Does NI drink trade really back minimum pricing?

Cor, blow me down, stone the crows and what have you – and on St Paddy Day too – the drink trade in Northern Ireland seem to have backed the medical establishment in England and Scotland’s bid to set a minimum price for alcohol which Gordon Brown turned down out of political funk even before the case was made. I suspect somehow that this isn’t the last word from the locals. The drink trade’s usual “responsible” line is put by the Portman Group. Rougher resistance has been put up classically by one of Mick’s muckers in the Telegraph blogs, Gerald Warner, who rails against the nanny state and bemoans the impact on pubs “already struggling to survive the consequences of the smoking ban and the recession. “ Not so , according to the definitive Sheffield University study commissioned by the English Health department. John Appleby of the King’s Fund makes the powerful general case in favour in the Guardian’s Comment is Free.

“The researchers found that a minimum price of 40p per unit of alcohol would reduce consumption – especially among heavy drinkers – and lead to a reduction in hospital admissions of over 40,000, savings to the NHS of nearly £120 million and, perhaps most importantly, a reduction in deaths of nearly 1,400 over 10 years. Taking account of impacts on crime and employment, it is estimated that over 10 years the full societal savings add up to £5.4bn. The political case may be harder to make

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You could say that John, with a weak government facing an uphill election struggle in a year’s time. Where does the Assembly stand?

Former BBC journalist and manager in Belfast, Manchester and London, Editor Spolight; Political Editor BBC NI; Current Affairs Commissioning editor BBC Radio 4; Editor Political and Parliamentary Programmes, BBC Westminster; former London Editor Belfast Telegraph. Hon Senior Research Fellow, The Constitution Unit, Univ Coll. London