Union, UCD Young Fine Gael, UCD Labour Youth, UCD Fianna Fáil, UCD Social Democrats and UCD People Before Profit called on the government “to remove minimum unit pricing from the legislation as it will unfairly impact students and low-income earners”.

In the statement, Ruairí Power, Welfare Officer, UCD Students’ Union said, “while the overarching objectives of the bill are largely positive, the section pertaining to minimum unit pricing is a particularly regressive solution to a complex issue. The continual reliance on measures that target those on lower incomes to achieve sweeping societal change is not good enough. Whatever the positive intentions behind this measure are, it is one that undoubtedly places a heavier cost burden on students and low-income earners, while it will see no effect, positive or negative on high income earners.”

Additionally, Power was disappointed to see the number of politicians in support of the Act. “If the Government is serious in its commitment to tackle alcohol abuse, we expect to see a significant corresponding increase in the allocation for mental health and youth services in this year’s budget,” Power said.

Adam O’Donoghue the Chairperson of UCD Young Fine Gael suggested that the timing of such a proposal is particularly worrying. “I think it is atrocious to propose such a plan during a time of hardship when many people are unemployed, and the cost of living is relatively high,” O’Donoghue said. “Ireland is a country that knowingly does not have enough supports for people suffering with addiction and abuse of alcohol and other harmful substances. The path the government has taken is extremely disappointing and shows a lack of awareness in taking effective reform to assist those who have a reliance on alcohol. 

Additionally, O’Donoghue believes that the implementation of a minimum price per unit of alcohol will have a definitive impact on students. “I am very concerned about the impact that this will have on students – who are already under crippling pressure to pay rent, college tuition and other expenses,” O’Donoghue said. “I understand the attempt the government is making to have a positive impact on society’s health, but in reality this is only going to put more pressure on people with struggling finances. Implementing such regressive measures without effective reform of social supports already depicts a failed plan for the government.”

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Ronan Cloney the Chair of UCD Social Democrats believes that the weight of the minimum unit pricing will only affect lower income earners, this not actually solving the problem. “In our eyes, the Government are putting the cart before the horse in their tackling of alcohol abuse in Ireland,” Cloney said. “While such levels of poverty and deprivation exist in our society, implementing policies, which weigh heavier on low-income earners, is not a feasible way of tackling the issue of alcohol abuse. By moving forward with MUP, the government will cause knock-on issues through depleting levels of disposable income.”

Cloney added that the provisions for greater alcohol and drug addiction supports would do more to reduce alcohol abuse in the Republic, “for example by providing extra funding for addiction and dual diagnosis services and furthering Drug and Alcohol Task Force funding. The Government must also make greater efforts to poverty-proof policies like this in a bid to help those who need support rather than further punishing them.”

Lhamo Fitzsimons, the Chair of UCD Labour Youth believes that the constructive way of dealing with Ireland’s issues with alcohol would be to treat the root of the issue. “The government must… do everything in their power to help those suffering from addiction,” Fitzsimons said. “Treating the people like children by increasing prices is not going to solve the root of this issue. Alcoholism is a problem that cannot be solved by punishing people. The government must treat the people as mature adults who can make decisions and provide people with the tools to empower positive choices.”

Cillian Keane, the Chair of UCD Fianna Fáil Kevin Barry Cumann was concerned that the measure would not have the desired effect of reducing alcohol consumption. “Given the lack of cooperation with Stormont on this issue a minimum pricing policy would simply encourage illegal cross border activities and fail to deliver on alcohol consumption reduction,” Keane said. “As a result of this and the other reasons stated we in the Kevin Barry Cumann are opposed to Public Health (Alcohol) Act 2018.”

Stephen Kisbey-Green – Co-Editor