Significant fall in alcohol consumption needs to be recognised in policy formation

by Gazette Reporter
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“Alcohol-related policy in Ireland should modernise, recognising that Ireland’s attitude to drinking has changed dramatically in the last twenty years. This should be a priority for the next government.”

This call was made by Drinks Ireland, the Ibec group that represents the sector, which  published Pride of Place – Policies for growth of the Irish drinks industry 2025-2030. The document outlines policies the sector believes the next Government should adopt to underpin positive trends across a number of areas including the continued fostering of moderate consumption, growth in exports, further improved sustainability and balanced regional development. 

The Irish drinks sector is a powerhouse of agri-food exports and driving force of economic activity throughout the island of Ireland, north and south, urban and rural. It generated to €2 billion in exports last year, to 120 markets globally. Its distillery and brewery visitor experience centres attracted close to 2.4 million domestic and foreign visitors. In addition, here in Dublin, Edward Dillon, Teelings, Diageo, Dublin Liberties Distillery, Pearse Lyons Distillery, Roe & Co and Jameson Distillery all provide local employment while proudly producing sustainable products which are exported all over the world.

The proposals come as international statistics show Ireland’s level of alcohol consumption has fallen dramatically in the last two decades. A recent OECD report shows Ireland’s average alcohol consumption now stands below that of the United States, the United Kingdom and 18 other European countries, including Spain, France and Germany. This is being spear-headed by Gen-Z, who have shown to have a much different relationship with alcohol than generations previous, but the trend of drinking less, but drinking better is evident across all age categories. Also prevalent is a move towards zero-alcohol products, which have seen exponential growth in Ireland.  These findings were supported by the Healthy Ireland survey results published last week which showed continued fall in consumption and lower binge drinking figures. 

Among the key proposals in the report are: 

  • Recognition that alcohol consumption has fallen by 30% in the last twenty years and the implementation of evidence-based policies that reflect the reality of Ireland’s changing relationship with alcohol, not out-dated stereotypes.
  • The promotion of education and awareness amongst consumers, not restrictive regulation that impacts upon the vast majority of moderate consumers.
  • The adoption of a proper policy of engagement with the industry, across all Departments whose policies influence our business.
  • Ensuring a practical regulatory environment that responds to consumer choice and nurtures the growth in the zero-alcohol sector through responsible promotion and advertising.
  • Regarding the raw materials we purchase from farms, we want to see support for the recommendations of the Food Vision 2030 Tillage Group to grow our tillage sector.
  • Our drinks exports – whiskey, Irish cream, gin, beer, and cider- account for €2 billion in export earnings. We have seen phenomenal growth over the last decade, and we have strong ambitions for the future, but we do operate in a very competitive global marketplace. There are strong economics headwinds – we need to strengthen supports for export promotion via our state agencies.
  • We are extremely proud of our three Geographic Indications – our GIs – for Irish Whiskey, Irish Cream and Poitín and we need continued focus on the protection of those GIs in international markets.
  • Members are making significant strides on climate transition. But there is a need for greater levels of grant support for sustainability investments in distilling and brewing.
  • We have some great visitor experience offerings and would like to see the promotion of the distillery and brewery experience as part of a bespoke Food and Drink tourism strategy.
  • There should be alignment of excise duty rates on drinks products with European averages, thus supporting business in the wider experience economy.

Speaking on the publication of Pride of Place, Drinks Ireland Director Cormac Healy said:

The Irish drinks industry is proud of the communities we support in Dublinas well as the support we give to farmers, whose grain, milk and apples we buy. We are proud too of the world-leading brands we make, which help put Ireland on the map. 

This publication reflects the fact that Ireland’s attitude to alcohol continues to change and mature. Per capita alcohol consumption in Ireland has fallen 30% over the last two decades and continues to fall. We cannot continue to devise policies that ignore this fact and simply play to the agenda of vested interests and penalise the vast majority of drinkers who consume moderately. 

The policies spelled out in this report are practical, balanced and considered and will support, in turn, a critical Irish industry.

Drinks Ireland Chair and Managing Director of the Shed Distillery in Leitrim, Pat Rigney said:

Our place is at the heart of Irish communities – rural and urban, North and South. Our place is beyond Ireland too – we are exporting to over 120 countries globally and we are exporting more each year. For many throughout the world, our drinks are synonymous with this country and the great food and drinks and conviviality we have to offer. With this pride of place comes confidence in the future. Confidence that, with the right support and policies from Government, we can grow and thrive.

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